Fantasy Baseball 101

The First Rotisserie Awards Ceremony. Credit: Glenn Waggoner.

I’m a relatively newbie myself compared to some of the old-timers, but in the past few years, I’ve learned a few things. I’m no expert by any means and I don’t claim to be. Whether you play in our league or somewhere else, hopefully this information will come in handy. I would not have survived my first year playing without others sharing their knowledge.

Where did the name rotisserie even come from? It makes me hungry.

Back in 1980, a group of guys and a gal met at a New York City restaurant named La Rotisserie Française, where its founders played the game for the first time over lunch. Yes, there was a woman owner in the first fantasy league. Apparently, they interviewed her like she was applying for a job. It reminds me of my first invite into a baseball fantasy league. Although fantasy baseball was played in other forms prior to that, the granddaddy of fantasy sports as we know them today was born there. There’s a great article over at ESPN Insider about this. Yes, you need to pay for the full version but even half of it is excellent.

Why those categories?

Dan Okrent, one of the founding members, decided on the basic categories: average, home runs, RBIs, steals, wins, saves, ERA and WHIP. It was an NL-only League (booo). He prototyped the 6 previous seasons, and realized that using those stats, it seemed to track close to the actual standings. They also used an auction to divvy up the players. It was arbitrarily decided that pitching and offense would be 50-50.

According to Wikipedia, “Ironically, despite having been credited with inventing fantasy baseball he has never been able to win a Rotisserie League he has ever entered.” I’m guessing his competition is pretty good. He seems pretty smart.

(Did you know Dan Okrent also created WHIP? I did not know this.)

Ok, enough with the history lesson. I’ve only played Head to Head because it’s awesome. Now I gotta play my grandpa’s game. How do I score?

It’s not hard. For simplicity’s sake, I’ll keep the categories old school and the team numbers small. I’m going to back up a little. When we say 5×5, that means we have 5 hitting categories and 5 pitching categories. 6×6, 6 hitting categories, 6 pitching categories. (I’m not trying to be condescending–I don’t know your level, so I’m starting at the beginning. It’s a very good place to start.) The original roto people did 4×4.

So, let’s say we have 12 teams and we’re playing 5×5 with the following simple basic categories: R/HR/RBI/SB/AVG/W/SV/K/ERA/WHIP. Since we have 12 teams, the maximum available points per category is 12 points–12 teams, 12 points.

This is a scoring sample. This first table are the actual statistics, pretty straight forward.

Team 1 .283 825 884 241 99 85 146 1226 3.70 1.26
Team 2 .276 835 798 201 120 81 143 1285 3.58 1.26
Team 3 .277 816 850 225 60 101 116 1119 3.64 1.24
Team 4 .266 817 669 163 160 103 6 1285 3.46 1.22
Team 5 .277 764 628 117 212 90 71 1195 3.42 1.19
Team 6 .275 856 869 231 119 71 75 1204 3.75 1.31
Team 7 .255 792 769 167 109 81 46 1184 3.38 1.21
Team 8 .274 825 664 150 109 99 54 1141 3.61 1.26
Team 9 .280 787 757 205 121 81 1 879 4.01 1.27
Team 10 .264 701 788 175 63 87 53 922 3.48 1.26
Team 11 .276 761 764 191 68 81 99 1122 3.71 1.32
Team 12 .270 774 704 193 155 62 157 852 3.93 1.35

Using the batting average column, Team 1 has the best BA total, .283, and receives 12 points.  Team 2 has the second best BA total and receives 11 points. Team 3 and Team 5 are tied at .277. They receive 9.5 points each. Team 2 is tied with Team 6 and they receive 7.5 points each, and so on. Team 7, as the worst scoring in the BA category at .255, receives a single point. This is what it looks like (please correct me if I made a typo with the numbers, as that will be confusing):

Team 1 12 9.5 12 12 4 7 11 10 5 6.5
Team 2 7.5 11 9 8 8 4.5 10 11.5 8 6.5
Team 3 9.5 7 10 10 1 11 9 4 6 9
Team 4 3 8 3 3 11 12 2 11.5 10 10
Team 5 9.5 3 1 1 12 9 6 8 11 12
Team 6 6 12 11 11 7 2 7 9 3 3
Team 7 1 6 7 4 5.5 4.5 3 7 12 11
Team 8 5 9.5 2 2 5.5 10 5 6 7 6.5
Team 9 11 5 5 9 9 4.5 1 2 1 4
Team 10 2 1 8 5 2 8 4 3 9 6.5
Team 11 7.5 2 6 6 3 4.5 8 5 4 2
Team 12 4 4 4 7 10 1 12 1 2 1

Finally, these are the standings. Team 1 = 12 + 9.5 + 12 + 12 + 4 + 7 + 11 + 10 + 5 + 6.5 = 89 points! Team 1 kicks ass.

Points Points Behind
Team 1 89
Team 2 84 5
Team 3 76.5 12.5
Team 4 73.5 15.5
Team 5 72.5 16.5
Team 6 71 18
Team 7 61 28
Team 8 58.5 30.5
Team 9 51.5 37.5
Team 10 48.5 40.5
Team 11 48 41
Team 12 46 43
Source: Fantasy Baseball for Beginners: The Ultimate “How-to” Guide. Hendricks, Sam.

Hopefully, this helps to explain the scoring basics. You can also see why roto can be bit discouraging at first. When you’re one of the teams at the bottom, it can be a bit daunting. There is also another way to score roto, but this is the most popular way.

Here are some tips I got when I was brand new at this, and I hope they help you:

  1. Know our rules through and through. Read them. I’m serious. I know it’s boring. Did I say read all of them? All. If there is something you don’t understand, ask. It will bite you in the butt if you don’t.
  2. Do NOT drink or get high and draft. I had a friend who did this. His team was shit. It took him weeks to semi-fix it and it was really never right.
  3. Have a plan and strategy for the draft. Tiers are great (ranking players by talent groups).
  4. Know who is hurt/suspended/retired. Study. The software keeps track of who has already been drafted, but pay attention.
  5. Set a legal line-up. If someone is hurt or not playing, replace them. It’s fair to everyone else playing. Remember to restart them after a day off. I forget to do this ALL THE TIME.
  6. Try to improve your team through free agency or trades. No one wins on draft day.
  7. Get help. Again, study. Use web sites. Rotoworld, CBS, ESPN, Yahoo etc. I like magazines too, but they are quickly out-of-date.
  8. Trust no one in your league ever for advice on who to add/drop/trade. No one. Especially @longfootlefty. Seriously, they might think they have your best interest at heart, but c’mon man. C’mon. No.
  9. Trust yourself. Believe in the numbers, but trust your gut.
  10. Don’t get impatient with good players who have a cold start. Yes, excellent players have off years (thank you, 2014 Bryce), but beware of small sample sizes. Patience. Patience. Patience. Ride it out.

This is a lot for our first lesson, and I’m sure our old-timers have lots to add. It seems like a lot of work, but once your team is set, it’s really not that bad, and it is a truly rewarding and addicting hobby that makes you a better student of the game. I know it’s helped me better analyze talent and appreciate the game even more than I did before I played, which I didn’t think was even possible.


62 thoughts on “Fantasy Baseball 101

  1. Any who could make a post — Commish Chaco? — on what to expect from out draft would be highly appreciated. Having never been through an auction draft before, I’m not sure what to expect.


    1. I was going to do that in the next volume. 🙂

      Edit: But if he would like to post something, of course, I would step aside, or if he would like to write something together etc.


      1. It definitely helped me.

        I got a few questions if anyone wants to help me out.

        Does it cost money to sign up as a “insider” at espn?

        Will the draft include likely to be called up AAA players? What happens if you draft someone who doesn’t make the opening day roster?

        What happens if you start a player who doesn’t actually get on the field during whatever time period is being used to calculate the results? Would it pay to have say a lefty reliever with good numbers but isn’t really that valuable to his team because he’s only used for one or two hitters at a time because righties kill him?

        Do the standings update daily as games are played? I take it the standings are a cumulative result of all games played excepting the playoffs, correct?

        How bad am I going to get creamed because no way am I going to spend dozens of hours following injury reports etc. I shouldn’t do this while drunk or high, what the hell fun is that?


        1. It does cost money to be an Insider, but there’s still plenty of free content available on ESPN (and at most of these sites). You don’t need to be an Insider to play fantasy there.


        2. It does cost to sign up as an insider. I don’t really use it as the info provided isn’t substantially better than the free articles they provide. However if you do like it they throw in a subscription to ESPN the magazine.

          Yes, the draft will include most AAA players/players who have mlb service time like Sept. call ups. It can be useful to draft some of those players. Examples from last season which was unusually awesome C. Correa, K. Bryant, M. Sano.

          No stats for guys who don’t play.
          Stats do update daily and you can follow them live with ESPN’s fantasy cast which shows your whole teams as they play.

          There are three kinds of players, good at fantasy, good in real life, and good at both.
          Depending on the final agreement of scoring, a good middle reliever will help with ERA, WHIP (albeit small as it accrues over your total innings pitched but good is good) and strikeouts (especially good with you have an innings limit as they tend to be higher k/9 players in general). So yes, those players have value too as they can earn holds and saves in the right situations.

          Rotographs MASH report and ESPN both do a good job of keeping up to date with injuries and letting you know the news. Paying attention and being active is important but there is are diminishing returns with too much time spent studying players/projections/etc. One can eeeeeeeeeasily over analyze.


        3. LMAO It may be the path to sobriety… at least it is for me, for a month while I prepare. You can drink after that. After your line-up is set during the season. You have to, in order to drown your sorrows when you see your reliever blow a save. Stupid Jake McGee. Seriously, at least for the draft, do it sober. You will seriously mess up. How do you spend when you’re drunk? That will be your auction draft. Not pretty.

          ESPN Insider does cost money. $29.99 for the magazine subscription gets you online access for a year. The magazine sucks, except for The Body Issue, but the online stuff is great. You can get good online fantasy info free though. Like Kevin said, ESPN’s fantasy info is all free.

          Yes, the draft will likely include players soon to be called up. Anyone who drafted Kris Bryant last year was, of course, smart. You can place them on your bench and be patient. That was an easy pick though. Everyone knew he was coming up in a couple of weeks. How about players not likely to come up for a few months? Are you going to occupy a bench spot for a player that you cannot use and not accumulating points? He is wasting space. However you risk losing him to an opponent. You might want to wait until he’s closer to coming up… But don’t wait too long, or an opponent will grab him before you. If this was a dynasty league, meaning you keep the player for more than one season, that answer would be different. You would be building for the future, and it might be in your best interest to grab that hot prospect.

          What happens if a player is on your bench, you mean? You don’t get points.
          If you start a player, and he doesn’t get into the game, say a reliever, you earn a big fat nothing. We haven’t set the categories for our league yet, but lefty specialists will likely have a limited value.

          Standings update daily. I become a scoreboard watcher. Apps on my phone, everywhere. They are a cumulative result of games played.

          Like I said, let this be your path to sobriety. 🙂 Drink after the game starts to drown your sorrows of your dumbass players not performing (2014 Bryce Harper).


        4. 1) Yeah, it costs money. I’ve never thought that money to be worth it.

          2) I’m not entirely sure how ESPN handles it’s player database, but I’d bet there will be minor leaguers available to be drafted. It’s completely up to you as to whether or not you want to do that. As for what happens if you draft a guy that’s not on a major league roster….nothing. He’ll sit on your bench collecting zero stats.

          3) There’s not any kind of penalty for a player in your active lineup not playing. It’s actually fairly common. As for the value of LOOGY’s, that depends on whether or not we are using Holds as a category. But in general, your position in the standings in categories like ERA and WHIP will be determined by the players that pitch the most innings….the more innings a person pitches, the greater weight their individual stats have on your team’s stats. If you’ve got Kershaw and he throws 225 innings of 2.00 ERA ball…then he’ll add a lot more weight to your ERA category than Joe Blow’s 15 innings of 0.50 ERA.

          4) I doubt that the main standings page will update throughout the day, but there might be some means where you can track your place in the standings live each day. I know there is on Yahoo. I’d guess that your personal team page will update with live stats throughout the day. And yes, the final standings will reflect all 162 games at the end of the regular season.

          5) I plan on being higher than the space station for this auction, but I’m a professional…both at fantasy baseball and at being high. I don’t necessarily recommend others follow my path, but I’m damn sure not going to stop you either.


        5. As your attorney, I advise you to take a hit out of the little brown bottle in my shaving kit. You won’t need much. Just a tiny taste.


        6. Ha, great movie.

          You know most ginger beers have actually zero alcohol. Most people don’t realize that. Mixes great with spiced rum though. Dark n’ Stormy. It mixes great with whiskey too–an Irish Ale.


        7. I recently watched it again. It’s one of those movies I find that it’s good to keep in touch with from time to time.

          Hence, my pick on my ESPN team page…


        8. PS – Nobody drafted Kris Bryant in my main keeper league last year….because I picked him up off the WW in August of 2014.

          Wasn’t sure if I was going to find room to keep him heading into the 2015 draft….but then he EXPLODED in Spring Training and that was that.


        9. Thanks everybody. I just finished becoming an espn insider and joining my team. It only took me 15 minutes to figure out how to edit the name of my team. I’m sure I’ll do juuuusst fine

          Can I be a greedy owner who decides to pocket part of the acquisition budget?


        10. That is a good point here. What you don’t spend at the draft is lost. You don’t retain any draft budget so spend it like it spoils.
          The free agent auction budget is a separate entity that is not affected by the primary player draft.


    2. @nbjays — If you’ve never done an auction draft, then go do one…

      Hell, do a dozen.

      Considering that you’ll probably end up in a draft room with a bunch of bots, you won’t likely learn much of anything about draft strategy with actual real people from a mock right now….but you will get an idea of the basic mechanics of the whole thing. Maybe get the feel for how far you need to stretch your $260 in order to fill 25 roster spots.


  2. Excellent post about the basics.
    One thing that is great about fantasy baseball in general is that is creates cause by necessity to learn more about players and teams that you may not normally follow. Depending on the how competitive your league maybe, in the case of this particular league I’d venture to say extremely, you may end up reciting damn near ever 25 man major league roster. You’ll also look at players in new ways. Some you think are good or bad in a qualitative sense but find that quantitatively they would be an asset on your team.
    As for tips, I can’t add much to what the ‘Burg has already dropped but I tend to think of fantasy/roto manager as primarily having three jobs:

    General roto strategy(Hitting heavy, balanced, pitching heavy etc. There are at least dozen strategies I can think of off the top of my head and I seen several more plus at least a few I’m sure I’ve never heard of)

    Player evaluation (How valuable are these players to me. Can I benefit from a trade? Should I drop this player and add another? In season management with match ups, platoons, interleague play etc.)

    Auction draft strategy (This plays with the previous two and you decide I’m going pitching heavy and I love Clayton K. for up to $40 dollars at the draft)

    I’d recommend the Rotographs section of Fangraphs and Fangraphs in general. Rotoworld baseball forums and news (I think Gleeman and Short do some occasional write ups there too), Rotowire and their daily lineups to find out who is starting. ESPN has reasonably good info too and handy tools like their closer chart.
    Baseball Prospectus is excellent in its own right. There is obviously no shortage of valuable advice, projections, and opinions on the information superhighway.


  3. Yeah, that all looks about right. I’m absolutely not to be trusted when it comes to making personnel decisions about your roster. I’ll tell that Trout is looking primed for a collapse, but I’ll be a friend and give you a very healthy and very hot-hitting Neifi Perez for him.

    A couple quick things that might be helpful…

    • Don’t worry too very much about the names of the players. You aren’t drafting names. You are drafting stats. Using that example roto scoring laid out in the article, it took 1285 K’s to win that category. So don’t go into the auction thinking “I NEED to get Kershaw and Scherzer on my roster at any price because they strike a lot of guys out”….instead think “I need about 1200-1250 K’s, and looking over my projections, there’s probably a few dozen different combinations of pitchers that could give me that.”

    • Related to that…look at the SB category in those same standings up there. The leader got 212 SB’s, but 2nd place only had 160. Sure, Team 5 got all 12 points from that category, but he would still gotten those same 12 points if he’d just stolen 161 SB’s. He essentially threw away 50 SB’s here, which means he spent way more money than he needed to on SB’s…money that could have been spent on stats like HR and RBI….potentially making gains in those categories without losing anything in the process.


      1. That’s one of the things I love about fantasy baseball. A big article about why you should implement this plan or do this thing…immediately followed by reasons why you absolutely shouldn’t.

        It’s not a solved science by any means. It’s not likely that anyone is going to completely reinvent the wheel, but there’s MANY routes that can get you from draft day to the champion’s podium.


        1. That’s what I love about roto baseball. There are so many different strategies, both long and short, to get you to first place. Or eighth place. 8~)


    1. Well, shit. I guess all that time I take downloading projections, generating Z-scores and assigning auction dollars is kind of mooted. Booooo!


      1. My wife quit fantasy football in a huff years ago when it became an industry and information became too easy to acquire. She still talks wistfully about wreaking utter havoc with her Dan Marino/Marcus Allen/Marks Brothers killing machine from 1984.


    2. Also, don’t get attached to these values. People do strange stuff and when adrenaline starts pumping, values will vary. You really want that player that badly? Okay…


      1. It’s funny. I frequently go to estate auctions (you never know what you might find. Also they are a great place to pick up good liquor cheap) . Auctions of any type become ego vs ego driven battles over what appears to be an absolute need. I should photograph the facial reactions of people from the elation of winning to the sudden panic of buyer’s remorse. Never fails.


        1. Hahaha… I was a huge fan of ebay back when it was fun and a place to find deals. I found that experience helpful when it came to auction drafts.


  4. Does anybody recall the halcyon days of 2008, when you’d throw out the other Ryan Braun early in the auction and some schmuck would bid him up to $25 immediately before realizing he was wearing a KC hat? Good times.


  5. One other thing that applies to everyone in this league – rookies, veterans, or in-between.

    After the season is over and I’m sitting atop the standings…you’ll need to learn how to deal with me being a bad winner. Because I am. Like this guy…


  6. Who else had Scalia in the death pool? I’ve picked him every year since I can remember. We’re going to use the winnings to hold a small celebration for 800.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sometimes it’s fun to go browsing through the comment section of places like the Blaze or Breitbart….just as a little refresher as to how batshit insane some people are.

      It’s hilarious that people are that crazy and concoct such wildly absurd conspiracy theories….but it’s depressing and sad that the votes of those crazy people count the same as mine.


        1. Being an archaeologist, you should not be surprised by the existence of any people. Is there not at least evidence of burial practices ascribing spiritual significance to the bones of their ancestors?


      1. Fair enough, but maybe they haven’t yet finished. Their tribal affiliations might be undergoing a most profound rendering as we watch. You should consider this to be an exciting observational opportunity, like being given a time machine to observe the disappearance of the Incas. They may yet persist as a constructive expression of the vitality of 19th century Euro – American individualistic optimism.


    2. I had notorious RBG sadly, but I can’t say I am unhappy at this news. I feel guilty–I never want to wish ill on another human–but so many people will benefit.


    3. I’m finding it quite amusing how so many people who claimed to love Scalia for his strict interpretations of the Constitution now want Obama and the Senate to ignore their Constitutional obligations to install another justice for a year.

      But I will definitely miss Scalia’s dissents. You just don’t hear phrases like “jiggery-pokery” and “pure applesauce” often enough…


      1. But I will definitely miss Scalia’s dissents. You just don’t hear phrases like “jiggery-pokery” and “pure applesauce” often enough…

        Bullshit, muddafuker just be posin. I’m usually drunk (like now) when I throw out ‘pithy’ attention seeking phrases. What was his excuse?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Indeed. Like anybody can read the dead minds of Jefferson, Madison etc. when it comes to guessing about what they would have thought about changes that they had no idea was coming.


        2. He’s wrote a lot of awful shit, and for as much as people said he was a “brilliant jurist” he was hypocritical when it suited his needs. His comments vis a vis the VRA, and any of the gay rights cases (although saying that Lawrence v Texas would pave the way to Obergefel was prescient).

          However, no idea how he could criticize Korematsu v US…


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