from Ron Shandler

During the down time afforded us during the COVID-19 pandemic, members of the XFL and Tout Wars leagues have been participating in a series of weekly Retro-Drafts of previous seasons. 

In normal fantasy drafting, success depends upon three things: accurate player projections, accurate valuations and optimal roster construction. In retro-drafting, the variable of projective accuracy is removed, which one might think provides a huge advantage. However, in some ways, succeeding at these contests has proven to be an even greater challenge than normal. 

Why retro-draft? I discuss it in this article at ESPN.com - "The Year Rickey Henderson Stole Too Many Bases" - that I wrote after the 1982 draft. The four major benefits (excerpted): 

1. We get to draft with something at stake. Unlike mock drafts, retro-drafts are competitions with a real winner at the end.

2. We get to hone our skills in roster construction. Does the talent pool have certain strengths and weaknesses? Are there scarcities in some categories? Are there sharp drop-offs in the rankings at some positions? Are there statistical excesses that shift the supply and demand equation? Every season has different answers to these questions, and in the case of seasons from long ago, the variances from what we're used to today can be dramatic.

3. We all love immediate gratification. The great thing about a retro draft is that you can crown a winner at the end of the draft. That's even better than DFS!

4. We get to keep talking baseball. If you run the draft in tandem with a Zoom meeting (as we do), the side conversations are half the fun. And if you pick a past year from your youth, get ready to share memories of favorite players, baseball cards and Strat-O-Matic! 

These retro-drafts have also become fascinating laboratories for analysis on roster construction. Several of the participants have written about them or discussed on podcasts. Todd Zola recently posted "A Case Study in Roster Construction" on Rotowire (subscription) and there have been some fascinating threads at pattonandco.com, like this one. 

Here are the final results from the XFL-Tout Retro-Drafts (names noted are the contest winners):

April 20, 2020: 1982 - Jeff Erickson

May 4, 2020: 1990 - Doug Dennis

May 13, 2020: 1999-1 - Fred Zinkie

May 20, 2020: 1999-2 - Jeff Winick

May 27, 2020: 1986 - Scott Pianowski

June 3, 2020: 2016 - Justin Mason

June 10, 2020: 1978 - Jeff Erickson

June 17, 2020: 1947 - Nicklaus Gaut (PitcherList.com)

June 24, 2020: 2007 - Doug Dennis

July 1, 2020: 1994 

The Google doc model used in these drafts provides real-time standings updates. It is available from Todd Zola at todd@mastersball.com.


If you're interested in a more robust retro-drafting experience:
RetrotisserieBaseball.com | Facebook page

Jason Stubbs runs it. He wrote me: "Back in 2008, I formed Retrotisserie Baseball, a keeper retro league that began with the 1962 MLB season. My game has a couple of different twists to a one-season league. You can choose players and stats from three consecutive baseball seasons, not all of a team's players are used for scoring at the end of the draft, and the scoring roster is built up in several phases.

The structure is a standard 5x5 roto league. There is a pool of available players from 3 consecutive Major League Baseball seasons that teams can choose from. In the case of the 1962 league that started it all off, players/stats/positions from 1962-1964 were available. Once a player is drafted from that pool, no other team can take him, even though he may have played in each of those seasons. Teams draft 25 players in total, of which 22 are used for scoring purposes at the end of the league season.

There are several game mechanics that keep the winner from being determined automatically and allow each manager to make strategic decisions that will affect the outcome. First, while the player may have played in all three baseball seasons, the manager gets to pick which season to use. For example, Mike Trout hit .287/36/111 with 16 SBs in 2014 and .323/27/97 in 2013 with 33 SBs. If he's on your team, you get to decide at the end of the season which set of stats is more important for your team's chances. Maybe you need his extra home runs and RBIs in 2014, or maybe the SBs and much higher average in 2013 are worth more.

Second, not all the players on your team are used in scoring. Three of the players that you draft end up sitting on your bench at the end of the season, and their stats are not included in your team's overall stats. You pick which players to use, and it will depend on what stats you need most, and the makeup of the other teams.

Third, although there are certain standard positional requirements each team must have (as in traditional roto), there is one wildcard player who may be either a pitcher or a hitter. You get to decide whether the extra pitcher or the extra hitter will be more important to your team's chances.

Last, players are submitted to the scoring roster in four phases. The first phase has 10 players, and the other three phases each have 4 players. The submissions are done in secret, and the results of each phase are revealed only after all managers have made their submissions. This approach allows you to see what strategy the other managers are using, and allows you to make adjustments to which players and seasons you use during later phases. For example, if you choose Trout's 2014 year in an early phase, maybe another manager sees an opportunity to load up on batting average and stolen bases in a later phase.

After the season is done, you select 9 players to keep for use in the next season. The earliest MLB year is rotated off, and another year is added, so you always have 3 consecutive MLB seasons forming the player pool."