If you’ve followed baseball for more than a season or so, I can pretty well promise that you’ve seen a scenario like this. Team A is playing Team B in a late season three-game series. Team A is in a playoff race, Team B is well out of it. Does Team B have a responsibility to Team C (who team A is fighting for a playoff spot) to play their regulars for nine innings? Or would it be okay for them to try out some of the new guys, realizing that that likely means an easier win for Team A?
Generally, the feeling is that if you’re playing a team in a playoff race, you owe it to the team’s that the contender is battling with to put the best possible team on the field and maybe play the youngsters when you’re playing another non-contender, or in Spring Training.
Now, you’re on a fantasy baseball site in March. The season hasn’t even started. Why in the world am I talking about a real baseball hypothetical that will happen in September? I’m glad you asked!
Much like in real baseball, it’s important for fantasy owners to play the season out, even if they’re long gone. While you may not have a chance, how your team performs in a few given stats may make a difference on who wins the league. If I’m a contender, I want the teams out of contention to try hard in the stats where they rival my competitors, it’s only fair that I give them the same courtesy if the shoe is on the other foot.
In real baseball, you have professionals who are playing for millions of dollars. They also know that it doesn’t reflect well on them if they mail relevant games in once the competitive portion of the season is over. No such luck in fantasy baseball.
It’s a long season but if you’re way out of it in June, you’re probably not going to win and it’s easy to put fantasy baseball on the back-burner for the rest of the year once that happens. If you’re a fantasy baseball league manager, you’ve got to find ways to keep everyone active all year.
1. Invert the draft
In real sports, the custom is pretty simple. The worst team one year gets the first pick the next, and the champion gets the worst pick. Some sports have modified it with lotteries to varying success but the concept is still the same. If you’re not contending, it’s often as good (or much better) to lose than win. I don’t like that one bit. This is my solution.
Have next year’s draft order go in a modified inverted scale. For the sake of argument, let’s say you’re in a 12-team league.
The Top-6 go the traditional way, with the champion picking last in the first round, the runner up picking second to last, and so on. But when you get to the bottom half, flip it. Give the best team from the bottom half of the league the first overall pick, and the worst team the sixth, and fill out the requisite spots from there. So, the first round of your snake draft would look something like this.
- Previous year’s 7th place team.
- Previous year’s 8th place team.
- Previous year’s 9th place team.
- Previous year’s 10th place team.
- Previous year’s 11th place team.
- Previous year’s 12th place team.
- Previous year’s 6th place team.
- Previous year’s 5th place team.
- Previous year’s 4th place team.
- Previous year’s 3rd place team.
- Previous year’s 2nd place team.
- Previous year’s 1st place team.
Why give the first overall pick to a guy who more than likely checked out midway through the year? Why not give it to the guy who stayed busy, even well out of the race?
The problem with this is that if there’s a race for 7th and 6th place, it gives the competing owners far more incentive to bow out and try for the lower seed. The comeback there is that you have to be in play for quite a bit longer to be middle-of-the road, so it’s not quite as damaging as someone just checking out by Mother’s Day.
But if you’re not wild about that choice, I’ve got another.
2. Give Prizes for Lower Finishing Owners
I’ve written about this before, but it’s worth repeating.
Clave used to run a league that both Nash and I were in. For a long time, the winning trophy was a Torii Hunter bobblehead, which was glued onto a can of Tuna that was glued on to a can of Corn, with all of the names of past champions written with a Sharpie on the bottom. The fact that I never won this award while the league was still going haunts me to this day.
One year, the decision was made for everyone to pitch in for a more formal looking trophy. But what about the old beauty? Different ideas were tossed about.
- Give it to the owner who finishes second-to-last.
- Give it to the owner who finishes in first place of the bottom half of the league.
- Give it to the owner who’s team improves the most from the previous year. If that’s the champ, give it to No. 2 on that list.
Any of those solutions, or any others for that matter, would be just fine. The one exception? Giving to to the guy who finished in last place.
As weird as that trophy was, it gave people in the league something to shoot for, keeping them involved. Again, NEVER a bad thing.
European Soccer style. This is probably the hardest to execute, but I would love to be in a league like this. If everything’s done right, it would look something like this.
- 2 leagues, similarly sized. Ideally they’d have the same amount of people, but can be worked around.
- One A-League. One B-League. No repeat owners.
- Every year, the bottom-two finishers of the A-League get bumped to the B-League, while the top-two finishers of the B-League get an upgrade.
On paper, that only looks like it’d impact two teams in the top league, but think about these ideas.
- If someone wins the A-League, they’re granted a two-year waiver. So, if they win in 2014, they’re relegation-proof for 2015 and 2016.
- Once someone gets the call, they’re exempt for two years.
- If an exempt owner finishes in a relegation spot, the next lowest-finishing non-exempt owner gets relegated.
Now imagine a few exempt owners are having a rough year and at risk of finishing in the last few spots of a 12-team league. All of a sudden, the teams in 9th and 10th place are in scramble mode to try to get closer to the middle of the pack.
There are a few problems here.
- Finding enough owners to participate. To make this work, you probably need at least 20 people, and that’s easier said than done.
- Feelings might get hurt when you’re first figuring out which owners go in which league. “Why is he in the A-League? I’m a better fantasy player than him!”
Number two sounds bad, but it would certainly give those original B-League guys plenty of incentive in the future. Imagine they get the upgrade and find themselves out of contention, but not at risk of being relegated. That might be the time to throw in the towel, but I’m betting most people would motivated to at beat at least some the people that originally stuck them in the league.
Number one is problematic, but not impossible. Remember, we live in the era of Social Networking. Readers have left us comments or emails in the past, asking if we knew of anyone who could round a league out. I’m guessing other sites field similar questions. By the time the league was ready to go, you’d be more likely to have to turn people away then you would to be short-handed.
I’d be in favor of any of these ideas. Really, anything to keep fantasy leagues active top-to-bottom all year is a good thing.
If you have any other incentive ideas, feel free to let me know in the comments. This is one area where it’s impossible to have too many ideas.