The Verdict: Don’t get too fancy

It is inevitable that there will be some sort of controversy or dispute that arises in your fantasy baseball league. It doesn’t matter if the league is comprised of 12 best friends, family members, colleagues, or complete strangers. There will always be differing opinions on various issues with each individual’s own personal vested interest motivating such conflicting viewpoints. But, as a league commissioner, there are things you can proactively do to help eliminate or mitigate certain issues that may arise. This edition of The Verdict will delve into a few aspects of my own experience as commissioner of leagues to illustrate ways to simplify the game without compromising the entertainment and strategic parts of it.

I have been the commissioner of an 18-team, head-to-head, mixed NL/AL weekly points league since 1999. Over the years, I have added and deleted various features and rules that were intended to “spice” things up and add additional elements to the game of fantasy baseball. But what I have learned is that while my intent was always good, the results netted more headaches and controversy than I possibly could have imagined. It is important to change with the times and upgrade your leagues according to what is standard or customary, to a degree. For example, I had handled transactions manually from 1999 to 2008. This process included each league member emailing me lists of the players they wanted to add, in order of preference, with the corresponding moves. I would then go through the standings and order of priority and award each team the players they rightfully won. This was a tedious method that dominated my Sunday nights each week during the baseball season. Then, in 2009, I finally embraced the current trends and instituted the free agent auction bidding process which put the responsibility of making transactions into the hands of each league member and allowed CBS to handle the process for me. This was a win-win situation because I was relieved of this laborious task and it gave each league member more sense of autonomy and control in handling their team. This decision has been a very successful and popular one in my league.

However, not every decision I have made has worked out so well. In our league, if a player got injured in the middle of the week, he could not be removed from the lineup. After a few years of consideration, I finally instituted a DL Substitution Rule in 2008 which permitted teams to switch out a player placed on the disabled list in exchange for a player on his bench. In theory, this was a good decision by allowing teams the flexibility to make changes during the week so they are not stuck with an inactive player. I granted each team two substitutions, as well as the ability to trade a player for additional substitutions. The initial rule was that the reserve player being added to the lineup must qualify at the same position as the injured player. In 2010, I amended this to allow teams to switch players’ positions throughout his lineup so long as their new lineup filled all necessary roster spots. However, little did I know that I opened myself up to constant questions and challenges about the substitution rule. Some examples of gray areas were whether the initial player’s points would count along with the new player’s points from the time the change was made, when during the week could the substitution be made, using substitutions as a means of erasing already-accumulated negative points, properly valuing a substitution in exchange for a player in a trade, etc. There was a new dispute or challenge every week regarding this rule. As a result, I decided to eliminate the rule for the 2011 season and go back to the way it was since the beginning. This has proved to be a very good decision.

Another example of a rule I implemented that has not worked out is enforcing an automatic disqualification for a team that has an improper lineup or roster set by the beginning of the week. The intent behind this rule was to deter people from stashing extra players and also encourage everyone to be diligent in setting their lineups on time. Granted, there are instances where people’s lives take precedence and they physically cannot set their lineups. I have always been lenient and willing to help when someone needed assistance. So when I put this rule into effect in 2011, there were a multitude of instances where people innocently had disabled players activated during the week which caused an error for having too many players on the roster. There were also times when people added free agents who were automatically acquired as starters which gave them illegal lineups. I found myself making exceptions on too many occasions because the penalty being enforced did not correlate to the intent of the rule. After going through this approximately five or six times by June, I laid out specific instructions and recommendations to my league members on what to do in order to avoid having illegal lineups. There hasn’t been another instance of this since, but the mere fact it was an issue exemplifies how I over thought this and created disputes where they weren’t necessary. Needless to say, this rule and penalty will be abolished in 2012.

There are always innocuous things you can do to make your league more fun and competitive. If you are in a points league, you can add different categories and tinker with the scoring value for different statistics. You can add incentives and awards for winning certain categories of statistics each week, which is something that I did this year. In a roto league, you can also have awards for winning certain categories at different time intervals. You can also modify the structure of your roto league by adding other categories beyond the normal five and five. When it comes to changing rules, you must do a form of a cost/benefit analysis to determine whether the new feature is going to improve your league or hamper it in controversy. It is very likely that you will not be able to foresee all potential scenarios and circumstances, but you should have a good idea what kind of consequences you can generally expect by adding new rules. If you are unsure, then it likely means everyone else will be unsure of the rule too.

You cannot avoid conflict. It will inevitably rear its ugly head, and that is OK. But there are things you can do to minimize possible disputes. You can achieve this by keeping things simple while still being creative. Remember, this is fantasy baseball. As much as we all want to simulate acting like real managers and general managers, the fact is that fantasy baseball is a rumination of real baseball. We can try and simulate as many concepts and ideas as possible to correlate the two, but the truth is that they are distinctly different. So before you go and complicate your league with new rules and different features, remember to think about what the possible ramifications are and what types of issues can arise from such changes.

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