Earlier this week, Tout Wars made a couple of announcements for the upcoming fantasy season. First, I found out who my competitors would be in the Mixed League as the third and final lineup for Tout Weekend was set. Additionally, rule changes for 2012 were announced, and one of those changes is quite dramatic and unique.

Prefacing these rule changes, the Tout crew wrote:

We’ve always looked at Tout Wars as an incubator for new ideas about how to play fantasy baseball. The game is a living thing, and we take seriously a responsibility to try out new rules that we think have an opportunity to be of use in other leagues.

Well, Tout Wars has certainly made good on that claim this year with what I can consider to be the biggest rule introduction in years, perhaps the biggest since the fantasy world shifted from 4×4 to 5×5:

Starting this season, in all three leagues, we’re converting the fifth outfielder slot into a place for any player on the team’s roster, playing any position, including pitcher. Hitters will contribute as hitters, pitchers as pitchers. Micah Owings contributions will come from the mound, not the batters box.

The new lineup slot will be known as the “Swingman” position, and its introduction brings up a lot of very interesting strategic considerations. Here are the most obvious of my options, as I see them:

  • Bolster my hitting stats by plugging in a slugging first baseman, DH, or outfielder
  • Try to rack up some extra wins and strikeouts with a starting pitcher
  • Draft an extra closer to make sure I win saves
  • Buy whoever comes at the biggest bargain, whether he be a hitter, starter, or closer
  • Mix and match each week

That’s a lot to consider, and to be honest, I have no idea which direction I’m going to go. I’m tempted to simply play it by ear and see which types of players come at the biggest bargain on draft day, while also taking into consideration how my roster is being constructed and where my categorical weaknesses figure to be.

I could also pre-decide to go cheap with it, select high-upside players with my reserve picks, and hope someone breaks out. With five lottery tickets to work with in this scenario, it may very well be worth it to gamble on one of them paying out and putting the extra money into a better player at another position that I otherwise wouldn’t have had the cash for.

Another option would be to skimp on closers on draft day in the hopes of snagging an April-minted closer off the waiver wire (someone in the mold of 2011’s Jordan Walden and Sergio Santos), paying whatever it takes in FAAB to get one. That would be risky, though, as these new closers aren’t always the most skilled bunch or the most secure in their jobs (look at the Cardinals’ revolving door of closers last year), and it would mean parting with a large chunk of my FAAB budget very early in the season, potentially hamstringing me for the remainder of the year.

In a similar vein, I could funnel the money I would otherwise allocate for the spot into a premium player at another position and play an elite set-up man as my Swingman at zero cost (they come free off the waiver wire in-season). This would help my ERA and WHIP, but it might force me to take too much of a hit by having one fewer hitter and not getting the Win and Strikeout benefit I’d get from using a starting pitcher in the slot (or the Save benefit from a closer).

For the two years that I’ve played in Tout Wars Mixed, I’ve had the hardest time competing in wins. Wins, of course, are a very fickle statistic, and it doesn’t help that there are so many starting pitcher options in a league of this (relatively shallow) depth, even on the waiver wire. One way to help compensate for my struggles here and to take advantage of said depth would be to stream two-start pitchers each week and plug them into my Swingman position.

All in all, there’s a lot to take into consideration, and I don’t see a clear-cut best path to take as of this writing. What do you guys think of the new rule, and if your league implemented it, how would you go about filling your own Swingman spot?

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You might be surprised at how many wins & strikeouts you could get with the elite setup man option in addition to the bump in ERA and WHIP. The added benefit being a few extra $ to spend on top-tier hitter(s).
The only thing I don't like here is that it doesn't appear that there is a max innings cap, just a minimum innings threshold (correct me if I am wrong). If there is a max innings cap, then the set-up man value goes way up....

Even a great setup man may only give you 5 IP per week with 5 or 6 K's, maybe 0.3 wins/saves, with that nice ERA/WHIP ratio. One start from a SP can offer more innings with better chances at more wins and K's. As long as he doesn't kill your ratios, he has a better chance to contribute to those other two categories. Without a max innings pitched cap, the SP is probably the better option. With a max innings pitched cap, you get the ERA/WHIP help and the gravy of K's, wins and saves.

Yup, you nailed it. There's no max innings cap here, so the value of elite setup men is greatly diminished.
Aha. I'll take this as a reminder to know all the league rules and use them to your advantage. It's been quite a while since I've played in a league where IP was unrestricted.

That being the case, and with the weekly moves you mention below, filling this spot on a rotating basis with 2-start SPs could be the way to go.
As JoshC77 mentions below, the innings cap is the thing here. Tout Wars doesn't have an innings cap, which means makes the relievers much less valuable. I actually wrote a little about this last year:

"That is, what you essentially must do is maximize your W/IP. Because if everyone reaches 1,250 IP and can't accumulate any more, everyone's win total is going to be equal to 1,250 x team W/IP. So if Cliff Lee posts an 0.75 W/IP (15 wins in 200 IP) and you're able to put together a collection of four relievers who post an 0.8 W/IP (4 W in 50 IP each), they are effectively worth the same."

The Yahoo! Friends & Family mixed league that I play in uses an innings cap, but Tout Wars does not.
Intriguing option here. Care must be taken though in how one utilizes this slot. If I remember the rules correctly, this is a roto format. As such, using the wrong player can hurt you in the categories other the ones you are trying bolster (i.e. rate stats). I think what this comes down to is your overall strategy. If you prefer a balanced approach, you use the player that helps with weaknesses. If you go heavy in one direction, then use that player to further bolster those areas. However, I think the best approach is a flexible one until you get a sense of how your competitors will play it. Taking a week-by-week approach to fill games played shortcomings due to scheduling may be advantageous.

One final thought...the nice thing about this rule is that it allows you the luxury of taking the best available player at a position in which you already have your nominal starter. Let's say you are set in the OF, but a really juicy OF is going for cheap. You normally wouldn't bid on a guy you have no regular spot for, but with this rule, you have that extra slot. Now you can bid on him and possibly get a bargain (or drive up the price for the guy who still NEEDS that OF).
I would add to offense. Only one offensive category is a rate stat while there are two such pitching categories.

We draft offense to accrue counting stats. We manage our pitching staffs. Just my two cents.
I agree, Andrew - compile the counting stats from the beginning of the season, and down the road if you need SAVEs or SBs you can adjust by making a trade or dropping an underperforming player for someone who can help you in a category you're lacking. Leagues with Utility spots see this all the time; the only exception is if the Draft/Auction leaves a stud on the table and you can scoop up a bargain into your Swingman/Utility opening.
Yes, definitely something I'm considering. I'm probably overreacting to bad luck, but I've found Wins impossible to catch up in once you fall behind, and if others are using a pitcher in the Swingman spot, strikeouts may become harder as well. It creates a very interesting dynamic for sure.
Derek, do teams have a reserve roster in TW?...and are rosters adjustable daily or weekly?
Yes, each team gets a four-man reserve. Rosters are adjustable weekly with some very limited daily move exceptions (like being able to replace injured active players with someone from your bench).
With a weekly lineup in mind, I like the idea of using a roster spot on an elite setup man, and using a bench spot as a revolving door for two start pitchers. If a particular two start pitcher looks appealing, add them, slot them in, and run the risk of ratio damage for the potential wins. If there aren't any two start pitchers that tickle your fancy, slot your ace reliever in and hope for solid work that week. The hope being that the reliever ratios offset the bad from a few dud starts you'll undoubtedly get from waiver arms, but you'll still be competitive in wins. Not a fool proof strategy, but if you toss in the extra money you'll have to spend elsewhere, one I'd probably lean toward.
Question: My 11-team (about to be 10 sadly) NL-only 5x5 league uses the utility slot as a swingman, basically giving a team the option to use 10 pitchers.

After reading this, it sounds as if that is unusual. If we turned our 5th OF into a swingman, it would give us two swingmen. And that doesn't sound like what's going on in Tour Wars.

We've been doing this with the utility lot as long as I've been in the league and I love it because it does allow you to play the numbers. For the most part, the guys in the league stick with 9 pitchers and only go with 10 if they're in a roster pinch. But a couple of the more savvy owners have learned how to use it to stockpile pitching counting stats.

Anything that allows for more strategy is a good thing.
Interesting. A swingman position is definitely not the norm, so it's interesting to hear that you've been using it for a while.

Why do you sadly moving to 10-teams? Because of the Astros?
sounds interesting, though I'm sure it will be at least a couple of seasons before the major sites that host leagues to incorporate it.
Util/P spots have been common for decades. Here's the original Rotisserie Ultra league's Constitution, where it was set up that positions include a utility-guy "who may play any position including pitcher" plus nine pitchers.

My league NL-only 4x4 in Atlanta has had those rules since longer than I've been a member. It was founded in 1993 and I joined in 2002.

I normally use it for a two-start pitcher on my bench or the next best hitter, if no two-start pitchers are available.

CBS Sportsline allows for this as long as your Commissioner sets it up. You basically set up the league with 0-1 Util hitters spots and 9-10 pitcher spots, with a cap of 23 (or whatever your league uses) active roster slots.
Yes, this isn't to say that this is a brand new rule that's never been done before, but it's to say that in the vast, vast majority of leagues (probably 98-99%), a swingman is not used. I don't believe Yahoo! or ESPN--which hold the majority of the market--even offer it as an option. And no expert league has ever used it before, to the best of my knowledge.
and now Tout has removed the swingman from Mixed so you can relax there DC!

My long term keeper league has 3 util (1 HAS to be a hitter) 30 man total roster with 5 reserves, been doing in forever!
This makes it hard to us the PFM!...and on that topic, would you have any suggestions on the best lineup to enter in the PFM (especially since it is near impossible to win without streaming pitchers!).
I usually set it at 11 Pitchers and pray the numbers come out well!
But now Derek has been moved to the NL league so he still has to worry about it :)
Thank you for pointing this out. There's a non-zero chance I would have completely forgot about this and showed up to the draft completely flabbergasted.