Now, I very much understand that 'ideal leagues settings' is my own opinion, however understanding my audience and the various types of fantasy baseball players in existence, I'm talking about ideal league settings for the diehard fantasy baseball player. What do I mean by diehard?
- Someone who is constantly checking their team(s), multiple times daily.
- Someone who is doing research constantly looking for an edge, whether it's minor leaguers, sabermetric data, or 5 bazillion mock drafts leading up to the start of the season.
- Someone that's willing to make a reasonable or possibly somewhat significant financial investment in their leagues.
- Most importantly, someone who is looking for a roto league. The randomness of a head-to-head league is a nice novelty, but a 1 - 2 week playoff sample at the end of a very long season should not indicate the winner of a league. H2H formats can be fun, but not for the most serious of fantasy baseball leagues.
If you don't fit into this mold, the remainder of this article may not necessarily apply to you. Though, if you'd like to become this type of diehard (totally worth it), I suggest you give this article a chance.
Circling back to my take on 'ideal league settings', I feel there are some settings that are mandatory for a diehard fantasy baseball league.
- As mentioned earlier, the league type must be rotisserie. It embodies the season long grind that baseball is all about, and just about guarantees that the best team start to finish walks away the winner.
- The league must allow for daily lineup adjustments. The alternative is weekly locked lineups, and while I understand the argument for weekly locks at times, it's to the disadvantage of the diehard who is willing to adjust their lineups daily to ensure the optimal lineup is available each day. In addition, weekly lineups force painfully difficult decisions when it comes to pitching that should not have to be made: Do I start very good pitcher A with 1 good match up this week, or do I start average Pitcher B with 2 matchups? With daily moves, you can ensure your best pitchers are always in and you can pick and choose the rest of your starts.
Now, I also understand that daily moves allow for constant streaming of starters and this can be a big annoyance in some leagues. My next setting suggestion eliminates this concern.
- The league must have an Innings Pitched limit. Some may disagree with this and are proponents when it comes to streaming pitchers constantly. While I understand the premise of the argument, I will respectfully disagree. My counterpoints to the benefits of an IP limit:
An IP limit creates additional strategy by forcing each team to make a decision how to allocate innings between starters and relievers. Do you want to go after winning Wins and K's, or target Saves and the ratios with elite relievers? Either way, it makes every inning pitched valuable and makes your daily lineup decisions even that much more important. It also eliminates teams making hundreds of streaming waiver wire moves to start every possible pitcher every day. Is something like that really deserving of the "best" pitching rankings?
- The league must have relatively deep rosters. As a diehard fantasy baseball fan, there isn't a worse feeling than seeing star players sitting out of waivers and no room on your roster to pick them up, because you're in a shallow league. The league at minimum must be at least 12 teams and should have the industry standard 23 starting positional players:
The standard (C, C, 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, MI, CI, OF, OF, OF, OF, OF, UTIL + 9 pitchers)
The more bench spots the better as well. This makes every pick in the draft more important and pre-season research critical to a team’s success. Most fantasy baseball players know the top stars at each position, however knowing the top 400+ players should be needed for competitive leagues.
- A Free Agent Acquisition Budget (FAAB) is necessary. Waivers are a thing of the past. A FAAB system ensures 100% opportunity when bidding on available players. It’s a terrible feeling claiming someone one day, only to see another player cut soon after and knowing you have 0% chance to pick him up because of your waiver priority.
- There must be some type top overall prize. This isn't necessarily mandatory, but would be a nice perk. In addition to each league's individual prizes, a large overarching prize for the top overall teams in all combined leagues is a very nice goal to strive for. While someone can try punting certain categories in pursuit of their own league victory, the winner of the overall prize must be dominant in all categories. This also reinforces that the best team for the entirety of the season be rewarded. Depending on the site, this top overall prize can be huge and very much worth it.
Now, it doesn't seem that unfathomable that this specific set of settings would be tough to find in a league, but it simply doesn't exist. I've searched far and wide and I've only come across a few platforms that feature some of these settings, but not all. I've had to settle and play on sites where the best available settings are, however it's a compromise for sure. Here are the best sites I play on that feature some of the settings that I believe are ideal:
Yahoo Pro Leagues:
Yahoo offers fantasy baseball "Pro Leagues" which are pay to play leagues that return cash prizes. They have been around for a while but took a brief hiatus last year while yahoo was seemingly performing maintenance on its platform. They don't offer everything, but they are fairly close to a complete list.
- Yahoo pro leagues are very flexible and good for players of all levels to join. They have entry fee's as low as $20, and as high as $250. They also offer both roto as well as head-to-head leagues so just about anyone can configure the league type they'd like to play in. They also offer both snake and auction drafting just another plus to their variety of customization options.
- Yahoo Pro Leagues allow for daily moves.
- Yahoo Pro Leagues also have an 1400 IP limit.
- As of this year, Yahoo is also advertising "free post-season contests" depending how your team finishes in your respective league (learn more here). This appears to be some sort of overarching top prize which is a nice additional incentive.
- The single biggest drawback about Yahoo Pro Leagues is the roster size. It's by far the shallowest roster out there. I would argue the "standard" team size as mentioned previously is 23 starting players with roughly 5-7 bench slots. Yahoo only has 18 starters per team with 5 bench spots. This takes away a tremendous amount of advantage to the knowledgeable fantasy owner.
To give this a little more context: Neil Walker, David Wright, Howie Kendrick and Joe Panik are all free agents currently in one my Yahoo Pro Leagues. Not that they are elite, but they should be rostered in most, if not all formats. My team is strong, and I simply don’t have room for them. It's incredibly frustrating when much weaker teams can simply go to the free agent pool and improve their team a good amount because of shallow roster construction.
- Another negative about Yahoo Pro Leagues is the waiver system. It's first come first serve. While this isn't a terrible atrocity, a FAAB system would be a nice improvement.
- One final negative, and a minor one at that; Yahoo enforced a games started limit for all batters. You can only start 162 games at each hitting position. It's not a huge deal, but it would be a strategic advantage if there were no limit and daily rotating of offensive players allowed teams to accumulate 1-2% more counting stats over the course of the year. This should be an advantage of leagues that offer daily moves. I understand there would then be a concern about streaming batters, however if rosters were deeper, this wouldn’t be a concern. There would be little talent available and you would only really be able to successfully rotate your starters and bench; which should be an option.
Overall: Yahoo Pro Leagues are good but not great. I've played in them for a number of years now and won a few times, however it's tougher than it should be. If the rosters were deeper and people were forced to know a larger segment of the player pool, the more knowledgeable fantasy owner would have a greater advantage, as they should.
NFBC Online Championships:
The National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC) is arguably the most competitive season long fantasy baseball league in existence. They offer a number of league formats, but I would consider all of them high-stakes with their lowest entry fee starting at $125, while its highest starts at an amazing $15,000. They also offer a number of various formats and just about any fantasy baseball diehard that is willing to make a reasonable investment can find a league here.
- All leagues are roto.
- Very deep rosters, some drafts are as deep as 50 rounds.
- Various entry fees, however all are somewhat substantial and lead to the largest overall prize in the industry for season long leagues.
- FAAB free agent bidding.
- Super competitive, the best of the best play in NFBC leagues.
- Weekly lineup locks. By far the biggest drawback for all of the same reasons I've already mentioned in this article.
- No IP limit, however this doesn't feel as bad because of the weekly lock. It essentially prevents streaming, so in this format, it's not too terrible.
- While the HUGE overall prize is nice, I would argue not enough is paid out at the league level. Essentially only 1/2 of the entry fees are paid out at the league level while the remainder goes towards the top overall prizes. It's nice to be competing for over 100K, but a little more at the league level would be a plus.
- No DL slots available. If a player gets injured, he must occupy a bench slot or be dropped. The addition of 1 - 2 DL slots would be a nice addition.
Overall: NFBC leagues right now are the best high stakes leagues out there. The best players play there and you really can't find better competition anywhere. All of "the bad" points above however are pretty big drawbacks for me. I can't even tell you how many times I've seen a pitcher on my bench put up a good outing, but I just couldn't have him in my lineup because of the weekly move lock. I’d say overall NFBC leagues are very good, but I’m still in search of something great.
Alternatives - Custom leagues:
While Yahoo and NFBC leagues are both good options, they don't meet all of my "must haves" to be a perfect platform. One other option is to create your own league. I'm the commissioner of a league that's been around for about 10 years and it meet's just about all of the requirements I mention at the beginning of this article. We have very little turnover and even less complaints. It's essentially a well-oiled machine.
Even with everything configured exactly how the league feels it should be, there are still a few drawbacks. Because it's a friendly "home" league, the entry fee is modest and winning the league doesn't pay a ton, nor are there real industry accolades. While it is fun, winning just doesn't feel the same as if someone was to win on a larger more competitive platform. I love my home league, but I’d love a similar large scale industry hosted league more.
Is there still hope?
I do believe there is hope. There is one platform out there that I believe can come to the plate, put something together and have overwhelming success. ESPN does a very good job with its fantasy leagues. They are easily customized and the user interface and mobile app are close to, if not best in class. They don't have a huge market in the pay-to-play world however. Previously they offerd not so good prize eligible leagues, but these were discontinued. If they were to put a solid effort into mirroring something similar to Yahoo Pro leagues with expanded rosters, a FAAB system and a few other tweaks, I believe they could lead the industry in prize eligible season long fantasy baseball. They already have a tremendous following and with a little bit of smart marketing, this could be huge. If a project like this could be proposed now and worked on for the start of next season, it could really succeed.
Maybe I'm wrong in assuming this is a type of league that most diehard fantasy baseball players would want; however this is an overwhelming consensus of feedback I've received through my site and social media outlets. Now I ask you: what set of rules would make your perfect league?