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Week 6

Last Week’s Question

In last week’s column, I shared Ron’s complaint about the way that his league handles waiver wire transactions. Ron’s current league gives waiver wire priority to the team with the worst record, but Ron prefers the method used by his old league: a blind bidding system that uses waiver wire dollars (not real money) and gives all teams an equal chance at desirable waiver wire acquisitions.

Most leagues that use one of these systems rather than the other do so for reasons that make sense in the context of the league, but some commissioners simply use whatever system they are familiar with. If you don’t have a compelling reason for handling waiver transactions the way you handle them, you might want to consider some of the opinions and arguments that readers of last week’s column shared with me.

I’ll start with a response from Mike because he is Ron’s most vocal supporter:

I agree with Ron, I would not participate in a league with [a worst-to-first waiver priority] rule. My league puts the responsibility on the owner to be active on the boards and pay attention to football news. All of our free agent players are listed—[and owners acquire them on a] first-come first-served [basis]. What happens is that you have some owners picking up free agents while others stay the course, which means that owners have to pay attention and participate in order to have a chance at winning.

I’ve been in leagues such as the one Mike describes, and I think they are a great fit for certain kinds of people. If you unlock team rosters the second the Monday night game is over and let everyone go crazy with roster changes, there definitely is a reward for paying attention and moving quickly. But many of the folks who participate in fantasy leagues aren’t that serious about fantasy sports. They may not have an internet connection at home; they may go to bed before the Monday night game ends; they may simply prefer to have a few days each week to mull over their decisions before doing anything in conjunction with the waiver wire. Jimmy wrote in on behalf of such folks:

I am in a league where in which the worst teams get first crack at free agents on the waiver wire (which I think is a fair way to do it). We have one owner who would rather do it like they do in his league, where the first one to post [a waiver request on the] computer gets the player. In my opinion, this is a terrible way of handling free agents.

Brian appears to share Jimmy’s opinion:

My league uses the worst-to-first [method] for waiver wire pickups too.

We used to do a free-for-all at 9am on Tuesday, but one guy set his computer’s clock to the atomic clock and at 9:00:01 he would be on the waiver wire and before 9:02, he would have 2 or 3 of the best pick ups on his team. Consequently, he won. Plus, if your train was late or you couldn’t be in front of the computer at 9am on the dot, you were SOL. So now we do waivers on all players until 5pm Tuesday. Picks go from worst to first, then after everything is processed, it goes to free-for-all for all free agents.
If you got a player, you go to the back of the line for that week. On Saturday, another round of players on waivers is processed using the adjusted waiver order.

It’s fine for folks like Mike and Jimmy to disagree, but you want to end up in a league with other people whose attitudes about fairness in fantasy football correspond roughly to your own. It sounds like the unhappy camper in Jimmy’s league would be better off in Mike’s league.

However, it may be difficult for every owner to find the exact right league for his own sense of what fairness should dictate concerning waivers. I’ll share a number of subtle variations on this theme for commissioners who are trying to tweak their own systems. A different Mike wrote in concerning an extremely thoughtful system:

I like our league rule, which gives waiver replacement pick preference in reverse order of YTD points. However, what really makes it work well is the fact that “Injured Reserve” moves take precedence over “Drop Moves.” This takes a lot of the "coddle the inept" opinion out of the picture. For example, this year, one of our members spent a lot of his auction points for highly regarded Marc Bulger, who tried to play through broken ribs and is now on I.R. That last-place owner is not inept, but just unlucky due to injury. This rule also gives the owner with an injury situation extra consideration over another owner who just wants to drop and replace a player on his bye week. Furthermore, let's suppose the league-leading owner has a stud RB blow out a knee or whatever: if that week there are 2 other owners who have I.R. moves at the RB spot, he knows that he's going to get at least his 3rd best choice, instead of 7th or 8th, which would be a typical waiver wire week in our pool.

There’s a lot to like about what Mike writes. First off, I can definitely see the value of stressing YTD points over a win-loss record. Teams that are stacked at all positions and happen to have unluckily lost two or three games by a point or two probably don’t need help as much as those that are struggling to field a complete WR corps. I can also see the justification for putting injured player replacements ahead of moves made because one is dissatisfied by a player. It’s one thing for the owner of Maurice Jones-Drew to decide that he no longer wants Mojo because Fred Taylor is getting too many carries. But it’s another thing for the owner of Cadillac Williams to have to replace a runner who has unexpectedly been lost for the season.

I’m just one FFer who happens to think Mike’s league makes a meaningful distinction, but I can also see how some owners would disagree. In the end (such owners might argue) production is all that matters. If I need to replace a guy because he isn’t getting enough carries and you need to replace a guy because he’s injured, why should your motive carry more weight than mine? In the end, we’re both just trying to win.

I have no trouble seeing the question of how to handle waivers from multiple perspectives, and apparently I am not alone, as Marc’s note indicates:

Our league operates under the WW conditions that Ron doesn’t like. And while we've contemplated change (for the reason that Ron mentions) the league vote has always managed to strongly favor the bottom feeders getting the priority on the WW. All of our owners are active, and pay attention, so Ron is right, there’s usually nothing but scrubs left once the bottom feeders have taken their choices. But you know what that does? It helps makes the league competitive. And we enjoy it. Every year, it comes down to the last 2 weeks to decide the playoffs, and it's fun as hell watching several 7-5 teams battling it out for the last 2 playoff spots. Those 7-5 teams probably wouldn’t be where they were had they not had early WW pick-ups. It also gives those who are off to a rough start a little they dont feel like their season is done if they start off 0-3, or 1-4...knowing they have a shot at improving their team for the following week.

If we look strictly at the fairness factor, there’s a lot to be said for Ron’s complaint. But Marc reminds us that the fun factor may be a more important consideration in some leagues. And he’s absolutely right. If I start 0-3 and do not get waiver wire priority, I can end up overwhelmed by apathy. That’s not just bad for me; it can be toxic for the league. (I’m sure we can all recall instances when teams we were competing against for a playoff spot picked up an easy win over an owner who had simply given up and left 3 players on byes in his lineup. The fairness factor and fun factor may not be so easy to divorce after all.)

Of course, some leagues that use the worst-to-first approach do so because they’re not sure how a bidding system would work. Such leagues might want to consider a model such as the one sent in by Mark (not to be confused with Marc above):

In our league, you get 20 waiver points for the year and can bid up until Thursday at noon. Highest bid gets the player, then open waiver moves [can be made] after 5PM on Thursday. You can use if/thens to bid on multiple players. Here is an example of what one player put together this week(he only wanted 2 players).

1. Earnest Graham 8 points drop Cadillac Williams

2. Michael Pittman 6 if I don't get Graham (If I get Graham then 3 points) Drop Cadillac Williams first then Anthony Gonzalez.

3. Sammy Morris 6 if I don't get Graham or Pittman (3 points if I get one of them). Drop Cadillac Williams first then Anthony Gonzalez.

4. Dominc Rhodes 6 points if I don't get any of the above (3 points if I get one of them, 0 if I get two RB's above). Drop Cadillac Williams first then Anthony Gonzalez.

5. Patrick Crayton 8 if I don't get any of the above (2 points if I get Graham, 4 points if I get Pittman, Morris or Rhodes, 0 points if I get 2 RB's). Drop Cadillac Williams first then Anthony Gonzalez.

6. Dallas Clark 6 if I don't get any of the above (2 points if I get Graham, 4 points if I get one of Pittman, Morris, Rhodes or Crayton, 0 points if I get 2 of the above). Drop Cadillac Williams first then Anthony Gonzalez.

7. NYG Def 1 point- only if I don't get two of the above. Drop Cadillac Williams first then Anthony Gonzalez.

8. Titan Def 1 point- only if I don't get two of the avove. Drop Cadillac Williams first then Anthony Gonzalez.

My thanks to Mark for sending the example along with the explanation. I know it looks complicated, but it’s pretty easy to follow if you read it line-by-line. I think this system does a good job of combining straightforward logic with a great deal of flexibility.

Just as there are subtle variations on bidding systems, there are subtle variations on the worst-to-first approach. Anthony’s league uses a method of graduated time windows that should be fairly easy for other leagues to imitate:

In our league, Sunday beginning at noon you are not allowed to pick up anybody and the system is locked until Tuesday morning at 7am. At 7am on Tuesday the bottom 3 teams are allowed to pick up 1 person. Beginning at 8am the rest of the league is also allowed to pick up 1 person for that day. No one is allowed more than 1 acquisition on Tuesday. Beginning at 12:01 Wednesday morning any player in the free agent pool can be picked up by anybody once again until Sunday at noon.

It’s hard not to like the elegance of Anthony’s approach. It’s also hard not to like answers as thorough as Kim’s:

I think Ron needs to buck up a bit. He's the one walking around crying after a 4-0 start? I've often been in the same position as Ron over the years, but there are three reasons I think this waiver system is so common and why it works.

1) It's modeled after the NFL's own system. Teams with worse records get first dibs on the waiver wire. Why shouldn't fantasy football stick to that example?

2) Fantasy football is more fun when the whole league is competitive and giving teams with the worst records first choice of waiver pick ups helps make for a more competitive league.

3) If you do your homework at fantasy football, you can get ahead of the curve on a lot of the "pickup of the week" players. Dwayne Bowe has been putting up good numbers for 3 weeks straight now. I picked him up last week because I knew there was no way I'd have a chance at him if he really went off. If he hadn't panned out, I could've checked him out for a couple of weeks and dropped him. I realize not all players on the waiver wire are like this since some players are waiver darlings because of another player’s injury (Earnest Graham for instance) but I'd advise Ron to pick up Selvin Young this week if he thinks there's any chance he's going to hit it big because otherwise he only has himself to blame.

Not all fantasy owners end up on the bottom of the heap because they are lazy or don't pay attention. Luck plays a role especially with injuries so why shouldn't those owners have first chance at redeeming their season a bit and getting back into the mix. The rich getting richer isn't a recipe for a fun fantasy season except the 2 or 3 "rich" owners. The rest will say "the hell with it". That leads me to my biggest pet peeve, when you get 50-75% of the way through the season and there's 1-2 owners who are just phoning it in because they're out of it. The waiver system that most leagues utilize (and Ron so detests) guards against this to some degree and it should.
Kim wasn’t the only reader who took issue with Ron’s equation of ineptitude with a poor starting record. Mark (the third Mark of this column, I believe—and telling you not to confuse him with Marc or Mark above won’t make things any less confusing) had this to say:
Giving waiver preferences to teams with losing records is not necessarily "coddling the inept." Early in the season there may be many reasons why a team has a losing record, such as injuries to key players. For example, I'm now 1-3. I lost one game by the slimmest of margins when Jon Kitna went out for half the game with a concussion. He came back into the game, but it wasn't quite enough. I lost another that would have been winnable had Andre Johnson not sprained his knee the week before. My one win should have been a loss (due to Marvin Harrison getting hurt in the 1st quarter this last week), but the poor schmuck I was playing against was stuck with a surprisingly inactive Laurence Maroney on Monday night.

Also, being "wrong" about a player in any given game may not be the owner's fault because events out of left field may change how things unfold. For example, who knew McNabb would be on his rump half the night and unable to get the ball to Kevin Curtis this past Sunday? The point is, this early in the season it's impossible to tell who's inept and who's just had really bad luck. Over the course of a full season these things shake out, but not necessarily in the short term. And giving waiver preference to teams with losing records helps to balance out some of the luck involved. Last year a guy started 6-0 in my league with a below-average team, lost his last 7, and missed the playoffs. Your questioner may not be quite the genius he thinks he is.
This Week’s Question

I have half a dozen more responses that I’m eager to share with readers, but this column has already gone well past its usual length. So in fairness to my readers (who can probably only stand to think about this topic for so long) and to those who wrote in (who deserve to have their thoughts read—not just skimmed by exhausted readers), I’ll extend this discussion to next week.

If you have further thoughts or comments on how waiver wire questions should be handled, I’ll consider including those in next week’s column. Thoughts on fairness are of course welcome, but I’m primarily interested in particular models for handling the waiver wire (whether your league uses a worst-to-first or bidding model).

Last Man Standing (Courtesy of Matthew)

Trap Game: Houston at Jacksonville:

Beware!!!!! I’m on a roll. The last two weeks I have successfully picked the Bears upset over Green Bay and the Browns over the Ravens. This is a divisional game where the opponents know each other very well. The Jags are a touchdown favorite at home, but Houston is playing better than they have in previous years. While Matt Schaub does not have all his weapons, he has done very well with what he has. In comparison, Dennis Northcutt does not scare defensive backs, and he is now the number one receiver in a city where Jimmy Smith was king. Look for this game to be a lot closer than what odds makers have set it at and avoid the Jags this week.

#3: Arizona over Carolina (5-0):

The second coming of Kurt Warner will start with a big bang. No longer will Warner come off the field and wonder if and when he will come in to ignite the offense. He also won’t have to worry about a huge pass rush from the Panthers as they have been shut out in the number of sacks that the team has gotten this year. The city of Phoenix finally has a team to root for, and they could actually win the NFC West. The first step is winning the games you are supposed to.

#2: Bears over Minnesota (3-2):

Do the Bears have things back on the right track? Not yet, but they will have enough to beat the Vikings this week. Tavaris Jackson should be behind center against a very good but injured Bears defense while Brian Griese should strike deep and often against a defense that is better suited to prevent the run than the pass. If the Redskins can pull the upset this week in Green Bay, then the Bears will be one game back after almost being left for dead prior to last week’s upset of the Packers.

#1: San Diego over Oakland (5-0):

It’s about time. What has Norv Turner done in San Diego? This team should be rolling up the points on everyone while shutting out offenses. It’s amazing that they host the 1st place Raiders and are in a must-win situation. Dominic Rhodes will be splitting time in the backfield with either Justin Fargas or Lamont Jordan (depending on Jordan’s health but it won’t matter) after his four-week suspension for steroid use. And while Daunte Culpepper seems to be getting up to speed, the Charger defense should be able to chase him down. The point spread screams WARNING, but if you haven’t used the Chargers yet, this might be that week.

For responses to this week's fantasy question or to share your LMS picks, please email me no later than 10 a.m. EST on Wednesdays during the football season.

Readers who want to have their fantasy questions answered live, on the air, by Mike Davis are invited to tune into FFEXradio on Friday afternoons at 5:00 p.m. EST. Archived programs are also available.