Time to get weird.
We know now the 2020 season will be only 60 games long. We know it will begin Thursday, July 23, and end Sunday, Sept. 27. It gives us 9 1/2 weeks to cram in everything we'd normally want from a Fantasy Baseball season, which would include playoffs in a Head-to-Head league.
How are we supposed to make it work?
If it's a Head-to-Head categories league, you could simply convert it to a Rotisserie league, and if it's Head-to-Head points, you could reduce it to a race for the most points. It'll seem detached and sterile by comparison, but hey, it'll give you a more "rightful" winner.
Isn't that always the case, though?
You didn't sign up for a Head-to-Head league because you wanted the least controversial outcome. You did it for the engagement. You did it for the competitiveness, the weekly adrenaline rush and the eternal hope of catching fire late if you can only keep it together until then. Are you really going to let a schedule rob you of all that?
No, because I won't let you. Whatever system you've already established, you can tweak it to make that short schedule work for you.
And there's a case to be made that this bite-size season is actually better suited for Head-to-Head play, with its series of short sprints, than the marathon that is Rotisserie play. A handful of bad starts from an otherwise good pitcher could skew his ERA beyond the point of recovery in a Rotisserie league, making him a sunk cost. But because those bad starts would be confined to the weeks when they happened in Head-to-Head, that pitcher could still rebound to deliver an ace outcome when it mattered most.
So the oddities of this season shouldn't scare you away from your preferred format. We'll just need to optimize it for our new reality. The overarching goal is to wring as much influence out of those 9 1/2 weeks as possible, which would mean exerting more control over schedule creation, but the more precise goals would be these:
- Build more "decisions" into the schedule
- Salvage the basic playoff structure
- Reduce the element of luck in the playoffs
Let's tackle them one by one.
How to build more 'decisions' into the schedule
This one is actually the most straightforward of the three, at least if you play in a CBS Sports Commissioner league. I assume some of the other host sites would offer the same level of customization, but if not, it may be time to migrate.
All you need to do is have each team play multiple matchups each week. I assure you it's an option. Just find the "matchups per period" drop-down in the "league schedule" section of the commissioner tools and change it to ... however many you want.
If you're planning to reserve two weeks for the playoffs and, therefore, have seven regular season weeks to work with, you could make it so every team plays three other teams, resulting in 21 matchups. Those matchups would yields 21 "decisions" — i.e., wins and losses — which is similar to what you'd see in a full-length season. This adjustment wouldn't account for the outlier and downright fluky player performances that are sure to occur in a 60-game season, but every scoring format is vulnerable to those (and Rotisserie, as I mentioned, perhaps even more so). It would, however, account for the bad matchup luck that can sometimes undermine Head-to-Head leagues and would especially afflict them in a season with only seven decisions.
There are diminishing returns to this. If you have every team play every other team every week, you might as well remove the Head-to-Head element entirely and make it a straight points or Rotisserie league. Any more than three matchups would probably make the outcomes of those matchups too disparate for you to connect emotionally, and playing more than a quarter of the league in any given scoring period is, frankly, pretty lame. But if you don't get carried away with it, multiple matchups is a simple solution to perhaps the single biggest problem.
Another possible solution would be to ditch the seven-day scoring period for something shorter, like five days. This would expand the season from nine scoring periods to 13 while also eliminating the influence of two-start pitchers — a secondary benefit for the many two-start detractors out there. Of course, it would also mean, depending how the off days fall, that certain pitchers might not start at all in a given scoring period, which could potentially create even bigger lineup headaches.
But the biggest downside to smaller scoring periods is that the lineup lock would be on a different day every week. Maybe in a short season, you could get a particularly attentive league to keep up with the moving lineup lock, but it's a bigger ask than it might sound like it is.
We broke a lot of this down on Wednesday's rendition of the Fantasy Baseball Today Podcast. Keep up with us and everything baseball and subscribe here.
How to salvage the basic playoff structure
Say four teams normally make the playoffs in your league. Well, that's only two weeks of the schedule. But say six teams normally do, with two getting a first-round bye, or say eight do. That sort of playoff structure requires three weeks, which, yeah, is only one more week, but when the entire season is only nine weeks, every week is big. And I suspect most of us would prefer not to devote one-third of those to the playoffs, especially if it leaves only six weeks to sort out the playoff picture.
The simplest solution would be to bite the bullet and reduce your usual six-team playoff to a four-team playoff this year. "But I don't wanna!" you say. OK, me neither.
So maybe you bite the bullet the other way and settle for a six-week regular season to retain your three-week postseason, accepting that the playoff field would potentially be more flawed as result. Hey, if you don't compromise in one of those areas (the size of the playoff field or the quality of the playoff field), you'll end up making things really difficult for yourself.
But just for argument's sake, let's say you're comfortable making things difficult. What might a solution be? Well, you'd either have to find another week or get more out of the weeks you already have.
Getting more out of the weeks you have is more doable with a six-team playoff format. Get that bye week out of there because it's not an efficient use of the weeks you have. Instead, have each of the six playoff teams face two of the other playoff teams, and then have the two at the top of those one-week "standings" (as determined by record, with points as a tiebreaker) move on to the championship game. A 2-0 record would be an automatic bid. The breakdown of those matchups, so as to reward the higher-seeded teams, would look like this:
- 1 plays 4 and 6
- 2 plays 3 and 5
- 3 play 2 and 5
- 4 plays 1 and 6
- 5 plays 2 and 3
- 6 plays 1 and 4
Pretty complicated, right? OK, so what if we found another week instead of making the most of the ones we have? It would allow you to keep that first-round bye in a six-team playoff, as wasteful as it is, and it's downright essential for an eight-team playoff.
I keep referring to the season being nine weeks long, but it's actually 9 1/2. That half-week, which begins on Thursday, July 23, gets combined with the first full week to form a supersized Week 1. Every other lineup lock would be on a Monday, as is traditional, thereafter.
So why not dispense with tradition in this crazy season and make better use of that half-week?
If the season begins on a Thursday, make Thursday the start of every scoring period, running Thursday-Wednesday. The seventh scoring period would wrap up on Sept. 9, leaving 18 days that you could then divide into three six-day scoring periods for the playoffs. Sure, those scoring periods would each start on a different day of the week (the first on a Thursday, the second on a Wednesday and the third on a Tuesday), but teams that advance to the playoffs are generally invested enough to pay attention to that sort of thing.
Or maybe you could just live with a six-week regular season. I don't know.
How to reduce the element of luck in the playoffs
I should mention that the typical Head-to-Head league already doesn't go far enough with this, so maybe you can just ignore it. Or maybe you could pick up some ideas that would actually serve your league better in future, full-length seasons.
The most frustrating part of a Head-to-Head league is dominating all season long only to have something fluky happen in a one-week playoff that sabotages it all. We've all been there, and many of us have taken steps to ensure our Head-to-Head leagues aren't as susceptible to that.
But it means making each playoff round longer than one week. I typically make them two weeks, but I've seen others turn each playoff round into a best-of-three series. This year, there just aren't enough weeks for that. We're already having trouble fitting in all the playoff teams!
Here's where I land on it: If the length of the playoff rounds is more important to you than the number of playoff teams, then make it four playoff teams and use the same trick I proposed earlier, having every scoring period begin on a Thursday since that's when the regular season begins. Lumping that first half-week in with the first full week is a big sacrifice to make just to ensure every scoring period thereafter begins on a Monday. Make them begin on a Thursday, and then when the seventh week concludes on Sept. 9, start the playoffs.
The 18 days remaining allow for two nine-day scoring periods, which gives the higher-seeded teams just a little more time to make up for whatever fluky event might occur in the first seven days. If nothing else, it'll give each team a more complete selection of two-start pitchers, allowing them each to put their best foot forward.