The impact of rule changes - Part 1

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


Reader surveys show that the vast majority of fantasy leagues play according to modified rules. They use the Original Rotisserie constitution as a base but include enough changes to make it noticeably different. Given the gap between the number of existing fantasy players and the number of existing Original Rotisserie books, it's very likely you're playing with a revised rule (probably several). The free agent acquisition budget (FAAB) is an example of an innovation so widely accepted that it has effectively become a standard rule - but it is still a revised rule. Shucks, even the original Rotisserie League doesn't play Original Rotisserie anymore.

As you consider your league's rules, whether you are joining a new league or considering changes to your existing league, you need to be aware of the major ramifications to such changes.

One major category of changes includes rules affecting valuation. Most rules that govern statistics and player eligibility fall into this category. Changing from the standard 8 categories to 5x5, for instance, only changes the relative value of individual players. It doesn't change when you should bring up players at the draft, how to identify team weaknesses, or how you make roster moves. The only thing that's different is which players you try to acquire. This category also includes rules governing who is in the player pool (AL? NL? Both? Japan?), roster size and composition, IP and AB requirements, auction vs. draft format, and even the date of the auction. Player eligibility rules have some impact here, since Mark McGwire is somewhat more valuable if you are also allowed to play him at second base.

Whether you embrace such changes depends on your comfort level with revaluation. Baseball HQ provides values for Standard-8 and Standard 5x5 leagues. However, as stat categories and player pools get more esoteric, revaluation gets more involved. You might want to avoid such changes if you don't have the patience or the personality to do the calculations. On the other hand, if you have a decided edge over others in this area, you might welcome this kind of change, so that you can play to your strength.

It's also important to look at your personal strengths when considering the second major category of rule changes. These rules affect league dynamics - that is, the basic skills emphasized in your league. For instance, one-year leagues reward different skill sets than perpetual leagues. One-year leagues place emphasis on pre-season valuation, auction dynamics, and aggressive roster moves. Perpetual leagues demand attention to long-range prospect scouting, long-term relationships with other owners, constant considerations of future as well as present value, and the ability to construct a team over time.

Dump trades are common in perpetual leagues but virtually unknown in one-year leagues. Perpetual leagues are much more likely to pay attention to the minor leagues, especially focusing on long-term prospects of great value; one-year leagues are more concerned with immediate impact, and would rather see two good months from Chuck Smith than one triumphant debut from Kerry Wood. Other rules with significant effects in this category include reserve lists, farm systems, and anti-dumping constraints.

When you consider this category of rule changes, consider your own personality and the personalities of your fellow owners. Are you happy with the way the league is going? Does it seem to reflect your personalities? Or are you a bunch of live-for-the-moment folks in need of some de-stabilizing? Don't be afraid to mix and match in order to achieve the right balance; adding a few perpetual-league ideas might help introduce some of those skills into an ongoing one-year league.

The third major category includes those factors affecting player acquisition. Most rules push in one of two directions: greater emphasis on trading, or greater emphasis on free agency. Trading means interdependence. Free agency means independence. Each pole has some value.

As rules permit more freedom in making roster changes, owners will become more independent and less likely to try to improve through trading. Trading is difficult simply because it involves two people and two sets of needs (and three- and four-way trades are correspondingly harder). With free agency, it's all about me; if I want to drop someone, I can do it all by myself. It's a lot easier to replace a bum through free agency than through a trade, which raises the bar for trading. If you're trying to deal a serviceable $5 pitcher, you'll often find that another owner is willing to take his chances on a $1 nobody from the pool - or even a -$1 nobody. The costs are much lower, and the risks of failure are much more acceptable. To be sure, it is practically impossible to improve yourself significantly without trading, but owners can be lulled by easy free agency into a no-trade mindset.

When you consider these kinds of rules, take some time to think about how player acquisition is going in your league. Are you too reliant on free agency? Do you wish other owners were more interested in trading? Or do you want to break up existing trade alliances by reducing the value of trades?

The next essay will examine these categories in greater depth. We'll talk about some specific rule changes and discuss their real impacts, and identify what you should look for in determining whether to vote for a rule change. Rule changes can be powerful tools for reshaping the way you play.

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