As one might conclude, here at Razzball we’ve started focusing on what baseball and fantasy baseball will look like as we plod forward through this mess, and I have to admit, it’s a bit weird. Ignoring the bottle of Corona in the room and the fact that this may not even work out as the U.S. struggles to contain the first wave (can’t have a second if you never stop the first! *points at forehead*), the current sports experiments going-on ultimately leave us with the possibility of having a bit of entertainment while we safely hunker down in out mother’s basement, so we must at least entertain the idea that baseball and fantasy baseball will become a reality. As I’m wont to do, the content I’ve been working on has more of a WWJD (What Would Jay Do?) slant, and the last and first post in this series generally went over the types of batters I’d be focusing on in this truncated 60-day stretch. While I’ll be treating pitchers to the same exposé at a later date, with this post, I’d like to tackle the nitty-gritty side of it all, and that’s the broader changes we’ll see to the MLB and fantasy apparatus as we stay six feet apart while not coughing on each other. You know, proper pandemic etiquette…
First, what are some changes that the MLB is enacting for this shortened season that you need to know?
2020 MLB COVID Changes
- Well, as you already know, testing began a little over a week ago and the ramping-up process will continue to accelerate. Teams will have enough players on hand to hold intrasquad Spring Training scrimmages, but they’ll set their own schedule and data will be hard to come by. The solution here is to keep a pulse on local content to see how your players are fairing, especially when it comes to managers commenting on current roster news and strategies.
- MLB can relocate teams for health and safety reasons. Remember that your players are not guarunteed the same pitching and hitting environments. Keep an eye of where they end up. Are the Blue Jays going to stay at their Spring Training venue? What about Cactus League venues, some of which are launching pads? What about current states seeing exponential growth and widespread outbreak of this virus? Just some things to think about.
- The season starts on July 24th. (There will be a double-header on July 23rd.) And the season will end on September 27th. As you’ll see when we go over platform changes, all H2H leagues will have roughly seven weeks to compete, so keep an eye on unfavorable matchups, losing one week isn’t a season-killer, but three could be a death knell.
- Of the 60 games, 40 will be against the same division and 20 will be against the correspond division in the opposite league. So essentially, each team will play against it’s own divisional opponents 10 times, its opposite division rival (Padres vs. Mariners) six times and other opposite division foes (NL West vs. AL West) either three or two times. With this concept, keep in mind that the AL East ballparks are a bit more homer happy, with the AL West featuring the opposite side of that coin.
- The DH will be in effect in both leagues. This will undoubtedly raise pitcher’s ERA and WHIP while lowering their K%, but on the flip side will create opportunities for fringe or up-and-coming players to make a difference. I mean, I’d even be willing to watch Wil Myers bat a few times knowing he wouldn’t trot himself out on defense. Win-win for me.
- Rosters will start at 30 players for two weeks, 28 for the next two weeks, and then 26 for the rest of the season. Keep that in mind when attributing value to prospects who might have otherwise enjoyed a season with fully expanded rosters.
- The trade deadline is on August 31st. While I’m not expecting much, it’s still a date to keep an eye on as teams start to figure out the playoff picture.
Second, there are platform specific changes that you’ll need to know about. I suggest you definitely check out the changes on their official sites, but for a TL;DR, I’ll list some major tidbits below from the two largest sites.
ESPN & Yahoo Format Changes
- H2H Leagues will be a 9 Week Season with a 2 Week Playoffs with 4 total teams and no bye weeks.
- For Yahoo, All Pro League Drafts that were completed before their COVID schedule was released will be cancelled and refunds given out.
- In Roto and Points Leagues, default max innings and positional limits are now proportional for Yahoo. Pitchers are 525 max innings, and positional players are set at max 60 games played. With ESPN, there will be a games-started max of 74 (previously 200), with the innings pitched minimums going from 1,000 down to 370.
- IL slots have increased from two to four in Yahoo leagues and one to three in ESPN leagues.
- Positional Eligibility requirements will not change.
- The trade deadline will be moved back in the season proportionally. The new default trade deadline will be Friday, Sept. 11, at noon ET.
And lastly, if you are a commish, or are shopping for a league, or just want to get some ideas of what a custom league should look like, keep in mind the following:
Custom League Changes
- As ESPN and Yahoo have already done, don’t forget to change your own innings and games limits. They don’t have to match-up perfectly with other platforms, but we are going to be watching only 37% of what a full season would bring, and even reaching that point might be a fools errand depending on how we combat the second phase of the first COVID wave. Surf’s up dude.
- You get an IR spot and you get an IR spot. EVERYONE GETS AN IR SPOT. Remember, you’re aren’t just going to have the usual baseball injuries, but there will be games missed due to the virus and because of this, I would at least add 2-3 extra IR spots depending on your leagues other rules. And honestly, any league that I’m running? I have the IR set to 10, we just have no idea how this season will run, and I doubt the league is going to be any less fun with this extra flexibility.
- And even though most H2H league formats are moving to the aforementioned 7-2 schedule (seven weeks regular season, two week playoffs), make sure your league fits this timetable. You should even decide a natural two-phase cutoff, in that, if the season is a total of nine weeks, imagine if the season ended before that because of COVID concerns. What if the state shuts down, and the team’s in that state are left in a state of flux? WHAT IF WE ARE FLUX? Okay, to avoid the flux, set tangible back-up end points and let the league know either through he rules or vote or discussion. There should be dates on the calendar, say late August that locks in what’s been played. What I’m basically saying is, have some back-up plans if the season ends early and someone has the audacity to ask if this counts or if they won. Trust me, it may seem like a little thing, but some people actually play to win.
Beyond that, I can list out the usual cliches of how weird this is, but been there, done that. From a purely fantasy baseball perspective, it’s quite the nice thing to talk shop, but the cost is something we must always keep omnipresent. We all hope the players and their families stay safe, the countless staff members of these teams, the auxiliary support workers for ballparks, fans, players, etc. Baseball is a big deal, but so is a pandemic. So let’s all hope for the best, design for the worst, and stay safe!
Jay is a longtime Razzball everything who consumes an egregious amount of Makers Mark as a vehicle to gain wisdom and augment his natural glow. Living in the D.C. area, he also likes spending time visiting the local parks and feeding lettuce to any turtles he encounters, including Mitch McConnell. You can follow him @jaywrong, or read his rarely (like never) updated blog Desultory Thoughts of a Longfellow.