I must confess. Despite posturing as a league design guru, I hadn’t actually participated in a league with weekly (as opposed to daily) roster rotation until last year. This wasn’t because of lack of exposure or opportunity. In fact, it was precisely the opposite. As somebody who considers league design the predominant dynamic influencing user experience, I had made a deliberate decision to avoid such leagues. After participating this past year in the THT-Fangraphs league, which used the weekly lineup setup, I realized my hunch was even more right on than I had anticipated.
Before voicing my displeasure with this format, let me first get a few disclaimers out of the way. This piece is not intended to knock those who enjoy the weekly transaction format, but rather to prepare those who use a daily format for how stark the effect on user experience and strategy is. This is also not intended to knock my colleagues who put together the league. Many of us play in many leagues and the thought behind the weekly transaction setting was to both simplify the league and control for individual owners’ ability to access the league. The intentions were noble and made sense on paper… though one key flaw undermined these intentions that we should have noticed.
More on that later.
The weekly transaction structure is significantly more limiting than I had expected. For one, while I figured there’d be some notable adjustment to roster setting decision criteria, such as two-start B-level pitchers vs. one-start A-level pitchers. I didn’t realize the extent to which it should actually impact roster construction.
For one, I like to use relievers heavily in my fantasy teams. I like to have a lot of closers and/or elite middle relievers. This is very difficult in a weekly lineup setting league because—obviously—you can’t remove your starting pitchers from your active lineup on the days they don’t pitch. This is actually one of my biggest philosophical gripes with the weekly transaction setup. The idea that you must, by design, keep a player active every day throughout the week, when that player—by the nature of his position—plays only once per five days seems somewhat outlandish. By the same token, the idea that you should sit players who can come into a game on any given day, to have the once-per-five-day player active seems a bit backwards as well.
Regardless of your feelings on the inherent logic of the league setup, what you are left with is a dynamic that prioritizes both a top-heavy starting staff and bullpen core. I had four closers for almost the whole season in a 12-team league, yet I was unable to amass a significant lead in saves because if I played more than two closers for more than a week here or there, I’d be buried in pitcher counting stats because I wouldn’t have enough active roster spots for my starters to amass enough innings to compete.
Having constructed my roster with a spread-the-value approach, the bench depth that was probably supposed to be sunk cost actually allowed me some able replacements when I got bombarded by the injury bug. Still, this was merely a happy accident. The stars and scrubs pitching line-up is the way to go in a weekly league. However, such an approach means you are inherently at the mercy of the injury gods. To me, this puts rational risk assessment across a portfolio at odds with the practical considerations of deploying those assets. This dynamic is off-putting to me.
The biggest gaffe in our design of this league, however, was that while lineup setting was weekly, players were not set to come off waivers at a uniform time. Therefore, if you wanted to monitor the free agent pool and ensure you had a chance to bid on every player dropped to waivers, you had to log in to the league almost daily anyway. This undermined the whole point of the “set it and forget it” ethos behind the original decision to move away from daily transactions. Therefore, users were left with the worst of both worlds.
Honestly, I don’t recall whether this was an oversight on our part when initially setting up the league or whether there were limitations in the Yahoo client that made us unable to track free agency pickups with the weekly rotations. Either way, I’m going to assume that if it happened to us, it’s happened to a lot of you at some point.
On the general spectrum of hands-off to micro-manager, I lean toward the latter. So, I knew I was going to dislike the weekly system. But, more than enabling a certain kind of managerial strategy, I’m a staunch advocate of freedom of choice. Simplifying the act of playing the game and reducing the “responsibilities” associated with fantasy baseball are not illogical goals, but when achieving them actually precludes managerial freedom to make use of well-established and common strategies in fantasy baseball, the cost outweighs the gain. Te game itself is not made different enough to warrant the effective preclusion of concepts as fundamental as maximizing at-bats or playing match-ups.
Some of you may wholeheartedly disagree with my take on weekly transaction leagues, but the main takeaway here shouldn’t be limited to the merits of a particular feature of league design. Rather, I’d like to stress two larger related points. One, trust both your gut and analytical skills when looking over the specs of a league you may be invited to join. If you think its design is either flawed or outside your preferences, it probably is. And, second, join only leagues that you are confident will yield a positive experience. League design is one aspect to consider when making that determination.
I am not suggesting the fantasy leaguers should cease trying new kinds of leagues and new formats. Variety is the spice of life. But, by understanding your own tastes and what makes a good user experience, you are better equipped to more wisely choose which new experiences to seek.