The majority of all fantasy baseball leagues, or at least the ones played by humans in the here and now, fall into two different categories. First, you have your points leagues, which are basically your standard rotisserie leagues in which each team is assigned points for each statistical category in play based on how they stack up against the competition in the aforementioned categories. Second, you have your head-to-head leagues; these leagues work the same way only your performance in each statistical category is boiled down to a one-week sample size against another team that is your direct competition. You gets “wins” based on how many categories you emerge triumphant in against that one opponent during that one week. The last couple of weeks of the regular season serve as the “playoffs” in which the winners of each fantasy division square off against one another.
When I started playing fantasy baseball what was now half my life ago, it was in the rotisserie format. For the longest time I stuck by rotisserie and would never give head-to-head leagues a shot simply because it was something different and I wasn’t old enough to want to mess with it. Things and people change, however, and eventually I decided in college I would attempt a head-to-head league just to see what I thought of its seemingly more direct approach having heard that it offers more intense competition. Like most people who experiment with things in college, I was left with a nasty hangover and perhaps even some sort of disease.
A couple of head-to-head attempts later, and I can safely tell you that I don’t like the format at all. I think the big draw for many is that you get to “play against” another person each week. You get a singular opponent with a face and a name and probably a stupid little avatar that relates to some shitty TV show. I totally understand the desire to go one-on-one with your friends (or your anonymous internet acquaintances if you smell awful enough to have no real-life pals), but I found the whole experience far too frustrating when it came to logistics. During the course of my first head-to-head league, I wound up missing out on a playoff spot despite a roster that crude research showed would have won the league outright in a points format. I had the most well-rounded team, I just played the wrong opponents at the wrongs times.
But wait, Brian! That’s just like real baseball, and it sure seems like you just want to take the joy out of everything! Listen, imaginary detractor, real baseball teams certainly do have a gap in their performance and actual record from time to time. A team can certainly play over its head or catch the right team on a bad streak. Thing is, that’s for one night or a series. You draw a match-up against the guy that has early 2012 Matt Kemp or Josh Hamilton and you’re, in all likelihood, going to lose a week’s worth of points. In fantasy baseball, which (and I’m looking at you again, imaginary detractor) is named for the fact that it isn’t exactly realistic, the game is truly all about the numbers. If you can’t demand that the team with the best numbers wins in fantasy baseball, when the hell can you? That’s all I’m asking for; I want my fantasy baseball to be a fair evaluation of which manager has done the best job drafting and cultivating his (if he’s a man) or her (if she’s a woman) or its (if it’s a demon space robot) team.
Another big complaint I have when it comes to the head-to-head format is that mind-boggling playoff system. Already having forced your team to perform well at arbitrary endpoints in order to claim a playoff berth, the head-to-head format also wants you to know you’ll then have to endure a series of random playoff match-ups based on whatever happens the last couple of weeks of the regular season. Let’s say your team was anchored by a core group of players on winning teams already guaranteed a shot at the real MLB playoffs or losing teams looking to rebuild. Meanwhile, your opponent’s squad is loaded up with players still fighting hard to turn contention into a shot at the World Series. Your players are much more likely to sit out any and all aches and pains, get shut down for the season, or simply mail in their performance. Your opponent, however, has a hungry group of competitors who will be out there every day scrapping and clawing their way toward October. Tough break, kiddo! You just pissed away your whole season because you had the gall to draft players on certain teams! Obviously fantasy playoffs have to take place during the regular season since not all players get a shot at continuing after that, but there has to be a better solution.
The romanticism of playoff baseball, divisions, and the term “wins” are not things that translate to the fantasy game for me. I understand the appeal of wanting to “win” against your cousin or whatever, and I get that it might be cool to say “hey, my fantasy team’s in the playoffs!” to the guy you sit beside at work. From my view, though, I’ve gotten plenty of excitement and mileage out of the things that happen down the stretch on my points league teams while still getting to know that the teams accumulating the best fantasy-related numbers (which of course don’t always correlate to real-life success, but that’s a topic for another time) are going to place higher. There’s less variance involved.
For instance, Charles Johnson, the extremely large catcher best known for his roles in CSI: Marlin Baserunner Detective and What’s That? Charles Johnson’s Gonna Bap 31 Dingers This Year? once boosted the fantasy team I co-managed with my dad to a money position by going super deep as the season drew near a close. Will Clark also once elevated my position simply by scoring a run in an otherwise meaningless game for the Orioles. Some may love the idea of facing a friend in a weekly “game,” but I’d rather take the surreal nature the final weeks of a points league season brings to the forefront. The strangest and most seemingly innocent occurrence in any game could shift the balance when the standings are tight; a stolen base, pitcher strikeout, or hit-by-pitch that didn’t affect your WHIP could mean the difference between first and second place. There’s a lot of poetry in that, in the little things being the big things in another universe where the rules are different. I like that, and I’m pretty sure I’ll always be a points league man in part because of it.