The Verdict: Fantasy Baseball Autonomy

This edition of The Verdict takes a look at whether fantasy baseball players should be required to have both starting pitchers and relief pitchers in their lineups. When I started my 18-team league back in 1999, teams were required to start six pitchers with at least one starter and one reliever in their lineups. People had the flexibility to have whatever combination of pitchers they wanted so long as they had one of each. Back then, I thought it was fairly easy to distinguish between a starter and reliever as opposed to determining what positions offensive players were eligible at. I also set up the point values to fairly equate starters and relievers so that there was no inherent advantage or disadvantage to stacking up on either.

This method worked for several years until an unanticipated ambiguity came up in 2007. I had always classified a pitcher based on what he was doing at the time on his major league team. This was consistent with what TQ Stats (our league’s host site since 1999) had done as well. However, in 2007, TQ Stats began showing both SP and RP designations for pitchers who made appearances as both a starter and a reliever. In June 2007, one of the teams in the OBFBL notified me that his opponent had six starting pitchers in his lineup—including Jeremy Guthrie. Technically this was in violation of the league rules, but TQ Stats recognized Guthrie as a relief pitcher because he had made an appearance out of the bullpen earlier in the season.

Much to his credit, the complaining team did not make the issue a big deal, but simply wanted to bring it to my attention. The ruling I made at the time was that the team that had Guthrie would get to keep his lineup that week with Guthrie technically as his relief pitcher. However, going forward, Guthrie would only be able to be used as a starter and that team would have to include another relief pitcher in his lineup to satisfy the requirements. The owner of Guthrie was not overly pleased with the decision because Guthrie did have a designation as both a starter and reliever. But I had to maintain consistency in my decisions despite having the league hosting site make changes unbeknownst to anyone in terms of player designations.

This issue proved to be a potential slippery slope because any pitcher who made at least one appearance out of the bullpen or at least one official start was given both designations. This would allow teams to utilize a pitcher at a particular position that he was not intended to be allowed. The intent of the rule was to keep relievers separate, and by that I mean the pitchers that are specifically out of the bullpen.

Realizing that this was an issue that needed precise and concise correction, I amended the league rules for 2008 to allow all teams in the league to start six pitchers of any designation whatsoever. This meant teams could strategize and just draft starting pitchers or just draft closers if they wanted. It completely removed the ambiguity of how pitchers were designated and it also promoted additional autonomy for teams to utilize their own strategic methods instead of being forced to start a player that they may not necessarily have wanted to.

Since changing the rule before the 2008 season, most teams in the league have taken advantage of the ability to start six starting pitchers. On the contrary, no team has ever started six relief pitchers or closers in one week. But the general consensus amongst the league members has been that they are all pleased with having the flexibility to start whichever pitchers they want and not be pigeon-holed into playing a reliever. Remember, this is a head-to-head points league so there is no need to accumulate saves to win a category. However, the point scoring system is now set up where a save is worth as much as a win (10 points). The reasoning behind this is to make the elite closers a valuable commodity and give people something to think about when strategizing how they want to build their pitching staffs.

At the end of the day, people should have the flexibility and autonomy to build their fantasy baseball team as they want. As commissioner, I have learned over the years that there will always be issues of first impression that the league constitution will not address. The commissioner must handle these situations logically and fairly, and have the patience to wait until the end of the season before changing the rules. It is always helpful when the league members who are involved in the issue are rational and intelligent people that can understand the thought process of the decision. Fortunately that was the case in this situation. The real lesson learned here was that this should have been my warning signal that TQ Stats was heading for an implosion because they changed everything internally and left me no choice but to abandon TQ at the beginning of the 2008 season.

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