Embrace The Weird Format to Make Your League More Interesting
Regular TDG readers or TINO Podcast listeners will be familiar with the concept of what I’ll paraphrase as “weird formats.” Those same readers will be aware, then, that not everyone enjoys the weird format.
To me, the weird format is what separates our great game of dynasty fantasy baseball from the plebeian redraft leagues and nominally strategic DFS games. The weird format is a natural evolution within the closed ecosystem of a league, a microcosmic metaphor for human society and culture. It is in the weird format that we see dynasty baseball holding a mirror back on our society and saying “This is your vision of utopia. Given all the options before you for harmony, this is what you ended up with. Look upon my works, ye mighty.”
All this to say your league’s format is a reflection of how your league operates and what its members prize (or at least tolerate). The evolution of a league is frequently a direct result of the league identifying a “problem”–not infrequently a problem unique to the league or even a few members therein– and creatively solving that problem. These changes give your league the personality that keeps you invested in this weird little hobby we all share.
Not all of these changes are going to translate to broad appeal. My home league uses a bizarre scoring system, rosters calibrated to favor pitching, and real player salaries instead of setting value via auction or draft position. I couldn’t recommend this approach to just anyone in good faith– it is a wonky league for wonky people. But for me, and the 17 others in the league with me, it feels like home.
Over the years I’ve encountered lots of weird formats and quirks of dynasty leagues. Some, such as The Invisible Hand system for determining draft order, originated from this very site. In that spirit, here are a few ideas that might be a good fit in your league.
The Draft Lottery, Rethought
Tanking is a difficult issue to tackle in dynasty leagues. There are few things more demoralizing than being a middle-of-the-pack team with no clear path to victory. Certain types of dynasty owners embrace the tank and sell anything with present day value and fielding a team built to compete 2, 3, or more years in the future. If parity is important to your league, roster requirements or minimum ab/ip limits can help manage tanking. If that is a step too far, look to the NBA and their draft lottery for a solution that treats the bottom rung fairly equally.
The draft lottery system can work as a way to give the bottom tier of teams in your league equal shot at the first overall pick. In a 12-15 team league this might be the bottom 3 teams, in a deeper league it might be the bottom 5. As we’ve seen in the NBA, though, this can backfire by encouraging a race to the bottom among middle tier teams, since a 25% shot at the first overall pick is better than a less than 25% shot at a championship.
To avoid this pitfall, exclude the worst overall team from a chance at the top pick. Give the worst team the 2nd pick, protected, and let the next 3-5 best teams have equal shot at the first pick via lottery. You could remove the luck element of the lottery by tying the first pick to some actual performance based incentive, such as most improved in the 2nd half, if you want to get cute.
Only consider this if: Your league allows draft pick trading, so that everyone does have a shot to trade up for that top pick.
Twists and Further Complications: In H2H leagues, where luck plays a big factor in the end of season rankings, you can easily adapt the consolation ladder to have the top 3 consolation winners in the lottery for first overall pick. This not only discourages the complete tank, it also incentivizes participation in the last month when most teams check out.
Judging by both personal experience and the Trader’s Corner series, you probably love complicated multi-part trades. How many draft picks do you include? Is your High-A reliever prospect who already had 3 TJ’s a deal breaker? If you love complicated trades, here’s another complication: add conditions that can improve the return for one of the teams. If you’re trading a ton of future value to land an ace in the offseason in order to make a title run next year, couch your bet by making the trade conditional on IP– if your ace goes down with TJ in spring training, maybe you get a 3rd round draft pick back to soften the blow. The conditional trade is a good way to make an ALMOST-even trade feel a little bit better for the side taking on the bigger risk without the other side sacrificing too much.
Only consider this if: You have a clearly defined way to track it and make it visible to the entire league. This works best in leagues that track trades via spreadsheet. The condition should be something measurable within the next season or before the next planned draft. Conditions work best if they’re something both sides are comfortable losing– they should be a cushion in case a trade blows up in one side’s face. And don’t do this kind of trade with the league hardass, stick with the teams with whom you actually enjoy trading.
Twists and Further Considerations: Give both sides options by making the condition a PTBNL.
Auction leagues and other leagues with salary caps frequently have issues with some teams carrying a lot of young talent locked up at very low prices. If you’ve played in an Ottoneu league, you may have experienced their arbitration system, which is one method for helping counteract the low-cost stud whose cost is significantly lower than his value, without completely screwing the balance of the league economy. The Ottoneu system involves each team having an allocation budget, where you can add $1-$3 on up to 3 players on any given roster. You can automate this allocation system by tying a dollar value to a tier of player performance– maybe every player who cost less than $5 and places in the top 10 at his position on the ESPN player rater has $3 added to their salary next season.
Only consider this if: you can implement it fairly and evenly across all teams, and in a way everyone understands. If you can find a way to make it participatory, like Ottoneu does, that can add a layer of strategy, but it may not be right for your league. If you’re already in an Ottoneu league and not using the arbitration system, consider it for next season.
Twists and Further Considerations: If you’re in a keeper league and use a draft rather than auction, you could emulate an arbitration system by increasing the draft round value of keepers based on league vote. Have every manager nominate one player per team in secret. The one player on each team who received the most nominations has his keeper value inflated by an agreed upon number of rounds– a 20th round pick might be inflated to a 13th rounder, a 10th round pick might be inflated to a 5th rounder.
What weird quirks has your league already put into place that you feel should see widespread use across dynasty leagues? Let us know in the comments!