Baseball chinwag with Al Melchior

If baseball analysts had nicknames, Al Melchior would be the professor, so it was not surprising to discover that he is a former political science professor from Florida International University.

Al has been writing about fantasy baseball since the turn of the century and is one of the most knowledgeable and highly-respected analysts in the business.

For the last couple of years, he hosted one of my favourite podcasts, an informative 60 minutes of fantasy baseball chat with his daily show, The Fantasy Baseball Hour with Al Melchior. He pulled the show in December to embark on the next chapter of his career.

Having worked for CBS, Fantrax and Rotographs among many others, Al recently joined the team of elite fantasy baseball writers and analysts at The Athletic.

Mr Al Melchior, thank you very much for letting us intrude on your busy schedule, and massive congratulations on the new appointment.

The Athletic, wow! How does it feel? Are you exclusively employed or will we still find your work at FanGraphs and other places?
Thank you, Gavin, and I appreciate you including me in your series. I’m really excited to be a part of The Athletic. It’s very much like when I started writing for FanGraphs — specifically, RotoGraphs — a little over a couple of years ago. They’re both sites that I’ve enjoyed as a reader, and I respect them immensely, so to be included among the writers in both places is pretty heady. And, yes, I’ll be writing for both sites.

Bat Flips and Nerds is a website covering all aspects of baseball from British grassroots play in the UK to the World Baseball Classic and from MLB to fantasy baseball. All with a uniquely British take.

What are your experiences of UK and the rest of Europe?
I have several cousins that live in and around London. I have been to visit only one time, back in 2006, but I would love to go back again. My wife and I stayed at the Sherlock Holmes Hotel in Marylebone, and it was such a great location for exploring the city.

As for the rest of Europe, my only other travel there was a trip to Germany (both West and East) and Austria when I was a senior in high school. I had some ambivalence about it at the time, as my father and his family are Holocaust refugees from Essen. I’m glad I went. It’s almost unreal to think I got to go behind the Iron Curtain back in 1983 — on a school-sponsored trip, no less.

We are more excited than you can imagine with the prospect of the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox visiting in June. The London Series is a dream come true for so many of us MLB fans in the UK who were brought up on a diet of one televised game per week … which was broadcast after midnight.

Now we are spoilt with and ESPN, but the time difference still makes life difficult. An 8:00pm ET first pitch is 1:00am over here. Many MLB fans in the US hate it when games go into extra-innings, but we love the opportunity to see the finale of west coast games when we get up in the morning.

Anyway, this is a convoluted way of saying that although the British MLB audience is small, we are a committed bunch and the London Series will increase our numbers exponentially.

What are your thoughts/opinions of the London Series? Will you be coming over to London for it?
I wish I was going to be there! I think the London Series is a neat novelty, and I would guess that the inconvenience of travel will keep it as no more than that. It will be interesting to see how much my relatives there will follow it. I’ve always thought it was cool when MLB held series outside of North America, and I don’t view this one any differently. It also means morning baseball for me here in Mountain Time, so that’s always a good thing.

After leaving CBS, you moved from sunny Fort Lauderdale, Florida to Bozeman, Montana. I checked the weather online today; it was -17℉, which for us is -27℃. I’m guessing it improves in spring, but what prompted such a drastic relocation?
After all of those years in hot, humid Florida, I love the cold! It’s also pretty dry here, so while -17℉ kind of extreme, it’s “only” -4℉ today, and it’s not so bad. I actually saw a guy out in a t-shirt and shorts today. I haven’t adjusted quite that much yet to try that myself.

We have friends that moved here from the Miami area about six years ago, and we came out and visited. Both my wife and I fell in love with the place, and we thought maybe we could move here “someday.” Then, in 2016, when she had the opportunity to teach some classes here at Montana State University, we thought, “why not?”. We had recently adopted a horse, and it just seemed like an ideal place to move ourselves…and him. It’s meant piecing work together, and while that creates its own stress, freelancing has allowed me to have a little more flexibility in my schedule.

You are equidistant from the Seattle Mariners and the Colorado Rockies, both being about a 10-hour drive. Have you switched your allegiance from the Miami Marlins to either?
I don’t feel like I’m a fan of any team now. I still have a little bit of an interest in following the Marlins, but they’ve obviously been a frustrating team to root for over the years. I have the package, so I watch a pretty broad swath of teams, but because we are (barely) in the Mariners’ media market, I probably watch them more than any other team.

That said, I have yet to make the trip to Seattle since we moved here two-and-a-half years ago, but I did visit Denver for a FanGraphs meetup last summer. I went to Coors Field for the first time, and it’s a really nice park. A 10-hour drive is a bit long to make it a regular destination. It doesn’t help that, to get there, you have to drive through Wyoming, where there are very few places to stop if you want to break the trip up. It is a beautiful drive, though.

Up until this year, we had the Helena Brewers rookie league team (Pioneer League) only 90 minutes away, but they moved to Colorado Springs. Still, Billings (the Reds’ Pioneer League affiliate) is only a little more than a two-hour drive, so I’ll probably catch at least one game there this year.

As every team invests more and more in analytics, many baseball writers have been recruited into full-time jobs within MLB organisations. I was going to ask if that is an ambition, but perhaps I should wait until your tenure with The Athletic is more than a few days old.

Ha! Yes, I am happy with my current situation, but if a team called, I would listen. It’s something I have looked into in the past, but I’m not actively pursuing an MLB job at this point.

Turning to fantasy baseball …

How did you get involved in writing and what on earth was the thought process transitioning from a regular well-paid job to become a full-time fantasy baseball writer?
That transition lasted 10 years. My first writing gig was freelancing for Baseball HQ, writing Scoresheet advice columns. I was frankly surprised I got the job, since it’s such a great and esteemed site, and I had never written about baseball for pay before. After about six years, I quit HQ, as it was getting too difficult to balance freelancing with a full-time job. (At that point, I was teaching in a public high school — a very demanding job.) I had pretty much given up on the dream of writing about baseball full-time. However, one of my full-time jobs prior to teaching high school was working for SportsLine (now in market research. I let it be known that I really wanted to get in on the content side of the business, and about two years after I quit HQ and almost five years after I left SportsLine, I got a call from an editor at what had become CBS. I started writing for CBS part-time, and a full-time opportunity came up two years later.

You are renowned as a brilliant analyst of pitchers. What do you look for when trying to predict a breakout from a less high-profile pitcher? Do you have a particular metric that you tend to look at more than most?
Thank you, Gavin! Like a lot of analysts, I put more weight on swinging strike rate (SwStr%) than other metrics, just because it correlates so strongly with strikeouts, and of course, we all love strikeouts. As far as breakouts go, though, I’m really just looking for any sort of year-to-year improvement in any stat that doesn’t get reflected in their ERA and/or WHIP. For example, Matt Boyd got a lot better at inducing soft flyball contact last year, but he gave up some cheap homers that masked that improvement. Even if he is the same pitcher skill-wise in 2019 that he was in 2018, he should have a lower ERA and WHIP this year.

And can you give us a couple of names of pitchers we should look out for taking a big step forward in 2019?
Lucas Giolito (Chicago White Sox) and Jaime Barria (Los Angeles Angels)

Finally, what is one piece of advice you would pass on to British youngsters wanting to get involved in sports media or fantasy baseball analysis?
I think this is pretty much what everyone in the industry advises, and for good reason: write and publish regularly. If you’re starting out, create a blog and post as often as possible. Of course, other things, like networking, are important, too. I’d also add that writers and analysts should just follow their curiosity. I forget this from time to time, and it’s easy to do when you’re under time pressure to get certain things done. But it’s important to carve out time to pursue the research and writing on things that you’re really curious about.


Roto, points, categories or DFS? ROTO!
ESPN, Yahoo, CBS or Fantrax? CBS, and not just because I worked there!
How many leagues are you in? Eight. It’s the first time I’ve been below 10 in years.
Favourite player – past and present? I was trying to think of players I grew up with, especially the 70s Phillies, but I think my favourite past player is actually Greg Maddux. Favourite current player: Giancarlo Stanton. His majestic blasts created a lot of great memories from going to Marlins games, and aside from the 2003 World Series, there weren’t many of those.
Favourite sports writer? It’s really hard to settle on just one, but it’s hard to top Roger Angell. I really admire the work of my new colleague at The Athletic, Eno Sarris @enosarris. It’s a little more common now to read writers who seamlessly blend sabermetric analysis with player interviews, but Eno’s the first I remember doing it. As far as beat writers go, I’ve always enjoyed Mike Berardino @MikeBeradino, but sadly, he’s no longer on the Twins beat.
Baseball rule you would like to change? The way service time and compensation are dealt with (e.g., Super Two). Teams need an incentive to roster — and pay — their best players. Something also needs to be done about minor league pay.
Who will win the 2019 World Series? Astros
Fantasy baseball sleeper pick for 2019? I think Franmil Reyes is going way too late. I hope to own a lot of him.
Best account to follow on Twitter? Maybe Mike Mills (@m_millsey), but that’s the R.E.M. fan in me. Also, it’s tough to beat @PitchingNinja.
Favourite baseball website with a British take? It’s gotta be Bat Flips & Nerds, right?

Good answer! Well, thanks again Al. We really appreciate your time, and we wish you well for 2019 in your new venture.

Remember to follow Al on Twitter at @almelchiorBB and please subscribe to The Athletic to read Al’s work and the fantastic content from the rest of the team.

And remember that we have a 40% discount code for UK readers that Nando Di Fino gave us in the last article.

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