Fantasy baseball hobby pays off

By Paul Mayne


Get Rob Silver, LLB’00, talking politics and you might be a while. Get him talking about baseball and you’ll need to grab a seat.

The Western alumnus is a founding partner of Crestview Strategy, a Toronto- and Ottawa-based government relations firm. He may be a familiar face to Canadian political junkies as a regular contributor to CBC’s Power & Politics. However, Silver stepped away from his company and the TV gig to avoid any perceived conflicts of interest after his wife, Katie Telford, was named Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s chief of staff.
Alumnus Rob Silver won the National Fantasy Baseball Championship and its $125,000 USD prize last year.

That means he has a little extra time for his hobby – fantasy baseball. And it is paying off.

Last year, Silver won the National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC) and its $125,000 USD prize.

Western News reporter Paul Mayne ‘played nine’ with the self-professed “Bo Jackson of geeky hobbies,” (Silver won the National Debating Championship while at Western) before the 2017 NFBC draft where Silver’s team, BABIP McBatflips, looks to defend its title.


Is this time of the year like Spring Training for you? Is the adrenaline pumping? Been pouring through the stats for a while now?


I’m pretty excited. I’m heading to Vegas on the weekend.

By the end of October, when the regular season is over, I’m fried. Last year, by 6 p.m. on the last day of the regular season, when all the Sunday games were ending at the same time – so after the last game, the last out, and it’s official – I was out. That’s the big thing with baseball – it’s such a long season. By the end, I don’t want to look at another box score; I don’t want to open my Excel spread sheets; I’m done.

It’s a good four to six weeks after the season where I’m ‘Oh my god, I’m sick of baseball and can’t take it anymore’ before I’m counting down the days to get going again.


Sabermetrics is what major league teams bury themselves in when it comes to player projections and analyzing the game. Do you go the same route? Or do emotions and instinct still play a part when putting your team together?


It comes down to the numbers – but it’s also more than just the numbers.

I’m a Jays fan, but I’m not drafting Blue Jays simply because I like the Jays. But there is, of course, objective scouting I use. The old criticism of the Sabermetrics guys is they don’t watch the games. I watch the games, too. I have opinions; I pay attention to what scouts say.

You are not actually owning the players; you’re owning their stats. It makes a certain amount of sense to be impressed by the stats they’re putting up there.


So, then, what are you looking for?


Whether it’s a straight draft or an auction, the biggest thing is, you’re allocating resources and trying to get a return on those resources. For me, ultimately, I want to have a view on the player’s likely performance. We don’t know what’s going to happen. But I run all kinds of scenarios for each player. And then there’s cost. With every pick I make, I’m looking for what’s the best return. And the best return can mean being the safest pick, it could mean the most upside, it can mean different things at different times, but that’s the biggest thing – cost versus my expected return.


You’ve had some previous Top 50 finishes in the NFBC in the past. (Silver’s career earnings sit at $158,000 USD). What was it this past season you think made the difference in winning it all?


Part luck. Part I had more time on my hands to do it. I had two other years where I made serious runs at the overall title. I learned from that experience. I was a little bit smarter going into it last year.

On the last day of the season, there was basically no scenario that I could lose. I went into my office, closed the door, got a really good bottle of scotch and was watching on my computer, flipping between games. It was like counting down the clock. That was quite glorious.


How much does your strategy change year-to-year?


You take some lessons from the past year. But there’s the old cliché: ‘You don’t want to be the general who’s fighting the last war.’ The player pool changes each year. They’re not going to replay the 2016 season. It’s a brand-new season, so you have to be looking forward. For example, there was a big spike in home runs last year. Who knows if that sticks around for this year or not? It’s like a puzzle. When you put the pieces together, if you asked me, ‘How did you do that, and can you replicate that,’ I think I figured out some parts, but it’s a whole new puzzle this time around.


You’re on the clock. You have the first pick overall. Do you get an arm or are you looking for a solid bat? Who do you go with?


It depends when your story is coming out. (Laughs.) I do have the first pick in one of the drafts. The consensus is (Los Angeles Angels outfielder) Mike Trout is the best player in baseball. But who knows what I might actually do when I’m on the clock. Between us, I will likely take (NAME REDACTED.)


It seems the early rounds would be straightforward with most picks. Is the real money made with those late draft picks?


In the early rounds, I’m not really looking at upside. I’m looking to minimize risk. I’m trying to avoid landmines when I’m picking in the early rounds because, again, there is the cliché, ‘You can’t win the draft in the first round, but you can lose the draft in the first round.’ There’s certainly some truth to it. These NFCB drafts are 30 rounds, and it’s really in rounds 11-20 where the teams separate. I spend a lot of time thinking who am I really targeting in those middle rounds, and then build the draft back from that. Last year, I got (Washington Nationals third baseman) Daniel Murphy in the 12th round, I got (Los Angeles Dodgers third baseman) Justin Turner in the 16th, (Toronto Blue Jays pitcher) Marco Estrada in the 22nd round. So, I got a ton of value in those middle-to-late rounds.


Is that the biggest mistake you see fantasy players make?


This year, people are spending so much time on whether they should take (Chicago Cubs third baseman) Kris Bryant or (Colorado Rockies third baseman) Nolan Arenado or (Baltimore Orioles third baseman) Manny Machado. There is no right or wrong answer. There are differences between those guys, and I have an opinion who I’d take. But if you told me you were going to take those three guys in a hat and pick one of them – you can even add (Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman) Paul Goldschmidt or (Blue Jays third baseman) Josh Donaldson – I don’t care which one I get. I’m certainly not going to cry if I get any one of those. There is so much time spent trying to differentiate between those guys instead of saying who can I get in the 17th round to help my team a little bit, as opposed to the garbage that everybody else is taking in the 17th round.


Take us through a season for you. Are you having fun? Are you stressed out?


The reason why I’m tired by October is it’s a lot of work. It’s not the league where you log on once or twice a week, make a trade offer, have beer and watch your team go. If it’s not every day then it’s almost every day. It’s paradoxical because the better you’re doing, the more stress there is. If your team is in 66th place overall, and you’re fifth in your league trying to make a run to third, it’s not stressful. You may be disappointed, but it’s not stressful.

The most stressful time, to be honest, is when you’re in first place because everyone is chasing you. That’s when I’ll try to go to bed at a decent time but then I’ll wake up at 1:30 or 2 in the morning just to grab my phone and check what happened on the west coast games. I refresh a lot.

Of course, I love it. It’s like someone who does marathons. If you say every single moment of February – when you’re going out for an 18 km run at 7 a.m. and it’s cold as hell outside – that you love that, there’s something wrong with you. But you love the hobby. That is why I do this. I love it. You can have moments of stress, heartbreak of things you don’t like but, ultimately, you’re doing it because you enjoy it – unless you truly are a masochistic person who dislikes themselves.