Fantasy 101: Introduction to Fantasy Baseball

Want to start playing fantasy baseball but don't know how? Here's the introduction to our Fantasy 101 series, which will go over how to get started with fantasy baseball.

So you’re interested in playing fantasy baseball. That’s awesome! We want to make sure you are geared up with everything you need to know. The team here at Pitcher List is always looking to help grow the fantasy baseball community, and that’s what this Fantasy 101 series is going to be all about. We’ll be diving into all sorts of fantasy baseball related topics, from the basic of basics to the more advanced stuff like creating your own projections and how to start your own dynasty league. We want to help you become a master of fantasy baseball. In this article, we’ll talk about the ins and outs of fantasy baseball: what it is, how it’s played, and all the different types of leagues and options. Let’s get fundamental.


So What Is Fantasy Baseball?


Fantasy baseball is a game where owners (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. There are two types of fantasy baseball: season-long and daily fantasy sports (more commonly referred to as DFS). The DFS format is a rapidly growing segment of the fantasy market; DFS has it’s own section at Pitcher List and has its own series of articles, whereas we’ll be focusing on season-long.


How Do I Play Fantasy Baseball?


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

Scoring Settings


At it’s core, these determine how your team is scored against the other owners. There are two main styles, Rotisserie and Head to Head (H2H). The primary differences between these two are how scoring is done throughout the season, and how the league winner is determined.

  • 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. Typically, there are five hitting categories (R, HR, RBI, SB, and AVG) and five pitching categories (W, SV, K, ERA, and WHIP), which has lead to the colloquialism “5×5” for this format. How it works in roto for example, is 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.
    • One win or wins for each category? In H2H, you can decide whether to award one win per week, where the team with the most categories won gets 1 win, and their opponent gets 1 loss. You could decide instead to award a win for each category won, so in a typical 5×5 scoring setting, there will be up to 10 wins awarded each week. If one team wins takes all 10 categories, they will end the week with a 10-0 record while their opponent ends with an 0-10 record. If it’s a much closer matchup, with the categories split a little more evenly, the winning team could end up with, say, a 5-4-1 (one tied category) record while their opponent ends with a 4-5-1 record. Over the course of a full season, this will make a big difference in how the standings wind up.
    • When to schedule your playoffs? Many sites offer customizable playoffs, so it’s up to you how you want your championship to play out. The most common set-up is one week per playoff round, with the championship taking place in the penultimate week of the regular season. But that’s just one way of doing it. Many leagues finish their playoffs even earlier, as September is a very unpredictable time of year when teams play their minor leaguers or give their regular players more rest. Some leagues make their championships two weeks long, others make every playoff round two weeks long. It’s entirely up to you and your league-mates how you want to set this up.

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 with 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 30 teams and 40 players per team, which is a staggering 1200 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, whereas others prefer the shallower formats.

Draft Style


There are two types of drafts , snake drafts and auction drafts.

  • Snake drafts are just like how it used to be playing a pickup game at the park, when team captains were taking turns 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.
  • Auction drafts are exactly what they sound 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. Not only is there more strategy when it comes to roster construction, but there’s also strategy involved in how to nominate players and how to bid. They also take much longer than a snake draft. I highly recommend playing at least one season with a snake draft before making the (very fun and worthwhile) plunge 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 no wrong answers here, as long as everyone is in agreement before the draft. The important thing is you know what settings your league uses before you start your draft. 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. These options will covered in more depth in future articles.


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


How often you set your lineup will depend on your league settings. Some leagues have daily lineup settings, where you can set your lineups however you like each day. Some people choose to set their lineups a few days in advance, but you can make changes up until the time games start. Other leagues have weekly lineup settings, where lineups have to be set on Monday before any games start. This will lock in your lineup for the whole week, so you can’t change it if a player gets injured early in the week or gets benched, or for any reason really. It is less time consuming, and so it is popular for that reason, but I personally prefer the flexibility of daily lineups. To each their own.

Your lineup will consist of two sections, a hitters section, and a pitchers section. Each section will have active positions, where the players accumulate stats, and bench positions, where players can be kept but do not accumulate stats during the time they are on the bench. 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. Each different fantasy website, discussed below, has different settings for how a player earns eligibility at new positions. You will also have IL spots, which are only for players who have gone to the Injured List. This way, if you lose Mike Trout to a thumb injury, you can place him on your IL and pick up a new player to replace him without having to drop any player to make room. IL 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 New 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 Players


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, CBS, or Fantrax. These aren’t the only sites that host fantasy baseball leagues, but they are certainly the most popular. If you are craving more information, we’ll have plenty more Fantasy 101 content coming soon, as we will get more in-depth into each and every aspect of fantasy baseball to help you crush all your league opponents! Don’t forget to continue to come to Pitcher List for player analysis, guidance, and advice. Happy fantasy baseballing!


Featured Image by Justin Paradis (@FreshMeatComm on Twitter)

Myles Nelson

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

5 responses to “Fantasy 101: Introduction to Fantasy Baseball”

  1. T says:

    Does roto necessarily mean categories, or would you also call a non-H2H points league roto?

    • Myles Nelson says:

      Roto does mean categories, because the standings are still determined by how well you do in each category. Non-H2H points I would just call a points league, as opposed to a H2H points league.

  2. Dusty says:

    I can tell you all you need to know about fantasy baseball. Ready? It’s this simple: get Wander Javier on your team and you will win.

  3. Andrea says:

    What are the different drafting strategies for H2H and roto?

    • Myles Nelson says:

      That’s a great question, and one we should definitely tackle in a future Fantasy 101 article. I will say a few of the basic differences in drafting between the two:

      1. It’s easier to punt categories in H2H than roto. In H2H, to be the winner of any given week, you just need to win more categories than your opponent, so you can afford to completely abandon one (or two if you’re willing to take that risk) to focus on dominating the other categories. In roto, you win by adding up where you rank in all the categories, and it can be difficult to win your league when you have a low score in a category. So my roto teams are always more well-rounded than my H2H teams.

      2. Roto leagues typically have an IP maximum so you can’t just brute force the counting categories. Each league may set their IP maximums differently, so look closely at that, but every league I’ve been in it has been pretty easy to hit that maximum. So my approach for pitching in roto has always been quality over quantity, I try to draft elite starting pitching early, and then look to bolster my rotation with pitchers who will have good ratios (either boring starting pitchers like Kyle Hendricks, or solid middle relievers who rack up the Ks). In H2H, there’s usually no IP maximum, so you can stream to your heart’s content, and since the categories start back over at 0 every week, there’s no lasting downside to having a pitcher get blown up.

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