It's been 10 years.Ten cat-kicking, remote-chucking, what-in-the-name-of-Rennie-Stennett-have-I-done years.
The Sphinx was but a gleam in a sandcastle's eye, Pac-man was just hitting store shelves, Sheldon Cooper and Leonard Hofstadter had yet to bang into each other, and I had two kids in diapers the last time I won a fantasy baseball championship.
Sure, there have been a handful of football and basketball titles won in the interim, and it's not like I've been a complete dunderhead, as I've placed in the top four (money spots) in baseball more often than not.
But this is supposed to be my thing. Baseball, which is practically a religion in my family, has been a way of life since I first teed it up as a 5-year-old buried under a cap that would have been big on Mothra and sporting a nifty Kmart red, white and blue glove which went great with the Buck Owens guitar Uncle Gary gave me for Anderson Lumber nearly 40 years ago.
Not one title? Not once could I have even accidentally gotten it right? I can't even blame this on that stupid Tuck Rule (buh-bye!).
The past two years have been particularly painful as I've unsuccessfully tried to reinvent the fantasy wheel, making one unnecessary and laughably batty maneuver after another to predictably caca results. Last year's really bad ideas featured Tim Lincecum, Jose Valverde and Brian McCann, each of whom contributed to my demise in their own special way.
But, alas, 2013 offers opportunity anew to step down from the throne of bitterness and right recent wrongs, to restore one's fantasy reputation, explore strange new worlds, seek out new life and new civilizations and boldly go where we once annually planted our flag: the top of the fantasy mountain.
Now that my brain appears to be fully functioning again, here's a peek inside at the hamster on my treadmill and some strategies to consider.
Balance was the common denominator during a successful run from 2002-2010 that saw me fail to place in the money on just one occasion. The lack of balance, in so many realms of my existence, has been as responsible for my recent shortcomings as knuckleheaded drafting, which is why there will be no punting on categories this go-round.
With my league having recently expanded its statistical categories to six pitching and six batting, it's too risky to pass on any of them and make the assumption that one can serve as lord of time, space and dimension in a given league by being Chuck Norris in some areas and Chuck Cunningham in others.
Last season, I completely ignored speed and saves, choosing instead to load up on starting pitchers and power bats, neither of which panned out and left me rudderless and in desperation mode from the word go.
A balanced roster can better stem the tide of injury and stinkage than a team whose strength on paper fails to translate into reality. It's OK to be a little bit country and a little bit rock 'n' roll.
A pitcher-first draft approach can pay huge dividends if the right pieces are acquired and remain upright. Having two or even three bona fide aces, a couple shut-down closers and a handful of ratio-friendly, middle-of-the rotation starters on board is never a bad thing, given the scarcity of quality arms available and how quickly things can go south when the Injury Fairy pays a visit.
I went the all-pitching-all-the-time route a year ago, opening my draft with Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, who went on to deliver another stellar season. Unfortunately, an acute case of brain crampage led to the subsequent selections of Lincecum, Josh Johnson, Brian Wilson and Valverde, whose combined efforts obliterated my ratios, popped holes in my tires and killed any hope for success.
Despite last year's plank walk into the asteroid field, I'm not afraid to give it another go on the pitching front, and I have my eye on Kershaw with the No. 3 pick (with Mike Trout a late first-round roster keeper and Miguel Cabrera and Ryan Braun likely to go with the first two picks).
If you're all about hitting and trolling for pitchers early simply isn't an option, one can build a quality staff comprised of Nos. 2 and 3 starters without sacrificing offense in the early rounds. If you miss out or pass on the big guns in the early rounds, a staff built around the likes of Jordan Zimmermann, Madison Bumgarner, Tommy Hanson and Jarrod Parker would be nothing to sneeze at. To further illustrate the point, one could use late-round picks to acquire solid back-of-the-rotation starters in Doug Fister, Ryan Vogelsong, Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Harvey and be plenty competitive.
It's also important not to undervalue the role of closers. The Braves' Craig Kimbrell, who could go as early as Round 6 in many drafts, will push 50 saves and 100 strikeouts while posting an ERA and WHIP that require a magnifying glass to see. The Giants' Sergio Romo is a control freak who won't throw pure gas like Kimbrell, but he'll slide the ball under, over and around bats with precision and post numbers every bit as good. You can't go wrong with proven qualities in Jim Johnson, Johnathan Papelbon and Joe Nathan, while Rafael Soriano could save 955 games for the scary-on-paper Nationals.
Taking the offensive
While I'm planning to be partial to pitchers, that could all change if, say, Braun happened to be available to me with the third overall pick. As shocking as it might sound, there's a very good chance that the bullet-proof Brewers slugger could be there.
Because of concerns over his availability and any-minute-now risk of being suspended for dalliances with PEDs, Braun slid to the end of the first round in my league's 2012 draft ... and to our eventual champion, who fell into a second four-leaf clover patch when he was able to acquire Trout in a trade well before the Angels then-rookie center fielder became a 30-50 threat and the most valuable commodity in the fantasy universe.
Because a top-notch staff can be assembled without having to expend early-round draft picks, the thought of loading up on bats before calling to arms is also an appealing option. Homerism, napping and stubbornness can fill the opening rounds of a draft with more than a few surprises, making it possible to come away with prizes one might never have imagined possible. Which is why it's good to go in with Plan A, but important to be ready with Plan B if Christmas comes early.
Bats are never in short supply, but you can never have too many, especially if you take McCann in the third round hoping for Mike Piazza and instead winding up with Biff Pocoroba or Mike Engelberg.
My Top 20
1. Ryan Braun, OF, Brewers; 2. Miguel Cabrera, 3B, Tigers; 3. Mike Trout, OF Angels; 4. Matt Kemp, OF, Dodgers; 5. Andrew McCutchen, OF, Pirates; 6. Albert Pujols, 1B, Angels; 7. Clayton Kershaw, P, Dodgers; 8. Robinson Cano, 2B, Yankees; 9. Troy Tulowitzki, SS, Rockies; 10. Justin Verlander, P, Tigers; 11. Joey Votto, 1B, Reds; 12. Carlos Gonzalez, OF, Rockies; 13. Giancarlo Stanton, OF, Marlins; 14. Josh Hamilton, OF, Angels, 15. Stephen Strasburg, P, Nationals; 16. Prince Fielder, 1B, Tigers; 17. Buster Posey, C, Giants; 18. Evan Longoria, 3B, Rays; 19. Jose Bautista, OF, Blue Jays; 20. Justin Upton, OF, Braves.
Next week, I'll have the full report from my league's draft in Arizona.