Stats spur fantasy league expert
“The driving force for me is the statistical aspect of the game. The numbers.”
In the rich and diversified world of UB research and knowledge, Alan Gellin’s expertise might appear a notch separate from the breakthroughs in medicine, the arts and technology.
Gellin, assistant to the associate deans in UB’s Graduate School of Education, is UB’s resident fantasy baseball expert, a reputation built on a consistent record of performance. Combining a love of baseball with a math acumen perfectly in tune with the unending world of baseball statistics, he belongs in the ranks of UB professors and administrators with special knowledge in their fields.
The difference in Gellin’s stock in trade is finding hidden jewels in the diamonds, in this case the baseball diamonds. He has put his ability to judge talent and decode the arcane world of baseball statistics to a worthwhile and practical cause: winning the multiple fantasy baseball leagues in which he competes.
“I have a pretty good sense of what I am doing,” says Gellin, the subject of a Buffalo News feature two years ago when he finished first in all of his four fantasy baseball leagues and received an all-expenses-paid trip to a fantasy baseball conference in Arizona after finishing first among 73 fantasy league subscribers. “But there are also years when I don’t do as well.
“The driving force for me is the statistical aspect of the game. The numbers. It’s always fascinated me. And I’ve always liked math. I’ve gone to my share of games, but I don’t really look forward to that. I just look forward to the games being played and seeing how things fall out. It’s the statistics and how players do as the season wears on.”
Gellin also shares the public university values of his colleagues—a willingness to give something back to the world. Rather than keep his predictions and tips of the best teams and the most promising players to himself, he’s willing to share at least some of his knowledge.
But before he releases some predictions, a few disclaimers:
Gellin is not of the field-of-dreams, baseball-as-pastoral-poetry school of thought. He’s in it for another reason.
“Part of it is bragging rights,” he says. “I’m very competitive and regardless of what I do, I want to win. I don’t care if we’re playing Scrabble or whatever it is. My goal is to win.”
Let others wax poetically about the game with no time clock and the rich green of infield grass.
“If I win my league,” he says, “I’m happy.”
He also gives no guarantees. Past results, Gellin says, do not necessarily indicate future successes, especially with all the unpredictable factors that go into a major league baseball season.
“I can fool myself into thinking I’m really smart the years I win,” he says. “But luck drives so much of what happens in fantasy baseball.
“So when we win, it’s because we’re smart. And when we lose, it’s all because of injuries or other factors. You tell yourself, ‘What can I do? That’s baseball.’”
Despite the qualifiers, Gellin is willing to divulge some results of his research of websites, inside information, experience and pure instinct. Here are some players to watch, some of whom may be far from household names to the casual baseball fan.
Players of interest in the National League
Gellin singles out three players he expects to do well this season:
- Pablo Sandoval, third baseman for the San Francisco Giants. “He is the heart of the Giants’ batting order,” Gellin says. “Last year, he was a little bit off, but supposedly he lost some weight this year and is really focused. I think he’s going to have a big year.”
- Andrew McCutchen, center fielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates, and Justin Upton, right field for the Arizona Diamondbacks.
“These are two young outfielders who have been around for a few years,” Gellin says. “They’ve both got some power, speed and they can potentially hit for a high batting average. They’re exciting players to watch. They can do it all.”
In the world of fantasy baseball, where points are awarded for home runs, runs batted in, batting average, stolen bases and runs scored, McCutchen and Upton are valuable because their talents can produce well in all categories, where someone like Sandoval has to make up for his lack of steals with power hitting.
American League hitters to watch
- Billy Butler, designated hitter with the Kansas City Royals. “He’s a little like Sandoval,” Gellin says. “He hits for power and a batting average. He’s starting to establish himself as one of the top young hitters in the game.”
- Ian Kinsler, second baseman for the Texas Rangers. “Kinsler is similar to McCutchen and Upton in that he has power, can steal, hit for average.
“I’d also put Jacoby Ellsbury (center fielder for the Boston Red Sox) in that same category.
“And I think A-Rod (Yankee third-baseman Alex Rodriguez) is going to have a big year,” Gellin says. “Even though he is 36 years old and has been injured the past few years, reports are coming back that his attitude is really good and he really wants to show he still can produce. And when you look at milestones, this year he will move into the top-10 all time in runs scored, runs batted in and total bases.
Predicting the performance of pitchers is almost impossible, Gellin says, because of all the factors that affect how they play. Nevertheless, he has some favorites:
- Zack Greinke, Milwaukee Brewers. “A few years ago, he had a really monster year,” Gellin says. “Then he had some personal issues that really messed with his abilities on the field. He got that under control and then he had some injuries. Last year, he started out slowly, but had a really big second half. A lot of people are expecting this to be a year when he puts it all together again.”
- Jake Peavy of the Chicago White Sox and Francisco Liriano of the Minnesota Twins. “Both have had great years in the past,” Gellin says. “Peavy has been injured, but people are starting to think he’s also going to put it all together again this year.
“Liriano is another player that has been chronically injured. He had an amazing spring training. When he’s on, he’s exciting to watch. Many are hoping this is the year he’s going to stay healthy.”
Others to watch
- Brandon Belt, first baseman with the San Francisco Giants. “He’s got a great swing and he has the potential to be a really, really good player,” Gellin says.
- Lorenzo Cain, centerfielder with the Kansas City Royals. “A young player with a lot of speed, who surprised people with some power during the spring.”
- Drew Smyly, pitcher with the Detroit Tigers. “He’s a relative unknown who made the team out of training camp. Young pitchers are especially hard to predict, but he had some solid numbers in the minor leagues.”
Outlook for the 2012 World Series
Gellin likes the Philadelphia Phillies and the Los Angeles Angels.
“The Phillies again have the best pitching staff in baseball, with Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels,” he says. “And they picked up (closer Jonathan) Papelbon. I still think they are the team to beat in the National League.
“Albert Pujols (acquired by the Angels in the off-season) is the kind of player that lifts up everyone around him and makes them better. The Angels also have a great pitching staff and they’re my pick for the best team in the American League.
“But you know what? There are probably going to be two teams in the World Series nobody would’ve predicted at the beginning of the season. Teams come out of nowhere as the season wears on. That’s the unpredictability of baseball,” he says.