The League S03E02: The Sukkah never trades

Trades. Every league wants trades. They keep the league competitive and promote inspired conversation between league members. But it’s very difficult to maintain the culture that allows for them within a league because they are the most dangerous version of in-season gambling.

Play a trade well…and you’ll have the envy and hatred of the rest of your league. You’re team will be better, stronger, and more playoff-bound, but you’ll have to endure plenty of ridicule from those who feel you unfairly improved your team through a trade.

And make the wrong play? Well, if you lose on a trade, you’re just going to be apologizing for the rest of season to your league as they lose to the monstrosity of a team you allowed your trade partner to create.

Much like the delicate rain forest ecosystem, trading is hard to sustain. Eventually, the trading parties dry up. Fewer teams are willing to trade, and those that want to trade fear getting screwed by the other party or being mocked by the rest of the league for making a bad deal.

It’s a true test to the type of league you have if you can pull your league out of that nosedive to no-trade land. And this is where we find the league in the second episode.

When we last left the league, they were locked out of their own draft while Dirty Randy and Rafi filmed a porn inside Andre’s apartment. Now they have to deal with the consequences.

Jenny’s hitting the streets (and park bench advertisements) again as a real estate agent. Ruxin’s tasked with getting Baby Geoffrey into the best Jewish prep school.

That leaves Pete tasked with successfully fixing the league by encouraging trades to balance the teams they autodrafted. But no one trusts Pete…or anyone else in the league, and why would they when your league is tossing out trades like Dwayne Bowe for Owen Daniels or Owen Daniels for LeSean McCoy and Tolbert (A little much, no?).

Unfortunately for Jenny, her first park bench ad for her return to the real estate game becomes the bed and motorboat of choice of a homeless man. Jenny tasks Kevin with evicting him, but Kevin confessing to the homeless dude that it was “that time of the month” only makes things worse.

Kevin ends up following Ruxin’s example to get the problem solved, which is never a good way to solve a problem and come out clean.

Since the draft, Andre’s noticed a few strange things in his apartment…but he hasn’t caught on to what went on in there. Even though the rest of the league is disgusted to even enter his place, he only picks up on the hints when he contracts thrush through “immaculate infection.”

Andre threatens the league with an offer: he’ll trade any player to anyone who’ll give him info about what went on in his apartment during the draft.

The ultimatum scares Kevin, always the weakest of the league, as he fears Ruxin will cave to Andre about “Sexfest 2011″ to benefit from the trade. And upon hearing what the rest of the league did, Andre might, in anger, confess to Ruxin that the draft order was falsified when his name was drawn first overall.

The fear leads Kevin to allow Ruxin to throw his Sukkot, a Jewish harvest festival, in Kevin’s own backyard. Ruxin’s own house had to be ruled out because he was captured by Google Earth spray-painting a swastika on a pothole to get the city to fix it.

The Sukkot starts to get a little more like Festivus when Pete proposes an airing of grievances to reestablish trust in the league (even though the lies continue).

Once the ruse of truthliness is complete, Pete launches into an eight-way trade proposal, balancing the teams and filling all the position holes the autodraft created. It’s actually quite impressive. Bravo, Pete. Bra-vo.

In the process of Pete’s trade genius-ary, we get a glimpse of the full league roster, including the strangers we’ve never seen before. There’s Jenny, Taco, Kevin, Pete, Ruxin, and Andre plus the mysterious twosome of Chuck and Ted.

Will we ever meet Chuck? Or Ted? One can only hope they make as great a first impression as Dirty Randy…and they better have really good excuses for drafting from afar all these years. Live drafts are the only way to fly.

With the fantasy football work done, the league gets to the Sukkot-ing, but the party is destined to fail as soon as everyone sees how deeply involved Taco is. He’s made plans to host “Taccot,” his own combination Jewish festival and shroom rave after the Sukkot in the same tent, but he’s not content to keep the party elements at bay until the rave begins.

For starters, he volunteers his weed as the “plants” for the lulav tradition in the Sukkot ceremony, despite Ruxin’s groans. Oh, the bitter herb. Luckily, the representative from the Jewish prep school Ruxin is trying to impress doesn’t realize what she’s working with during the ceremony.

Meanwhile, the trades have all gone through. Pete’s happy to see that everyone’s teams have improved, but Kevin comes to tell him that Andre has declined his trade with Pete. Andre wants to take Pete’s place as “patient zero” of the league this year, the one who benefits from others misplaced trust, and he does so by screwing the master himself.

As Taco’s intruding on the festivities continues, Taco sends Ellie to put a “sukkah” DVD that he made in honor of the festival, we’re smart enough to know where this is going.

Instead of Taco’s DVD, Ellie finds the first copy of the “Sacko” porn Dirty Randy filmed in Andre’s apartment, and Ellie plays it for the masses at the Jewish ceremony on the outdoor screen.

Ruxin’s hopes of Geoffrey going to private school? Ruined. At least he’ll be able to hold his own in the preschool fantasy league.

Memorable quotes from Episode 2:

TACO: “What if she’s in a terrible accident one day, and someone has to tell them how to put her titties back together?”

TACO: “Woah! He is motorboating those fakies.”

TACO: “It’s like a Jewish Bonnaroo?”

RUXIN: “Yes, minus the patchouli and underlying sadness.”

RUXIN: “I’ve called the city 100 times, but they do not care about the plight of the upper-middle class white suburban male at all.”

KEVIN: “We do not get our periods at the same time.”

RUXIN: “Does a man ever tire of looking at the sunrise…when he’s balls deep in Kevin?”

RUXIN: “It’s like you trolling around the bar looking for a hand jibber, every once in a while, someone says ‘yes.’”

TACO: “I was in the room. There was so much semen.”

RUXIN: “And second, if I did look inward, which I won’t, I think we would find that my Judaism is the least objectionable thing about me.”

JENNY: “Problem plus swastika equals problem solved.”
RUXIN: “Tell that to the Jews.”

ANDRE: “This is not about me. I am the accuser. ‘Cause I know there be a witch in this town, and you’re all suspects, you cowpokes. And this dark city of Gotham’s got a gloomy cloud…’cause I’m gonna ride my horse right down Main Street.”

HOMELESS GUY: “She’s the floating muse, a dreamscape of femininity.”

KEVIN: “I’m not going to be trade-raped by my own wife.”
JENNY: “I’d be so gentle.”

KEVIN: “Maybe he’s like a menstrual medium.”

JENNY: “Are your brain and mouth connected, Kevin?”
KEVIN: “Sometimes.”

TACO: “Taccot is an ideal plane of existence where the 12 tribes of Israel come together with people who are high on mushrooms and groove to Aphex Twin.”

What is Aphex Twin, you ask? This…

http://youtu.be/5Az_7U0-cK0

PETE: “We’ve crossed the distrust horizon into the land of no trades.”

JENNY: “You are the patient zero of distrust, Pete.”

RUXIN: “Wait — an eight-way? But Andre’s sister’s not even here.”

TACO: “I like kickers. They’re the toughest.”

ANDRE: “It’s like a useless Good Will Hunting.”

RUXIN: “I’m keeping her and her family of conquistadors away until Geoffrey’s acceptance into the school.”

ANDRE: “I didn’t realize that sukkah was a high holy day.”

JENNY: “You promise me. Never smoke the lulav, okay?”

TACO: “Let’s get blazed, mother-sukkahs!”

KEVIN: “‘I’m Baby Geoffrey Ruxin. I’m in the cul-de-sac, son!’”

And just because you’ve been good, here’s the full version of Ruxin’s Shiva Bowl Shuffle from the season premiere.

And while you’re kicking yourself for not drafting these guys in the first place

Here’s a look from Sports Data Hub at the top fantasy performers at each position as of the beginning of December. [Update: Link no longer available]

We all wish we could go back to the draft and change something, whether we want to draft Miles Austin or not draft Matt Forte, but looking at the cold, raw numbers after almost an entire fantasy football season shows us many of our mistakes (and in bar graph form, which makes it slightly less depressing).

Where did we get surprised?

Quarterbacks

The big surprise at quarterback this year for me was Brett Favre, who not only joined the ranks late but also became a fantasy stud down the stretch. He may be fading now, but he still established himself among the top at the position for another year. As much as I loathe him, I’ll give him credit for that.

Jay Cutler, on the other hand, bottomed out more than expected. Clearly, the receiver situation in Chicago isn’t to his liking, and he’s not comfortable in that offense just yet.

Time will tell whether the team takes a new direction by getting a new offensive coordinator or makes a move to acquire a top talent at wide receiver like Anquan Boldin. The only problem with the latter solution is all the picks they gave away to get Cutler in the last offseason.

Cutler’s performance against the Vikings on Monday Night Football could be a good sign that they’re getting on track for 2010.

Running Backs

Chris Johnson was an iffy top running back prospect to start the year. Some took the chance and were greatly rewarded. Others warned that LenDale White would still steal all his scoring opportunities. It’s clear he’s become a fantasy force, one who will continue to be highly drafted. He’s probably the No. 1 overall pick in your draft next season.

But the big surprise was Ray Rice (even though I predicted he’d be good, I didn’t know he’d be this good). He jumped from a murky Baltimore running back situation to become one of the top backs in fantasy, and he’ll probably stay among the elite with Willis McGahee on his way out.

Ricky Williams and Thomas Jones certainly have more staying power than any of us realized. They’re still getting it done, even at their advanced age. Williams owes his scoring chances early in the year to Ronnie Brown, who made the Wildcat a legitimate threat at the goal line throughout his reign of terror until he was injured.

It’ll be interesting to see what Miami and New York do in the offseason. Ronnie Brown is likely to assume the starting duties again once he is healthy, but New York could part ways with Jones if they so choose, opting instead to ride Leon Washington and rookie pounder Shonn Greene.

In recent weeks, they’ve given Greene more than his usual number of carries to see what they have behind Jones for next season.

Wide Receivers

DeSean Jackson came up in the world in a big way as McNabb’s favorite target this season. Is it finally safe to start a Philadelphia receiver? It seems that way for 2010.

The hot names to add to the list of the elite are Miles Austin and Sidney Rice. Both were touted for their physical attributes and explosive talents, but neither had lived up to expectations, falling victim to injury or being buried on the depth chart the past two seasons.

Rice broke out this season as the Vikings’ biggest threat in the passing game, and he’ll only get better, regardless of who comes in to quarterback Minnesota once Favre finally leaves — but will that EVER happen?

Austin should continue to be one of Tony Romo’s favorite, most trusted targets, and that’s extremely valuable with a quarterback as determined to make a play as Romo is every down.

Tight Ends

Vernon Davis, we hardly knew ye. He did it. He finally did it. All it took was a new coach and a new offense geared around his ability to separate from mismatches. Well done, sir.

Brent Celek also proved that the Eagles had really been missing L.J. Smith’s contributions in recent years when injury and ineffectiveness kept Smith from playing the part. Celek’s role at tight end in the Philadelphia offense only adds to the stockpile of weapons at Andy Reid’s disposal.

Kickers

Ha, just kidding. Nothing’s drastically shifted here, but there was a lot of musical chairs being played around the league as certain kickers lost their leg and teams were forced to make a change.

This year has been a surprising one once again, at least for me. A lot of players that we’d looked forward to seeing finally made a show of themselves. It’s safe to say I wish all my leagues were keeper leagues. The young talent we’ve seen this year should be a factor in fantasy football for years to come.

So now, armed with the knowledge of what’s altered the fantasy landscape this season, what can we say? Better luck next year?

Fantasy Football Draft Strategy: Cutting Out the Middle Men from Best Player Available

I’ve been a complete subscriber to the “best player available” school of thought when it comes to fantasy football draft strategies, but in 2009, I’d argue in favor of a more enlightened form of drafting a starting roster. Regardless of who you take in the first two rounds of your draft, most fantasy draft strategies boil down to one of two plans: “best player available” or “drafting a starting roster.”

Before we get ahead of ourselves, let me explain the difference.

Best Player Available Strategy

By drafting the most valuable player, regardless of position, this fantasy football draft strategy aims to load a roster full of the most productive fantasy studs possible.

In order to prepare for your draft, you must tier your rankings and cheat sheets in advance. The tiers allow you to see the most productive fantasy studs across all positions and draft accordingly. For example, rather than continuing to draft running backs in the fourth round, you might notice that all the running backs are gone from your top two tiers while three wide receivers in your second tier are still available. These receivers would be more valuable to have at that point in the draft. The schmucks who don’t have their rankings tiered will just keep following their running back rankings down the board while there is a run on running backs and lose value with every pick they make.

Tiering your rankings is fairly simple. Here are the basic steps:

  • First, create your rankings. I often combine many sources into one consensus ranking, much like Fantasy Football Nerd does for you, and then adjust based on my own gut feelings and predictions.
  • Start dividing your rankings into levels, or tiers, by separating starting-quality players from backups. Separate your RB1s from your RB2s and your QB1s from your QB2s.
  • Keep dividing your rankings by position down to the point level, or projected scoring for the 2009 season — players who you expect to produce ungodly point totals each week in the first tier, those who produce five points less in the second tier, 10 points less in the third and so on. The more tiers you can create, the better you’ll be in you draft.
  • When you’re done, layout your draft notes and align the tiers in such a way that you can see your draft tiers across every position in just a glance. The first tier would be one row, and the tiers go down the page from there. When your cheat sheet is compiled, you’re ready to draft.

In theory, this best player available draft strategy ensures that your team is well-rounded, but it doesn’t guarantee you strength at any one position. If the draft follows a certain path, you could end up with strong wide receivers and running backs but an incredibly weak quarterback situation. When there’s a run on running backs early, you could end up with a slew of wide receivers from which you can only start two each week.

As long as you keep balance in mind near the middle and late rounds of the fantasy football draft, you can usually field a solid team with this draft method, but in recent years, I’ve often found myself wishing I had more superstars on my roster. Consistent point totals can only get you so far when you get to the playoffs, and this draft strategy often discourages you from starting the runs on the top tight ends or quarterbacks.

Starting Roster Strategy

Often practiced by fantasy football newbies who don’t know any better, the starting roster method fills every starting position for your Week 1 lineup before drafting any backups. The reasoning is simple: pick the best player to start at every position so that your starting roster is as strong as possible. This method receives plenty of criticism if players go as far as to select a kicker or team defense with their middle-round picks rather than waiting until the final rounds of the draft.

Players employing this strategy are usually the first to draft a quarterback, a defense, a tight end and a kicker. Most of the time, that proves to be a fatal move in their draft because they lose out on depth at running back and wide receiver.

The major flaw in this system is that not all positions are created equal. A starting tight end isn’t worth grabbing over a strong backup wide receiver or running back when there are 10 more tight ends of equal value still available.

The Sleepers Complication

But what if you could take a little from column A and a little from column B?

As a bit of a fantasy veteran at this point in my career, I usually identify several late grabs who could pay off in a big way for me on my fantasy roster. Depending on the experience of my draftmates, and their own sleeper picks, it’s usually possible for me to get a few, if not all, of my guys. While they may not all hit for me, I believe enough in my track record to continue to rely on my sleepers late in drafts, so what’s the harm in betting hard on my fantasy knowledge?

With this all-in thinking applied, I constructed a new draft strategy this season.

The “Cut Out the Middle Men” Draft Strategy

If you know what you are doing, you can adapt the starting roster strategy to your advantage with a little influence from the best player available draft strategy.

  • To begin your draft, pick the best players available — running back, wide receiver or quarterback — in the first two rounds. Select the guys that will produce the most fantasy points early and fill your starting positions with who you believe are the strongest options overall.
  • In the third round, start thinking about your starting lineup. For example, if you already have two stud running backs for your two starting slots at that position, draft a top-tier tight end or quarterback to guarantee that you’ll have elite production across your roster. By breaking away from the best player available strategy and starting the run on these other positions, you reach for your top choices but maximize the chances that you’ll end up with the strongest starters.
  • Once you have all your starting roster spots filled, excluding a kicker and a team defense, begin to draft backups for each position once again basing your picks on the best player available mindset, but lean on your sleepers rather than middle-of-the-road picks. Consistent veterans may be the “best players” on the board, but a sleeper who could quickly become a startable fantasy stud is worth more on your bench since your starting roster is already so strong.
  • In the final two rounds, draft your team defense and kicker. If you have a defense you absolutely love, you could still include them in drafting your starting roster, but I find that most defenses drafted early don’t perform well enough to deserve the pick.

The third point on drafting backups and sleepers could probably use a little more explanation.

Say you have your starting lineup finalized and are now looking at backups. Rather than draft a fantasy backup like Ricky Williams or Fred Taylor, you would look to grab Shonn Greene or Jonathan Stewart. Instead of having a mediocre backup wide receiver like Torry Holt, pass for a few rounds until Chris Henry looks like a reasonable selection.

By the time many backups are being drafted, the players you’re taking won’t be much better than what you can find on the waiver wire throughout the season. While you’re sacrificing depth in loading up on sleepers, you could end up with a stronger roster if many of them pan out for you.

Assuming these guys, sleepers and mediocre starters, are all going to be drafted, you’re loading up your roster with players who have the potential to be top-10 players at their position for the few weeks they may see time on the field rather than reliable players you may never start. If the sleepers pay off, you get to trade them for positions of need or sub them into your lineup. If they don’t, you can easily drop them and await a waiver wire gem midseason.

What’s your draft strategy?

I believe that this “cut out the middle men” fantasy football draft strategy will allow me to compile a more boom or bust roster that should free up some roster positions early in the season and, hopefully, allow me to get more of my top picks on my roster.

My gripe with the best player available method is that you often sit back and never start the runs on any given position during your draft. While that allows you to build great depth on your roster, it doesn’t mean you’ll put together the most points each week since the bench only helps you out in a tie.

I’ll be experimenting with this draft strategy in a few of my final drafts this season.

Would the “cut out the middle men” work for you? What’s your draft strategy this season? As always, the comments are yours.