Fantasy Baseball: Can It Be More Awesome? Of Course. Some Ideas For Change
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Fantasy sports depend on changes. In order to keep their competitive advantage, sites like Yahoo, CBS and ESPN constantly edit their interfaces and tools to keep us interested and in front of their advertisers. Each year we expect a few modifications and improvements and if you're that into it, signing into your fantasy league for the first time can take on that kid-running-downstairs-on-Christmas feel—and by “kid,” I mean “giant nerd.”
“Whoa! Check it out, the Trade Block functionality is so much sweeter this year! You can assign a value to how much you ‘need’ a particular position!”
“Awesome! Now we can sort players against their performances from the last three years and get differentials to predict regressions!”
Yes, huge nerd stuff. But the stuff that keeps it interesting.
Once the season starts, the email and message board banter about changes to your league format and rules provides further entertainment. A usual cast of characters begins to play out.
You have the guy that cares way too much about his idea. “Whoa, man. We’re talking about how to decide draft order, not whether we should bomb Iran.”
You have the guy who never pays attention and then flips out the following season when the change is instituted. “Whoa, man. It’s called checking your email.”
What camp is the majority of your league?
Of course, you have the guy that was either having a bad day or is just a jerk, and responds to people who disagree with him by hurling girlfriend insults or uncomfortable shots at their political beliefs. “Whoa, man. Just whoa.”
But ultimately, after the dust settles, we get to know two camps: those who fear change and those who welcome it. Votes on new formats or rule changes start to become predictable.
Well, I welcome change. So I come to you with three additions that I’d like to see in fantasy baseball. For those of you already implementing them, congrats, you’re ahead of the curve. If you want to argue against any of them in the comments section, the only rule is that your counter can’t boil down to “that’s how it’s always been done!” My grandma uses that argument for her rotary telephone.
Some Standard Roto Categories Gotta Go.
Most are derived from the same box scores that covered Ty Cobb. Statisticians have shown the basic baseball metrics to be largely irrelevant to a player’s actual value in the actual game. In some cases they’re borderline-random.
Wins for a pitcher are one of the worst. That Phil Hughes finished 2010 with five more wins than Felix Hernandez should end the debate right there. The counterpoint is that you “need to take his team into account.” But the counterpoint to that is “what a pain in the ass.” We want to draft players. Not teams. I pull my hair out enough with my own roster; I don’t need to stress about the Mariners lineup. Give us the stats that reflect how good our guy is, not how crappy their team is.
Of course using that thinking, you could argue against any stat. Team effects everything to a degree. So we need some line.
Here are my three proposals:
1) Wins go to Quality Starts:
Yes, it’s more fun to just see “Your guy (W)” in the box score than figuring out whether he went six innings and allowed less than three runs. But let’s be honest, the W-simplification is far outweighed by the trauma of 8 IP, 1 ER, 4 base runners, 13 K’s and a loss. If your guy gets dirty, you should reap the benefits.
Like the Hughes example, if Tyler Clippard was a fantasy stud for half of last season this shouldn’t even be a debate.
2) Saves go to Saves/Holds (Still One Category)
It’s never made sense that we create this weird market scarcity for ninth inning work. Only about 20-25 teams have established closers at one time during the year; the rest is a tiresome roster management game. It can be part of the fun, I realize, but why not expand the pool of available talent to middle relievers? The opportunity to see someone’s ERA get torched goes way up and now there are more chips to facilitate trades. Ozzie Guillen may not, but at least we should have the sense to play Matt Thornton over Bobby Jenks.
3) Batting Average goes to On Base Percentage:
Why remove walks from the game? Anyone who’s played baseball knows that usually “a walk is as good as a base hit.” Prince Fielder batted .261 last year, but had an OBP of .410 (6th in baseball) because he received 114 free passes (1st). That kind of intimidation needs recognition.
And not in the strange way we talk ourselves into a walk’s merits.
“Well, I don’t get credit for a hit and he missed an HR/RBI opportunity, but maybe he’ll steal a base or get knocked in. *sigh* ”
Forums To Gripe About Players:
One of the worst parts about fantasy baseball is that when a guy is killing your roster—looking at you Pablo Sandoval and Mark Reynolds—you have no outlet to rail on him. You can throw your best material on the message board or send an email, but your buddies will likely fire something back along the lines of “You’re hilarious. Suck it up.”
So why wouldn’t fantasy sites provide a forum? Something like this should be a no-brainer for ESPN/Yahoo/CBS. First, they can display ads we never click on. But more importantly, they can eavesdrop and get a real sense of what owners think about player X. That better informs their coverage.
“You know, we really shouldn’t ever, under any circumstances, even if he injects life into the economy and cures Yellow Fever single-handedly, seem as if we like Aramis Ramirez.”
I know I could hunt around for someone’s blog or use Twitter, but that sounds a little too psycho. Put a button that links to a player-specific forum near my roster, near the player’s name even so we don’t have to click too far. Even if our jokes aren’t that funny, other managers will at least give a requisite “haha” because they despise the guy just as much.
“Out with a sore hip again. How’d it happen this time? Fetching the mail?”
And then there’ll be guys that own a player and root for his real-life team (looking at you, every Cubs player). Nothing fuels vitriol and quality jokes like the double whammy of a player killing both your real and pretend team.
But the forum wouldn’t just be for griping; this is where you get real perspective on whether to put a guy on the trade block.
“No, my girlfriend’s uncle knows the hitting coach. They found a little hitch in his swing and got rid of it over the last two weeks. He’ll turn it around soon.”
“I live in Philly; they always under-report injury severity. Seriously, get rid of him.”
There is nothing worse than negotiating and seeming unsure about your player’s value. You know the other manager can smell your fear. Better to crowd-source this stuff, than depend on a random Tweet or a fantasy pundit’s last piece. And if the verdict is to sell, sell, sell, you can get a sense of fair market value.
“I just got Dan Uggla and a bag of chips for him. See you guys later!”
Make it Four Quarters.
Every league change should be made with the idea of making the format more fun and engaging, but also more strategic—as long as it's a manageable amount of strategy. Once a format feels stale, that's when guys start dropping off and making lame excuses.
"Sorry guys, it looks like I'm going to be traveling a lot for work this year."
So this is a big change, but not big enough to make the game over-consuming: Redraft teams multiple times in a season. Let’s say four redrafts, roughly two months apart.
2) Memorial Day
3) All Star Break
4) Labor Day.
Keep the stats and standings from the previous quarters; you just draft a new team and keep going. Yes, that is intense. Really intense. And yes, if you have any semblance of a life, scheduling will be tricky. But drafts are typically done online and they wouldn’t have to be over the weekend. Just pick a day near those markers. Though, if you notice, three of the four are the best BBQ weekends of the year.
Scheduling complications aside, you show me someone that doesn’t think the draft is the best part of the season, and I’ll show you the d-bag that responds to emails “Sorry guys, some of us have jobs.” The draft is always the best opportunity for trash-talk and witnessing historic blunders. Why not have more of a good thing?
I know some don’t like the idea of giving up players they’re growing attached to; you form a certain bond with them as you read their box scores each evening. I have news for those people: that’s called stalking. Evan Longoria doesn’t know your name; don’t act like he’ll miss you. If anything, redrafting will keep fantasy managers more sane.
Here are some more concrete reasons:
I will admit that one casualty of this system is the long-term effects of trash talking about trades. If you traded away a sack of lint for Jose Bautista last May, it’s nice to have the whole season to talk about it. So for each draft, you could “protect” a set number of players (or keepers).
But the change would provide more interesting and strategic trade scenarios.
“I’ll give you Brian Wilson in exchange for $5 at the All-Star Break Draft and $5 at the Labor Day Draft. It’s the middle of June so that gives you almost a month with his legendary bearded services.”
“I need one more protected guy for the Memorial Day Draft; you don’t have enough slots to protect Bobby Abreu. Send me him and I’ll switch draft positions with you for the first three rounds.”
2) Bolts of Lightning:
The fickle nature of injury is the largest Luck Factor in any fantasy sport. And certainly its most maddening. You could take Pujols’s 110/40/120/.310/10 to the bank on draft night…and the next day he slips and breaks his ankle washing his truck.
Now, we don’t spend the whole season staring at that damn “DL” next to his name hoping for some sort of divine healing. We pay for the missed time for a while—just enough—but our chances for the season don’t go out the window because of a fluke injury.
Yes, injuries are “part of the game.” But they are a part of the game that sucks; why bring something that sucks into the pretend game? It is, after all, Fantasy. Not to mention that now we remove the obnoxious-until-you-need-to-use-it excuse “my team sucks because my guys have been hurt all year.”
3) Used Goods:
Think about First-Half/Second-Half Guys; you love them when you’re riding the wave; you want to hit them with your car when they’re regressing (and killing trade talks).
Imagine during the All-Star break draft when someone puts Ryan Howard up for bid after his usual plodding first half? Or Dan Haren after his usual electric first half? My guess is that the room would get awfully quiet. And no matter what the winning bid was, there would be mountains of debate afterward.
If your league wanted redrafts, how many would you push for?
4) Cream Rises:
But here is the most important aspect of redrafting: it finds the best fantasy baseball manager. The effects of injuries and luck are minimized and the focus turns back to the core of the game: evaluating talent. That’s the point, right?
Anyone that can track players over the season, shake up their roster four times and still come out on top is the Real Deal—way better than the guy that made a couple fortuitous waiver wire grabs and rode them to victory. Whether or not it’s called fantasy baseball, the goal should always be crowning the real winner.
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