Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Legitimate Matt Berry criticism

By Rick Morris

Since my initial column attempting to clear up our stance on ESPN's Matt Berry, I've since had the question posed to me about what our legitimate criticism would resemble. I believed when I wrote that column that I had put keyboard to digital paper saying some of the same things I regularly say on our FANTASYDRAFTHELP.COM INSIDER program on It turns out that I have not.

So I will do that here and now and explain some of the areas that have been major philosophical differences with Berry. I preface this by noting again that we regularly address pieces of advice being put out by those with significantly bigger megaphones than us (and Berry probably has the biggest with the "Worldwide Leader" platform). On last week's show, for example, we took issue somewhat with advice from Sports Weekly's Mat Pitzer when he advised that fantasy owners may well want to bench LT when the playoffs materialize. He cited the possibility that some owners may also have Matt Forte or Tim Hightower, for example. We stated that, while this may be the case, we're dubious that very many fantasy owners have two other running backs who are on the top tier where LT still resides and that Pitzer's point probably didn't merit being the lead item in his weekly column.

Without further ado, areas of sharp disagreement with Matt Berry:

^ Value: It's what we're obsessed with in terms of building teams and it's the building block of (all successful) pro franchises when they're conducting their own drafts. When Berry drafts Thomas Jones 11th overall in The Sporting News experts' draft a few years ago without regard to his market value, that makes our teeth grind. Championships are won and lost by patiently grinding out value all through a draft or auction and we don't see this truism addressed, at least explicitly, by Berry.

^ One-size-fits-all advice: His 25 rules for drafts are of an absolute nature that we abhor. Example: 2006's first rule, to avoid Terrell Owens. We complained about this at the time. Avoid him? What if he drops to the sixth round because everyone's listening to Matt Berry? Doesn't he become a sufficient value at some point, especially if you've already got your starting WRs?

I can practically hear the rebuttal coming from here. "Rick, you're taking me out of context. I didn't mean to absolutely 100% avoid him if he drops to an insane point. Don't put words in my mouth!" To that hypothetical protestation, I would reply with the following: "Matt, people take us completely literally at almost all times. I've been interacting with the public through my webcast since 2004 and writing about fantasy since 2001, both on significantly smaller platforms than the one you've got right now (and also smaller than the old Mr. Roto site). In other words, anything that has been made plain to me has been made plain to you ten times over and probably, ten times earlier. If I've had somebody scream at me about a piece of advice that I didn't intend to be taken to an illogical conclusion, then surely it's happened to you and you're not unaware that people do this. It's the reason that I preface most pieces of advice with preambles and conditions. I'd rather risk somebody's eyes glazing over with a preface and know that I'm delivering something that they won't easily misuse."

There's been a notable lack of nuance all around ESPN in recent years, the rollout of what some have called the "Skip Bayless culture." It may be unfair for me to lump in some of Matt Berry's absolutes with the mandate at ESPN to grab people with something catchy at all times, but the other explanation, a personal lack of regard for nuance, isn't much better. Regardless of why it materializes, it's something that I feel hurts all fantasy touts when our industry leader puts it out there. That's the motivation for counteracting that, nothing more, nothing less.

For that matter, I would like to politely disagree with one of my colleagues who has criticized Berry for some alleged fence-sitting opinions. I don't see him falling into the "Captain Obvious" stuff more than any of us accidentally do on occasion. I think that the valid criticism is on the other extreme, when he appears to say provacative things almost for the sake of it (i.e. the infamous advice to bench AP against the Chargers). I don't see him as a fence-sitter and I don't agree with that perception, on the contrary, I see him as somebody whose love of the provocative opinion is something I don't justify. Which leads me to the next point ...

^ He loves him some matchups: Now matchups are always quite relevant in fantasy sports and we'd be the last to deny that. By the same token, in recent years a "cult of the matchup" has sprung up in recent years, one that glorifies them to an unhealthy extent. We see Berry as a part of this issue. We strongly disagree with the notion that there are not "untouchable" players. To us, AP is somebody who never gets benched unless there is an injury question and there are others (not as many as there were even 2-3 years ago due to the preponderance of running back committees) who fit that same bill. We see Berry's approach as encouraging overmanaging.

So there it is, without rhetorical excesses or anything that could be deemed personally hurtful. Ironically, if we were ankle-biting to even half the degree that some have thought, I'd have taken the time to write out what I've said on the show before. And I hope that these points are now clear, separated from the hyperbole and trash-talking that I see in retrospect was not in good fun and for which I have already apologized for approving to be published.

But also, as promised, I looked over his recent writings to see if there were any areas where I could commend his advice in good faith. I did find a few.

He talked up Dom Hixon and Jerome Harrison as good potential pickups, advice that we have given as well. I don't really agree with him about Hixon being better than teammate Steve Smith (Hixon has a higher ceiling, but Smith is more likely to produce week-to-week), but I think he's promoting a couple of diamonds in the rough. As somebody who is based out of Cleveland, I have long seen Harrison (nicknamed "The Ghost" in college) as being quite an explosive potential weapon.

I'm not under any illusions about affecting the approach of anybody bigger than us in this industry. They've all succeeded by doing things their way, regardless of any philosophical differences we may have with them. By the same token, the fantasy sports arm of FDH is going to keep doing it our way, agreeing and disagreeing with the "big boys" as we see it, but we'll be sure to lay things out point-by-point as we did here and not give any ammunition to anybody ready to dismiss us as haters.

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