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MLS Fantasy: The Problem of Massive Bye Weeks

Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

One of the big problems Fantasy Managers are going to have to deal with for the rest of the season are large bye weeks. We just had our first one, and judging by the scores it was brutal for almost all players. Scores were depressed by the combination of large hits, early subs, and of course the undisclosed injury (Hi Stevie G!).  It didn’t help that outside of Pontius and Villa the main fantasy targets did poorly: Sapong, Plata, Javier Morales, Mike Magee, and Giovanni Dos Santos all posted scores of 2. One of the six matches was played in a lake. It’s so suboptimal I’m surprised this week wasn’t sponsored by Guinness.

This week may be a bit of an outlier, complicated by the large amount of international call-ups and the two week break that may have enticed managers to sit players nursing knocks that would have played otherwise. However, it won’t be the last huge bye week. GW 18 will feature 8 teams on bye as will weeks 25 and 27. In weeks 25-27, fourteen of the league’s twenty teams will be taking a break. GW 32 features only 6 teams playing (2 of which on a DGW, which is bizarre).

This is all the more confusing by how unnatural some of these bye weeks are. All matches GW 18 and 25 are on a single day in the middle of the week, but there are games on both the weekend before and the weekend after. For instance, GW 17 covers the games from July 8th to July 10th. July 13th's midweek matches make up GW18, and July 15th kicks off GW 19. A similar week, GW 10, featured five midweek matches which were part of a massive double game week instead of its own separate gameweek.

The game’s solution to the increase in these massive bye weeks has been two-fold. First, the game gave us an additional free wildcard to use at any time between weeks 18-34. Second, the game gave us two weeks of game-wide unlimited transfers in GWs 19 and 33. Those weeks are after the large bye weeks of 18 and 32, presumably to allow players to return to a more varied lineup. I’m not sure why 18 and 32 merited these subsequent unlimited transfers while the bye weeks of 13, 25, and 27 didn’t.

In some sense, this isn't a problem. Every manager has access to the schedule and can plan around these byes and everyone faces the same obstacles. A manager who does poorly during these weeks compared to other managers has to blame himself or herself first.

That said, these massive bye weeks do present a much different challenge than a massive DGW. For starters, the cost of not having a "participating" player is steeper in a bye week than a DGW. On average, a DGW player can be expected to score about 1.5 more then a single game week player (or if you will, a ratio of 1:1.5).  In contrast, a player on a bye compared to a player participating is a 0:1 ratio. Obviously, the player on a bye will be locked into scoring 0 points, while a player playing can be assumed to score about his average.

Let's use an example with Diego Valeri and Sacha Kljestan. Diego scores 7.8 points per game while Sacha scores 7.1. let's say Valeri has a DGW and Sacha is on a single game week. Valeri would be expected to score about 11.7 while Sacha would be expected to score 7.1. Taking a -4 hit to bring in Valeri would wipe out most of the additional points Valeri would get by having a DGW (7.7 to 7.1), making the decision a much closer one that would depend a lot on form, opponent, and home or away. Now say Valeri plays but Sacha doesn't. Valeri would be expected to score 7.8 while Sacha would be expected to score 0, making a hit for 7.8 a virtual no-brainer as the expected points profit would be 3.8.

The penalty for having a player on bye means that the smart fantasy manager HAS to plan around the bye weeks or suffer the consequences in way that managers who avoid DGWs don't. to put it simply: a SGW player can possibly outscore a DGW player, but there's no way a player on bye can outscore a player who's playing (outside of a red card resulting in a negative score, of course).

The result of this is a lot of almost identical fantasy teams at the very top when a bye week approaches. A large number of players become simply untouchable for a few weeks before their byes while the top players on the few teams that are playing become must-haves. For example,I can guarantee in weeks 25-27 the six teams who won't have a bye will dominate the spine of almost every fantasy team. Do you want players from teams other than Chicago, Columbus, DC, Los Angeles, New England, or Philly? You can have 4 once Gameweek 25 locks, otherwise you have to take hits to avoid the byes before GW 27 (2 transfers for 26 and another 2 transfers for GW 27). That's 7 players from only 6 teams, and that's with the designation of "team" being generously bestowed upon the 2016 Chicago Fire.

So unless there's an unlimited wildcard, for a few weeks before and a few weeks after, you see teams with largely the same players as managers prepare for the bye week and then two transfers at a time shed the players they'd only brought in because the player didn't have a bye. I refer to this as "bottlenecking" as all the squads get narrowed into the few lanes provided by the few teams that aren't on byes.

I think the game would be a lot more interesting if MLS Fantasy instead merged these massive bye weeks into other weeks to create DGWs. This is exactly what they did with MLS game week 4 and 5, which they made one game week in MLS Fantasy.  I favor this solution because the decisions on getting DGW players over SGW players are a lot closer and so require managers to take more things into account; this allows for more opportunity for managers who spend time doing research to maximize points. I also think the less harsh penalty of having a SGW over a player on bye will help more casual players maintain interest for the simple reason that "0"s are much more discouraging.

Having a massive DGW isn't the only possible solution though. The game could allow additional free transfers for weeks involving many teams on bye. I think that would alleviate the problem somewhat but not completely. You would still have some bottlenecking as managers would still have to pare down their teams to only the non-bye week players, but only less so. Another alternative is to make both the week of the massive bye week and the week after unlimited transfers weeks. That would eliminate the need to pare down your team before the massive bye week and also eliminate the nearly identical teams coming out of the bye week. While that eliminates the problems associated with massive bye weeks, I think it's too easy: there needs to be a reward for managers who plan out their rosters and transfers to take advantage of weeks coming up and multiplying unlimited transfers weeks doesn't do that.

I think more DGWs is the best way to reward managers who strategize to take advantage of points opportunities while eliminating the bottlenecking inherent to massive bye weeks. What do you think? Is there another solution you'd prefer, or are you fine with the game as it is? Let us know in the comments below! In the meantime, enjoy the Euros and Copa America and may your fantasy players not get injured while on international duty! (Thanks for nothing, Brazil).