Tips on How to Improve Your Fantasy Baseball League
It won’t feel like winter in San Diego, but make no mistake — the inside-baseball fans will be in full winter mode when the annual MLB Winter Meetings invade SoCal in mid-December. Much like the real league, I like to have a winter meeting in the fantasy leagues that I’m the commissioner of, as well.
There are a lot of leagues that have been around for 20 years or so with the same members year after year. They play the traditional roto game, and it’s basically the “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” mantra. And you know what? That’s awesome. I love seeing that and interacting with readers who are in those types of leagues.
But personally, I like to try to adjust with the league and adjust my fantasy leagues to always improve. That can be with scoring, settings, or any number of ways. Today, we are going to look at a few ways that you can make your league more competitive and just better overall.
This one is really, really critical, and it’s something that I learned the hard way from. If you are going to petition to make a change to an established league, don’t make it in the middle of the season. That’s not what I learned the hard way from, but we should get that out of the way first. If your league has a scoring setting or an issue arises after the draft is done, don’t change it. If a commissioner changes it in the middle of the season, get out of the league and find one that is better run.
What I learned the hard way from is that I petitioned a change of scoring in an established league (three years) to go from categories to head-to-head points for the following year. This was after the season ended, but there was pushback about the trade deadline having come and gone, and for the teams out of it, they could have prepared better had they’d known that the league was going to change its scoring format for the following season as it pertained to keepers. In hindsight, it should have been announced before the trade deadline, or it could have been for the season after next in order to give everyone time to plan ahead.
Don’t Punish for Injuries
Nothing got me more frustrated in my Madden days than when I busted off a big 20-yard run, only for it to get called back for holding. Pass interference? Sure. Late hit? My bad. But holding? There’s nothing you can do about it. That’s like injuries in fantasy. It’s a part of the game, but it’s out of your control.
Most standard leagues have two IL spots, and with the league going to the 10-day IL from the 15-day IL, teams are more open to placing a player on the IL now than before. Fantasy players shouldn’t be punished for this, and it’s up to the commissioner to change the number of IL spots from two to five, 10, or even unlimited.
If you’re worried about stashing, I get it. Here’s a solution that we came up with in one of our leagues where we have five IL spots: if you want to draft an injured player, that’s fine. But after the draft, you can’t pick anyone with an IL designation up until they are off the IL. That means if a pitcher is scheduled to come back that Tuesday, you can’t pick him up until that Wednesday. It also makes FAAB more interesting throughout the season.
Speaking of FAAB, let’s please just make a form of it universal across the board. Having waiver priority is like having kickers be a big part of your fantasy strategy in football. You can set your budget ($100 or $1000 are most common) and have it run daily, weekly, twice a week, or any other way that you see fit. In daily leagues, it makes sense to have it run at least twice a week if not every day.
Tweak Your Scoring
First and foremost, fantasy of any sort is supposed to be fun. If you’re in a league that is a league to have fun with friends or it’s something that your work friends are setting up, keeping it simple is fine and more than OK. But if it’s fun and a competition for you, try to keep your settings up to date with the trends in baseball.
Over time, we’ve come to realize that batting average isn’t an accurate portrayal of how good a player is. Instead, we know that OBP or OPS is a better measure. Incorporating those into your scoring system helps keep with the current trend of baseball.
Same with reshaping how we reward pitchers. It’s something that no one has gotten totally right yet, as there’s an argument for and against wins, quality starts, and innings pitched as a category. The same can be said for strikeouts with K/9 or K% as being the best metric and ERA versus FIP, xFIP, or SIERA.
One pitching category you can improve in your league is changing from saves to saves plus holds. As teams use a more strategic approach with their bullpen late in games (or even using an opener), the traditional strategy of saving your best reliever for the ninth inning is becoming a thing of the past. It’s great for real baseball, but it’s frustrating for fantasy managers. A position that was already hard to predict and had little to no year-over-year predictability became even more volatile. Using saves plus holds allows relievers to still hold their value in most leagues.
Add a Keeper Element
Look, it doesn’t have to be a 25-team, 40-man roster with 300 minor leaguers rostered. Those leagues are fun, but they are niche. However, adding some type of keeper element makes the league more fun and, most importantly, allows you to keep it competitive until the end.
The biggest knock on roto leagues is that people will quit in July when they realize they are out of it. Adding a keeper element and using reverse standings for their draft selection for the following year can help that.
In my head-to-head home league, we have 12 teams in a relatively shallow head-to-head points league where we keep four players each year, and they lose a round of value from where they were drafted in the previous year. For the six teams who don’t make the playoffs, they play in a consolation bracket. The winner of the consolation bracket gets to pick their draft spot for the following year, and the person who finished in second picks after that person. It gives them something to play for, while also keeping them from doing a total tank job and ending up with the sixth pick in the draft.
I’ve started doing this with leagues where I end the season a couple of weeks early, but next year, I’m going all-in with having the league end the last full week of August. Yes, I know roster expansion will only go to 28 next year instead of 40 in September. That’s only part of the issue with playing September fantasy baseball.
The big part is that teams are resting players left and right. Pitchers are getting skipped or shut down. For those in a head-to-head league (hello, roto truthers), it’s a season-long journey only to have it come down to a lot of luck in the final weeks. Luck will always play a part in this game, but it’s our job to look for opportunities to limit it where we can.
Do you like playing Week 17 in fantasy football? No? That’s the closest equivalent to September fantasy baseball. Get rid of it for good.