An important consideration when evaluating changes to league rules is to give them a fair and open hearing with league members before implementation, even if your league mates aren’t allowed to vote on whether the changes will be made. No matter how hard we try, we don’t always consider all ramifications. And when we do encounter problems, take definitive steps to rectify the situation.
Another factor worth considering is to ensure you get down to the basics. Too often, prospective rules changes are brought up without discussing the actual problem you are trying to address, and considering a spectrum of alternatives. There can be many ways to modify behavior, including the most basic choice of carrot versus stick.
In one of my re-draft leagues, Tout Wars, the leaders became concerned over owners tuning out when it became clear they could not win in a given season. This affected the competitiveness of the league. One would have thought the embarrassment of finishing poorly in such a high-profile environment would have been enough motivation, but it clearly was not for some.
To address this, the rule-meisters initially chose to swing a stick – a big stick. An owner would be removed from his league if over two years he did not achieve a total of 100 or 105 points, depending on the format (AL, NL or mixed).
It apparently sounded good to the leaders at the time, as it was announced without discussion. The league bosses actually called the idea “fun”, which would require a masochistic sense of humor to appreciate.
Two years later, with several high-profile owners having not met the minimum point criterion, it led to a realization that the rule was “unduly harsh and disruptive” as well as “unpleasant and unworkable,” according to those who had introduced the death penalty in the first place. Out the window it went before ever being enforced.
The second time around, with a clean sheet of paper, a more reasonable approach to the same core problem – how to keep owners fully engaged - was chosen, one that has a blend of both carrot and stick elements.
In the past implementation, the only results that really mattered each year were the league winners and those at the other end of the spectrum – the unfortunates who ended up with so few points that future participation could have been at risk under the 100/105-point rule. A fifth versus sixth-place finish, for example, meant virtually nothing - other than passing bragging rights between two competitors and friends, perhaps.
Under the new rules, that changes. The order of the next year’s reserve snake draft rounds will reflect the previous year’s standings. I applaud this simple, but effective choice. Going forward, there will be a tangible value in finishing fifth rather than sixth.
If only this change had been enacted sooner, it could have helped me greatly in 2010. Coming off a first-place NL Tout finish in 2009, under the new rules, I would have received the first selection in the reserve draft.
Having taken a risk in drafting Dan Murphy, I had targeted a first reserve round handcuff with Ike Davis, then still in the minors. Unfortunately, the old rules called for the reserve draft order to be drawn from a hat after the regular auction was complete. Until then, I had no way of knowing in what place I would select my reserves.
Due to the luck of the draw, my spot was late, which meant I lost out on Davis. I ended up with Freddie Freeman, who to deliver any 2010 value, needed injury help he didn’t get from Chipper Jones and Troy Glaus and for Derrek Lee to have remained in Chicago. I still wonder what might have been, as I struggled at the corners all season long and finished in second place.
The other change in the Tout Wars rules reminds us the old stick still remains close by, though the punishment is not fatal as was the previous banishment, at least on paper.
Teams that finish below pre-defined point thresholds will be docked one FAAB dollar the next season for each point of underachievement. For example, in NL Tout, the line selected was 65 points. A team that ends at 52 points in 2011 will have 13 dollars docked from its 2012 FAAB budget of $100. In other words, that owner will have just $87 to work with during season two because of his subpar finish in season one.
There was no precise mathematical formula used to select the thresholds. Past standings were reviewed with intent to draw the line at the bottom tier of annual finishers. While this would capture more offenders than the previous, lower on-average two-year threshold, the penalty is far less severe, as well.
Like almost every rules change, this is a modification of one that a Tout leader had encountered in another of his leagues. After all, that is the best route to take if possible. Learn from others, which is also what this column is all about.
Both changes to the Tout Wars rules - the reserve draft order and FAAB reduction – are intended to keep owners fully engaged all season long. I am most interested to see how they work out in practice in 2012 and 2013.
Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 13-year history. He is a 2009 NFBC league winner and finished in the top 25 nationally in both the NFBC and NFFC that season. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com.