What Was Learned During the 2020 Season

To say the least, the 2020 fantasy baseball season will go down as a one-of-kind. A late start led to a 60 game sprint. Seven-inning double-headers. Weeks of rescheduled games because of COVID-19 positive tests. The National League DH. Twenty-eight-man rosters in September. Each of these on its own would fill the headlines. With the changes coming all at once, they felt overwhelming. I’m hoping to calm everyone if any and hopefully not all of the changes happen again. Here is some advice on how to handle the changes.

The help divided up into league setting and individual manager focus. While I inserted plenty of my own advice, I wanted to make sure as many people as possible contributed so Tweeted out and asked during my chat for input.

Increase league flexibility

There was nothing stable about the 2020 schedule, with games postponed due to everything from the normal rain outs to positive COVID-19 tests, poor air quality from forest fires, and player-led protests of the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. That unpredictability made this season particularly challenging for fantasy managers. In one league, I was forced us to use my initial lineup for 10 days. This lock was during the Marlins fiasco and it was just a ton of zero’s from many lineup spots.

Basically …

At the root of fantasy baseball is to roster a team and watch them perform. It’s not a game of chance where the winner guess who is going to play and who isn’t. To help lessen some of these issues, the following rules need to be implemented.

  1. Don’t have a player lock until his team plays. Relevant news may not be available until Tuesday. When an early game locks every player, managers can’t react to players not playing.
  2. Increase the number of lineup changes. This move can make things a little dicey. I prefer bi-weekly (Mon-Fri) moves so I could take a day off every now and then. There is no in-between ground from there and weekly moves. One possibility is to have X mid-week roster moves limited to one for each bench player.
  3. If there was any kind of layoff between the draft and the start of the season, make sure managers can add players and change their lineup before the games start counting. Managers are just going to be disgruntled if half their team is not on the field to start off.

These rules are fairly standard for the industry. If a hosting site can’t or won’t implement them, find one that will. Some sites are just resting on their past laurels and need to take a step forward or just go away.

Increase waiver wire options

This specifically applies to when MLB is changing major rules like the implementation of the National League DH. It could happen again with expansion or changing the mound height and/or location. There is going to be an edge for the manager who reacts correctly to the change, but the rest of the league might be slower to act. In order to keep every from being disenfranchised, have a large enough player pool for them to adjust.

If a casual manager knows they may be at a disadvantage or aren’t sure of all the possible repercussions of the rules change, play in a smaller league. I found I had more options in 12-team leagues to deal with the reschedule games that weren’t available in 15-team leagues.

For some leagues, the number of managers can’t be dropped but the number of rostered players can be. With the standard 23-man roster, it may be lower to 19 (one fewer outfielder, catcher and pitcher along with one combined infielder) to increase the number of options.

Some recommendations I received pushed to decrease the number of available players

I could maybe get behind more IL slots but with so many unknowns, more options are better. The waiver wire doesn’t need to feel like full-blown NL only leagues. Give managers hope with increased options so they will be active members in the league.

Shut down/halt keeper leagues

In keeper leagues, especially those with increasing keeper costs, several options exist. My home keeper league halted everything, did a small redraft league with some previously proposed rules changes similar to what Scott did.

Others made small changes to their leagues.

While other leagues didn’t change a thing.

If the league is going to pivot to a one-season redraft, try something new. If the league has discussed implementing a change (e.g. OBP instead of AVG), go for it. Two months will be long enough to see how the change plays out but if not, the season will soon be over.

Innings and at-bat minimums and limits

It’s obvious that in leagues with any thresholds, they need to be prorated to the new schedule. First, drop the leagues innings and/or at-bat requirements by this amount (e.g. to 37% in 2002). Then, drop the adjusted innings value some more since starters may still be ramping up their workload. It’ll be better to be on the low than the high side.

If the league doesn’t adjust the rules enough, managers need to make sure those innings get used.

The last thing managers want to worry about with any changes is nitpicking playing time requirements.

Limit league costs

Adjust down or just ignore league fees. With global events, like the COVID-19 outbreak, people may be hurting for cash. Fantasy sports may be the last priority when setting a monthly budget.

If a league decides to collect a fee, can get inventive on how they distribute it.

Increase individual team flexibility

With entire teams going into quarantine, a manager may need several bench options available. One key is to roster as many multi-positional players. They have always been valuable even more so when several lineup spots need to be replaced. Many of the recommendations I received mentioned the need for flexibility.

Another team construction adjustment is to roster more everyday hitters even if their production is subpar. Gambling on multiple prospects ended up hurting a team in this environment since regulars are needed to slot in those off days. A team doesn’t get bonus points for having a top prospect on their bench.

Finally, the pitcher-hitter mixes may lean more hitters. This move is especially true in the NFBC (and other sites) that allow mid-week hitter replacement. Having options, along with the position flexibility, helps fill some of the voids.

Don’t be stubborn if a rule change (e.g. NL DH or interleague scheduling)

Within all my power, I’d recommend ignoring all gut rankings and trust robust projection systems if a major change occurs. It’s simple for Steamer or The Bat to change a player’s projection. They do it all the time with interleague trades.

Some leagues may be been drafted before and then some after a rules change. In my instance, all my industry leagues, all before the shutdown and kept the rosters. I needed to accept the sunk cost from the rule change, hope they affected everyone evenly, and move on with a new heading. Everyone is looking for an edge and any rules change can be that edge.

Some owners are able to make a few adjustments in their heads but could struggle with league-wide player pool changes. I redrafted a league with the new DH rules right before the season started and noticed everyone was holding tight to their previous valuations. I proceeded to join as many leagues as possible and will take home a nice payday once the season is over.

I should not be surprised at all at this finding. It took years for people to adjust to the increasing importance of stolen bases. The 2021 season will be another year for change with truncated 2020 stats, unknown about the NL DH, and how the unbalanced schedule mattered. The more a manager enters the season with an open mind, the better.

Churn Roster

With every roster spot being precious, struggling or hurt players need to released to free up room for productive regulars. It’s tough to see the draft or auction capital let go to the waiver wire but there is no month for them to rebound.

I find that if I’m not regretful on one release, I’m not churning my roster enough. Owners need to come in with a football mindset of winning each week and then worrying about the next one.

Try new strategies

A fantasy manager my try a risky strategy during a mock draft but when push comes-t0-shove, they draft the same balanced team. With a shortened season, why not try dumping a category like Saves, Stolen Bases, or Batting Average.

If it works, it’s an option for a longer season. If not, the season is over soon.

Balance

With all the recommendations or a turbulent time, remember to keep everything in balance. It might be too much for a weekly (FAAB and lineups), league with 30-man rosters to move to daily moves, 40-man rosters, and six new categories. Maybe just go with bi-weekly moves and fewer bench spots.

Wrap up

The preceeding was a ton to digest but with the past season almost in the books, I’m surprised it’s not twice as long. With that said, did I miss anything? My hope is that this crazy little game we play continues to thrive and when one even one of the changes occurs (e.g. the union strikes), leagues and managers have a game plan.





Jeff, one of the authors of the fantasy baseball guide,The Process, writes for RotoGraphs, The Hardball Times, Rotowire, Baseball America, and BaseballHQ. He has been nominated for two SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis and won it in 2013 in tandem with Bill Petti. He has won three FSWA Awards including on for his MASH series. In his first two seasons in Tout Wars, he's won the H2H league and mixed auction league. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

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Jolly Good Show
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Jolly Good Show

I am only in one league, but I found that loading up on quality starting pitching really helped. Also, because starters are pitching fewer innings, I needed six SP’s, not five, to stay in line with the innings count.

Normally I platoon my hitters like mad, but the LHB I drafted really let me down in batting average, but were fine in home runs.

Going back to pitching, I noticed that only a few teams had their starters stretched out during the shutdown period; Padres, Indians and Twins, so I loaded up on the latter two teams starters, which really helped.

Players being unable to view their at bats during games certainly played a big part in some hitters playing well below expectations.