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Seeing is believing

Want to win at fantasy baseball? Watch the games

Posted: Friday May 20, 2005 1:04AM; Updated: Friday May 20, 2005 4:47PM
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Every fantasy owner has his or her own personal techniques for information gathering. Some scour box scores in the newspaper or online every day. Others follow their teams through fantasy-league-provided news and notes. Still others (like you) read articles (like this one) that offer insights on players and strategies that are intended to keep you up to date on information that you may have missed, you may not have seen, or, what we try to do here most of the time: give you advanced warning on things that are likely going to happen in the future.

I guarantee, however, that the most successful owners use a combination of these things plus one more: They actually watch games. There's really no substitute for seeing a player perform. This may come as very bad news to those of you who are addicted to CSI, Law & Order or American Idol, but to get an advantage over your competition, you should at least try to see every team a few times a month to get an idea of what they're up to.

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Not long ago fans were rather limited in their baseball viewing options, depending on trips to the park, local broadcasts and a scant few nationally-televised games. Today there are myriad ways to keep up with what's going on.

First and foremost, there's the traditional trip to the ballpark. Nothing beats this because you see what you want when you want. If your goal is to concentrate on a particular player, like I did recently with Seattle's Jeremy Reed, and St. Louis' So Taguchi, you can do so without depending on the decisions of a TV director, or even worse, someone who picks the highlights that will be shown on the nightly sports shows. You can't truly evaluate a player's talent level unless you see it for yourself.

The next best thing to being at the park is to watch as many games as you can on television or over the Internet. I've had MLB's Extra Innings package for a couple of years and it's a great way to stay on top of players. Instead of just being names in a paper or a five-second clip on a show, you see guys taking pitches, fouling balls off, running the bases, making routine plays ... in short, being complete players.

If you don't have access to satellite TV or digital cable, and you don't want to spend too much time at your local sports bar, you can sign up for MLB.TV, which provides streaming video of nearly every game right on your computer. Perhaps the best part of having MLB.TV is that you can see baseball from anywhere in the world where you have Internet access.

I'm sure you've heard the expression "That'll look like a line drive in the box score" when a batter reaches on a bloop hit or dribbler down the line. It's true. Statistically, every hit looks the same as every other. The only way to differentiate between them is to see the the action for yourself. Looking only at a pitchers line can be completely misleading. Did he allow hard hits, or did they squib through the infield? Did the run score because an outfielder fell down? Did he walk five batters in a game because he was wild or because he was squeezed by the home plate umpire.

Here's a perfect example of the phenomenon. In the 1997 NLCS Game 5, Marlins pitcher Livan Hernandez struck out 15 Braves to outduel Greg Maddux, 2-1. Hernandez allowed one run on three hits in what appeared on paper to be one of the greatest pitching performances in history. However, those who saw the game know better. Don't be mistaken, Hernandez did pitch a great game, but he benefited from an irregularly wide strike zone from home plate umpire Eric Gregg. If a hitter's umpire was behind the plate, things might have gone considerably different for Hernandez and Florida.

Fantasy sports are all about getting the upper hand on your competition and the more players you see, the bigger advantage you'll have. You can't tell how good or bad a player really is unless you see him for yourself.

David Sabino is the associate editor in charge of statistics at Sports Illustrated and the author of the book, Dominate Your Fantasy Baseball League (Muska & Lipman/Premier-Trade).

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