Image credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

If you want to start a fantasy baseball Twitter argument, I have two words for you: slow draft. 

The slow draft has become increasingly popular in recent years, and not without reason. Anyone who has ever tried to organize a draft knows the pain of trying to find a time when everyone is available. That can be challenging enough if you’re trying to meet three or four friends. Most leagues are in the double-digits and frequently spread across the country, if not the world. 

Moving to a slow draft fixes all that. No more forcing 15 people to be available for four consecutive hours on an April evening. As a player from the UK, I was a constant obstacle to scheduling draft times. That becomes considerably less complicated for the commissioner with a slow draft, and requires less (albeit not zero) autodrafting on my part.

There’s a problem with slow drafts too, though: no one can agree on how slowly people should actually draft. Oh, and there’s a time limit. It’s four hours in TGFBI, for instance. Use all of that four hours every time, however, and you are going to hear about it. Run down a 30-second clock in a regular draft and people aren’t complaining. You probably gave them 25 extra seconds to think about their own pick, and chances are you ran out of time because you didn’t know who to pick and panicked. 

Four hours is a long time for people to wait, though. So is two. Frankly, if you’re in the draft room, waiting to pick, ten minutes might feel like a long time. No one is breaking any rules by using up their whole clock, but it also isn’t going to win you any goodwill from most of the draft room. Auto-pick is always an option, but trust me as someone speaking from extensive experience when I say it is rarely the optimal way to draft a team, especially the further removed from your pick you are. I do my best to put it on overnight to stop people from waiting, but I try to strike the balance between that and making the right pick for my team.

Why do the waits bother people so much? Why do I even care about not making people wait when I’m asleep? Shouldn’t everyone chill out and take the sage advice of erstwhile BP writer Jon Hegglund? If we can’t do that, why are we participating in slow drafts at all? The regular draft option is still prevalent, after all. 

There’s a lack of choice to some of this. If you want to take part in a league like TGFBI or RazzSlam, it’s not like you can go out and find a fast-drafting way to enter those formats. There’s bound to be a contingent in some of these leagues who would never otherwise participate in a slow draft but their desire to take part in the formats overwhelms their aversion to the draft style.

For those who like the flexibility of slow drafts, there is an an element of hypocrisy, too. We want the option to take slightly longer with a pick if we need it, but we don’t want people to use all of their allocated time, especially if they do it over and over again. Everyone’s life is different, and the disadvantage of the slow draft is you never actually know when you’re going to be on the clock. 

I have been in many situations where I have been free to pick for several hours but nothing moves and then as soon as I am unable to get online — because I’m driving, for instance — the draft suddenly speeds up to my pick. If you’re going to take advantage of the flexibility sometimes, then you can’t get mad because someone else needs it a bit more than you. That’s what it’s for.

Maybe it’s the simple element of not wanting to wait around. Being ready to make your pick and not being able to make it can be frustrating. Sometimes you don’t know what your pick will be, but you want it to get to your pick, so that you can complete the action that we all came to do when we entered the draft: Evaluate the available choices, determine the best fit for your team, and click the draft button. 

I also think there’s more going on here, however. This — I’ll borrow Jon’s words — “dumb fake game” is a distraction. Long-time Effectively Wild listeners will be familiar with former Baseball Prospectus editor-in-chief Sam Miller’s monologue about the point of baseball itself: that it is a way to make us forget about “this horrible, rotten slog to rigor mortis.” You can apply your own, less morbid spin on that take as you see fit, but the truth remains. People are drafting and playing fantasy baseball because they want something to do, perhaps to distract themselves from the awful, real things that are happening in the world, or the far lower-stakes issue of a total lack of actual major-league baseball. Waiting as the clock ticks down on someone else’s pick does not qualify as an enjoyable distraction. Perhaps those complaining should be glad they have such a trivial problem to complain about, though. 

The fact that the status of the season is so uncertain also suggests that we should care even less about people who are sluggish in making their picks right now, because who knows when we’re even going to get a season? I see the logic behind that, but I think it ignores the role of the draft as a distraction. It ignores the role of the draft as the game itself. In some formats it’s most, if not all, of the active involvement, such as best ball leagues. Even in more typical daily or weekly lineup formats, the draft is a major event. People put lots of effort into preparing for drafts, and plenty more into carefully selecting their picks. 

Saying “who cares, the season is delayed” is thus tantamount to saying “why play the game?” Again, that might be a reasonable question, especially if more and more games get cancelled, but it’s not a helpful one. It’s not what people who have come to draft some fantasy teams for a distraction want to think about. You can question the point of fantasy baseball as an activity, but that mindset embraces a nihilistic approach that extends far beyond whether people should care about drafting fake baseball teams. 

This speaks to a conflict between the varying levels of interest, or perhaps more importantly, the perception of varying levels of interest that fantasy players may have. I have written before about the importance of continuing to compete in your league, even if you’re out of it. I believe that, to some fantasy enthusiasts, there’s something jarring, or even offensive, about being confronted with managers who don’t appear to be nearly as invested in the game as they are. It’s almost inconceivable that they might have something better or more important to do at a given moment or, God forbid, not really feel like going on their computer or phone at that particular moment in time. 

Sometimes, it can be accurate to say that others genuinely don’t care that much, or are even trolling league-mates by winding down the clock on their picks because they know others do care.  There are people who genuinely shouldn’t have signed up to some of these leagues. I have seen draft room behavior that seems designed to rile people up: managers repeatedly letting the clock run down to zero, taking themselves off auto-pick, and then doing it again. I Generally, I give the benefit of the doubt in these situations, but there are few things more frustrating in a slow draft than repeatedly seeing the little online indicator blink to show when someone is on the clock, watch them hang around for 5-10 minutes, and then log off to let the timer run down to zero. 

So I get it. A lot of the complaints in tedious slow draft situations come from a justifiable place, and those who repeatedly let their clock time out are abusing the nature of the format. That said, there are definitely some people who take it too far on the other end of the spectrum, too, treating slow drafts like they’re normal drafts, competing to have the lowest average pick time and getting mad when others take even 20 minutes to make their selection. 

I think I’m attempting fantasy baseball etiquette when I’m trying not to make people wait too long. I’m aware of the particular and sharp desire to draft and all the points of contention in moving slowly. Perhaps I should care less about other people and focus more on my own teams. But this is supposed to be fun, and I don’t mind putting myself on auto-pick if it means a bunch of people across the Atlantic get to make a couple of picks of their own in the evening instead of sitting around for four hours waiting for my clock to run down first. 

Jon’s right, of course. It’s great if you can keep the draft moving, whether it’s jumping online to make your pick right away or setting up your queue and turning on auto draft. It’s not possible for everyone, though, and you shouldn’t expect other people to make their team worse, whether by making a hasty pick or going on auto without time to prepare a queue, just so you get to pick sooner. Value the rules and other people’s lives. And, hey, if you’re that desperate to make a pick, it’s really easy to join another draft. 

Thank you for reading

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