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What Is Fantasy Baseball? How Do I Play It?

All the information you need to start playing fantasy baseball.

Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images
Fantasy baseball is a passion of mine and of many others. Some may say fantasy baseball is a game, while others will refer to it as a hobby or interest. Personally, it is my outlet. Fantasy baseball is creating an alternate universe that is to be taken just as serious (or almost) as everyday life.

It is inevitable that the vast majority reading this have played some form of fantasy baseball and it has piqued their interest. However, with a new season upon us, I thought it relevant to get back to the basics and allow others to join our club.

What Exactly Is Fantasy Baseball?

At its most basic level, fantasy baseball is a game where people manage rosters of real players and compete against each other using the player’s real-life game statistics to score points.

How Do I Play Fantasy Baseball?

Here’s the fun part! Fantasy baseball allows you to be creative. There are countless ways to play including different ways to draft, score, roster players, etc. For the purpose of this article I plan to outline the more obvious details of fantasy baseball.

  • Size - If you are only ‘generally aware’ of who Mike Trout is, then an 8-team league may be your best bet. The smaller league means that it isn’t as “deep” - every team has an All-Star caliber roster that casual fans can recognize. However if you can rattle off quite a few top 100 prospects, sign yourself up for a bigger league!
  • Drafting - A draft can occur on or off-line. Different types of drafting scenarios are “snake” drafts or auction drafts. Leagues that are not in their first year can draft a little different (More on that later). A snake draft is exactly what it sounds like. Team 1 starts the draft and goes pick-by-pick through all of the teams before reversing on the last team and ending on Team 1 to then reverse back until rosters are filled. An auction draft is quite different and the pick-by-pick process is done in order to “nominate” a player for all managers to bid on. Each team has a set dollar amount and the goal is to fill your roster with your budget through a bidding war with your opponents.
  • Scoring - Fantasy baseball can be played as Head-To-Head or Rotisserie. In Head-To-Head, managers are matched up in one-on-one weekly series against an opponent. These matches are scored either through categories or points. In categories you would win by outperforming your opponent in certain areas; i.e. totaling more home runs during the week. There are typically 10 categories that equate to your overall record. Categories can include 5 hitting x 5 pitching categories. This is where you will often see ‘5x5’ league. Winning 6 of 10 categories would put your record at 6-4 overall in the standings - unless playing ‘one-win’ where your record is 1-0. A rotisserie league pits your team against all other teams on a season basis. Category points are awarded for production as it relates to all teams in the league. Your category points are added up to place you in the league standings. In point leagues, your roster gets points for production. A player that is doing well can score a lot of points and carry your team to victory, whereas a player in a slump could really hurt you. These leagues often add many categories to tallying points such as sacrifices, holds, or quality starts. Typically, winning these match-ups equates to a win of 1-0. Your total points might then be used for tie-breaking procedures come playoff time. Similar to real life opponents are on a set schedule. The best record at the end of the season is the champion. However, most leagues use a playoff format to allow the top teams to enter into an elimination tournament to see who the winner is.
  • League Options - You have some opportunities and decisions to look into with regard to your league. Are you interested in having a full draft every year with all new players? Do you kind of like your players and want to keep them? Do you want to try your hand at selecting young players and see if they grow into superstars? These are possible with fantasy baseball. Many leagues and managers are interested in redrafts. These are leagues that start fresh with a brand new random draft every year. Some leagues decide to move into a keeper league. These leagues allow you to rollover a set number of players on your roster to the next season and then drafting players to fill your roster. The third option is a dynasty league. This can also be referred to as ‘full keepers’. These leagues let you keep your entire roster year after year and your draft picks are limited to open spots on your roster only. The drafts also tend to be “linear” or non-snaking. Many keeper and dynasty leagues have come to adopt salary caps and/or contracts. These details can be tailored to fit the needs of your league.

These are some of the basics to getting started in fantasy baseball. There are countless intricacies that can be discussed from here. There are also a plethora or online formats to find the right platform for your league. Some of the popular sites for fantasy baseball are Yahoo!, CBS Sports, ESPN, and MLB.com. This season I have also added to my arsenal a fantasy baseball season on the FanGraphs auction platform - Ottoneu. The site hypes it up as ‘year-round’ fantasy baseball.

Let us know your preferences for leagues, scoring, drafting, etc. Also, be sure to check out our FakeTeams Draft Kit in the coming days to stay ahead of your competition!