In a poker tournament, the top 15 percent of participants usually land “in the money.” House games can be a little more communist, I played in an eight man tournament last weekend where the top three received some portion of the pot (third got less than money back after counting his three rebuys). In fantasy baseball, it’s common for only the top 16 to 25 percent of participants to receive a payout. While that’s more than your average poker tournament, it’s still a top heavy distribution.
It strikes me as curious that poker and fantasy baseball have similar pay structures. The games are not very comparable. At the highest level, poker is a three day sprint. Fantasy baseball is an ultra marathon by comparison. In poker, the poor performers are knocked out and can no longer influence the outcome. In fantasy baseball, those poor performers can throw gum in works with mid-season fire sales or lopsided, lazy trades.
Yesterday, I proposed flattening your league’s pay structure as a means to combat early season fire sales in a keeper league. The commenters included a number of interesting alternatives that could work for certain league types and structures. Today I’d like to focus more attention on a flat pay structure that awards some return to most owners. It is my belief that this is the most intuitive pay structure for a basic fantasy baseball league and should become the standard.
The premise is simple. Let’s imagine we have a 12 team league. Traditionally, first place would get about 70 percent of the pot with the remaining 30 percent going to second place. Sometimes third place gets money back. Head-to-head leagues will often split payments into regular season and playoff pools, but let’s focus on roto leagues for now. By the time July rolls around teams five through 12 are probably dead in the water. They have no hope of reaching first place. Maybe second place is assailable. At that point, we’ll see large volumes of fire sales in keeper leagues and inactivity in redraft leagues. Both behaviors can substantially affect the outcome of the season compared with a format where everybody tries.
Now let’s imagine a 12 team league where the 10th place team gets some money with an increasing amount going to each consecutive place. This is the exact pay structure I discussed yesterday, and some variation should work for redraft and head-to-head leagues too. Owners are constantly incentived to improve in the standings, and they have a monetary reason to think twice about making a bad trade.
As one commenter pointed out yesterday, we’re trading a lesser award pool for the winning teams in return for greater in season effort by all owners. I don’t see that as a problem. Based on my own personal preferences, I think that is an excellent trade off. More to the point, you can have your cake and eat it too. All you need to do is decide on the pool you want and double the buy-in.
For example, let’s say I want the top two owners to share a prize pool of $240 ($20 per owner). If I make the buy-in $40, then I have $200 to distribute from places three through 10 while the winners still get the intended award plus $20 extra dollars to cover the increased buy-in. While it’s true that the winners receive a lesser return on their investment, not many people play fantasy baseball as an investment. I’ve always used money purely as a means to incentivize better behavior in my fantasy leagues. The payouts for any league that I can afford are piddling when compared to the amount of time that I invest.
That in a nut shell is why I now believe that a pay structure that awards most teams is ideal for fantasy baseball. The theoretical outcome is improved play from all owners. Anecdotally, I’ve seen this work with a N=1 sample (so keep your grains of salt handy) and there’s no theory-based reason why it shouldn’t continue to work. Moreover, while the winner has to accept a lesser ROI, you can easily ensure that the raw payout matches the intended amount under a more traditional pay system.
Print This Post