Breaking Balls: Making fantasy baseball even more fantastic

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Ryan Braun is the Lord of the Swings in the fantasy baseball world.In this modern world with all of the advances we have made as a society, one area that continues to fall quite short of civility is the acceptance of differences among people. While certainly some strides have been made, intolerance is still quite rampant.

Sure, it’s not quite 1930’s Germany-level intolerance, but the differences between individuals continues to be a source of prejudice – whether it’s skin color, religion, sexual orientation, political affiliation, truthers, bathers, book learners or even Team Jacob vs. Team Edward. You’ll even see intolerated people turning around and intolerating others with a deranged “two wrongs make a right” mentality that only leads to further intolerance.

In the world of sports, obviously fans of different teams are like this, but it is also just as rampant among fans of the same team – whether it’s new fans vs. old fans or affluent fans vs. lower-income fans or quiet fans vs. obnoxious fans. And in baseball, there is even prejudice over how the game is tracked with the advanced statistics guys taking a beating from “old-school” guys who are the “true fans” and who use the “eye test” and the “fear factor” instead of numbers. Though probably none of these old-school guys would want their accountants using the “eye test” and the “fear factor” when they are doing tax returns because that’s a pretty quick trip to prison.

In recent years, fantasy baseball has been mostly released from the tyranny of “true fans” and has gained a pretty broad acceptance. Maybe this is because fantasy baseball uses statistics that are generally considered archaic to the new stat guys. Or maybe it’s because of the popularity of fantasy football – which owes a lot of its popularity to gambling – and, after all, isn’t gambling what fantasy sports really are?

Whatever the reason or reasons, most people don’t consider fantasy baseball very nerdy anymore. And what I’m about to do here in this column is dump all that nerd progress in the nerd toilet. I can feel you all mentally asking, “How can one man in an ergonomic chair do such a far-reaching, devastating thing?”

Easy. Because I’m going to show you how to build an excellent fantasy baseball team using The Lord of the Rings.

I’ll give you a few seconds to let that settle in. Yeah, that’s right. I’m going full-nerd on this one – smashing fantasy baseball with the fantasy world of Middle Earth. Maybe this is what John Lennon meant when he named that one album “Double Fantasy.”

If you haven’t seen The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy or you don’t know much about fantasy baseball, don’t worry! I’m kind of an expert in both of these “fantasy” worlds, and I will be carefully walking you through this. Also it’s very important to keep in mind that this is all mostly gibberish.

In the first movie, you may recall there was “the Fellowship of the Ring,” which was charged with the task of returning the “one ring” to the fiery bowels of Mt. Doom. There were nine individuals in the fellowship and there are nine men on a baseball field! You see how this was destined to be, right?

I’m going to compare characters in the story with relative values of players in fantasy baseball in order to build a properly balanced team. I commend both of you who have continued to read further. Maybe we can get together later and play some Dungeons & Dragons.


He starts off all mysterious-like and then … OMG! … he’s the heir to the throne of the kingdom of men. He’s also a fighter, a healer, a romancer and a pretty darn good singer. This is the guy you want leading your squad.

Ryan Braun, Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera, Andrew McCutchen, Matt Kemp. These guys are the best of the best and provide a ton of value in almost every offensive category. Never pick a pitcher this early because they’re more likely to get injured and, these days, there are a lot of almost-as-good pitchers around.


You are probably wondering whether I mean Gandalf the Gray or Gandalf the White. Or you have no idea what that sentence could possibly mean. Let’s go with “the White” – not because baseball has a history of racism, but because Gandalf the White was a lot more bad-ass. This guy is the crafty veteran with loads of skill that will help your team.

David Wright, Josh Hamilton, Prince Fielder, Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw. If you’re picking offense here like I would, you’re getting a player who could carry your team for a week or two as well as help your team maintain numbers throughout the season. You can make a top-level pitcher be your Gandalf. There’s some comfort in having one of these guys all season, but maybe wait for the next round.


Yeah, the dwarf. I know you elves-enthusiasts will insist that Legolas belongs here but then the dwarves would come at me at they’re a lot more difficult to deal with – because of their low center of gravity. This guy is your power guy.

Giancarlo Stanton, Curtis Granderson, Jay Bruce, Adrian Beltre, Edwin Encarnacion. No pitchers, just power dudes – home runs and RBIs. It’s always kind of surprising in a draft when the home run guys disappear. Last place in your league can be given at the beginning of your season to the guy who thinks he can “find some power hitters later” – you can find stolen bases and pitching, but only rarely does extra power come along.


Legolas and Gimli had this weird sort of “bond” and wind up spending the rest of their lives together in the books– I think we can assume someplace other than California. As an elf, Legolas was exceptional at a few very specific skills but was lacking in other areas – which made Orlando Bloom a perfect fit because, while he was good at being handsome, he went on to other movies and proved that he was not very good at things like “looking like you’re just a normal guy who doesn’t think he’s the most handsome man on the planet.”

Bryce Harper, Adam Jones, Starlin Castro, Cole Hamels, Zack Greinke. If you don’t have a pitcher yet, it’s time to make one your Legolas, and see how good the pitchers still are? Sure you do. I’d much rather have a combo of Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke than Justin Verlander and Adam Jones. Oh, another thing. Don’t pick an inury-prone guy here. Yes, elves heal faster than men and live longer, but the player you pick here is not actually going to be an elf – not unless David Eckstein comes out of retirement. An injured player at this level is a difficult thing from to recover from.


You might remember him as the guy from the first movie who tries to steal the one ring from Frodo and then dies in one last effort to redeem himself by saving a couple of hobbits – who, by the way, don’t get saved. He was pretty “iffy,” but he was the head of Gondor’s army, so I assume he was good at other things besides being a jackass.

Jacoby Ellsbury, Adrian Gonzalez, B.J. Upton, Matt Holliday, Chase Headley. These are the guys who are super-iffy for reasons from injuries to possible slumps or both. Each one has the potential to be a top performer on your team, but their baggage – like Boromir’s dad being the super-whacked out Steward of Gondor who wound up setting himself on fire and then starring in that TV show Fringe – makes it less likely this will happen and you can really only hope for a solid season.

Frodo and Sam

While these hobbits were essentially the heroes of the film, they didn’t really have any skill other than not being immediately overwhelmed by the power of the one ring. I just think it was important to see different sexual orientations accurately represented in film. Wait! What do you mean they weren’t gay? What the hell was all that “Oh, Sam!” business? Whatever. These guys got the job done.

Jason Kipnis, Ian Desmond, Paul Goldschmidt, Mat Latos, Jordan Zimmerman. Now is a good place to get yourself a good, consistent hitter and a pitcher who might have a little upside. Like Sam and Frodo’s trip to Mordor, your season is a long and arduous journey, and you need some guys to perform a little above what you’d expect.

Merry and Pippin

These are the “other hobbits” – the plucky comic relief who also happen to pull a horseshoe or two out of their butts to help save the day. But I think we all really know that any other hobbits – or literally any other species equipped with basic communication skills – would have done as well or better than these two goof balls.

Alex Rios, Pablo Sandoval, Alex Gordon, Matt Moore, James Shields. Or you could draft any other of a number of guys available around this point in your draft. These are the crap-shoots you may look back on as having helped your season, but rarely do these picks ever really negatively affect your team.


He’s a bad guy, but deep inside he’s just decent river folk who happened to have his life ruined by a ring. (Sound familiar married guys?) Anyway, even though his true intentions were based in evil, the one ring would never have been destroyed without him. So, you hate having this guy on your team, but in the end it’s winning that’s most precious.

Hanley Ramirez, Victor Martinez, David Ortiz, CC Sabathia, Roy Halladay. Maybe you don’t like the way these guys play, or their attitudes, or their injury histories, or, worse, what team they play for. This is fantasy baseball, and there’s not a lot of room for petty issues like those when it comes to winning. Sure, Frodo wishes he had his finger back, but that was a small price to pay for saving the entirety of Middle Earth – which as far as I can tell is at most the size of Southern California.

The Eagles

At the end of the film, once Gollum and the one ring plunge into the molten lava, the Eagles show up to help save Aragorn and Gandalf from the evil orcs, goblins and Men of the East. They also save Frodo and Sam from the exploding volcano that Mt. Doom has become. Everyone needs saves.

J.J. Putz, Sergio Romo, Huston Street, Jonathan Broxton, Rafael Betancourt. Every fantasy baseball team needs closers because every fantasy baseball league has the saves category. Also, if you choose wisely, a closer can help add strikeouts and lower your team’s ERA. Craig Kimbrel is the very best at all of these things but chances are some knucklehead will draft him way too soon. If you don’t like the guys I’ve listed, that’s fine. Just don’t waste early picks on these guys. They have a high turnover – today’s closer is tomorrow’s seventh-inning guy.

Tom Bombadil

Who? Okay, we’re going full LOTR book-nerd level here. Tom Bombadil was left out of the movie trilogy but in the book he’s pretty much the best at everything and he just kind of comes out of nowhere to save the day – twice.

Last year this was Mike Trout – awesome numbers in every category and available in everyone’s free agent pool for the first few weeks of the year. Yeah, you could have picked him up, but you figured you’d wait another week and pick up Grant Balfour this week because he might start getting saves for Oakland. No big deal. It only cost you the league. The year before Lance Berkman was this guy. There’s always a Tom Bombadil.

Now you have to start drafting the rest of the players you need for a full roster. Try to keep a balance – don’t ignore a category like stolen bases or batting average with your eyes glued to the home runs and RBIs.

Hopefully you’ll also get yourself a Faramir (Boromir’s younger and classier brother) or an Eomer (the main horse rider of Rohan) or an Ent (the talking trees). And hopefully you’ll steer clear of getting stuck with a Sarumon (the white wizard who turned evil) or an Uruk-hai (the orc-man hybrids) or a Shelob (the giant spider with the paralyzing stinger).

Most importantly, I hope you stay away from players who are like the King of Rohan, who seems like he’s a great and powerful leader but whose speeches all sound a lot like suicide notes. Yes, I’m looking at you, Hanley Ramirez.

Thanks for coming along with me on what I am sure was an unexpected journey. Get it? Because of The Hobbit? Hello? Is anyone there? Oh well. I guess it’s just me. Again.

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