Do You Have to Be a High Stakes Player to Be an Expert?

by Jeff Miller

There is a sentiment among some that unless you are a high stakes fantasy footballer, your dispensed wisdom on the game should be taken with somewhat of a grain of salt. The logic for this argument goes something like this: "If you really are an expert, you'd be winning lots of monies." This, of course, is stupid. 

As somebody with an extensive (10 years) background in the online poker industry, which has all sorts of parallels to the fantasy sports world, I feel qualified to address the flaws in that line of thinking. I'll keep it short, hitting only the high points.

As somebody who comes from a lower-middle class upbringing, money has always had an increased value to me. Because cash was often tight, $100 mattered more to me than it does to others. Even now, as an adult who lives a more comfortable lifestyle than I had as a young'un, I have a strong psychological aversion to using money for non-tangible objects. Because of this, I very often struggled in disconnecting myself from the money in my poker career. It was hard to play a $1000 pot and not think, "That is two weeks' salary sitting in front of me. I can't afford to lose this." I am not alone in that thinking, which brings us to my first major point: 

No matter how good you are at something, if you can't afford to play, financially or emotionally, you won't play optimally (if at all). 

It is for this reason competent fantasy players may not be at their best when large sums of money are at hand. More often, people of this ilk will choose to not even venture into the arena of big bucks fantasy ball.

I'm not sure how an aversion to risking money makes you any less of an expert at fantasy football.

Even if somebody is equipped to handle the amount at risk, most normal folk don't have $2500 or more to invest into a game. This brings us to point number two:

Not being able to afford to play a high stakes game doesn't mean you couldn't be competitive in one.

As somebody who had very little to invest into my poker career and needed most of the money I won for things like a crib for my newborn, I wasn't able to progress up stakes as fast as some of my young, single friends. Does this mean they were better at poker than I was? Very often the answer was, "no."

There seems to be this certain belief that the cream always rises to the top. In the NFL, I suppose that is mostly true. But in fantasy, and poker, it categorically is not. Whether it's DFS or otherwise, it takes money to make money. Most of us don't have a ton of money to invest. And without that investment, you aren't going anywhere near the top.

I do play in one high stakes redraft league. It is a 2QB PPR with deep starting lineups (to account for there being only eight teams). While the $500 entry fee isn't exactly cheap, the mandatory side bets are what gets things ramped up. Every week you have $100 at stake with each of the other seven teams. The highest scoring team of the week nets $700. The low man loses just as much. First place pays out $2000, fourth gets nada. A very good season could mean upwards of $5000 in profit. A bad season? Not so much.

This leads me to my third point:

The amount of money at risk has very little to do with the level of competition you'll face. 

The aforementioned league is the softest of any I play in. Filled with poker players and other successful professionals out to gamble, it has been a wonderfully profitable exercise for me. My experience isn't isolated. I know several poker professionals who play in leagues much larger than this (one with a $10,000 entry and another more than double that). Reports are the competition is incredibly weak. 

I've been fortunate to be surrounded for much of the last decade by exceptional poker minds. Some are among the winningest online professionals in history, with tens of millions of dollars in combined earnings. Discussions with them and numerous other very good but less well known pros has made it very clear that the highest stakes games in the world are heavily populated with fish. The level of incompetence, even among well known "TV pros" is staggering. If this is true in poker (and it most definitely is), I'd expect the same to be true about fantasy football. 

Just like poker pros making $50,000 a year can be incredibly helpful teachers, writers playing $50 leagues can offer expert level advice. Shame on you if you think otherwise.


The Case Against Cordarrelle: Postmortem

by Jeff Miller

This article was originally written in April, 2014 to be published on Dynasty League Football. After penning the piece, our excellent publisher (Ken Kelly) and I decided not to beat the issue over the head with another 1111 words (I already dedicated nearly 2000 of them a week prior). The article went in the vault and aside from Ken, the DLF partners, Karl Safchick and myself, it hasn't been read by anybody.

Nearly a year on, I've decided to publish it here. Why? Because I ended up being right and I want to gloat. I'm small, petty, and have a very large (fragile) ego, so this makes me feel pretty good about myself. Having your own website is pretty much an exercise in ego anyway, so why not?

Before reading this follow-up piece, we would suggest you take a look at the original article, “The Case Against Cordarrelle.”

Thanks for reading.

When I penned “The Case Against Cordarrelle”, I knew I’d have to field a number of harsh criticisms and tough questions. As prepared as I was for it, I was still overwhelmed by the sheer volume and range of the comments. While I did my best to answer each as carefully and concisely as possible, I thought it would be best to write a postmortem piece to address some of the more common refrains.

Missed Message

One of the things that surprised me most was the number of folks who looked past the main point of the article, taking away only that I hate Patterson (which is categorically untrue). In reality, the crux of the column was to relay how egregiously out of whack his price is considering his high risk nature. This brings me to a major point: People seem to be so invested in saying Patterson will either be great or terrible that they lose sight of the fact that no matter what you think of his potential, he is a long way from achieving it. This is a completely inarguable point that even the ardent supporters among the DLF crew all readily admit to. You would do well to follow suit.

The Case Continues

Due to my desire to keep the “Case” article as focused as possible, a number of small bits didn’t make the cut. All of these are criticisms that followed him out of college and throughout 2013:

·         He catches the ball with his body. This leads to more drops than you’d like, especially in traffic or under duress. The actual data from Patterson’s rookie year doesn’t look so bad (three drops on 77 targets), but considering the nature of the vast majority of those targets (bubble screens, etc), that isn’t surprising. This is a clear case where stats do not tell the entire truth.

·         He hasn’t shown the ability to high-point the ball. This is a skill critical to any receiver asked to be a deep threat, which many are suggesting he will be under Norv Turner.

·         Patterson has issues getting a clean release at the line of scrimmage. Some of this is mitigated by the way he is being used, but it is still a significant issue that needs to be addressed.

·         There is a startling lack of big-college/NFL experience. Most successful wide receivers get several years of high level coaching at the FBS level. Patterson had one. It isn’t his fault, but he is starting from well behind the 8 ball.

Another (Unkind) Comparable

The player Patterson reminds me of most from a pure skills standpoint isn’t Percy Harvin. To me, his explosiveness, vision, open field ability, and lack of polish closely resembles Devin Hester. Of course there is a significant size disparity, but Patterson actually plays smaller than he is (see the bullet points above). You can scoff at this comp all you want, but the fact is Hester ran faster and had a higher vertical. He was, and still is, raw and undeveloped as a pass catcher, and as the most prolific return man in history, the former Bear has proven his ability with the ball in his hands. Sounds a lot like Patterson, no?

Despite all of this, Hester never developed into much of a wide receiver. You may point to his offensive coordinators and how Norv Turner trumps them all, and that is a very fair point. On the other hand, as somebody who has seen every game of Hester’s career, I can tell you they force fed him the ball on quick slants, bubble screens, and hand offs to the point of detriment to the offense. Yet he had no fantasy success to show for it.

Can Patterson develop beyond what Hester was able to? Of course. But so many of you continue to beat the drum of his athleticism as though it alone will be enough to make him a fantasy asset. I’m sorry, but that is simply not true.

Comments and Criticisms

The comments largely fell into one of a few categories. My replies follow.

1.       Route running can be taught: Of course it can. In equal measure, it isn’t always learned. Most of the time a rookie receiver with poor route running performed poorly in his rookie year and ends up with a fair market value as a result. In this case, Patterson had a mixed 2013 but is still being treated as an elite player. The assumption he will learn is already built into his price. It makes zero sense.

2.       Norv Turner will be Patterson’s savior: This shows people chose to either ignore or disregard the statistics I presented. How you could look at Turner’s track record with receivers and come away with such blind optimism is a mystery I cannot solve.

Beyond that, the assumption Turner will use him as the X receiver/deep threat is based on nothing but blind faith. We have zero evidence Patterson can fill this role or that Turner wants him to. Assuming it will happen is a high risk proposition.

3.       You are crazy man, I have Patterson as a WR3 and will keep him there: I said he is my WR28, which puts him smack-dab in WR3 territory. I wouldn’t start him as one this season, but that is what I think he will become. Also, if you have him as your WR3 and somebody will give you a WR1 price for him, why wouldn’t you do that deal? Am I missing something?

4.       His athleticism is so transcendent the Vikings have to build around him: First of all, no it isn’t. Plenty of guys past and present are big, fast, and have quick feet. We all need to stop pretending he is the Viking God of Athleticism. Secondly, Norv is smart enough not to build around a player he no doubt knows isn’t ready for it. If he is half the coach I think he is, Turner will bring Patterson along slowly, not over-investing in the youngster as the focal point of the offense.

The Final Word on CP

It is important to remember that for all the players before Patterson who were called wide receivers without actually being one, none have ever ended up as a top player. Harvin had one season of significant results, but other than that, the cupboard is bare. If you still think his ability in conjunction with his coach is enough to launch him into the stratosphere, then good on ya! Me? I’ll believe it when I see it.

Adrian Peterson is Not a Child Abuser

by Jeff Miller

Since my blog has apparently morphed from fantasy football to social commentary, I knew I'd want to address Adrian Peterson at some point. Because the uniqueness of this story (huge NFL star arrested for beating his kids one week after video of huge NFL star KO'ing his wife surfaces), I decided it would be best to take some time to digest the reports, his comments, and the NFL's reaction before I threw in my two cents. My conclusion: While Peterson clearly abused his children, he is most likely not a child abuser.

Allow me to explain.

Lets say a guy named John has a few beers after work, putting him just under the legal blood/alcohol limit. John hops in his car and as he is heading home, texts his wife asking if she needs anything from the grocery store. BOOM....John runs a red light, smashing into another car, killing the driver. Our subject made two very questionable decisions:

1. Drove despite being right at the threshold of being too drunk to do so (in legal terms).

2. Texting while driving.

These two things may make John stupid, ignorant, careless, and for that moment, dangerous, but they don't make him a murderer.

Adrian Peterson is John. What he did to his kids is stupid, ignorant, careless, and dangerous, but it wasn't malicious. Whether Peterson should know better or not, he didn't (his nonchalant up-frontness with police is a testament to this fact). Even though he abused his kids, I don't believe he is a child abuser. Instead, he is an uneducated, ignorant, reckless father who damaged his children both physically and mentally. His actions were gross, reprehensible, and probably criminal, but he is certainly no Ray Rice.

The Viking's handling of the situation is absurd. Suspending him last week was the right move. Reinstating him with a "due process" rationale was not. What the courts say should have no bearing on how the NFL and Minnesota Vikings treat this scenario. With most of the facts in the case made apparent by Peterson himself, we, and the NFL, know what we need to know already: Adrian Peterson abuses his children. Why he does it, what his reasoning is, and all of details around it are nothing more than noise as far as the League is concerned. Peterson should be suspended at least six games per the new domestic abuse policy, and probably indefinitely considering he abused children and not an adult. There isn't really any other conversation to be had.

For the past week, the NFL has been as embattled as any sports organization in recent memory. Their decision make, PR spin, and everything else has rated somewhere between baffling and what the fuck? This is their chance to start to reverse the trend by making a stand. For the sake of the sport I love, I hope they find it within themselves to do so.

It is OK to Hit a Woman

by Jeff Miller

There have been roughly 12 trillion hot-takes on the Ray Rice situation so I am reticent to add another, but after weeks of seeing people miss the point, I just couldn't help myself. Here goes nothing...

The opinions on this debacle seem to fall under one of three umbrellas:

1. Roger Goodell is a piece of trash/egomaniac/money grubbing pig capitalist.

2. You're better off hitting women than smoking weed.

3. Ray Rice should be jailed.

While I'd have a hard time disputing any of the above with a straight face, I will say that those three things aren't really on my radar as it relates to this issue. What I'm concentrating on is how much of blame for all of this falls on society itself. 

Earlier today on Twitter I compared domestic violence (DV) to racism. What I meant by the statement is that most intelligent people realize it is a terrible thing, yet for some reason it is still incredibly prevalent. While the days of the 1940's, where you could strike your wife in public then turn around and call a black person a nigger are part of a (thankfully) bygone era, we still have seething remnants poisoning society, especially among the poorly educated. What's left is what I call, "casual racism," or, in this case of DV, "ambivalence." 

Here is how I know there is a prevailing ambivalence towards DV: The commissioner of the NFL suspended a player for two games for knocking his partner unconscious.

A common theory is Goodell only cares about money. But when you think about that critically for more than half a second, you realize how idiotic of a notion it is.

My question: How does having Ray Rice in football games add to the NFL's bottom line in any significant way?

It doesn't.

Even if it did, if Goodell didn't think NFL fans were ambivalent towards DV, he never would have handed down such a short suspension. In the end, if he really is concerned only with dollars, the path he took cost him the most possible off the bottom line and if he didn't see that coming, he is much less intelligent than even his harshest critics could imagine.

There are only two real explanations for his decision:

1. He thought NFL fans wouldn't really care the suspension was short.

2. He, himself, is ambivalent towards DV, causing the assumption others would be as well.

Both of these options prove my point.

Let's talk about drug suspensions for a moment. They are long, seemingly out of whack with even the new DV penalties imposed by the NFL in a poorly orchestrated effort to save face. But in terms of the societal view of drugs, it falls perfectly in line.

Look at the drug laws in this country. Look at how we treat alcohol versus less damaging, but illegal drugs. Think about how Charlie Sheen is a coke head but nobody remembers Kobe Bryant cheated on his wife then paid the person he slept with not to talk about it in a trial for God knows what reason. Explain to me how, "Ray Lewis is a murderer" comes up constantly on my Twitter feed but, "Ben Roetlisberger is a rapist" doesn't. (Neither man was convicted of those crimes, but many, perhaps even most, people assume their guilt.) 

There is absolutely no doubt our society views smoking weed or doing a bump of coke as categorically worse than hitting a woman, cheating on your wife, or even sexual assault. We may act outraged, but the penalties, laws, prosecution rates, and myriad other factors are proof society feels this way. 

The NFL is simply acting in accordance with societal convention. They suspend Josh Gordon a year because society has decided weed is terrible. They suspend Ray Rice two games because society dictates DV isn't that big of a deal. Roger Goodell may be money hungry, but in this case, he is just an ignorant fool who wasn't able to step outside of a situation to really understand the impact of his decision.

I'm certainly not excusing Goodell for his actions, as his inability to realize his opportunity to help change the way people think about DV is reprehensible. I'm clearly not excusing Rice for hitting a woman. And I'm in no way letting the legal system off the hook for their failure to hand down a legitimate penalty. I am simply explaining the reason all of this happened is that society allowed it to.

How do we fix this?

Instead of screaming about Rice and Goodell as individuals, maybe be outraged about all the other DV cases that go unreported or unprosecuted. Why don't women report abuse more often? Why do so many back out of testimony? Why did Ray Rice's victim end up his wife?

Before these women were victims of assault, they were victims of society. Just as casual racism is incredibly contagious to our youth, any number of things contribute to a huge percentage of women who don't have the feeling of empowerment required to escape or stand up for themselves. Basically, the same thing that has caused an immense wage gap between the sexes also causes ambivalence towards DV. Having a very public case where the sports hero skates with the law, at his job, and with his victim certainly isn't going to help.

The solution isn't easy, but I think it is relatively simple, if painful. We need time to allow society to change. When you have this many people, nothing happens overnight. We need societal leaders not just speaking out against DV, but taking visible action in the form of tougher laws, or in this instance, longer suspensions (life, for example). 

As much as I'd like it to be the case, you can't flip a switch and make change happen, but you can react to things like the Ray Rice situation the right way, and every little bit helps.