FANALYTICS: Following the process of the monthly league design

What makes a successful fantasy game? It has to be engaging, challenging, and fun. I don't know whether Rotisserie's Founding Fathers realized how perfect their model was, but the task of designing new fantasy gaming experiences is not an easy one.

Fantasy owners have different values and needs. They are at different stages of their lives and their gaming development. While a game with daily transactions might be the ultimate thrill for a 20-something with lots of discretionary time, the same game might be an immediate non-starter for a 30-something with family responsibilities or a 60-something who travels frequently.

My goal in designing a monthly game was to find a happy medium between the six-month marathon and the one-night stand. But after running the July trial leagues and surveying the participants, I became concerned that one size might not fit all.

Thankfully, the leagues were fairly well received. There were pockets of owners who preferred a more labor-intensive game or preferred more traditional rules. But overall, the July rules worked.

Last week, I wrote about the pricing issue. This week I review more of the survey results and the proposed changes in response to those results. I share this because I think it's fascinating to see how the design of this competition evolves, driven by the inputs of its participants.

Roster Size

Teams in the July leagues had a 30-man roster—23 actives and seven reserves. My goal was to provide a deep enough roster so there would be decisions to make at each transaction period and a small cushion for injuries.

While 70% of survey respondents thought the current set-up was fine, there were some differing individual insights. The most prevalent:

"There were not enough reserves to account for injuries at every position. Not enough roster flexibility is a killer in a 30-day league."

Playing out my teams, I did think there was room for improvement. I had only two injuries to hitters during the month, so many of the bats on my reserve list were wasted. The only thing I had to do for most of my deadline decisions was to swap arms in and out based on who was pitching where in the coming series. I had barely enough pitchers to fill out my staff each period, so there weren't any real decisions to make.

Maybe it was the particular construction of my rosters, but the decision-making process for me was too rote. There had to be more analysis. But how do you make that happen? Well, you can increase the number of players that have to be analyzed. You can also change the number of decision points.

Survey respondents didn't want me scale back from twice-weekly to once-weekly transactions (17%). I tend to agree; in a one-month league, owners need to stay engaged more regularly. But respondents also didn't want to move to daily transactions (19%). I tend to agree here as well. I still see these leagues as an adjunct experience to regular season-long leagues; daily transactions would make it too labor-intensive.

So then there is the issue of adding players.

In another survey question, I asked about the fixed draft roster. Twenty-seven percent wanted either limited or liberal access to a free agent pool. It was a small group of owners, but they wanted more players.

For these monthly leagues, I wanted to avoid free agents. I think that astute owners should be able to figure out which 30 players are likely to get the most at-bats and innings over one month. Access to free agents makes it too easy, even if you have to fit new players under a salary cap.

And it is important to note that 72% of respondents liked the 30-man roster size, and 73% preferred no free agent access.

I decided that any tweak would have to be minimal.

So for September, I have decided to increase the roster size slightly from 30 players to 32 players. The additional two spots will be add-ons to the reserve list (so now 23 active, nine reserve). However, the $300 salary cap will remain and the pricing adjustments outlined last week will stay as well. That means owners will have to work a little harder to fit all their players under the cap.

Stat Categories

The July league used a hybrid 4x4 format with the categories of Home Runs, Stolen Bases, On Base Average, Runs Produced (R+RBI-HR), Wins, Saves+Holds, ERA and Strikeouts. I was encouraged that 77% of respondents were fine with these categories. However, there was one thing I forgot to consider in a shorter league.

Categories that don't accumulate many gross numbers are more prone to luck. In July, the Wins category was particularly problematic. In most of the 18 leagues, 15-20 spots in that category's standings were separated by as few as 4-5 wins. In most leagues, registering a win or two meant an immediate jump of 5-10 points. When one category holds that much value—especially one that is so tough to project over a short period of time—it's a problem.

My solution draws from an article I wrote earlier this year. Using "Wins + Quality Starts" effectively increases the raw data we're tracking.

Think of W+QS this way:

Your pitcher gets two points if he pitches at least six innings, allows three runs or fewer, his team scores more runs than he allows and his bullpen holds the lead.

Your pitcher gets one point if he pitches at least five innings, his team scores more runs than he allows—regardless of how many runs he allows—and his bullpen holds the lead.

Your pitcher gets one point if he pitches at least six innings and allows three runs or fewer, regardless of what the rest of his team does.

W+QS would have given Cliff Lee more appropriate value last year. It would give Chris Sale and Cole Hamels their proper due this year.

And look how W+QS levels the playing field for these pitchers (as of Monday, August 12):

PITCHER          W     QS   W+QS
=============   ===   ===   ====
Matt Moore       14    13    27
Hyun-Jin Ryu     11    16    27
Doug Fister      10    17    27
Matt Harvey       9    18    27
Travis Wood       7    20    27

It is for this same reason that I'll be keeping the Saves+Holds category, despite the fact that some respondents preferred to revert to Saves only.

Transaction deadline

And on a minor issue...

The game's twice-weekly transaction deadlines were set for noon ET. The trial was barely a week old when I started receiving complaints.

Why noon ET? Did I forget that meant 9 AM for west-coasters? Many owners were used to different deadlines and kept missing the noon cut-off. Some offered me bribes to set their rosters for them. (I declined.)

When I set the deadline, perhaps I was just looking for a single cut-off time. Frankly, I don't remember. But 45% of you thought that deadline was fine. However, 51% asked that the deadline be moved to the "first pitch" of that day's games.

Though the survey results were close, I agree that most leagues I know do use "first pitch" as their deadline. We'll move it for September.

September Leagues

I'll announce the opening of sign-ups for the September leagues later this month. Or you can add your name to my mailing list at and I'll send you a reminder e-mail.

In the interim, I have decided to publish the price list for those leagues now. You can download the Excel file at this link. This will give you a few weeks to play with the numbers and work through different roster options. Remember: 32-man rosters, 23 active (standard Rotisserie positions) and nine reserves. Salary cap is $300 for all 32 players.

When we roll these leagues out next year, you won't have the price lists so far in advance of each month's competition, but I wanted to give everyone more time for this September trial. Also...

The full rollout launch of these leagues next year will coincide with the launch of a completely new website. Beginning next week, I am going to start the process of recruiting for contributors to this site and the price list will be an important part of the vetting process. If you are interested in writing for this new venture, make sure you add your name to the mailing list as noted above. Details will appear on my home page shortly as well.


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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.