The Verdict: drama over mid-week DL substitutions

In continuing my retrospective on the nexus of some fantasy baseball league rules that I have implemented or created over the years, this week’s edition will focus on mid-week injury substitutions. From the time I started the OBFBL in 1999, I never permitted any changes to lineups after they were set for the week. This meant that everyone was on an even playing field with the same risks of losing players to injury. There were several times over the years where teams had players miss games or be placed on the disabled list causing a big fat zero to be placed on the board for them. But there was nothing inherently unfair about this because the same rules and conditions applied equally to everyone.

After the 2007 season, there was some discussion among a few league members proposing a new rule to allow a limited number of injury substitutions. I kept an open mind about it and allowed a well-versed league member to write a formal proposal for the new rule with specific procedures and conditions for how the substitutions could be used. After some more roundtabling and modification, I enacted the Droid DL Substitution Rule in effect for the 2008 season. [Editor’s note: the rule was named after the league member who made the proposal and annually chose a team name related to Droids.]

The following was the exact language in the 2008 OBFBL Constitution laying out the rules for the injury substitutions:

THE DROID DL SUBSTITUTION RULE : Each team will be allotted two DL Substitutions to use during the regular season. If a player in your starting lineup gets injured and is subsequently placed on the DL in the middle of the week, you may replace that player with one of your reserve players. The original disabled player’s points already accumulated will be lost and replaced with the substituted player’s points. These DL Substitutions can be traded during the season in exchange for players. However, each team must then make a subsequent transaction to return rosters to the maximum allowed 22 active players. In the playoffs, each team that advances will be permitted one (1) DL Substitution, regardless of whether they had any remaining at the end of the regular season.

The key to this rule was that the player actually had to be placed on the disabled list. The rule was not intended to be in place for players who just miss a few games with a nagging injury. To see how this rule was utilized and whether it affected the outcome of any games during the season, I kept track of all DL substitutions. There were a total of 16 substitutions made, and not one of them made a difference in the outcome of a single game. This was proven comparing the points scored for the injured player to the points scored by the replacement. There were also some other problems with the rule as it did not account for all potential applications. Several questions and issues were raised about the substitutions, such as whether a team had to use a reserve player at the same position as the injured player. Further, it was questioned whether a team being allowed to use a substitution at or near the end of the week was fair. The moral of the story was that the rule needed to be closely looked at and amended to plug up any ambiguities that existed.

After the 2008 season, I rewrote the Droid DL Substitution Rule trying to patch the holes and make it more clear how the rule applied. Here is how the rule was written in the 2009 OBFBL Constitution:


1. Each team is permitted two DL Substitutions during the regular season. Teams that make the playoffs will be given one DL Substitution regardless of how many were or were not used in the regular season.
2. DL Substitutions can be traded or acquired in exchange for players.
3. If a player in the starting lineup is placed on the DL, that team owner has 24 hours from the time he is placed on the DL to make a substitution.
4. Anyone utilizing a DL Substitution must email the Commissioner, Co-Commissioner, and his opponent(s) notifying them of the transaction.
5. In order to make a DL Substitution, you must have a player on your bench eligible to play at the position of the injured player. You cannot rearrange your lineup to make a DL Substitution.
6. DL Substitutions cannot be made after midnight on Saturday night/Sunday morning.
7. DL Substitutions are applied retroactively. If you utilize a DL Substitution, it will relate back to the first day of that week. Any points already accumulated by the injured player will be lost and all points accumulated by the replacement player will now count.

After thinking I had all my bases covered, sure enough another issue came up that proved to be a flaw in the rule. The eventual 2009 OBFBL champion had Grady Sizemore on his team during the league playoffs in September. Sizemore suffered a season-ending injury which required two surgeries. However, the Cleveland Indians never placed him on the disabled list because it was September and they had expanded rosters at the time. The future champion argued that he should be entitled to use a DL substitution based on the spirit of the rule. His opponent obviously disagreed and said the substitution should not be allowed because Sizemore was not officially on the disabled list. After much consideration, I decided to allow the DL substitution because Sizemore was effectively out for the remainder of the season, and had this injury occurred at any other time of year, he would have been placed on the disabled list.

So for the 2010 season, I carved out this exception for players injured in the month of September if the league owner could provide me with documentation or proof from a reputable online source showing the injured player was out for the remainder of the season. I also set Thursday night as the deadline when teams could utilize a substitution. Despite all of these changes and modifications, there were still questions and shades of gray interpreting this rule. So after the 2010 season, I decided to abolish the DL substitution rule altogether. It is back to where all teams run the risk of having an injured player stuck in their lineup until the end of the week.

While I concede that there are valid arguments why I may have made the wrong decision with the Grady Sizemore issue, I do stand firm that the spirit of the rule was to permit such a move. But that is not what is up for debate now. The point is that I had good intentions when I enacted the DL substitution rule; however, I never anticipated that it would cause so much controversy and have so many gray areas. This was a perfect example of “live and learn” in running a fantasy baseball league. I listened to people who wanted to be able to make mid-week substitutions and created the rule to allow it. But the rule proved to be worse than the initial problem. So after three years, I wished the Droid DL Substitution Rule the best in its future endeavors.

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Making the switch retroactive can give an unfair advantage to the subber, I think it makes more sense to give them the points the injured player already accrued + the points the substitute accrues from the time the switch is made.  Retroactive subbing allows the manager to make the decision between possible subs based on how they have already performed for the week, while the other way would only let them pick based on how the manager thinks they will perform in the future (which is how fantasy lineup decisions are normally made).  So they can cherry pick a player… Read more »
Kevin Wilson
Kevin Wilson

Ditto Covelay’s comment and don’t understand what benefit your chosen method has. Injuries should never be advantageous to an owner.