The Alphabet Soup League

January 29, 2009

- See all 763 of my articles

I have played fantasy baseball for about a dozen years now. My only regret is that I didn’t get started sooner.

Last year, however, I decided to make a change. I turned my league into an alternative format league. This isn’t particularly noteworthy – there are lots of leagues that use non-standard formats. The particular format I chose, however, was quite unusual.

The key constraint of the league is that a team could not start more than one player for each letter of the alphabet. If Alex Rodriguez was your “R” starter, you could not also start Manny Ramirez. The league was christened the Alphabet Soup League. Like the other leagues I have run, the winner would be awarded a rather cheap trophy. There would be no money involved – simply the pride of a hard fought championship.

The strangeness of the league began with the draft. It was a ten player league, so I randomly assigned each team 10% of the alphabet (2-3 letters). For the purposes of the draft, Q, U, X, Y, and Z were combined into on letter grouping – if you were assigned the “wildcard” letter, you could pick anyone from those letters.

The draft was conducted by email. People simply sent in their choices for each letter. The order was not important, because people were not competing against each other for players (since the other players had different letters). After everyone was done, I assigned another set of letters, and the process continued until we were done.

The draft strategy was a bit unusual. You had to look ahead to see what letters you would have in the upcoming rounds. The letter M, for example, is stacked with good catchers. If you had M in the first several rounds, you were assured of a good catcher and could ignore other catchers. On the other hand, if you had lousy catcher letters for the next several rounds, you be forced to grab a sub-par guy in the current round, just to have an adequate starter.

The draft itself took about a week to complete. Not terribly bad, considering that it was done via email. This seemed like the best option, though. Getting everyone into a chat room at the same time would have been difficult, and the autodraft systems of the major fantasy sites would not know how to deal with the alphabet restriction.

The importance of the uncommon letters (I and N, for example) also became apparent. If you had the first choice of those letters, you could draft a reasonably solid player. If you had last choice of those letters, you got a guy who rides the shuttle between AAA and the majors.

I laugh at what the Yahoo people would have thought if happened to peruse our draft results.

During the season, the game was very much like any other fantasy league, aside from the fact that players that were studs in normal leagues languished in free agency in our league (especially players from the stacked letter R) while players of minimal value in other leagues got some quality at bats and innings in our league.

Unfortunately, there was not a good way to prevent people from violating the alphabet rule. There, I had conduct random audits of teams and penalize them for violations. As a penalty, they had to forfeit all of their points to their opponents. This meant that they were credited with an 0-10 record for the week, while their opponent got a 10-0 record. This is being tweaked a bit in year 2, so that the opponents do not get such a big reward for having the dumb luck to face a violator.

As spring training beckons, I am readying myself the league. I have my copy of Ron Shandler’s Baseball Forecaster, of course. I also have a fantasy baseball magazine. It was chosen, in large part, because it lists the players in alphabetical order.

Leave a Reply