ROTISSERIE: Swing Low, Swing High—Swingman?

Like most continuing Rotisserie leagues, Tout Wars, one of the longest running “expert” leagues along with LABR and the XFL, tweaks its rules most seasons. Usually the modifications involve such mundane things as providing incentives for competing even when a team is out of the race or changing how many games a player needs to play at a position to gain eligibility. Most of the changes are barely noticed by competitors and generally have only a minor impact on the standings. This year, however, in addition to the typical changes, Tout Wars has instituted perhaps one of the most significant rule changes in the league’s history:  the “Swingman.”

What, you ask, is a Swingman—and how does it change things? Starting this season, Tout Wars owners have the option of deviating from the typical 14 hitter/9 pitcher configuration. Teams will only be required to roster four outfielders. In lieu of the fifth outfielder, owners can field a second UT or—and this is where things get really interesting—a tenth pitcher.

Tout Wars is, and has been, an incubator for new ideas. One of the reasons for the experiment is to allow participants in the league—all of whom are affiliated with the fantasy baseball industry—to have a first hand opportunity to see, analyze and argue about how the Swingman works and whether the concept has long-term merit. Another reason for instituting the experiment is to deal with the depth of penetration in Tout Wars’ NL-only and AL-only leagues. The NL-only league, for example, has 13 teams, with a four-player reserve list and an unlimited DL. It is not unprecedented, for example, to find no eligible third basemen to replace your injured or demoted third baseman.

Trying to figure out how best to make use of the new rule is not going to be easy. While most participants are familiar with the tendencies and tactics of the other competitors—for example, 12 of the 13 NL-only owners have been in that league previously; the 13th is a long-time Tout warrior, shifting over from the AL  league—none have had the opportunity to see how they would manage a roster with this flexibility. Participants may decide to modify their planning for the three major phases of a Rotisserie season:  planning for the draft, drafting, and managing the roster after the draft. Let’s take a look at each phase.

Assuming you’re using a custom draft guide at BaseballHQ.com, do you put in 14 hitters and 9 pitchers as usual or do you tweak the parameters? There is probably no good reason to deviate from the typical 14/9 configuration, aside from switching from 5 outfielders and 1 UT to 4 and 2. At least at the draft, hitting will likely still be deemed the place to spend the majority of one's budget. In any event, value adjustmens during the draft and the difference between 14 hitters and 13 hitters might have less impact on the numbers than you might think. For example, using the same exact settings for an NL-only league, aside from adjusting from 2 UT and 9 pitchers to 1 and 10 generated the following differences for a random group of hitters and pitchers:

Matt Kemp       +$2
Aramis Ramirez  +$1
Danny Espinosa  no change
Ruben Tejeda    -$1
Roy Halladay    -$2
Heath Bell      no change
Jon Niese       +$1

Using other settings such as forcing positions or adjusting for scarcity might generate somewhat different results, but in the end probably only a dollar or two difference is going to result.

Turning to what happens at the draft, while most will likely plant to roster 14 hitters and 9 pitchers at least initially, owners will be watching to see where bargains emerge. Since $1 hitters are often less enticing that the $1 pitchers, some owners may shift to 13 hitters and 10 pitchers at the draft and then use the reserve rounds to take some hitting flyers. On the other hand, if several owners are moving towards 10 pitchers, then those $1 hitters might be of a higher quality than in previous seasons.

It is also possible that some owners might decide to cut back on the number of starters, since using 10 pitchers might make it easier to reach the innings minimum of 950.  Since starters tend to cost more than non-closer relievers, this could allow the participant to spend less on starting pitching and more on hitting with the expectation that with better hitters, they will be able to get away with rostering one less hitter.

The final and perhaps most important phase to managing in this brave new world will be after the draft. As noted, Tout Wars rosters permit four reserves and an unlimited DL. Rosters are set once a week, but participants may also adjust a roster if a player is called up or sent down or is DL’d or activated from the DL. So one obvious tactic: If an owner is playing 14/9 and a hitter is hurt or demoted, he can plug in a pitcher if he has no hitters to activate, or vice versa. Another option might be benching a one-start starter and replacing him with two relievers at the expense of a hitter.  Such a stratagem would be particularly attractive if the starter is going to pitch against Roy Halladay in Philadelphia and one of your lesser hitters is going to be playing that week in San Diego or San Francisco.

Leaving aside these situational tactics, will some try to find an advantage using 10 pitchers consistently? If so, will owners go in that direction all season? Will participants switch configurations in mid-season if they build up good numbers in hitting and feel they can maintain those numbers with one less hitter? Might they switch to an extra pitcher if, for example, strikeouts becomes a very competitive category? Might changes occur due to falling out of contention in a particular category?

It will be interesting to follow how these choices are made. You can follow Tout Wars standings, rosters and moves throughout the year at www.toutwars.com.  In addition, you can follow the draft on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio (XM87, Sirius 210) at the following times:

AL-only:    March 24th at 9 a.m.
Mixed:       March 24th at approximately 3 pm
NL-only:    March 25th at 10 a.m.

Also, if you are in Manhattan that weekend, you can attend the draft in person and ask the participants about their strategies.

One final note: if one has Micah Owings in the swingman slot, you are still going to have to indicate whether he is a hitter or a pitcher. So even with the "ultimate swingman," one still has to choose.


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