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Spicing Up Your Old Boring League

Regardless of whether you play in a redraft, keeper or dynasty league, eventually after years of playing it starts to lose some flavor.  The competitive side of you still enjoys the game, but you don’t have that same fire that you used to have when you first started things.  If this goes on too long you’ll eventually find yourself just going through the daily motions without.  When things get to that point with too many owners, things can go down hill and fall apart right before your eyes.

If you have a good commissioner, they should be able to spot this problem before or as it’s happening and make some suggestions on how to change things.  If you notice this as an owner and see nothing is being done, you have an obligation to the league to step up and address this.  One of our readers submitted a question last week on this subject and I realize while trying to formulate an answer there was just too many optional things a league can do to change things up, so here we are.  Some of these may not apply to you depending on the type of league you have, but there should be something for everyone regardless of your league setup.

CHANGE YOUR LEAGUE FORMAT

Sometimes the simplest change can be the right one.  A good number of people who start out playing in one particular format have a tendency to stick with it for a while.  After a while you become an expert playing here and while that isn’t a bad thing, it can be it you’ve excelled to the point that it’s no longer a challenge.  If you’ve has been playing roto for years, maybe try a head 2 head league.  If you’re not a fan of head 2 head, maybe experiment with a points league.   You can even keep your current format and just change from your normal draft style to an auction draft.  And for the more advanced players, why not try your luck with an ottoneu league over at fangraphs.  You don’t always have to make complex rule changes to add some life to your league, sometimes it’s the little things that can go a long way.

INCREASE YOUR ACTIVE ROSTER

Many standard leagues use only 3 outfielders and some only have 9 active hitters.  If you’re in a league like this, there is a lot of wasted talent sitting on your bench and or waiver wire.  It’s nice to be able to look on your bench and know you have a good player on your roster to fill in if there is an emergency.  While you may like having that insurance policy in your pocket, what good is it doing you on a weekly basis if you’re not getting any points from those players.  If the majority of teams in your league have an excess of talent on their bench, you may want to consider adding some more active roster spots. 

If you only play with 3 outfielders increase that number to 4.  In a 10 team league with only 3 outfielders you are only using the top 30 outfielders and in a 12 team league the top 36, that’s a lot of unused outfielders even if some teams use a OF player at the utility spot.  Increasing that number to 4 takes the top 40 to 48 outfielders off the board and takes some of those good players off waivers that become irrelevant in your current league. 

Add a corner and middle infield slot.  Most teams have a very good player to back up their first or third baseman and many of these players get used in the utility spot.  A CI slot lets you move that player out of the utility spot so you can use it for the best player on your bench.  A MI slot adds the challenge of possibly having to roster a less than desirable shortstop or second baseman if you choose to ignore them or draft one higher so you don’t end up with the bottom of the barrel. 

There are a number of other additions you can make, add a second catcher, a second utility slot, a fifth outfielder, increase the number of starting pitcher or relief pitcher spots.  Find something that will work well with the size of your league along with your current roster size. 

INCREASE YOUR ROSTER SIZE

For years I’ve been playing in private leagues and all of those leagues have had at least a 25 man roster.  Last year I was invited to join a public roto league and was shocked when I saw that it a 10 team league with only had a 22 man roster.  The amount of quality players that were on waivers was astounding.  Starting with the month of May, I was able to stream the following players from the waiver wire.  Michael Brantley (four times), Yovani Gallardo (three times), Andrew Cashner (six times), Julio Teheran (three times), Kenley Jansen (twice), Yasiel Puig (three times), Alejandro De Aza (three times), Eric Hosmer (three times), Matt Cain (three times), Ivan Nova (three times), Michael Wacha (three times).

If  you are in a league like this then you either don’t have a large enough roster or not enough teams (and not enough teams is covered next).  Having talent like this available to you on the waiver wire is a crime and it takes away the competitive edge from those teams that took the time to draft a winning team.  In a 10 or 12 team league, increasing your roster size by one to three players can take anywhere from 10 to 36 players off waivers which increases the importance of the draft.  It also adds to a players overall value and encourages trades.  Why should I trade you for an outfielder when I can pluck Brantley, Puig or De Aza off waivers.  What’s the point of trying trading for a top pitcher when I can stream Nova, Cain, Cashner, Wacha and Peavy by just dropping my worst player.  Now sometimes increasing the roster sizes isn’t enough, and that brings me to…

ADD TEAMS OR HAVE AN EXPANSION DRAFT

10 team leagues can be fun, but if you’ve been playing for a while they probably don’t present much of a challenge for you.  Now if you’re the only one in your league that feels this way you may have to look elsewhere, but if the majority feels the same way why not add a few more teams to your league.  In redraft leagues adding a few teams isn’t a big ordeal.  In keeper leagues there can be complications with an expansion draft and exactly how to accomplish this.  Here’s an example of how my 10 team keeper league accomplished that feat when we expanded years ago.

Each team was told they could protect 5 players from their current roster.  Once those lists were submitted the two new teams took turns selecting players from the remaining players in the pool.  Once a player was selected from a team, that owner was allowed to select two more players to add to their protected list.  Once a second player was selected from that team, their roster was locked and no more players were allowed to be taken from them.  The two new owners continued until they each had 12 players and from those players they had to select 8 of them as their keepers.  While the two new teams did not have any stars, they at least started off with a solid core of players and were able to compete with the others in the league.

This is just one example, but there are a number of ways to expand your existing keeper or dynasty league if you think it’s for the best.  Just make sure that when doing so it is something that will be fair for your existing owners as well as your new ones.  You don’t want to set up a system that favors the existing owners too much and leave the new guys with nothing, this could lead to one or both abandoning their teams and leave the commissioner scrambling to find someone to take over their mess.  And you don’t want to come up with something that favors the new guys too much as this will anger the existing owners and cause some resentment which is never a good thing.  Expansion can be fun and beneficial to the league if done correctly.

ADD OR SUBSTITUTE SCORING CATEGORIES

Many leagues still use the standard 5×5 scoring format, but unlike the old days we don’t have to rely on the newspaper box scores for our stats.  Every site that hosts fantasy baseball has a wide array of scoring categories available to choose from, so just like the McDonald’s slogan; you can have it your way.  Some leagues now will use quality starts instead of wins.  Yahoo last year added saves+holds as an optional choice to use over the standard saves category.  OBP and OPS are being used in place of the traditional batting average.  These are simple changes you can make to add something different if you don’t want to expand beyond a 5×5 league.

If your league is against putting one of the original categories out to pasture, you can always increase the number of categories you currently use.  Maybe add blown saves or losses to the pitching categories or strikeouts for hitters.  Some additional available choices make sense like the few I just mentioned, but others like balks or hitting for the cycle should be reserved for the real game and not our fantasy world (at least that’s my opinion).  Make a change or two and see what works best for you and what your league mates prefer.

SET OR RAISE THE MINIMUM INNINGS CAP

This is more for H2H leagues as roto has its own cap.  Nothing is worse that having a low weekly innings cap and getting beating by a guy with a roster full of closers.  Yes this is a strategy you can use if you have a low cap, but the option for that strategy lowers the value of some big name starters and cheapens starting pitchers on a whole.  Why draft pitching when you can load up on hitting and then fill your staff with closers and middle relief guys.  Sure you won’t take wins and strikeouts, but you can virtually lock up saves, ERA and WHIP on a weekly basis.  By setting a higher innings cap you increase the value of starting pitchers on draft day and decrease the number of quality arms floating around on the waiver wire.  My main keeper league has a minimum innings cap of 40 but most teams average around 60+ innings per week.  Some may not like the idea of being forced to start 6-8 guys per week, but real baseball teams don’t start two pitchers and all their closers each week either.  I’ve found that a good number of players that are against a cap are the same people who ignore pitching in the draft and load up on closers.  If you’re one of those guys, learn to change and adapt or you’ll never get any better.

PUT A CAP ON YOUR FREE AGENTS

How many of you have been in a league that had an owner or several owners making an obscene amount of waiver wire transactions.  There’s nothing wrong with this and as long as there is not rule against it, you really can’t get mad at them.  I added a total of 206 free agents in a roto league last year along with 163 in a H2H league.  My keeper league was a different story though, I only added 40 free agents for the year (yes, we have a cap).  Having a cap on the number of free agents you can acquire for the week or for the year adds a new challenge.  No longer is the waiver wire an extension of your roster and you can’t just stream two start pitchers from it on a weekly basis.  Now every move you make must be given serious thought and consideration, especially if you have a hard cap for the year because you don’t want to run out of moves and be hit with an injury.

If you find yourself relying on the waiver wire, then this might be one of the bigger challenges for you.

MAKE IT A KEEPER OR DYNASTY LEAGUE

If you’ve been playing in a league with the same group of people for a while, maybe turn your redraft league into a keeper league.  Keeper leagues can be fun, but they are not for everyone.  My keeper league started out as a roto league and changed to a H2H keeper league.  Within the first four years I had to replace half of the managers as they either couldn’t handle being in a keeper league or didn’t want to make a long-term commitment, and a keeper league is a commitment.

Regardless of whether it’s a redraft league or keeper league, if you leave the commissioner has to find a replacement, but in a keeper league not only do they have to find a replacement, they have to find someone who is willing to take over the mess you’re leaving behind.  Because of this fact I suggest if you do make your league into a keeper league or start a new keeper league from scratch, start small.  Begin with only 3 keepers and increase that number slowly each year so if you do have to replace someone early, it will be easier for them to rebuild and fix any mistakes made by the former owner.

If you play in an existing keeper league, turn that league into a dynasty league.  Both league types are very similar, the only real difference is the amount of players that you keep.  With either league there are many rules you can have to govern how long players can be kept from contract lengths to the round they will be kept in.  Some leagues also play with salary caps so not only do you lose the round for that player, their salary also increases each year.  The numerous rules and formats are plentiful and can be quite in-depth, so start with something simple if it’s your first time and alter the rules as the league progresses.  Dynasty leagues can go one step further which brings me to….

ADD A MINOR LEAGUE ROSTER

Picking up those rookies each year in hopes of catching lightning in a bottle is fun, but most times you’re scrambling to the waiver wire hoping to beat your opponent to that next hot pickup.  With a minor league roster you won’t have that problem as you can have any number of them already on your team.  Minor league players don’t usually count towards to your active roster, only if they are brought up and you activate them.  Now you can pick up that guy you scouted or read about in A ball and sit on him for a few years without fear of someone else snagging him.  This is not for the average user; some people in keeper leagues don’t even go this far as they don’t have the time to commit to knowing about players in the low minors.  For the more advanced owner who is up for a real challenge, a dynasty league with a minor league roster could be what you are looking for.

ALLOW TRADES IN THE OFF-SEASON

Once baseball is over most fantasy pundits move on to football.  If you’re in a redraft league that’s fine and well, but those in keeper and dynasty leagues can still get things done.  Allowing trades during the off-season keeps people involved all year-long and it’s a better way to let teams prepare in advance for the following season.  You could even designate specific dates and times and hold your own winter meetings on a message board or chat room.  Just like our motto says “it’s what you do BEFORE the season starts that makes a champion”.  I’m sure the other owners would love this idea.

MAKE THE LOSERS BRACKET WORTH SOMETHING

Other than roto, most leagues have some kind of playoff format. It usually involves the top 4 to 6 teams with the remaining teams participating in some sort of consolation bracket.  Some teams in the consolation bracket actually set their lineup and play things out, but more often than not these people have moved onto football and just check back to see who won.  That’s a shame because these teams miss out on the last 3-4 weeks of baseball.  They also miss out on what could be a key breakout for a struggling player or a minor league call up that could make a worthy investment come draft day.  There is no real incentive to play these games out, so why not give owners a reason to stick around until the end of the season.

There are several things you can do here.  You could have the playoffs determine the draft order where the teams in the consolation bracket play for the number one pick.  So in a 12 team league the winner of the consolation bracket picks first next year, the runner-up picks second, third place picks third and so on.  If you league plays for money you could have the team that finishes last in the consolation bracket pay for the league next year or pay the dues of the winner of the consolation bracket.  You don’t want to do anything that severely punishes the last place team or cause them to leave, but you should find a way that keeps the teams that don’t make the playoffs interested.

RULE 5 DRAFT

Selecting your keepers can be fun, but what if you were allowed to keep someone from someone else’s team?  This is where the rule 5 draft comes in.  Teams leave X guys unprotected prior to the keeper deadline.  Starting with the worst team, each team can select one player that was not protected as one of their keepers for that season.  Sure they could have gotten this guy with their first pick in the draft, but now they can select this player early and keep them over someone who may have only been a borderline keeper at best.

Allow Waiver Claims to be used for unlisted players

Not all sites has every player listed in the player pool.  If you play on one of these sites (Yahoo is a perfect example) then this rule is for you.  How many times have you read about a minor league player and when you go to pick them up you discover they are not available yet.  It can be frustrating because by the time they are added, everyone and their grandmother knows about them.  Allowing players to use a waiver claim to pick them up would solve this problem.  That team would have to drop someone and leave and open roster spot to represent that minor league player, and once they are added to the player pool they would be added to that teams roster.  This would require additional work on the commissioners part as they would have to keep track of what players are owned and must make sure each team is keeping an open roster spot for that player.

The one caveat I would make here is, this rule should only be for leagues where all teams are on the same level.  You don’t want to do something like this if half the league is full of experienced players and the other half casual players as things can become lopsided causing the casual player to become frustrated and leave.  Consider the experience level of those in the league first.

*****

I’ve given you a slew of choices to ponder and there are still so many more options to choose from.  If your league has turned into an old married couple with no spark and just going through the old routines on a daily basis, it’s time for a change.  Look over the options I’ve laid out above and decide if one of these changes might be for you.  Don’t go overboard and make too many changes though, start off with one or two the first year and see if they work out.  If only one works out then remove the other and try something else.  Too many changes early can cause chaos in the league and can hinder your abilities to make any future changes even if they are for the best of the league. 

My keeper league started out a standard 10 team 5×5 H2H league with 3 keepers and 1 DL slot.  11 years later it’s a 12 team 7×7 league with 10 keepers (8 major league plus 2 minor league), 3 N/A and 3 DL slots along with a CI & MI slot.  It didn’t get that way overnight and neither will your league, and despite all the changes we’ve made it’s still not perfect and no league is every going to be.  You’re not going to achieve perfections, but you can make it fun and challenging for everyone and that’s the important part.

Do you have something to add to the list above or something that you do in your league that is original that others might like?  If so I’m sure everyone would like to hear from you so leave your ideas and thoughts in the comment section below.

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Jim Finch
The self proclaimed Grand High Exhausted Mystic Ruler of Fantasy Baseball. While I am not related to Jennie or Sidd Finch, I will attempt to uphold the integrity of the Finch family name as it relates to baseball. You can also find me at FanRagSports.com

5 comments on “Spicing Up Your Old Boring League

  1. Great piece Jim! It’s always hard to find leagues that are right for you, and once you find the right fit, its almost like being in a long-term relationship…you get to know everyones habits, tendencies, who is easier to trade with than others, who likes Player A more than anyone else in the league, and so on…I play in 3 fantasy baseball leagues every year, and 2 fantasy football leagues. But there is one Fantasy Baseball league that I am in, that definitely has a lot more luster to it.
    We play in a 16-team 6×6 H2H (QS and OPS) 5-keeper league.
    We play 4 divisions of 4, with the Division winners and 4 Wild Card teams making the playoffs. Half the teams making the playoffs sounds like alot, but we set it up so the #1 and #2 teams receive bye-weeks until the Final 4. It rewards the best two teams with a chance to automatically play for money without having them have to run a gauntlet, and it also gives half of the league a shot at winning the championship as well.
    The teams who do not make the Championship Playoffs, play their own tournament for draft order. 1st place gets 1st pick, 2nd place gets 2nd pick, and so on. We feel that this rewards the teams and owners who just missed the playoffs, or suffered injuries to help them get over the hump and into the playoffs the next year, instead of rewarding a team for finishing in last place (like one league I play in)
    With trading in the offseason, and trading of future draft picks (the following year only) no team is forced into mediocrity, and you can either buy your assetts to go for a playoff spot or championship, or sell and rebuild for a year or two down the line.
    This is our 9th year, and the newest member has been in the league for 4 years himself. Being able to retain all owners for as long as possible builds tremendous rivalries and bragging rights that no other league I have been in has been able to duplicate.
    It doesnt matter what anyone else says or does, when someone wins that league, they have bragging rights for eternity…(I am the ’07 and ’10 Champion by the way…hehe.)
    If anyone is looking for a great way to bond with friends, and if you have the knowledge and patience to attempt and long-term league, such as a keeper or dynasty, get together and find out what each person wants in the league and compromise every year until you get it just right. Tinkering always takes place here and there, but you will never have the same feeling to a league, as you do with a long-term league made to you and your leaguemates specifications.

    • Well said Hank and I couldn’t agree more. It’s tough to find a good group of managers that you can depend on year after year but when you do, you can have a lot of fun. Sounds like things are going great in your league, the key to keeping it great is to look for those little things you can tinker with and small changes you can make that will keep things fresh.

      Considering how long you’ve all been together, you might want to discuss maybe keeping 1 minor league player next year. If that works out you can add another one the following year.

      Also with a league as large as yours, maybe consider changing saves to saves+holds if your site allows it. This can open things up for those teams that have so scramble to find saves and encourage those that punt the saves category.

  2. My personal favorite for the die-hards:

    Whoever finishes last has to get a really embarrassing tattoo. That will surely keep everyone playing until the end.

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