In auction universe, astronomer's a star


April 04, 2006|By CHILDS WALKER

Dave Adler has a secret identity.

In real life, he's an astronomer for the Hubble Telescope project at Johns Hopkins.

But in an alternate universe of dominance rates and linear weighted power indexes, he's another kind of expert. Yes, folks, Baltimore has a representative in some of the most prestigious fantasy baseball auctions in the country.

Last month, Adler matched wits with fellow fantasy experts in the "Leagues of Alternative Baseball Reality" auctions, sponsored by USA Sports Weekly. He was representing Ron Shandler's Baseball HQ, for which he writes a weekly column.

Adler grew up in New Jersey, where he pulled for the Oakland Athletics amid a sea of Yankees and Mets rooters. "When I was a kid, I liked to be different," he said.

He has played fantasy baseball for 21 years, meaning he started just after the game was created and popularized by a group of New York publishing executives. For most of that time, he slugged it out with school buddies from Boston in a serious, but not too serious, league.

He toyed with using his math skills to map fantasy trends but never got that far with it.

About five years ago, however, he discovered Shandler. The master's words about how to cut past wins and RBIs to the statistics that hold up over time made sense to Adler.

"What I liked about Ron's site was that he was teaching you to use the numbers," he said.

Adler started submitting his own writings whenever Shandler called for new fantasy scribes. He caught on with HQ and now writes every Monday about the fantasy impact of recent news in the American League.

He crossed another horizon by entering the expert drafts this year. For those who don't follow, LABR and Tout Wars are the two most hyped expert showdowns. Fantasy players use the auction prices from each as a guide to how the market should shape up in a given year. These guys are like the Federal Reserve chairmen of the fantasy world.

These high-level auctions present a fascinating contrast to the sluggish madness most of us are used to in our home leagues.

Everyone in the room knows approximately how much each player will cost and thus, bidding starts very close to the winning price. There are no sleepers because these guys recommend sleepers to other people for a living.

"I kept waiting to see when the true bargains would be there," Adler said, "but it never happened."

The whole thing proceeds with remarkable economy, 30 to 45 seconds for each player.

If it all seems a little bloodless, well, fantasy is a logical exercise for most of these guys.

"I thought it was more fun," Adler said. "Nobody messed around."

He emerged from the American League draft with a Shandleriffic team -- 77 percent of its budget alloted to hitting, balanced at all positions and in all categories, devoid of splashy stars.

His most expensive player is a $27 Coco Crisp, his best starting pitchers a pair of youngsters, Joe Blanton at $14 and Scott Kazmir at $13. Only Troy Glaus at $20 appears a solid bet to pass 30 homers.

It's not a collection of players who'd quicken the pulse of your average bleacher bum.

"I brought my list to lunch," Adler said, "and everybody was saying, `I don't know a single player on here.'"

But he was thrilled with it.

He got a little more wild on the National League side, spending $38 each on first baseman Derrek Lee and outfielder Jason Bay before settling in to his usual balanced approach.

The differences between the two squads illustrate a key Adler tenet.

"You always have to be flexible," he said.

He never enters a draft determined to acquire specific players. He learned his lesson a few years back when he entered a bidding war on Brad Fullmer only to watch the overpriced first baseman flop.

Instead, he enters with goals in each statistical category and tries to meet them with the best array of bargains he can find.

Looking for a tip from the expert? Adler suggested Orioles fans stay close to home and acquire Daniel Cabrera.

"I've always felt that if this guy could control his walk rate, he could be Randy Johnson," he said.

But if you ever end up in a league with him, don't expect hometown bias to guide his actions.

"I try not to have particular favorites," he said.

Spoken like a true fantasy expert.

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