Earlier this offseason, I kicked off a series about highly custom leagues. This is the third installment. Previous entries covered 2×2 Roto and Split Auctions. Today we’ll dive into a hybrid roto league with head-to-head playoffs. I’ve dubbed it Roto-To-Head which is not a sex act and is a pretty dumb name. Feel free to suggest alternatives!
This format is semi-supported by FanTrax.
Draft Type: Any
Teams: Any number
Positions: Any configuration
Hitter Categories: R, HR, RBI, SB, AVG or similar
Pitcher Categories: W, SV, K, ERA, WHIP or similar
Waivers: Any type
As with the Split Auction customization, most of the league design is flexible. This should play very well with keeper and dynasty formats too. Since I’ve not tested most of these highly custom leagues, I recommend implementing only one element at a time. By which I mean you may wish to avoid running a Split Auction, Roto-To-Head league. Feel free to mix these designs with battle tested formats.
The aesthetic is quite basic. Roto leagues tend to lose flavor and participation as the season progresses. In redraft, owners often walk away once they perceive the deficit between themselves and the last paid slot is too large to overcome. They don’t trade, they don’t compete on the waiver wire, and their team performance suffers. As a result a few teams rise to the top of every category. It’s not rare for the top three teams to finish in the top three of every category.
Dynasty and keeper formats tend to feature better engagement. However, those July and August trades usually consist of a few teams offering questionable assets for piles of win-now reinforcements. While some owners successfully navigate the compete-tank-rebuild-compete life cycle, many get trapped in the tank and rebuild phases. It’s my theory that this usually happens because they’re too focused on hitting the proverbial home run.
My rebuilds usually follow a last to fifth to first path. Roto-To-Head provides a modest reward for this gradual rebuild process. Although a fifth place finish usually doesn’t get anything in a roto league (except for very deep formats), we all know how fickle a one-week playoff game can be. Imagine a classic eight team, three-round playoff. Let’s say the top three receive some cash. That means a fifth place club has roughly a three-in-eight chance (37.5%) to win money.
As such, Roto-To-Head can be expected to inject dynamism into all complementary format types. Around July 15, a typical 12 team league features no more than one hopeless club with no chance to reach eighth place. Put another way, at least 11 teams should be actively trying to improve through the All Star Break. Some may do this with an eye or two on next season, but at least the owner has the option to make tradeoffs.
To encourage this dynamism, it’s necessary to create a large playoff field. Twelve-team leagues should use an eight team playoff. Deeper formats should consider 12 or 16 team playoffs.
For paid leagues, you can handle the cash aspect in a number of ways. My first attempt will probably include a 50/50 pot split between the top regular season and playoff teams.
The Goal, Stated Clearly
Roto leagues are very good at rewarding the best team. Head-to-head formats increase volatility which can make the experience more interesting (or frustrating). Roto-To-Head combines these aspects. Steady performers get credit for their regular season dominance. Those who experienced bad luck or managed to find Max Muncy and Adalberto Mondesi too late* to contend can still play for something.
*One of my rosters finished seventh place in a 12 team league and won the playoffs thanks to Muncy, Mondesi, and a slew of late-summer waiver pickups.
Real baseball functions in exactly the same way. The most consistently good teams make the playoffs. But to win the World Series, it’s better to be lucky than good.
Although not included in the default league settings, FanTrax does offer a way to implement this league. It just requires a little foresight and effort. FanTrax, with a little help from the admins, offers a clone league option. So, simply run your league through the fantasy regular season, make a copy, change the scoring type to head-to-head, and manually input the matchups. “Very easy actually,” says their Director of Operations. We’ll see. I’ll be trying it for at least one league this season.