Fantasy Baseball 101

223176326_269bfdd4c0Choosing the right league makes all the difference in the world to how enjoyable and rewarding fantasy baseball will be for you. Whether your joining an existing league, starting a new one or trying to perfect your current league this guide will try and breakdown the different options available to you.





League Owners:  The backbone of any good league is the collection of owners.  Almost every seasoned fantasy player has stories of horrible leagues where they were swindled, robbed, cheated, mislead, etc.  Finding a league with people you trust is a must.

Leagues with friends are always best. You know and trust your friends and it’s a good way of staying connected with those friends. The trash talking can jump from the league message boards to the bars and deals can be struck at wedding receptions, kids birthday parties or at the ballpark.

Anther popular league is the workplace fantasy league. Nothing better breaks up the stiff professional environment with some water cooler fantasy talk. Be careful when doing leagues with leadership, they’ll know how much time you truly waste at work when you are making three transactions a day between 9 and 5.

Don’t be hesitant to do leagues where you might only know one person. As long as you trust that one person and they vouch for the other owners in the league, go for it. A well-run, competitive fantasy league can be a great way meet new people and build relationships with people that have similar interests…. well at least one.

League Type:  The most common league type is the 5×5 Rotisserie League. This league type is the original fantasy baseball league. It’s still popular most likely due to it’s ease. The basics: Five Offensive categories (Avg, R, HR, RBI, SB) and Five Pitching categories (ERA, W, K, Sv, WHIP) are tracked. The leader in each category will get the max points (if 12 team league, 12 points) while the last place team in each category will get 1 point. The category points are summed up by team and the standings are set with the team withhighest points at the top. If a team were to lead all 10 categories in a 12 team league they would be in first place with 120 points.

The main alternative to the 5×5 Rotisserie league is the Points league. The basics: each team accrues points based on the leagues scoring system for their starters. Most points leagues have a scoring system similar to this:


  • Singles, Walks, SB, R, RBI = 1 point each
  • Doubles = 2 points each
  • Triples = 3 points each
  • Home Runs = 4 points each
  • Strike Outs, Caught Stealing = -1


  • Inning Pitched, Strike Out = 1 point
  • Win = 10 points
  • Save = 5 points
  • Walk, Earned Run = -1
  • Loss, Blown Save = -5

This format obviously provides more flexibility to tailor the league to the owners liking. Different stats can be added worth different values. For example complete games can added worth 2 points, Hit-by-pitch could be worth 1, Hits allowed worth -1, errors worth -1, etc.

Since other categories are factored in, you will need a different strategy in a points league compared to a 5×5. In a 5×5 Ks will not hurt a hitter. Ryan Howard can strike out 250 times but as long as he hits 50 bombs, you’ll be happy. In a points league those -250 points will most certainly cause Howard to be outscored by hitters who hit far less HRs and RBIs. OBP is an attractive stat to seek in a points league. Also, one-dimensional players become less valuable in a points league. A guy like Michael Bourn almost has no value in a points league because his 41 SBs is just 41 points which is more than negated by his 111 Ks to his 37 walks which equals -74.

Another option is the Home Run league which is about as simple as it gets. Chicks love the long ball and a lazy commish should to. Basics: Each player chooses 10 or so players and the player who has the most HRs from his 10 players at the end of the year wins. A common method used in this league to avoid each player picking the same guys is to tier some of the baseball’s top power hitters. Each player then chooses say three guys from Tier A which would include the top 10 HR hitters from the previous season, three guys from tier B which would include the next 10 HR hitters from last year, then three guys from tier C which would be the next 10, then one wild-card hitter that did not appear in any of the tiers. Slight modifications could be made to the number of tiers or number of hitters in each tier, etc. Even the most casual of baseball fans can enjoy a home run league.

Head-to-Head vs Total Season:  The simple way to run the league is to tally the totals for the total season the standings are ordered either by total points in a points league or by category points in a 5×5. This is the most common format for 5×5 leagues.

The most common format for points leagues is the Head-to-Head format. Each week a team players one or more other teams within the league. Most leagues will run their run their weeks from Monday to Sunday. Giving that there are 26 weeks during the baseball season, if a league is set up for one match-up for a week per team, each team will play 26 games. The standings will be based on the won-loss record on those 26 match-ups. Some leagues will add playoffs the last few weeks instead of 26 weeks.

Match-up periods do not always have to be an entire week. Some leagues have two match-ups per week (Mon-Thurs & Fri – Sun).

Auction vs Draft:  A typical fantasy draft is not all that different from the regular major league draft or NFL or NBA draft. Each team has a pick in each round and the number of rounds corresponds to the number of roster spots. If the league is a multi-year league the draft order is sometimes determined based on the previous year’s standings with the last place team getting the first pick in the draft.

The MLB, NBA or NFL draft will be the same order each roundwhich would be extremely unfair in a fantasy league. Therefore most draft leagues will utilize a serpentine draft. The serpentine draft flip flops the order each round. So the team withthe 1st pick in the 1st round will have the last pick in the 2nd round.

Another popular way to change up the draft order is to randomly draw the order of each roundlike you would the draft order of any first round. The serpentine draft is used to give everybody the same value over the course of the draft, while the random draft order each roundis more like playing the lottery each round.

For those fantasy baseball players that just can’t stand getting the 8th pick in a draft when they really want Hanley Ramirez or Albert Pujols on their team, they may be an advocate for an auction league. In an auction, each team has a set dollar amount to bid on players in the auction. The industry standard is a $260 cap for 25 players (2 C, 1B, 2B, SS, 3B, Corner IF, Middle IF, Utility, 5 OFs, 9 P).

Each team takes turns “throwing out” a player with a bid. Every team can then bid a higher price with the team willing to go the highest getting the player. If you are willing to pay, you can get any player you want at the expense of having to look for small dollar bargains at other positions.

Player Pool:  Most leagues will used what is called a “mixed league” player pool meaning that players from both the National League and American League teams can be drafted/auctioned. Depending on how many teams are in the league there will always be an abundance of major league starters available on the waiver wire or free agent pool.

The other option is to go with an AL or NL only league where only players from that league can be drafted/auctioned. In these leagues, players that would be bench players in a mixed league become highly sought as the player pool is cut in half. The MLB trade deadline deals can reek havoc on these leagues. Any player traded from an AL team to a NL team is now useless in an AL only league. Because of this, value players on teams that you know will be competitive slightly higher than high priced talent on rebuilding teams that might be inclined to trade away those chips (think Jason Bay last year).

Position Eligibility:  Before you draft or auction know the position eligibility rules. Most leagues will use a 2o games played last year or this year rule. So any player would played 20 games at any position last year is eligible at the postion for the entire next year even if they do not play a game at that position the whole year.

Some leagues are a bit looser with their restrictions and have a 20 games last year, 5 games this year rule.  And some leagues go the other direction and will only use last year’s position eligibilty for week 1 and then go forward used majority games played current year.

Be sure to know the rules before you draft. You don’t want to be the owner walking out of the draft/auction with Michael Young as your shortstop and your league rules only goes on current year’s games played (he’s playing 3B this year).

Keeper vs Non-Keeper League:  Keeper leagues have become so popular in the fantasy baseball world that it is hard to find a league that is over 5 years old that is not a keeper league.

A keeper league allows teams to keep players from the previous year’s roster. Most of the time the keepers are limited to a max of 1 or 2 or 3 or 5 and sometimes break it up by position; 2 hitters, 2 pitchers, etc. 

A common practice within keeper leagues is to restrict the amount of years a team can “keep” the same player. This prohibits a team from drafting Albert Pujols his breakout year and keep him through the majority of his Hall-of-fame career.

In auction keeper leagues the salary comes into play. Some leagues have rules where you can “keep” the player at the same $$ value as the previous year, some will add $5 to the previous year’s winning bid (salary) and some leagues give all keepers the same $$ value for the next year.

Strategy for a keeper league should not change all that much. Obviously the younger the player the more valuable he will be in a keeper league because of his potential but you have to be smart about it. You don’t want to throw away a veteran who produces consistently at a high level just because you have a prospect that will be a future stud but has still yet to prove it.