April 06, 2009

The late George Carlin was a comedic genius. Even Roger Clemens wouldn't misremember such an obvious truth. In one of Carlin's routines, George refers to the "maniacs and crazies" as those who "live out where the buses don't run". My editors and I agreed it was a perfect homage of a title for a column about alternative formats.

So besides George Carlin references, what else should you expect from this column? Expect it to look a lot like the preseason piece I did in the RotoExperts draft kit where I detailed some non-traditional formats like Crapball and HR Derbys and made appropriate player recommendations.

But let's talk about your draft. Are you sick of doing the same old draft, the same old way, year after year? Like the guy going to the adult, um, "bookstore," are you looking to spice things up a little bit? Well, I'm here to help (that's with your draft, not with your "reading" needs).

I know, I know. You've probably already had your draft and even if you haven't, it's way too late to change it now. I understand that, but some of these ideas are going to take some time to convince your leaguemates, so you can start working on them now for next year. There are of course many variants, but here is a handful.

Silence is Golden

Have an auction with silent bids. Owner A puts out an initial bid and then everyone, including Owner A, if he chooses, write their bid on a piece of paper, folds it up and put it in a jar (or hat or whatever vessel of your choice). The commissioner then takes out the pieces of paper and reads the bids. It does take away a bit of the "poker" element of auctions where we "price enforce" or get an owner to pay more just because we want to see him squirm. However, I like this for two reasons. It is still pretty suspenseful and guys are still open to great derision when they hear how much they overbid, or can smile as they beat out a fellow owner by the smallest margin. Plus, it takes away the annoying and prolonging bids that are always submitted after "Going once. Going twice..." but before "Sold!" Plus, it works really well with the Vickrey bidding system. What is the Vickrey bidding system you may ask? Well, that's what those in the business call a "tease"...

If it's good enough to win a Nobel Prize, shouldn't it be good enough for you?

The Vickrey bidding system is based on the theory of Nobel Prize-winning economist William Vickrey (pictured). In fact, one of the "experts" leagues (the LABR) actually considered using it for FAAB (free agent acquisition budget) bidding one year. You could use it for FAAB also, but don't let the LABR or the Nobel Prize scare you away from using it at your draft. The premise is simple enough. Highest bid wins, but at the cost of the next highest bid. (You could also do second highest bid plus one dollar, but let's wait to go into further deviation)

For example, let's say one guy a few fries short of a happy meal bids $35 on James McDonald (first name I came up with, must've been the fries). Anyway, there were only four other bids submitted: two one-dollar bids, one two-dollar bid and a savvy three-dollar bid, then the $35 bidder just acquired McDonald for $3. What's the benefit of this? For one, players are more likely to go for market value. This will also be especially useful if your league has a few guppies trying to swim with the sharks, which will keep the guppies from overbidding. And what if two players both bid the same? Well, then that bid is the player price.

Of course, there could be an issue of who gets said player in a tie situation. I always like to give the owners the chance to defer or work it out amongst themselves. If not, player goes to the owner with the most money to spend. If it is still a tie, the most players left. And if it is still a tie, well, you now have an application for those useless things inside your pockets known as pennies.

Isn't 'mono' a disease?

My frequent readers will tell you if nothing else, I'm honest. They'd probably tell you some other unprintable things too, but we'll save that for some other time.

So I'm going to be blunt with you and tell you that I think "monoleagues," (i.e. AL-only and NL-only leagues) are some of the dumbest ideas for a league ever. You ever hear someone playing in AFC-only football league? No. And you know why? The answer is simple. It's because it's a stupid idea! Why arbitrarily cut your player universe in half? Now I know some ball-shiner out there is saying, "They're more challenging. Otherwise every team is loaded with All-Stars". Buffalo chips I say. That has nothing to do with it. I'd rather play in a 30-man mixed league than an eight-man monoleague. I could see playing in an NL-only league if you counted pitcher's hitting stats. Now, that would be an alternative league. But I have yet to see that happen. However, here are some alternative ideas for monoleagues that just might make me interested in them:

My buddy "Levi" (the names have been changed to protect their identities) plays in a league that is AL-only, plus the NL division of the pennant winner. So this year, for example, his league is seeing a sudden influx of shortstop talent. Considering it's a keeper league, I think it's kind of stupid. I will admit, however, it does keep things "fresh" and interesting.

On the flip side, one of the RotoExperts here (I won't name names, but let's just say he's a Giants fan, and no, its not me) plays in an NL-only league that actually starts its auction with two rounds of AL players. When asked why, he said "We've been doing it since 1991 and lately, folks were getting restless. At the time there was a real imbalance in that the cream of the fantasy crop was seemingly tilted towards the AL. We didn't want to go to a mixed league because we only had 10 teams, so we came up with this idea. It's had plusses and minuses: at one level, it's silly and makes it less competitive, but at the other level you wouldn't believe how much time die-hard NL-only folks spend worrying about the AL draft!"

Oh those crazy Californians. But I think a friend of mine plays in the league that uses the most interesting idea I've heard. We'll call him "Al". Anyway, Al and friends have an extremely long draft day. That's because they draft two leagues -- one AL-only and one NL-only. Both are played independently of one another, but with one caveat: Should a player be traded from one MLB league to the other, that owner still maintains the right to that player, but instead of the original team, the player moves to his team in the opposite league that now has him. It's a great way to make sure everyone remains competitive in both leagues, because all it takes is one big major league trade and your 10th-place team can suddenly find itself with a new ace or major bat.

You're gonna like this guy, he's a Goodfella...

I know a bunch of guys who play in a league called the "Goodfellas League", named because the original founders of the league had seen Goodfellas 262 times, give or take a couple. How much you want to bet when an owner finally gets a player in the auction, someone invariably will yell, "Hey, you broke your cherry!"?

Moving on, I think these guys might have one of the perfect answers to the auction vs. draft issue. I like drafts when they're preceded by Miller Genuine (Note to Miller Brewing Company. No need to send me money for the promotion, an ice-cold six-pack delivered free to my house will be fine), but otherwise I hate them. Why should you get a shot at Hanley Ramirez or Albert Pujols, while I have to deliberate between Grady Sizemore and Ryan Braun just because your name got pulled out of a hat first? And maybe we'd both take Pujols first, maybe not. But in the name of capitalism, whoever is willing to give up more should get him, shouldn't he? If someone wants to bust his budget to get one guy, why let the format stand in the way? But the problem with an auction is that it takes longer than a senior citizen out for a Sunday drive, especially if you have 30-man rosters like this league does.

Thus these guys came up with a "hybrid". They end with a traditional serpentine draft. However, they start with five rounds of auction. That is followed by three rounds of "auction-based draft" where those owners left with the most money pick first each of the next three rounds, and those that have the least amount of money or shot their entire load, pick last in each of the three rounds. I absolutely love this idea, and would encourage any league not sure if it wants to do auction or draft to try it.

One final note: I have plenty of alternative formats to talk about, but I want to hear from you. What kind of "crazy" league do you play? Let me know and I'll talk about it here.

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