In Fantasy Baseball Know The Format – Know The Rules
Saturday, February 13, 2016
This past NFL season, the proliferation of television advertising for Draft Kings and FanDuel made fantasy football and fantasy sports in general a hot topic in the mainstream media. But as Nevada and New York moved to shut the daily fantasy sites down in their respective states, claiming the activity of picking a daily roster for money is nothing more than a novel form of gambling, the buzz has died down a bit.
But at its core, fantasy baseball has always been about competing against your friends to see who hypothetically possesses the most knowledge about the national pastime. If a few Hamiltons and Jacksons exchange hands at the end of the six month ordeal, that can be fun too.
So, if you’re new to fantasy baseball or are simply looking for something slightly different than what you’ve played in the past, it’s important to take into account the different formats and to also be aware of the different sets of rules, as you’re studying up for the next few weeks.
The Different Formats
There are basically four different formats when playing fantasy baseball – rotisserie for a full season – rotisserie head to head – points leagues – and daily fantasy. Depending on how much time you want to spend studying for the selection of players and how involved you want to be during the season, the choice of format can make the difference in a fun experience or a not so fun experience.
Since daily fantasy is illegal in Washington (not even listed for the sign up on Draft Kings and Fan Duel), and I live in Washington, I won’t be covering this format in much depth.
Full Season Rotisserie
In a rotisserie league, statistics are compiled over the course of a season. The number of points accumulated is inversely related to the number of players in the league. So for instance, if there are twelve players in a league, the player winning a given category is awarded 12 points, second place 11 points, and so on down to the last place player who receives 1.
Leagues are usually designated by the number of offensive categories and the number of pitching categories. So, a 5x5 league tracks five offensive categories – usually batting average (BA), runs (R), stolen bases (SB), home runs (HR), and runs batted in (RBI) / and five pitching categories – usually wins (W), saves (SV), strike outs (K), earned run average (ERA), and walks and hits per innings pitched (WHIP).
But, individual leagues are free to set as many categories as they choose and whichever categories they choose. Some more sabermetrically oriented players prefer to throw out stats like BA, W, and SV to substitute on base percentage (OBP), quality start (QS), or strikeout to walk ration (K/BB%). It’s entirely up to you and the people you’re playing with.
One potential disadvantage of racking up stats over the course of the entire season is that some players may realistically be out of contention by July and lose interest. In one of the leagues I play in, we implemented a prize equivalent to approximately the typical season’s transaction fees to go to the most improved player after the All-Star game just to keep everyone engaged.
Head to Head Rotisserie
The scoring in head to head is the same as conventional rotisserie. The major difference is that you’re competing weekly against a single opponent. A win in each category is worth a point. A tie is worth a half a point. The player at the end of the week with the most points wins. Since it is possible to tie, even if there are an odd number of categories, it’s usually a good idea to designate a separate category as a tie breaker.
There are two major advantages to playing head to head. You can load up on six or seven statistical categories (assuming 5x5 scoring) and still be a weekly contender. Usually, it’s pretty hard to win if you “punt” more than a category or two in season long rotisserie. And, your stats re-set each week as you compete against your next opponent.
The ideal league construction is to have twelve teams and play the “regular season” for 22 weeks, playing each team twice. Then you can move on to a playoff with your choice of the number of teams involved. Four to six is usually recommended.
Points leagues are just what the name implies. Rather than accumulate counting stats (HR, R, RBI, SB, W, SV, K) and besting your opponent in ratio stats (BA, ERA, WHIP), a player is awarded points for an event from each of his fantasy players. So on offense there might be one point for a single, two points for a double, three points for a triple, and four points for a HR. Pitching may have ten points for a win, a point for a K, five points for a save. You can also introduce negative points for events like a batter striking out or a blown save.
Since scores for points leagues tend to run into the hundreds on a weekly basis, it’s highly recommended that points leagues also be head to head leagues.
Scoring in daily fantasy usually works like head to head rotisserie, with the two major differences being that you pick new players daily and the roster construction is limited by a salary cap.
Not All Leagues are Created Equal – Know the Rules
A few years ago, I was invited to play in a football league so they could get the number of players to twelve. I knew two of the owners, but no one else in the league. I had played in other leagues for years, so I felt confident I could do well.
After the draft, in which I had stocked up on wide receivers and running backs early, I found out that this league awarded six points for a TD pass, instead of the more common four. I immediately knew I was screwed for the whole season. I had taken a QB in the sixth round and most of the other owners had picked two QB’s, which I also never do. If I had known this difference in rules, I more than likely would have drafted a QB in the first or second round. Know the rules.
Draft v. Auction
Acquiring players in a draft is much different from acquiring players in an auction. In an auction, you have a set amount of imaginary dollars – usually $260 – to bid on players and fill out typically a 23 man roster. In theory, you can have any player you want, as long as you’re willing to outbid everyone else in your league. If I say, “Mike Trout, $50” and no one else bids, he’s mine. But, if I have the sixth pick in a draft, I’m not getting Mike Trout, nor probably Bryce Harper, nor Clayton Kershaw. You get the idea.
Drafts are easier. You don’t have to study as much. Just sit back and wait your turn.
In an auction, you have to constantly pay attention, to who has been nominated, how much money you have, how much money your opponents still have, what positions have been filled on your roster and everyone else’s roster. It can be exhausting. But, it’s also a whole lot of fun.
Player Value Depending on Format
You’ll remember that you can assign negative points for certain events in a points league. This can be huge. A player like Chris Davis of the Baltimore Orioles, who can hit 40+ HR is far more valuable in a rotisserie league than in a points league where his 200+ strike outs can cost you big time. Last year, Fernando Rodney got dropped much more quickly in a points league where his -5 points for blown saves killed owners. In rotisserie leagues, Rodney’s high ERA and WHIP resulting from the blown saves was far less punitive spread out across a nine man rotation, so an owner might hold on to him, hoping for the next save.
Also note that subtle tweaks can make a difference within each format. Someone like Anthony Rizzo of the Chicago Cubs is far more valuable in a league that counts OBP (.387 and 7th in baseball) instead of BA (.278). Rizzo takes a lot of walks, which wouldn’t matter in a standard 5x5 league, but does in more saber oriented leagues.
Number of Players and Position Eligibility
In ESPN standard leagues, only one catcher is rostered. There are leagues out there that play only three outfielders. Personally, I think it’s not a real league unless there are two catchers and five outfielders. But, know that the value of players change depending on how many you need to roster.
Also, rules vary for position eligibility. Some set a limit on twenty games played for eligibility at any given position. There are leagues that number is ten, or even one. For roster flexibility, know your league rules.
Usually there is a minimum for the number of innings your pitching staff must accumulate and, in some cases, there is a limit to how many innings your pitching staff can toss.
If your strategy is to load up on middle relievers with high K% and low BB% in order to win ERA and WHIP and get enough K’s to come in the middle of the pack, do pay attention to the minimum number of innings required in your league. If you come in under that number, all of your stats may get thrown out.
If your strategy is to punt SV and roster a staff of all starters to come in first in W and K, while staying respectable in ERA and WHIP, just make sure you don’t go over your league’s innings limit or you might also lose all your stats.
Just to Name a Few
I’ve touched upon a few rules that are easy to overlook, whether it’s your first time playing or simply playing in a new league. I’m sure there are more than just what I’ve mentioned here. The important thing is to be as thoroughly prepared as you can be. And you can begin by knowing the league format and the minutiae of the league’s rules.
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