ROTISSERIE: Welcome to WONKville

We’ve all been there.

Sit down at your auction or draft, and inevitably a Baseball Forecaster or two lays on the table. Or other owners have RotoLab up, which defaults to the projections. Clearly, there will be some competition for the “UP” players previously thought be hidden gems. But what’s the plan when all 15 owners share the same set of projections?

Welcome to WONK-ville. That’s the BaseballHQ Writers-ONly Keeper League, or HQ-WONK for short.

Here at BHQ, some of us play in industry-wide expert leagues. As you might expect, they’re a joy to participate in—every owner knows the player pool, and the auction or draft proceeds briskly. No pauses while someone looks up a player to determine his value; the auction or draft is poetry in motion. Every participant leaves the room confidently projecting a first-place team. But they all work with their own finely-tuned projections.

For HQ-WONK, it’s going to be about the process. What can an owner do to set himself apart from the competition when everyone starts with the same numbers?

While we’re at it, we’ll test-drive some ideas that have been discussed on in recent months, and provide plenty of analysis along the way.

Let’s take a look at some of the basics:

Keeper League

The overwhelming majority of expert leagues are of the redraft variety, which cuts out a large amount of strategy; keeper league participants won’t get much out those analyses. The XFL has been around for years and is a mainstay at First Pitch Arizona, but there’s not much coverage of that league on BaseballHQ. There’s plenty of keeper coverage here, though, so we figured it was time to take some of it out for a spin.

What’s the best way to approach it when everyone starts from about the same place? Do you spend the bucks on the studs, or build a solid base of minor league stars that, while perhaps not a challenger in 2019, could dominate for years? We’ll find out.

Roster size and salary increments

Depending on format and league size, player penetration—the percentage of available players rostered in your league—varies. In a typical 12-team AL- or NL-only league, before reserves get taken into account, roster penetration is on the order of 75% (12 teams x 23-man rosters; 15 MLB teams with 25-man rosters -276/375 =74%). Add a reserve roster, and things get more restrictive. For instance, the AL- and NL-only LABR leagues, with six-man reserve rosters, hit a penetration rate of 93%. Anyone in a deep league knows this: in-season player availability, particularly on offense, ends up being scarce. Thank you, increasingly large bullpens.

In a 15-team mixed league like HQ-WONK, player penetration starts low (15x23 compared to MLB’s 30x25 = 345/750=45%). To avoid having so many decent players on the loose, there will be a 17-man reserve roster for each WONK team. If every team limited themselves to active major leaguers, that would give WONK a player penetration of 80%. But what fun would that be?

To encourage speculation on minor leaguers and foreign players, HQ-WONK will borrow rules from XFL. Players taken in the auction will be assigned their bid as salaries, and those salaries will increase by $5 per year if kept. But players taken in the reserve round will all have initial salaries of $3; if they’re not active on a WONK roster in a given year, their salaries remain the same. If placed on an active WONK roster during the year, their salaries will increment by $3/year in the future.

So, WONKers: take a chance on a minor leaguer in the reserve round, and if you hit, he’ll be cheap for many years to come.

Daily transactions

Do you recall that weirdness in Major League Baseball last year? The Mets lost a catcher to injury on a Tuesday night, but they couldn’t call one up from the minors until Sunday night. That same week, the Red Sox wanted to get their rotation set for a favorable matchup against the Yankees, but couldn’t activate their stud lefty starter until the following weekend. Those damned weekly MLB transactions!

No, that didn’t really happen. But there’s a good chance it happened in your fantasy league. Why weekly transactions? See Brad Kullman’s excellent articles from the past month on how the game—and the world—has changed since fantasy baseball was invented in the 1980s.

While HQ-WONK will still have weekly FAAB, daily transactions will be the norm. Want to chase your dreams by streaming pitchers on a regular basis? Go for it!

Hitting categories – Walk this way

Homers rule more than ever, so we’ll leave the HR, RBI, and R categories intact. But we’ll give those three true outcomes guys some more dap by using OBP instead of BA. Joey Gallo’s fans suddenly see his horrific BA become less important, since the man knows how to take a free pass.

We’ll also use SB-CS to temper (somewhat) the cost of speedsters. Sure, Dee Gordon will still go for a lot, but tons of caught-stealings may somewhat temper his cost and performance.

Pitching categories – buh-bye Wins

The world expressed shock when it discovered that the Win rule—starting pitchers have to go five IP to get the win—was actually first spelled out in the Code of Hammurabi. Things were fine for about four millennia, but then Tampa Bay had to go and screw things up by starting the concept of the “opener.” The pursuit of wins would never be the same.

WONKer Patrick Davitt covered some of the issues of the opener in the Baseball Forecaster, and explored alternatives to the win in his Master Notes column a few years ago.

Some leagues have switched to quality starts, but 3 ER in 6+ IP doesn’t really sound like quality these days. So HQ-WONK will trot out something simple – innings pitched as a counting category. So instead of rewarding the guy who comes in for one out of a tie game, we’ll reward the one who pitched five innings before him.

Relief pitchers have similar issues – hey, great that your closer blows away the 7-8-9 hitters with a three-run lead, but what about the schmo who gets a few outs in the heart of the order? We’ll use Saves plus Holds rather than just Saves.

The other three categories will measure skills (ERA, WHIP, K-BB).

Turning a catcher into a swingman

Drafting catchers, particularly in deep, 2-catcher leagues, has become the equivalent of root canal. As Ray Murphy pointed out in the Baseball Forecaster, 2018 didn’t produce a single $15-catcher. Just want positive value? Even that’s tough, with only 18 catchers producing $1+ last year. Major League Baseball now emphasizes defense for catchers, so perhaps it’s time for some tweaks in fantasy baseball.

HQ-WONK will take the second catcher and turn him into a Swingman – pitcher or UT – much in the same way that AL- and NL-only Tout Wars have done. So not only will owners get a boost in offense by not having to roster a second C, they’ll be able to stream in a second pitcher when they find the conditions favorable.


The HQ-WONK draft will be in mid-February. Look for some articles leading up to that, and then plenty of auction summaries coming out after the fact. There will also be in-season coverage as well; early indications show plenty of opinions on the best way to approach keeper league trades. Stay tuned!

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