Make Your League More Fun (Part 2) – Unconventional Leagues

An extended look at the wackier side of Fantasy Baseball.

It’s a month into the season and your daily league has taken over your life.  You spent an hour scouring the waiver wire every morning, looking for the perfect pitcher to stream.

Your work is suffering.  Your significant other is getting lonely.  Your dog needs to go outside.

And if you have kids, they miss you.

You start to wonder if there are enough hours in the day for you to continue as a functioning member of society AND manage your fantasy baseball team.  It’s a difficult balancing act.

Maybe we did our job a little too well in Part One, and your perfectly calibrated, everything-counts, Points League has taken over your life.  If you’re checking box scores to see if a hitter’s RBI will go down as a ‘game-winner’ or hoping your ace’s Wild Pitch will get changed to a Passed Ball, this means you.

So, let’s take things in the opposite direction.  These are your unconventional leagues, where we’re just having fun.  It’s still fantasy baseball but with a twist.  And usually – hopefully – less of your time invested.

Now, you may want to keep your life-consuming league and continue ignoring your work/family/pet commitments – and hey, that’s up to you.  These leagues can be the side dishes that accompany your entrée.

But they’re also a good time by themselves as a low-stakes lark for the casual player.  So check out these different league types and see if a little wackiness is for you.


Set It and Forget It


Our first foray into the unconventional answers an age-old question: what if my league started and ended on Draft Day?  Sometimes we can have great drafts but manage (or mismanage) our way out of a championship – maybe we drop a slumping hitter just before he turns it around, or drop a boring but reliable veteran for an exciting prospect who doesn’t pan out.  With a Set-and-Forget League, you can save yourself a season of second-guessing and just sit back and see what happens.

Here’s what you do with a Set-and-Forget League: draft your team.  And…that’s it.  You’re done.

There are no free-agent pickups.  No streaming pitchers.  You drafted your team and that’s your roster from game 1 to 162.

Some S&F leagues will take things even further and disallow bench slots.  Your guys play or they don’t.  But, if you’re feeling kind, include an IL slot or two and add a couple of extra rounds to the draft.  Your league-mate whose pitcher just tore his UCL will thank you.

Most platforms won’t specifically offer a ‘Set and Forget’ format, but all you have to do is lock transactions in your league setup – or set the season transaction cap to 0.  You can decide to allow trades as a separate issue.


Best Ball (and Worst Ball) Leagues


Best Ball is a variation of your Set-and-Forget format.  Though transactions will be allowed, you don’t have to worry about setting a lineup or substituting your starting pitchers each morning.  As the day’s games happen, your highest scorers by position will automatically be inserted into your starting lineup.  You thus earn your optimal team score each matchup period.

A good Best Ball strategy is to match a highly volatile player with someone who has a low floor – think combining Luis Arraez and Elly De La Cruz in a middle infield spot.  Elly might hit a homer and steal 2 bags or strike out 3-4 times, but Arraez will always chip in a couple of points.  You can also throw caution to the wind and just go for power guys with a low batting average – someone’s bound to click on any given night.

Note that in some Best Ball leagues, players will only be eligible for their primary position, so review these carefully and stack accordingly.

You can also combine the Set-and-Forget format with Best Ball, so you don’t have to worry about transactions OR a bench.  It’ll be like a wind-up toy that you spin once and it goes for six months.

In the other corner, we have Worst Ball.  That doesn’t mean a Worst Ball League is the opposite of Best Ball, far from it.  It has its own set of rules.

With Worst Ball, you typically have a limited roster: say 5-6 hitters, a few starters, and 1-2 relievers (though you can customize however you want).  The scoring system – also completely customizable – ignores anything good a player does but rewards the bad.  You want your hitters to strike out, just as you want your pitchers to get rocked.

A typical Worst Ball league would include these categories:

Hitting Categories Pitching Categories
Strikeouts Hits given up
Grounding into Double Plays Runs given up
Errors Hit Batters / Walks
Caught stealing Losses
Batting Avg, OBP, and/or SLG Blown Saves

Worst Ball strategy revolves around drafting players who play consistently even if they’re bad.  Think Joey Gallo, who’s expected to bat most every day with the Nationals.  Or Patrick Corbin, still somehow pitching every fifth day for that same team.  Both should be at the top of your draft boards.  But even great players who will strike out a lot or get stuck on the basepaths (Elly de la Cruz comes to mind) are valuable.

Trust us, you’ll have a blast rooting for your team to be as crummy as possible.

Joey Gallo striking out 200 times in a season would do wonders for your Worst Ball team



Elimination Leagues


Also known as Guillotine or Survivor Leagues, the stakes get higher here: if you finish last in any scoring period, you’re out.  It’s like an episode of The Bachelorette, but instead of being left without a rose while the limo pulls away, your team is dissolved and your players go back into the free-agent pool.

If you have a 12-team league, you can have the scoring periods last two weeks and drop a team at the end of each one.  Or, you could go monthly and drop two teams, with a 1-v-1 matchup at the very end (there are usually 25-26 weeks in the MLB regular season, so just plan accordingly).

Since the scoring resets after every elimination, a good strategy here is to stay conservative at first and worry about your floor.  After all, you just have to not finish last.  Then you can acquire free agents as the field whittles and amass a team of legends to bring the trophy home.

The ’stars and scrubs’ strategy is popular here, so if you survive a few weeks you plug in your holes.  You’ll want a few players you can cut loose without reservation while you flip your weaknesses for strengths.

Most sites won’t strictly offer an elimination format, so the Commish will need to manually remove the losing team or teams and push all their players back into free agency.  You can set up a Waiver system or FAAB to redistribute the talent pool fairly – ESPN is a good option here as it’s easy to drop teams and automatically reset your waiver order each period based on where each team finishes.


Player-Swap Leagues


A less drastic version of the Elimination League, the Player-Swap will keep everyone in the game throughout the year – but anyone on a losing streak won’t be happy about it.

The format here is usually H2H Points, where the losing team from each weekly matchup donates one of their best players for the winning team’s worst in return.  You can add some safeguards here to prevent things from getting out of hand too quickly – for instance, allow each team to protect a few players from the swap, akin to an Undroppables list.  Inevitably, though, it’s a rich-get-richer environment, as anyone who drops a couple of matches early could face a painful season watching their cupboard get picked clean.

You can do a Player-Swap League in any format that allows immediate trades.  Once a matchup is over, your league winner offers their scrub up for your stud, and the loser is forced to accept the terms.  Some leagues might allow for a bit of haggling, but in the end, the loser each week is at the mercy of the winner.


Spruce up your own league


No matter which type of league you’re in, you can add some extra incentives.  Even the wildest league can get tired at times, it’s a long season.  So have each member chip in a little extra for Side Pots – they’re a great way to keep the teams that might be out of contention involved to the end.

You can write up a list of options to send to your buddies ahead of draft day and have them vote on their favorites.  Here are a few suggestions:

  1. The Pick-up Artist: have the highest-rated player of someone who WASN’T drafted
  2. Power and Speed: the team with the most combined Homers and Steals
  3. The No-No: (the team with the first player to throw a no-hitter – you can do this more than once, or roll it over to next season if no one does it)
  4. Mr. Unlucky, Version 1: have the most points scored against you throughout the season
  5. Mr. Unlucky, Version 2: lose by the fewest points in any matchup
  6. Best Trade: make the best deal of the season, as voted on by the league
  7. Any Given Night: have the player with the highest single-game point total throughout the entire season (you can one for hitters and one for pitchers)
  8. Masters of Command: have the highest strikeout-to-walk ratio, or strikeout rate minus walk rate
  9. The Stars are Shining: have the most players selected to the All-Star Game
  10. Take Home the Hardware: have the most players that win end-of-season awards (MVP, Cy Young, ROTY, etc)

If you’re also in a points league, you can keep it simple and crown the winner for a few select Roto categories.  This combines both scoring the Rotisserie and H2H Points formats in a beautiful synergy.  (Just note if your league isn’t set up for Roto, you may need a spreadsheet to calculate categories like ERA and Batting Average)

Your Side Pots can also be on the wacky side, like most hit-by-pitches taken or highest number of walk-offs.

And finally, you can offer some minor payouts for your top-scoring team each week – or just over the last few weeks.  Again, have your league vote on options to keep things democratic.

So remember, whether your daily life falls into a black hole during baseball season or you just want a carefree game with your friends with no commitments, make sure you’re having fun doing it.  That’s the whole reason we’re here, right?  (and winning, yes there’s winning)


Want to suggest a fun league format or side pot?  Leave a note in the comments!

Scott McDermott

Scott lives in Virginia Beach with his wife, two daughters, and a couple of furballs. When he’s not dissecting box scores and pondering over the optimal starting lineup for the Cincinnati Reds, he covers fantasy baseball for Pitcher List. He’s also the author of the award-winning book series 'Election 2064', available on Amazon.

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