Fantasy 101: Intro to Fantasy Baseball

The first course in the Fantasy 101 series. We go over the basics of what fantasy baseball is and how to get started.

So you want to play fantasy baseball, great decision! Best decision you’ve made all day, I’d say. But how on Earth do you get started? What are the different kinds of leagues, how big of a league should you join, and what the hell is a FAAB? Some kind of a banking union? Well, worry no more. The team here at Pitcher List is launching a Fantasy 101 series for you all, ranging from the basics of getting started all the way up to advanced tips in the final weeks of the season. You’ll get a wide variety of information from all the “professors” here throughout the season. Sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself. You know what they say, the journey of a thousand steps begins with admitting you have a problem. Or something like that. Let’s just get started, shall we?

So what is fantasy baseball?

Fantasy baseball is a game where managers (that’s you) put together teams of MLB players, who accumulate stats in their real game which translate directly to your team. You compete against other owners in your league to score the most points and be the best team.

What are the different kinds of fantasy baseball leagues?

There are actually a number of things that differentiate each league, but the main differences boil down to scoring settings, league size, and draft style.

Scoring Settings – There are two main styles, Rotisserie and Head to Head (H2H). Rotisserie, also known as roto, is a season-long competition against all the other teams in the league. Throughout the season you accumulate stats, and at the end of the season each team receives points based on how they finished in a particular category. For example, if your team had the least amount of home runs out of every team in the league, you would receive 1 point in that category. If you had the 2nd least, you would receive 2 points. The team with the most total points across the board finishes in first place. Head to head puts you up against a specific opponent each week, and you compete against that opponent only. In head to head, you could be scored based on categories, similar to how rotisserie is scored, or you could be scored based on a point system. In points, each baseball stat is assigned a point value, and your players accumulate points based on how they perform. In categories, you “win” each category by having a better week than your opponent, whether that means more home runs, or a lower ERA, or whatever categories your league is scored on.

League Size – Leagues can vary wildly based on how many teams are in the league, and how many roster spots are on each team. The smaller the league, the easier it is to keep track of all the relevant players. A fairly typical league set up is 12 teams, 23 roster spots per team which equals 276 players rostered. If you play in a smaller league, like an 8 team league with the same roster size, now there are only 184 players rostered, making it easier to keep track of all the relevant players. If you are really confident in your baseball knowledge, feel free to join bigger leagues. I’ve seen leagues that are upwards of 20 teams and 40 players per team, which is a staggering 800 players rostered (these types of leagues have designated roster spots for minor league players). These are completely personal choices, as I know people who swear by the deeper leagues, but I just can’t bring myself to join something like that. It’s all up to you.

Draft Style – There are two types of drafts out there, snake drafts and auction drafts. Snake drafts are just like picking kids on the playground. Each manager has a specific spot in the draft order, and you take turns picking players. The “snake” part of it is to keep the draft as fair as possible; if you get the last pick of the first round, you’ll have the first pick of the second round, and vice versa. This is the standard and easiest way to do a draft, and it is what I would recommend to all beginners. An auction draft is exactly what it sounds like. Rather than each manager taking turns to make picks, every manager will have the ability to get any player they want, as long as they can afford them. Each team will receive the same amount of fake fantasy bucks to auction with (typically $260) and will only have that budget with which to fill their roster by. It’s more difficult to do an auction draft because they take much longer and there is much more freedom in how you put your roster together, so I highly recommend playing at least one season with a snake draft before jumping into auctions.

Other settings – There are a few other settings to take note of. Leagues will vary in roster makeup, some leagues will have two catcher spots per team, or some leagues might have five active outfielders instead of three. There are also different types of leagues in terms of roster turnover year over year. The most common type of league will see each team start fresh every year at the draft and have a completely empty roster to fill. These are called redraft leagues. Some leagues allow for a certain number of players to be kept heading into the draft from last year’s team, called keepers, and in some leagues, every single player will be kept year over year, which are called dynasty leagues.

Okay, so now I know how to get started. What do I need to know during the season?

First of all, this is the most important part of fantasy baseball. Yes, drafting is a ton of fun, but it’s all for nothing if you don’t actively manage your team during the season. Championships aren’t won in March, they are won throughout the season.

Setting Your Lineup – Your lineup will consist of two sections, a hitters section, and a pitchers section. For the hitters section, In a standard league, you’ll have an active spot for each position on the field (C, 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, and 3 OF), as well as one or two “Utility” spots. Players are only able to be put into the active spot that they are eligible for. If you have Mike Trout on your roster, you could put him in the OF slot, or you could put him in the Utility spot, as any player can be placed in the utility spot. Some leagues will have a spot labeled “MI” or “CI.” These refer to middle infielder (2B/SS) and corner infielder (1B/3B) respectively and can be filled by any player eligible at either of those positions. For the pitchers section, you’ll have some combination of SP, RP, and P active slots. SP needs to be filled by a starting pitcher, RP by a relief pitcher, and P is the utility slot where you can place any kind of pitcher you want. You will also have bench spots that can be used for either hitters or pitchers. Players who are on your bench will NOT accumulate stats for you, so make sure you put your best players in your lineup each day. You will also have DL spots, which are only for players who have gone to the disabled list. This way, when you lose your Mike Trout to a thumb injury, you can place him on your DL and pick up a new player to replace him without having to drop any player to make room. DL spots are limited, so you might have to make the choice between keeping an injured player on your bench, or dropping someone to get a replacement player. Speaking of replacement players, let’s talk about how you can acquire new players.

Acquiring Players – There are two types of free agent systems, waivers and FAAB. The waiver system places all unrostered players in the free agent pool, and when a player gets dropped, he is placed on waivers for a few days, usually two. During this time, any team that wants to claim that player may put in a bid, and the team with the highest waiver priority wins the player. If the player clears waivers, meaning he went completely unclaimed during his waiver period, any team may simply pick him up, first come, first serve. In almost all cases, teams will need to drop a player to pick up a new one. The FAAB system stands for Free Agent Acquisition Budget, which means you get a set amount of fake dollars at the start of the year to use throughout the season to pick up players. When you want to pick someone up, you place a blind bid for him, that no one else can see. At the end of the waiver period (some leagues process FAAB bids daily, others less frequently), whichever team has placed the highest bid for that free agent wins the player, and has the winning bid taken from their budget. You don’t get more FAAB throughout the year, so don’t blow all your money in the first month.

Trading The second most fun part of fantasy baseball (in my humble opinion) is trading. Just like in real life, you can trade players with other teams. It’s pretty straightforward, when you and another owner come to an agreement on what players you each want to send and receive, you submit the trade to the league, and after a short processing period, the trade will be reflected on your teams. The processing period gives the other owners in the league to decide if they think the trade should be vetoed or not. Vetoing a trade should only occur if there is suspicion of foul play or some form of collusion. Every league varies on what exactly this means, but just make sure if you decide to vote to veto a trade, you have a very good reason to do so.

Man, that was a lot of information, but I think I have the basics now.

Great! Time for you to get out there and join a league! There are plenty of leagues always looking for new owners, and you can find them on Yahoo!, ESPN, or CBS. These aren’t the only sites that host fantasy baseball leagues, but they are certainly the most popular. Don’t forget to check back for more Fantasy 101 content throughout the year, as we will get more in-depth into each and every aspect of fantasy baseball to help you crush all your league opponents!

Myles Nelson

VP Operations. Creator of the PL Wacky Leagues (Blind Draft, Grand Theft, WorstBall).

One response to “Fantasy 101: Intro to Fantasy Baseball”

  1. John says:

    Great write-up! This is my second year playing and my league (5×5 H2H Cat.) is now doing QS instead of W and SLUG% instead of HR. I’m honestly a little lost and am not sure what to expect. What do you recommend I should be looking for on the wire?

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