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FSWA Profile: Carson Cistulli
Written by Michael Naclerio   

Carson Cistulli is one of a kind. Yeah, sure, they say that about everybody, but Carson really is more unique than me, or you, or the next guy on the street.

You might love fantasy sports but have you ever written a hymn about Livan Hernandez, Vladimir Guerrero or Honus Wagner? Or how about a poem entitled, "A Poem with Dick Allen's Name in It”? Nope, didn't think so.

This is exactly what sets Carson Cistulli apart from the rest of the fantasy sports writing industry. In an industry that embraces a copy-cat mentality and redundancy Cistulli achieves a sense of uniqueness.

Cistulli attended Columbia University where he studied Latin and poetry under Kenneth Koch (his most admired writer) of the New York School of poetry. Cistulli would later receive a bachelor’s degree in Classical Civilizations from the University of Montana in Missoula and then a master's degree in Creative Writing from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

It was in the early 2000s that Cistulli began to write on a daily basis when he took a sabbatical from his schooling and moved to Seattle. Fast forward a few years to when Cistulli met Rob Neyer, the Bill James disciple, now of SB Nation and formerly of ESPN.

While they were both living in Portland, Cistulli and Neyer became good friends. Throughout their friendship Cistulli had been working on a self-launched blog with some friends. Neyer was working with ESPN at the time and had a daily links blog in which he would occasionally include links from Cistulli.

This entrance to a higher level of traffic opened some doors for Cistulli. Shortly thereafter he would ask Jonah Keri, now of Grantland, in a very hypothetical manner: "If I wanted to write about baseball for money like you do for FanGraphs or RotoWire, how would I do that? He wrote me back an email within 10 minutes and had already contacted editors, he suggested I do the same and I'd be given assignments."

So just like that, 10 minutes after his first instinctual attempt to become a part of the industry, Cistulli was writing for both FanGraphs and RotoWire.

The first stage of his fantasy career was in the realm of basketball due in part to his living situation in Portland, where they live and breathe it. While he was writing basketball for RotoWire he was also contributing a lot of content over at FanGraphs on the baseball side. Though he admits, "I wasn't part of the first wave of writers at FanGraphs but it hadn't quite gotten as big as it is now.” Cuistulli did everything he could to consistently ask for more work. He quickly learned that the more he pushed for new ways to contribute the more he would be given, such as the podcast he currently runs.

This was about two and a half years ago and has led him to where he is today. Currently, Cistulli does a lot more editorial and specializes in Sabermetrics at FanGraphs.

While you see things one way, Cistulli sees them another.

Cistulli defines sabermetrics in a technical manner as "the application of quantitative metrics to fantasy baseball.” But his approach is that it is, "an umbrella term that describes having the best possible information on any player.”

The majority of analysts, whether it be in the fantasy writing realm or for major league scouts, believe that sabermetrics is a specialized analysis to objectify what you see on a baseball field.

How Cistulli differs from this point of view is that he brings the aesthetic into the equation and explores the art of the quantitative metrics of sabermetric research to explain a performance or stat line and understand how a player got there.

As if taking an entirely different approach to the concept of sabermetrics wasn't enough, Cistulli has made a few of his own metrics over the years. This includes NERD, SCOUT and historical GBz%.

NERD, the most popular of the three, is a quantitative measure of expected aesthetic value. The statistic attempts to determine which pitchers and teams will be the most aesthetically appealing to watch as a baseball fan and is both a historical and predictive statistic.

It just so happened that during my interview with Cistulli a perfect example of implementing NERD was starting for the Oakland A's. Cistulli has taken a serious liking to Oakland A's pitcher rookie Tom Milone. The reasoning behind this infatuation is that Milone has some statistics and attributes which simply aren't in line with his aesthetic performance.

During his three-year minor league career Milone displayed a remarkable K/BB ratio. As he ascended the ladder to the majors his Ks began to skyrocket while his BB continued to plummet. His '08, '09 and '10 BB were respectively: 36,23 and 16, while his Ks were 106, 155 and 155.

Cistulli remarked: "It is so rare that they improved on his way up and on top of that so difficult that his fastball doesn't break and is at just 80 MPH. It's at a point now where the projection systems were super optimistic about Tom Milone, you just don't see anybody with an 80 MPH fastball produce numbers like that."

NERD has led Cistulli directly to Milone and it is for just this reason that he created the statistic in the first place.

Cistulli is simply well ahead of his time. He has created sabermetrics that find the place where quantitative analysis and aesthetics meet, which some people are just not yet willing to embrace. This has seemingly always been the case with metrics of this kind.

Nobody says it better than his close friend Rob Neyer in an ESPN chat, "I think there's value in just about everything that Cistulli does. He's got an original mind and we'll ignore him at our peril."

>> Getting to Know Carson Cistulli <<

Hometown: Concord, New Hampshire

Fantasy story to brag about: The first league in which I got really excited, it sort of opened it up for me. The reason I liked it is I feel it was the most perfect expression of my nerddom to date. It was with a lot of smart guys, not fantasy professionals or anything, but a lot of PHD guys from Northwestern.

Fantasy writers I admire: First I'd have to say Chris Liss. He's very excited about studying and looking at data and information but then sort of forgetting it the way you would a language. If you can speak English fluently you don't have to think about it you just do it. I think he goes about fantasy sports in the same way; he uses and respects data but when it comes time to perform a trade or to draft a certain player he lets his instinct take over with the data internalized. And, of course, Eno Sarris. He's super industrious and does a lot of good work for the site, especially for integrating the fan graphs into rotographs.

Favorite fantasy sport: Baseball.

First fantasy experience: I remember as an 11 year old, in like 1991, being introduced to the concept of fantasy sports and trying to get my friends to participate. I wasn't very good at getting people to do that but we were going to do football and it never happened. So the first real experience wasn't until about 2004/2005.

Best fantasy acquisition ever: In a keeper league, I acquired Curtis Granderson off of waivers. If I have a skill as a fantasy owner it's an ability to hold off on investing in top 20 prospects but to track guys who are having breakout years in the high minors. That's how I came across Curtis Granderson. I came across Ryan Howard the same year and Mark Reynolds.

If I wasn't writing fantasy sports I would be: Teaching English composition at a community college, which is what I was doing before fantasy sports writing.

The best album of the last 20 years is: The Silver Jews album, “American Water.”

Favorite Movie: Buffalo 66, about a character for reasons unbeknownst to himself, who bets a ton of money on the Buffalo Bills to win the Super Bowl the same season that Scott Norwood missed the last-minute kick.