Is this the Real Life? Is this just Fantasy Baseball 101?

Intro to Fantasy Baseball 101

Congratulations!  If you’re reading this, you have officially come to the conclusion that you are more than just the casual fantasy baseball fan, and that you’re ready to prove that you are the second coming of Joe Torre.  Ok fine, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but you are taking your first steps into the exciting world of fantasy baseball!

At its core, fantasy baseball is a way for you to become more than just a fan.  It lets you put your baseball expertise to use, giving you the opportunity to claim some serious bragging rights over your friends (and maybe a nice payday as well).  We are all here because we love the beautiful game that is baseball, and playing fantasy baseball helps you feel even more engaged with the teams, players, and games that we watch on TV and follow in the news.  With how analytical the baseball community is (thank you to our hero Bill James), fantasy baseball provides an experience unlike anything the other fantasy sports can offer.

Many of you are probably already familiar with fantasy baseball, and that’s great.  If that’s the case, you may want to skip over the next few sections and wait for the next post, as this will just be the introductory blog in our series of posts highlighting different types of strategies and concepts that will help fantasy baseball players gain an edge on their competition, from the beginner all the way up to the expert.  But for those of you who are just getting introduced to the incredible competition known as fantasy baseball, continue reading as we break down the basics that you need to know.

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We will focus this blog on understanding the different leagues you can play in, as that will have a huge impact on your overall fantasy baseball experience.  While each has its own unique rules and charm, the settings of your league also create opportunities for you to take advantage of and dominate the rest of your league.  The three most common distinctions that fantasy baseball leagues can have are:

Roto vs. Points Leagues

The biggest difference between different types of leagues is whether you’re playing in a Roto league (short for rotisserie), or a Points league. Technically, there are also head-to-head categories leagues, but those are similar enough to Roto leagues that we’re not going to break them out as a separate section. But generally in Roto leagues, there are no weekly matchups, it’s just season-long best team across the categories, whereas in head-to-head (H2H) categories leagues you have weekly matchups and get wins based on who won more categories, you or your opponent. But overall extremely similar scoring systems.

Let’s start with the more simple of the two, the Points league.  In this league format, you are matched up against another opponent to determine who wins or loses that matchup.  The winner of the matchup is decided by who scores the most points during the designated matchup period (typically a week), with points being awarded on both the pitching side (Wins, Strikeouts, Innings Pitched, etc.), as well as the hitting side (Runs, Hits, Stolen Bases, etc.).  Whoever has the most points at the end of the matchup is awarded a win, and standings are updated to reflect each team’s wins and losses.  These standings can then determine the champion by who has the best record at the end of the season (much like the Premier League) or help determine playoff seeding (much like the knockouts of the Champions League).  Points leagues are definitely the recommended format for beginners and make for some great trash-talking opportunities as you get to play directly against a new opponent each week.  We recommend including playoffs to make for some really exciting end-of-season entertainment!

In a Roto league, each fantasy team in your league is ranked from first to last in a number of statistical categories which include both hitting (AVG, HR, R, RBI, SB, etc.) and pitching (W, ERA, K, SV, WHIP, etc.).  Your players’ stats are recorded over the full fantasy season, accumulating points in each of the respective categories.  You then receive a certain number of points based on where you finish in each category relative to the other teams in your league, and the team that accumulates the most points across all of the categories wins the league.  There are no matchups, as this league solely relies on recording your team’s stats.  Although Roto doesn’t provide the same head-to-head matchup thrill as the Points leagues, this format is typically thought of as the better league for those more analytically inclined (aka the true baseball nerds) as there just tends to be more strategy involved in team construction.  We would not recommend this league format for first-time fantasy baseball players.

Re-Draft vs. Dynasty

This distinction has to do with how teams are constructed and drafted each year, and you can use either of these formats with a Points or Roto league.

A Re-Draft league refers to the fact that teams are “re-drafted” by league participants each year.  There is a fantasy draft before the start of the baseball season, in which each participant drafts an entirely new team for the upcoming year.  The great part about this format is that the draft is a really enjoyable experience, especially if you can get together with a few friends and have a couple of beers while drafting.  This also provides a bit of safety for beginners, as you draft a completely new team each year, so one bad draft won’t set you back for longer than a season.  This format does require you to do a bit more prep work leading up to the draft.

In a Dynasty league, each team keeps the same (or largely the same) roster each season, with roster changes pretty much only being made through trades or free agency.  There may be a small draft at the start of each season in which you draft some upcoming prospects, but teams look pretty similar each season.  Managing a dynasty league team is a bit like managing a real MLB club in that you must also think about the future and how to value prospects, deciding if your team is in “win-now” mode, or if you want to spend some time rebuilding.  This format is recommended for the slightly more seasoned fantasy baseball players that have a good group of guys who are all in it for the long haul.

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Waiver Wire vs. FAAB

This last distinction between leagues we will cover helps address how free agency is decided and can be used with any of the aforementioned league formats.

A Waiver Wire league tends to be the default league setting, as it is the simplest way to handle free agents.  In this format, teams submit their request for free agents ahead of the waiver wire deadline for that matchup (usually weekly by Sunday nights), with the team’s priority in the waiver wire deciding who gets a player.  Your spot in the waiver wire priority is typically determined by where you are in the league, along with how many recent moves you have made.  This is typically the format used by beginners, as it is designed to give teams that are struggling an easy way to improve their team throughout the season.

In a FAAB league (abbreviation for Free-Agent Acquisition Budget), each team starts out with a pre-determined budget of money that can be spent on acquiring free agents over the course of the year.  This is not real money that the player has to put in, and this budget is tracked through the respective fantasy site.  Each league will have a set # of days in which you can add players (again usually once a week on Sunday nights), and teams can “bid” any amount of the FAAB money they have left on a player that is a free agent.  This is a blind bid as you cannot see anyone else’s bid until after the waiver period is processed. We love this method as it adds an extra element of strategy to the league, with players needing to decide how to ration their FAAB budget. This is also a more equitable way to acquire free agents, giving everyone the same resources to acquire free agents and the same opportunity to bid on who they want. This also allows you to have a much better chance of ensuring you get the players you want, as you can increase your bid based on how much you want that player. There is a ton of strategy involved with this format, and it’s something we will cover in future blogs.

While these are the 3 main ways to alter the settings of your fantasy league, the possibilities to tweak your settings are endless. You can change settings by adjusting the size and composition of rosters, how scoring/categories are decided, and just about every other thing you can think of. Now that we have covered the basics, we can dive into some more exciting strategies and concepts in our next blog. 

Fantasy expert, Adam Gruttadaro, is a guest contributor for Bat Flips and Nerds. Check out his website for more fantasy tips and follow him on Twitter.

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