The impact of rule changes - Part 2

by on March 12, 2010 @ 00:00:00 PDT


In the previous essay, three major categories of rule changes were discussed: changes in valuation, league dynamics and player acquisition. Here's a look at each of these categories in more detail.


Valuation can get complicated fairly quickly, and detailed mathematical analyses aren't in order here. There are a few rules of thumb, however:

  • The higher the ratio of players to roster spots, the flatter the price range
  • Higher AB and IP requirements mean less value for specialists (relievers, pinch hitters, etc.)
  • Player drafts (as opposed to auctions) demand greater adjustments for position scarcity

If you're happy with your current process for valuating players, you may not want to pursue these kinds of changes. However, valuation changes can shake up the league's established order, and you might be able to turn that to your advantage. You could choose Batting Eye as a category, for instance, and use the information on for a special edge. New categories can also give you an advantage if everyone in your league is already using HQ - as long as you have the patience and knack for revaluation and your competitors are lazy enough to use the existing value data.

League Dynamics

League life is the quintessential rule governing league dynamics. Leagues tend to emphasize either one-year skills (pre-season valuation, auction dynamics, and aggressive roster moves) or perpetual skills (long-range scouting, long-term relationships with other owners, considerations of future and present value, and team construction over time).

Probably the most common kind of change in this category is designed to prevent dump trades. This is almost invariably a concern in perpetual leagues only. Trading in one-year leagues tends to focus more on reallocating value - trading - for instance, quality innings for saves - while trading in perpetual leagues is skewed toward the dump, i.e., trading present value for future value. Trading can actually be depressed in perpetual leagues because the dump cycle is so powerful that owners stake everything on being in good position for these inevitable deals.

Among the other rules affecting league dynamics are those governing reserve lists and farm systems. Reserve lists can help reward owners who prepare well and also those who are fortunate to avoid major setbacks. Reserve lists minimize the role that bad luck and injuries can play. They also make it harder for teams at the bottom of the standings to improve themselves through free agency. Larger reserve lists and looser rules on eligibility and activation tend to enhance these outcomes.

Farm systems tend to encourage some of those long-term skills like scouting and owner continuity. Rules that increase the importance and effectiveness of the farm system - large farm teams, low salaries and favorable contracts for farm products, tradable draft picks - will encourage these results.

It's important to note that you can mix and match when appropriate. You might specify, for instance, that you cannot carry over any players except those that come from your farm system. This could encourage some perpetual-league personality traits without compromising the essential "one-year-ness" of your league.

Player Acquisitions

How does your league make most of its roster changes: through trading or through free agency? Most leagues try to find some balance between the two. Trading requires dealing with your peers, while free agency does not. (Reserve lists and farm systems are included in "free agency" for these purposes, since activations don't require dealing with others.) Liberalizing free agency rules can help reduce dependency on trading, while greater restrictions on free agency can stimulate more trading.

The FAAB system has the unusual result of both rationalizing and randomizing the free agent acquisition process. Owners can grab players they like even if they happen to be high in the standings, and they are also rewarded for keen judgment and farsightedness (that is, the ability to tell the difference between a fluke save and the emergence of a new closer). The blind bidding process, though, makes it random. You could put in a perfectly reasonable bid of $7 for, say, Willis Roberts, and then lose out because the worst cluckhead in the league bid $8 because he thought he was getting Nolan Ryan. And you can never be certain of the appropriate amount to bid. A $27 bid on Roberts looks like genius if everyone else is bidding in the low $20s, but looks awfully foolish if the next highest bid is $3.

FAAB systems have also done much to limit the disruptive impact of interleague trades, since traded players enter the free agent pool just like callups and are available to all teams. Some leagues allow teams losing players in such trades to add the departed players' salaries to their FAAB as a form of compensation.

Large reserve lists and farm systems can depress trading because owners can rely on reserve lists to bail them out of trouble. They can also be a way for owners to hoard talent and channel it toward friends rather than teams at the bottom of the standings. If these are problems in your league, consider reducing the size of the reserve list. You might also think about restricting eligibility for the reserve list (no active National League players, no one with rookie status, only players with rookie status, etc.); a smaller pool of reservable players means a smaller impact on league dynamics.

Try to stay away from rules that require owners to pay fees in order to make transactions. These tend to depress transactions, and they also give an advantage to owners who are willing and/or able to pay in order to improve their lot. This rule can expose economic imbalances among owners, which both compromises the level-playing-field spirit of the salary cap and fosters discomfort among owners. Perhaps most importantly, it creates one more hurdle to get over in a trade negotiation. You never want to go into a negotiation with someone who's thinking, "Can I afford the fees to make this trade - and will my significant other get mad?"

As you review rule changes in this category, ask yourself where your league is and where it needs to go. Do you need to do more to rationalize the free agent process? Are there too many trading alliances, and do they skew to the same people? Do you need to encourage more trading?

Finally, you should note that there are a few rules that have no real impact on how you play. These can be decided according to your whim or convenience, or you can simply bow to the will of the group. Rules about transaction deadlines and prize distributions fall into this category.

These last rules, though, are exceptions. Most rule changes will alter the way you play the game. When you consider new rules, you need to think about the obvious impacts as well as the hidden ones, and the effects on your team as well as on other teams. There's no one right way to play the game, but you can certainly find the best way for you.

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Ron Shandler began publishing statistical reports for baseball analysts and fantasy leaguers in 1986. Since then, his enterprise has grown into one of the largest information providers in the industry, producing quality products continuously and over a longer period than any other fantasy baseball company.

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