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Thursday 25th May 2017

When I stay on point at least, the primary focus of this column is fantasy baseball rules. One of my frequent messages is the importance of anticipating issues and addressing them before they become a problem for your league.

We have all been in the alternative situation at one time or another. Faced with an immediate problem and a need to make a fast decision about which some will be happy and others will be upset – the league commissioner has to make a call. Since no one is completely unbiased and not everyone can win, bad feelings are almost certain to ensue.

Today’s advice is to avoid this by planning ahead in your leagues for the two-way player.

As most fantasy players know, Christian Bethancourt has become the next to serve as both a position player and a pitcher in the same season.

The Padres player is the first such case in MLB since Brooks Kieschnick in 2004, according to USA TODAY. Even then, Kieschnick, who was primarily a reliever, appeared in just three games in the outfield and four more as designated hitter that year. In other words, he did not reach fantasy eligibility as an offensive performer in most leagues.

On the other hand, Bethancourt is a catcher by trade who next took up the outfield and even played a bit of second base in 2016. His games played tally last season was 41 behind the plate, 12 in the outfield and one at second.

Therefore, to date, he qualified only as a catcher in the vast majority of leagues this spring.

The question you should be asking, however, is what to do now that Bethancourt is officially both a hitter and a pitcher?

The options

The spectrum of possibilities could go from the ridiculous to the sublime.

1) Allow the two-way player to accrue stats as both a pitcher and hitter.
2) Allow the two-way player to be shifted from a hitting spot to a pitching spot, whenever the league allows changes to the active lineup.
3) Require the two-way player to be designated as either a hitter or a pitcher for the entire season, but not both.

Let’s take these one at a time.

The realities

Since today’s pitchers are not allowed to accrue stats when they hit, it makes no sense to allow option #1 for any two-way player. End of discussion.

Option #2 is intriguing, but would require the league stats service to support toggling a player between hitter and pitcher - as often as the league allows active roster changes. In most cases, that would be weekly. More on that in a bit.

The third option is realistically where we are today. Since Bethancourt was a catcher coming into this spring, the only hope for expanding his role for fantasy value in 2017 will be if he again appears in the outfield – a reasonable possibility. Pitching is not on the table.

A true swing player

There is actually a fourth option, which could further complicate matters. Some leagues, such as Tout Wars, employ a swing position. Instead of the fifth outfielder in a standard 14 hitter/nine pitcher format, this is basically a utility player who can be either a pitcher or hitter.

The capability to toggle the two-way player back and forth inherent in option #2 would be required here, as well. In an extreme case, it might even be needed during a given week, as Tout rules allow replacing of an injured player the very next day – if an eligible replacement player is already among a team’s reserves.

Practical 2017 implementation

In March, as I prepared for drafts in my industry leagues, I asked several commissioners for their ruling on Bethancourt.

One reply was just what I did not want to see. The official said that the odds of Bethancourt becoming a fantasy factor this season were so low that it did not warrant attention at this time.

As you would expect, I disagreed, urging the league to be forward-thinking on the matter.

Ultimately, that league’s stat provider is putting in their work plan for 2018 to write the code to enable option #4 – the most flexible choice. In the meantime, Bethancourt is a catcher and will not be eligible on the mound in 2017.

Another of my league commissioners initially ruled in favor of #2, but upon checking with his stats provider, learned it could not be implemented in 2017. He was required to back track to the default hitter-only case, as well.

Yet another league’s stat service realized up front that it did not have the technology to implement the change, so proposed creating two different Bethancourts – a hitter and a pitcher – and require leagues to choose between the two for the entire season.

The real reason to get ready

When all was said and done, dealing with Bethancourt coming into 2017 was relatively easy, since he had yet to pitch. This may not be the case in 2018. Next spring, he may qualify as both a hitter and a pitcher, so don’t wait to set your league guidelines. Figure it out now - both what you want to do later as well as determining if your stats provider can give it to you.

Sure, being a two-way player is difficult, as Bethancourt learned when he went unclaimed off outright waivers recently and ended up back in Double-A.

While Bethancourt may never cut it, the MLB arrival of the Babe Ruth of Japan, Shohei Otani, may occur as early as 2018. While few care about the Padres' two-way player, everyone will soon care about the Japanese outfielder/pitcher.

So it is time to become prepared. Start working with your stats provider to ensure they can deliver the capability that you will need - and get it into your constitution.

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 18-year history. He also holds the all-timeNL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter @B_Walton.

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