Unless your team is a tight battle for the title or a money spot, September is typically the time of year to shift your interest within the species ... from Tigers to Lions, Marlins to Dolphins and Orioles to Ravens.
But it doesn't have to be that way. Even if your team can only see 11th place with a telescope, there are many ways to design a league to make sure that everyone stays interested. Here are 15 ideas....
1. Increase the number of winners. Some leagues have a traditional payout that earns four teams a prize in a 50-25-15-10 percentage split. Perhaps the league could expand the number of winners to five in a 45-25-15-10-5 breakdown. Depending on the size of the total pot, the five percent taken from first place could be compensated for in the additional revenue from an increase in transactions. Teams might choose to stay in the chase because they'd have a good shot at 5th with the potential for a bonus of 4th. Even just five percent in a low-dough league could be worth the effort as it might serve to put a dent in the final transactions bill.
2. Weekly and/or monthly pots. Each team contributes an extra buck a week. Single-period stats are calculated along with the overall stats (many software packages and stat services should be able to do this for you), and the period winner gets a little offset for all the roster moves that were made during the year. It's kind of special when you're out of the pennant chase and you've done all your trading for next year, that you get to see those September call-ups get some PT while the veterans take days off and help you win the week or month. In many leagues, non-contending owners will remain interested throughout the entire year because they know they have just as good a chance as any other team for the period payouts, because everyone starts at zero each time.
3. Category pots. Your 12th-place team might have blown his season by tanking the pitching categories but might be right there in the offensive ranks. There can be an incentive to keep playing if some type of payout was provided for those teams that win the individual stat categories.
4. Split the season into two halves. Perfect for those who believe in the "He steps it up (or sucks) after the All-Star break" theory! It also gives those bitten by the injury bug or slow starters a clean slate in the second half. It could make the league very interesting if the normal August/September trading and player acquisition deadlines are suspended. (And for those who strive to have their league resemble real baseball, the PCL does crown a first and second half champion.)
5. Remove or relax the anti-dumping rules. Entire essays have been written on this topic, but there's nothing wrong if the rules are relaxed, just so long as the league has a sensibly strong commish that can keep the sharks from too much preying. Many leagues allow trading between teams next to each other in the standings from August 1st through September 1st, but there is rarely much trading activity among the top four teams in August. And then there's the "asterisk rule" (as defined by Waggoner, where an equal number of $25-plus players must be included in any deal). This can potentially kill good deals for both teams because the dumper would've had to trade a legitimate keeper or the dumpee would've had to trade someone he needed to win.
6. Increase your team roster sizes beyond the general norms. Standard rules allow Rotisserie teams to add two players for September roster expansion, but if you open that up to five or even 10 players, that provides several advantages. First, it makes this season's contenders work harder to maintain their team's standing in the final weeks. Second, it provides those out of contention more of a chance to stock up their roster in hopes of contending next year. And finally, the larger rosters provide more flexibility in orchestrating deals over the offseason.
7. Conduct a minor league draft. One way to spark some late-season interest is to use September to stock, or re-stock, deep farm systems. If you allow each team to maintain ownership of 10, 20 or even 30 minor leaguers, it provides more incentive to keep focus on their current team, no matter how far out they are. A solid minor league draft provides more hope for the future.
8. Incorporate your FAAB into roster expansion. How many Free Agent Acquisition (FAAB) dollars are left unspent at the end of the season? Provide incentive for those who budget the best by requiring that September roster expansion or farm restocking picks must be purchased with FAAB.
9. Require next year's keeper decisions on September 15. While a lot can happen between September and the following March, requiring early decisions on the next season's keepers will make sure people are still playing. If any of these keepers jumps leagues during the off-season, the team protecting him has the right to keep his stats for the following year. The only way a September-declared keeper can be replaced is if you can orchestrate an off-season trade to manipulate a roster spot, or if a player opens the next season on the DL.
10. Discount keeper prices for September picks. If your typical price to protect a keeper is $10, discount that price for those who pick up potential keepers in September. This will keep the bottom feeders scanning the waiver wires and free agent pool for some cheap pickups for the following year.
11. Penalize the cellar dwellers. A good incentive to keep second-division teams from packing it in before the pennant run is to provide some type of penalty for lower finishes. This might be a lower draft budget for the following year, fewer keeper slots (or more slots for the higher out-of-the-money finishers), lower seeding for supplemental drafts (many leagues now use a ranking like 5-6-7-8-9-10-11-12-4-3-2-1), or even a straight cash surcharge.
12. Create multi-season pay-outs. Consider setting aside a portion of each year's pot for a multiple season prize. This gives each team incentive to scrape up any standings point they can, even if the current season's title is impossible to reach.
13. Add play-offs. While it's possible to hold a post-season Rotisserie draft from only playoff-participating MLB teams, quick exits can skew the work of the best drafter. Better to cross over into an entirely different fantasy genre for your post-season - computer simulation. There are several good software programs around that can help you change your hat from general manager to field manager. The way it works is that, at the conclusion of the regular season, player statistics (from only the period that a player appeared on a team's Rotisserie roster) are input into the software to create the teams. Then you set up a tournament structure to play out actual games (best of 5 series at minimum for each round). You determine how many teams qualify (eight is a good number, but you can involve all 12 teams by giving the top four a first round bye). The regular season counts for half the pot and determines playoff seeding. The other half of the pot goes to the playoff winner, or winners. Side benefit to this is it's a great excuse to have an end-of-season party at which time you conduct the playoffs live. Final kicker... give your play-off winner the first draft pick the following season.
14. Hold a pre-Winter Meeting. While the season is still on is a good time to address some early issues regarding rules and concerns from the current campaign. Conflicts are fresh in people's minds, and while you need not come to formal resolutions in September, it's a good time to set the agenda for the real Winter Meeting.
15. Root for or against someone else. If you have a shark in your league, you can get a sadistic pleasure out of watching his pitching staff get bombed and his batters earn the Golden Sombrero. In fact, get together with all of the out-of-the-money teams and create an Anti-Yoo-Hoo Society, a secret sect of spectators that heckles, blasphemes, and places side bets on who is going to fold.
Ron Shandler began publishing statistical reports for baseball analysts and fantasy leaguers in 1986. Since then, his enterprise has grown into one of the largest information providers in the industry, producing quality products continuously and over a longer period than any other fantasy baseball company.
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