Recommended rules and tweaks for fantasy baseball leagues in an abbreviated MLB season

·10 min read

Sixty games. That's all we get. Six-oh.

It might actually be sixty games more than Major League Baseball wanted to give us, so perhaps we should feel fortunate. It's clearly not enough, but it's something.

You shouldn't need an expert to tell you that some fantastically weird stuff is gonna happen over a 60-game season. George Brett had a 60-game stretch in 1980 in which he hit .469. Just last year, Eugenio Suarez had a 60-game stretch in which he hit 28 home runs. The Miami Marlins — a team that was irrefutably bad last season — had a 60-game stretch in which they went a respectable 29-31.

We are gonna see some crazy things go down in MLB in 2020, people. That much is pretty much a lock, assuming the season takes place as planned. We might very well see a triple crown winner, or a player hit over .400. Or a relief pitcher leading his league in wins. And, yes, we could see a pretty bad team (or two) make a run at the postseason. This whole experiment is both horrifying and thrilling.

If you're a fantasy commissioner, you have some decisions to make. It's gonna be a messy season, but it can still be playable. Yahoo Fantasy has sorted out the handling of pro and public leagues; those of you who serve as commishes in custom formats will need to make a few choices as well.

[Still time to join or create a fantasy baseball league for the short season]

Even if your league has already drafted and intends to play on (as it should), I think you really need to quickly do these first three things...

Decrease the innings and games limits

This one seems fairly obvious, but let's just make sure not to ignore it. We're getting roughly 37 percent of the usual games this season (if everything goes to plan), so, if your league uses innings and games maximums to deter aggressive streaming, commissioners need to reset those limits. Most responsible commissioners have already done it. Yahoo public leagues are going with 60 games for position players and 525 innings for your pitching staff. And if you've never employed playing time or transaction limits, I'd urge you to consider putting them in place. Fantasy quickly disconnects from the game itself when it becomes a contest to see who can churn players at the greatest rate.

I'll add that in a season in which the full 60 games aren't necessarily guaranteed, I'm not going to pace myself where innings and games-played are concerned. We have to accept that it's entirely possible the league will hit the pause button at some point. Don't manage as if you'll be able to make a push in late-September; everything could plausibly shut down much earlier.

Additional IL spots are an absolute must

Yahoo will be adding two additional IL spots in public leagues this year, and an argument can be made for more. We're going to have all the usual injuries you might expect from 60 regular season games and an abbreviated preseason, plus an unknown-yet-significant number of games missed to COVID-19. I'm not sure what the right number of IL slots is for a season like this, but it's certainly more than one or two. At a minimum, I'd suggest adding a pair of spots to your usual total (and I wouldn't actually have a problem with unlimited IL positions this year). We simply don't know how many players will be sidelined over a two-month season.

Quick aside: I really do hate reducing a story like a [profane] pandemic to fantasy spin. But at some level, that's the job. Here's hoping you all stay safe and healthy, and that our biggest MLB worries will soon be oblique strains and delayed call-ups.

Decide in advance how many weeks will make your fantasy season official

Again, it's not inconceivable that MLB's planned 60-game season may need to hit the brakes at some point, depending on the spread of the virus and potential state restrictions. It seems reasonable to declare at the start of this experiment that if the baseball season continues beyond its fourth or fifth week — let's say August 23 or August 30 — then your fantasy season is officially official. No, that isn't long enough for stats to stabilize, necessarily, but it's at least closing in on half the season.

If baseball grinds to a halt after three weeks and can't resume, it's probably best to refund those league fees; if they're still playing in September, I'd be willing to crown a fantasy champ.

If ever there was a time to play rotisserie, it's now

Honestly, I kinda hate roto. It's a bit too simple and doesn't operate as all sports generally do. I happen to like the fact that in every major North American sport, we not only require a championship team to be great during the regular season, but we also specify a time of year when they are expected to peak. In MLB, every team understands they're building for October. You cannot win a championship by dominating April and May.

But in rotisserie baseball, it doesn't matter when you're at your best, only that you pile up stats during some extended period within a six-month season. If that appeals to you, cool. Play your game. My strong preference is a competitive head-to-head league in which clinching a playoff spot is no simple feat, and we need to construct a dominant end-of-season roster.

In 2020, however, we simply can't construct a proper head-to-head season. The best we can manage is a seven-matchup sprint, followed by two playoff weeks. You wouldn't face every team in your league during the regular season, unless you're in an unusually small group. (And don't come at me with multiple weekly matchups, please. I'm not interested in playing a head-to-head-to-head-to-head-to-head-to-head league, thank you very much. One of the aspects of traditional H2H that I appreciate most is actually matching my lineup to a specific opponent. I'm out on doubleheaders and quadruple-headers.) Also, we can't escape the fact that September baseball isn't guaranteed. This year, the simplest format is probably best. If your roto season is interrupted or abbreviated, you can still declare a clear winner. In head-to-head, the final weeks are everything.

[Yahoo Expert Rankings: Top 300 | C | 1B | 2B | SS | 3B | OF | SP | RP]

Dynasty leagues don't need to go on ice, but they may need special handling

Look, if you've decided to put your dynasty league in frozen storage for the 2020 season, I can understand the logic. The one-year hiatus is Pianowski-approved. Totally understandable. It really does seem nuts to spend multiple years constructing your 2020 roster, only to have the title decided in a micro-season.

But here's the thing: My dynasty leagues are also my favorite leagues. Those are the teams that have my full attention — not just in June and July, but in December and January. I hate to give 'em up.

If at all possible, I'd urge you to play on in dynasty formats, preferably without actually burning a year of any player's keepability. Suspend all salary or draft-round increases for a season, in consideration of the uniqueness of 2020. Don't count the season ahead against any player's max number of kept years. If your league hasn't chosen its kept players yet, consider expanding the total number allowed for a season.

Do whatever needs to be done, basically, to maintain the most important leagues in your fantasy life. Let's remember that a return to 162-game normalcy isn't a given in the seasons ahead, not with another CBA renegotiation on the horizon and heightened enmity between players and team owners. A work stoppage is a very real possibility in 2022. Are you gonna take another one-year hiatus if that comes to pass, missing two out of three seasons?

Find a way to make it work, dynasty commissioners.

GLENDALE, ARIZONA - MARCH 09:  Luis Robert #88 of the Chicago White Sox looks on prior to the game against the Cincinnati Reds on March 9, 2020 at Camelback Ranch in Glendale Arizona. (Photo by Ron Vesely/Getty Images)
Let me tell you, those of us who stashed Luis Robert in dynasty last season are not looking to wait another year. (Photo by Ron Vesely/Getty Images)

Sample the full menu of categories and scoring options

It's never a bad time to reject the tyranny of 5X5 scoring, because the traditional 10 categories certainly don't reflect the 10 most important real-life player traits. This year in particular is a good time for commishes to experiment with underused stats. Yahoo offers over 80 custom categories, ranging from semi-ridiculous (catcher interference) to essential (OPS, K/BB). But only 10 of our stats are heavily used, unfortunately. Sample the full smorgasbord in 2020, you guys. Maybe try net-steals or saves-plus-holds. Or total bases or inherited runners scored.

You aren't gonna get the usual number of games, but you can account for a lot more in-game occurrences. For a year, ditch 5X5 and test-drive 8X8 or 10X10.

Also, as various other analysts across the industry have been saying, you should strongly consider dumping wins this season. And no, quality starts are not an ideal substitute in 2020. Pitchers won't have their normal build-ups this year, which means a bunch of three and four-inning outings. Six-man rotations are gonna be a thing, too. Give strong consideration to using outs or innings-pitched as a one-year sub for wins. Pitching is pretty much always a fantasy minefield, but it's going to be hilariously difficult to get right this season. Prepare yourself for a year in which Craig Stammen or David Phelps or some other random reliever challenges for the league lead in Ws.

Daily transactions are the way to go

Here's another setting I don't love in a typical year, but I'll concede it makes sense for 2020. I'm generally a fan of weekly transactions with FAAB bidding, because we don't (or shouldn't) want our leagues to be ruled by managers who achieve screen time dominance. Ideally, you should not have to choose between remaining competitive in your fantasy baseball league and maintaining a normal relationship with friends and family.

I realize, of course, that not everyone sees it that way. Some of you enjoy the six-month transaction frenzy. Again, I will concede that we definitely want daily adds available to us in 2020. Every game will have exaggerated importance. We want to make sure that we have deep benches and daily pickups to cover any and all absences. Games are precious these days. I'd still want to play with weekly or seasonal transaction caps (somewhere in the 50 to 75 range), but we'll need flexibility this season for sure.

Consider playing this season for charity

Let's be clear: This year's fantasy title is gonna be asterisk'd. It's going to be something less than fully legitimate. That's just how it is. Flags fly forever and all that, sure ... but these 2020 flags should probably be a bit smaller. If a typical league title is the fantasy equivalent of winning a World Series, this season's is like winning the Futures Game. Nice, but perhaps not a monumental achievement.

Plenty of leagues are going with lower buy-ins in 2020, which is understandable for a variety of reasons. I'd suggest the best way to turn this mini-season (and all associated fantasy titles) into something meaningful is to adopt a charity — maybe donate all or a portion of your league fees. For a year, at least scrap that third-place payout and put it to a cause of your league's choosing. (I’m happy to dictate your league settings, but not your charitable decisions.) Let's try to ensure that something not-so-terrible comes from this strange, tenuous and unprecedented season.

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