Tout Table: Rules Changes

Once the league champion is crowned and the cleanup from the Yoohoo shower is complete, most benevolent commissioners will solicit the league for proposed changes to the Constitution. This week, I came up with a hypothetical league and asked the following.

Let’s say I run a league which you’re in. Here are the basic specs and rules:

15-team Mixed Snake Draft, redraft league. Draft order is the reverse of last season’s standings so the last place team gets the first pick.

We use a 100 unit FAB budget with $0 bids allowed. Trading is permitted and FAB can be traded.

Scoring is standard 5×5 with a 1000 innings pitched minimum. Rosters are the standard 14 hitters, 9 pitchers with seven reserves and no IL.

The season is over, I congratulated the champion and requested rules changes for next season.

What rules changes would you propose and if multiple, which is your No. 1 priority?

Derek Carty (RotoGrinders, @DerekCarty): Make it an auction, because drafts dumb, auctions good. And add IL slots, ideally unlimited, you monster.

Alex Fast (Pitcher List, @AlexFast8): This may be a bit silly but I really dislike the ability to do $0 FAAB bids. I understand as to why people enjoy it but to me it’s one of the most abused rules in fantasy baseball. If you want to roster a player, you should have to pay a price for that player. If we allow $0 bids, what’s the point of having a FAAB to begin with? I think about it like this – though, in my opinion, there are several examples I could give – it’s the first week of the playoffs. Half the league is eliminated and I need a starter. If I have $0 I may not be able to get the pick of the litter but there are so many options available that I’ll, in all likelihood, be fine. If I need K’s, it’s not like I have one option, same with W’s. With a $0 FAAB I can get any of those options. It just makes my blood boil. I see no benefits to it. Any potential benefits seem counteracted with the rebuttal “then just spend $1”.

Jeff Zimmerman (Fangraphs, The Process, @jeffwzimmerman): Making sure no one changes the rules with the exception of I like how the NFBC High Stakes leagues do it and there is a blind bid with FAAB to pick the desired slot. Overall, I like these settings. Responses: Derek: The shallower the league, the need for IL spots disappears IMO. If you want to have unlimited IL, the bench needs to be 4 at most. In a 15-team league, there should be WW options. Sometimes in LABR and Tout with unlimited options, the pool dies. Also the need to make calls on the IL is a great part of the game. There was no reason I should have 15 players on my bench (happened this year). Alex: I think it’s fine either way, as long as it’s known in the rules. The one format I would change is Tout. No need for $0 bids and $1000 in FAAB. One or the other

Scott Swanay (FantasyBaseballSherpa, @fantasy_sherpa): Add IL spots; replace AVG w/ OBP; replace SVs w/ either SVs+Holds, GP or something else; potentially replace Wins too.

Rob Leibowitz (Rotoheaven, @rob_leibowitz): Randomize the order. Finish one year has no basis on next in a redraft order or move to an auction format. I prefer $100 FAAB with $0 FAAB bids allowed in redraft leagues. Reduce minimum IP to 900. 200 innings for a starting pitcher has become the exception, no longer the expected. Mixed-15 league, I’m probably fine without a DL, perhaps 1 or 2 spots. Responses to FAAB, I prefer master of my own destiny as opposed to crossing my fingers on waivers and hoping someone doesn’t get my guy, when I could’ve outbid them. I’d probably also make it AL or NL only because I prefer that style. I’d rather do two drafts than a single mixed.

Brad Johnson (Patreon/BaseballATeam, @BaseballATeam): So a few reactions. 1. Super agree on adding IL. At least 5 slots if unlimited isn’t an option. 2. I know this is unpopular, but I hate FAAB. It’s a sweet concept that just is un-fun in practice. So I’m strongly opposing Alex’s suggesting of doing away with $0 bids. I ideally want daily first-come, first-serve waivers, but $100 FAAB and $0 bids is where I draw the line for compromise. I’d also support replacing standard FAAB with Vickrey auctions if the platform can handle it. 3. Rob is right, draft order should not be reverse order of standings. My preference is reverse order of money earned with a random tie breaker. So if top 3 get cash, bottom 12 draw straws for first to 12th. KDS is fine too. 4. I would vehemently oppose changing the scoring. Standard 5×5 is the most difficult assortment of stats to optimize. When you start swapping in OBP, holds, W+QS, etc., the optimization formula becomes simpler and more visible. It’s less about artistry than doing simple math problems. 5. Auctions are wonderful. Just make sure the talent level (i.e. the managers) is balanced. Otherwise, you’re going to severely disadvantage the managers who already had the longest odds.

Jock Thompson (Baseball HQ, @JOCKatHQ): What Swanay said. But I’d try to change everything, starting with making it a dynasty format.

Ariel Cohen (CBS Sports, @ATCNY): 1) Rewarding teams who finish in last place the prior season typically causes competition issues. A draft order should be random in a complete redraft league. 2) KDS is an upgrade to random draft order. Let teams CHOOSE which draft slots that they want to pick from. 3) I’m with Derek Carty – I prefer auctions to snake drafts. Auctions are in many ways more fair, and are more engaging than snakes. 4) Here’s an idea for roto categories – let last year’s champ get to add on any category that he/she likes as a 6th hitting and 6th pitching category. It could vary each year, and makes the game less stale. 4) For trading – I advocate for an even earlier (perhaps all-star break) limited trade deadline, where then top third of the league cannot trade with the bottom third of the league. 5) As far as IL slots – They are needed, but player depth could be an issue. Reduce the bench to 5-6 players, and institute 4-5 IL slots. 6) More on the IL – IL slots should ONLY be for players who are injured while in the ACTIVE lineup. You shouldn’t be able to pick up an injured player and place him directly in an IL slot. 7) As far as most important rule change – it is the IL addition. That’s a must in today’s game. Yes, there is always randomness in fantasy baseball, but the extent of injury in 2021 has become quite impactful, and IL slots aid with reducing its impact.

Scott Pianowski (Yahoo! Fantasy Sports, @Scott_Pianowski): Last place should never ever ever be rewarded. Why incentivize teams to be lousy? (And at that, why encourage teams to make monumentally-inequitable trades that have a way of ruining leagues?) My long-time hometown keeper determines draft order this way, pulling from the standing page: 5-6-7-8-9-10-11-4-12-3-13-2-14-1. You can still “dump” but it comes with a cost. Everyone is constantly playing for something, and when you do well, you get rewarded. (IL slots bring too many unintended consequences, and you now have the headache of dealing with cadence of real-life transactions. If you want a limited amount, okay. Otherwise, you give managers all the storage area in the world, but not much viable replacement value. Jeff Zimmerman’s IL thoughts mirror mine, and his were presented far more elegantly. I also prefer Salary Cap – nee Auction – to Draft, as I think most people in this room do.)

Patrick Davitt (BaseballHQ, @patrickdavitt): Change the hitter-pitcher balance on our rosters. Instead of 14-9, make it 12-12—closer to 25-man rosters and way more reflective of modern MLB roster construction. And beef up the pool of offensive players, which is getting more important, especially in -only leagues or 20+ mixed, with all the injuries. I’d like to see 2 C, 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, 4 0F, IF, UT. And holds are as bad as saves, so adding them together doesn’t make either any better. I like Ariel’s idea of the winner getting to add a cat the next year, but if I were in a league with him, I’d be worried that I might have to worry about my team’s aggregate Poisson Distribution.

Brent Hershey (Baseball HQ, @BrentHQ): I’m with Pianow, I’d strongly suggest some sort of change that alters the next year’s draft order. Ideally, attempt to incentive everyone to keep playing through the season. Maybe it’s just 8-9-10-11…15-7-6-5…1, or if there’s four $ spots, start with #5 — really, almost anything other than this setup is preferable. Even yearly randomization. And I too, prefer keeper, non-draft, and some altered categories here, but addressing the draft order with an eye towards season-long competition should be the first priority in my opinion.

Jon Hegglund (Baseball Prospectus, @JonHegglund): There are plenty of quibbles one could make, but my two biggest are: I strongly, STRONGLY prefer OBP to AVG. And second, gotta lower that innings minimum. 900 should be fine, but even 800 is a good number to account for the changed usage of starters.

Jeff Boggis (Fantasy Football Empire, @JeffBoggis): Reduce the league size from 15 to 12. Ten and Twelve team leagues are the norm on all of the major fantasy baseball league sites. The draft order should be randomized and not reward the last place finishers with the first pick the following season. Or allow the winner to choose from whatever draft slot they would like to draft from, then go down the list with their choices. I dislike FAAB dollars all together. Make free agents available based on waiver wire priority. Make them daily instead of weekly. Allow for a 1-2 waiver period on each player. If a player passed the waiver wire and becomes a free agent, anyone can drop and add them. This is how you keep league managers more active throughout the season. Allow for 2 IL slots. With Covid and injuries, it’s difficult to manage a team without having to drop someone due to an unforeseen circumstance. Remove the 2 catchers league and make it a 1 catcher league. Allow for daily roster moves and not weekly.

Phil Hertz (BaseballHQ, @prhz50): Several suggestions> Hitting, I’d drop AVG and replace with OBP. Pitching, drop minimum innings to something like 800, or better yet just drop it; also drop wins and sub in innings pitched, and finally drop saves and replace with Holds+Wins+2xSaves. I also favor changing the draft order – at least for the first four to six rounds – and not making it snake. My order – on the assumption that top 4 get a pay out – would be 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 4, 11, 3, 12, 13, 2, 14, 15, 1.

Fred Zinkie (Yahoo! Fantasy Sports, @FredZinkieMLB): I like SV+HD. It leads more to chasing reliever skills, rather than manager decisions. The three-batter rule has helped to make holds more respectable.

Doug Dennis (BaseballHQ, @dougdennis41): I agree with a lot of folks who have already answered on things like OBP not BA, auction not draft, no $0 FAAB bids, have an IL bc 15-team mixed is already too shallow, SV+HD not SV. Instead I will get on the soapbox to say that 14 hitters/9 pitchers is so 1972 and that in 2022 we need something more akin to 12 hitters/11 pitchers (or 11/12!) to get the player pool reflected in our game a bit better. I am sorry if you are grandpa and have been playing 14/9 for 50 years–the game has evolved and we should too.

Mike Podhorzer (Fangraphs, @MikePodhorzer): Wins are stupid. Unfortunately, there is no good replacement. Quality Starts isn’t great, but at least historically it could have been used. Now, pitchers are going six innings less often so the QS has become increasingly rare. Perhaps that’s actually a reason in favor of switching to QS? But QS alone takes away the garbage wins from relievers, reducing their value. I’m totally fine with that though as there’s nothing more frustrating then watching a closer allow 3 runs to blow your starter’s win, just for his team to score in the bottom of the inning, “earning” him the win.

Alex Chamberlain (Rotographs, @DolphHauldhagen): This example provides fertile ground for rule changes, so I will simply echo a singular sentiment with respect to the draft order: there should be some reward for teams who try but fail rather than an outsized reward for a team that tanks. I don’t know how that change should look because no solution is perfect. Randomizing the bottom 12 teams doesn’t really incentivize trying, but it does, to some extent, disincentive tanking. Some kind of probabilistically-based lottery system (like the NBA? I think? I don’t know anything about sports) based on where a team finishes (outside the top-3) could work, but I’m 99% certain a league of serious players does not want to jump through the hoops to figure out that one. Anyway, reverse order isn’t good enough, but {4 through 15} then {3 through 1} isn’t good enough, either.

Toby Guevin (BatFlipCrazy Podcast, @batflipcrazy): I would stop trading, stop trading of FAAB and remove $0 bids. As I’ve played more leagues, I’ve come to enjoy leagues more without trading (outside of dynasty/keeper). Trades are always a source of consternation in leagues and there is something liberating about not having to worry about crappy trades calling into question the outcome. For no $0 bids, I think there is a lot more strategy involved without $0 bids, having to manage FAAB throughout the year and down the stretch, particularly since so many teams shift interest to football in September and FAAB is often less competitive. Also, draft order shouldn’t be tied to last year’s finish in redraft, so I’d change that, too.

Charlie Wiegert (CDM Sports, @GFFantasySports): Rewarding teams for finishing last is a bad idea, change that first! The draft order should be based so the top team that doesn’t finish in the money gets 1st pick, say the fifth placed team, followed by 6 thru 12, then 4, 3, 2 and 1.

Mike Gianella (Baseball Prospectus, @MikeGianella): 13 hitters and 10 pitchers on the active rosters. It’s past time to get closer to/mirror what MLB does with their rosters.

Chris Liss (Rotowire, @Chris_Liss): If you don’t want to randomize the draft slot, then go with first out of the money gets first choice of slot, down to last place, down to money finishers in reverse order. Don’t reward a terrible season. $1000 FAAB budget is better, more room to bid big.

Shelly Verougstraete (Dynasty Guru, @ShellyV_643): With the way MLB is limiting pitchers innings, that innings limit has to come down some. I also would eliminate $0 bids. Part of the strategy (and weekly stress) is determining how much to bid on a player and if you run out of money, oh well.

James Anderson (Rotowire, @RealJRAnderson): I wouldn’t change anything, assuming it was a fun, competitive league. This seems like a nothing’s broke, nothing to fix format. I’m generally not for changing league rules, and these are pretty standard for a reason. If one manager was completely outworking and outsmarting other managers on the trading front, that would be annoying, as I generally don’t have time to engage in trade talk in redraft leagues, but I’d be more likely to just leave the league in that case than to say we outlaw trading.

Bret Sayre (Baseball Prospectus, @BretSayreBP): Everyone has their personal opinions, including myself, about what makes leagues most fun to them, but there are two things here that I think rise above individual preference. First, leagues with no IL spots are still bananas to me. Teams are already getting punished when they get hit with injuries – why do we feel the need to doubly punish them by creating roster space issues on top of it? Second, there’s absolutely no reason why a redraft league should be setting the draft order as the reverse of the prior year standings. Use a random number generator. Allow the teams to choose in order of how much playing time their team had last year. Literally do anything but this.

Nando Di Fino (The Athletic, @nandodifino): I’d like to make the league run for just 60 days. I fell in love with that format in 2020 — it was quick, concise, fun, and while still a small sample, it wasn’t an insignificant one. But instead of the slog that is a 162-gae season, you get a fun window to chase stats and sprint to a finish. And if that gets shot down, I’ll continue my fight for BA instead of OBP.

Vlad Sedler (Fantasy Guru, @rotogut): I’d recommend having no $0 bids whatsoever. Have every bidding dollar count over the course of the season.

Glenn Colton (Fantasy Alarm, @GlennColton1): I really dislike the rewarding last place with a first place pick next year. That encourages tanking and even if someone does not tank, it increases the the likelihood of discord and accusations. If you want to have some fun with the draft order, do as NFBC does and allow bidding of FAAB units pre-draft to determine draft order. I agree on IL spots and would argue for unlimited BUT would disallow FAAB of players on the IL. One of the things I dislike most is saves+holds. Either get rid of saves or keep them but holds is just too random. If you want to really reward pitchers pitching in high leverage situations, give 1.5 wins for reliever wins (though I prefer just keeping saves). Finally, while I do NOT like daily moves in fantasy baseball because it makes it too much work for those who do this for fun or who have full time jobs outside of fantasy, I do really like the Tout Wars rule of allowing mid-week moves if a player on your roster is put on IL, sent to minors or activated from IL or minors. That is my number 1 add.

Zach Steinhorn (CreativeSports2, @zachsteinhorn): After resisting saves+holds for many years, I’m officially ready to make the switch. The “chasing saves” game has been more frustrating than ever this season with a dwindling number of clearly defined closers. Sure, there are issues with using holds, but as Fred said, they have more meaning now with the three-batter rule. Wins are terrible but quality starts isn’t an ideal replacement. But as Mike P. noted, a starting pitcher making it through six innings is quite an accomplishment these days. So maybe 2022 will be the right time to fully embrace these two category changes. I’m in favor of the $1000 budget/$1 minimum FAAB setup. There’s more bidding strategy involved with a $1000 budget and every pickup would at least cost something. I do like the Tout Wars unlimited IL rule but perhaps a tweak could be made to discourage the hoarding of IL players. What if unlimited IL slots were allowed for players you drafted but there’s a 2-3 player maximum for those acquired via trade or the waiver wire? That might be a good compromise.

Peter Kreutzer (Ask Rotoman, Fantasy Baseball Guide, @kroyte): Unlimited IL spots make bad luck less bad. To have a lot of injuries and then to have to decide who to drop is adding insult to, umm, you know. If there is an issue with hording injured guys, maybe you shouldn’t allow them to be claimed on waivers. But I doubt it is really an issue. I think we got it right in Tout, you have to activate by the next Monday (not second Monday). Agree with using Kentucky Derby style draft position using last year’s standings. And a quick defense of $0 bids: They allow you to bid your full budget without the penalty of never picking up a player on waivers ever again. In a shallow mixed league that isn’t going to happen early in the season, but as the year goes on there will be hot minor leaguers who warrant all in bets. $0 bids mean the price for doing that isn’t punitive and it isn’t random. Like, do you hold out $3 or $7 or $9? Just bid it all and then mine among everyone else’s scraps.

Alan Harrison (The Fantasy Fix, @TheFantasyFix): My number one priority would be altering the draft order. As others said, no need to reward the last place team from the previous year first pick. Eliminating $0 bids is a close second.

Tristan H. Cockcroft (ESPN, @SultanofStat): There are at least four things I’d propose as rule changes, but you asked for the No. 1 priority, and I echo Carty’s proposal: Auction, not draft. I know it takes more time, but that’s a good thing; all of my leagues that have migrated to auction format, besides having a collective feel that it’s a “fairer” way of selecting players, are now my most competitive leagues. I think there’s something inherent in people taking a league more seriously after they’ve invested the requisite time on auction prep and at the auction table. After that, I’d next want OBP over batting average — another move I’ve seen some of my home leagues take in recent years with much success and interest — no trading of FAB dollars and lowering the innings minimum — I’d say that 100 innings per active pitching spot seems appropriate these days. Also, I echo Kreutzer’s defense of $0 bids, and will add this: It’s a terrible thing in the season’s final weeks when a title could be decided by a team out of FAB suffering an ill-timed injury and leaving a dead lineup spot; I want to see activity by all in those weeks, not encouragement of teams leaving in injured players.

Eric Cross (Fantrax, @EricCross04): I would recommend not having $0 FAAB bids. This make FAB more interesting and adds an additional layer of strategy throughout the season.

Todd Zola (Mastersball, @toddzola): OK, in full disclosure, I organize the Table so I came up with as many rules I don’t like as I could to be the basis for the comments. I’m going to post a full piece on what I’d change (including the commish if this was a real league) on later in the week. For now, my No.1 suggestion would be $1000 FAB units, no $0 bids, no trading of units with bidding on draft spots. if you want the first pick, bid the most FAB. This is even better for keeper leagues (to be explained in the piece). My other primary suggestions would be IP for wins, auction and the mid-week replacement rule we use in Tout Wars, allowing teams to reserve someone sent to the IL or minors after weekly lineup lock as well as permitting midweek activation of players coming off the IL or up from the minors (with a lineup balancing RELEASE of the active player being replaced). I’d also likely suggest the swingman rule we use in AL and NL, taking the OF5 spot and making it a H/P utility. Sorry, I am Team Two Catchers.

What would you propose?

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