Fantasy Baseball Basics

DFS BaseballFantasy baseball began in the 1970s, flourishing during the league’s wildly-popular era of the 80s and 90s, and now with the arrival of personal computers and widespread high-speed Internet access, the fantasy hobby is doing better than ever.

Computers have done a lot for fantasy sports – the most obvious advantage for fantasy users who use computers is the ease of tracking statistics and other numbers.

This has also allowed fantasy sports to become more complex than ever, with new scoring categories and ways to handicap and track player performance. We’ll attempt to make it easier for you though with our breakdowns below of simple fantasy baseball strategy.

How to Play Fantasy Baseball

The goal of fantasy baseball is to put together a roster of real-world MLB players and score more points than your opponents. Points are based on real-world performance. The trick is to sign players you believe have long-term value.

Fantasy baseball, like all fantasy sports, is played in leagues. All of the big media outlets (Yahoo! Sports, ESPN, FoxSports, etc.) have platforms for hosting fantasy baseball leagues during the MLB season. Fantasy owners “draft” players, either in a live pick format or based on player preference rankings.

There are also so-called “auction” fantasy baseball leagues, which impose a salary cap and give each player a financial value. These are far less common than traditional draft leagues.

The mathematics behind fantasy scoring are simple, but vary a little between leagues and platforms. An example of a simple scoring rule that’s pretty much standard across the board – a single point for a player who hits a single. Most actions on the baseball diamond have a correlating fantasy score value.

League Types and Rosters

These fantasy leagues are generally between 8 and 20 teams in size, though a league of 8, 10, or 12 teams is most common. Generally speaking, fantasy baseball can be broken up into four leagues, known by their method of scoring. These leagues are called Categorical, Points, and Head-to-Head Categorical. The most common league is Categorical, in which performance is broken up into categories rather than individual stat points. This is sometimes called a “rotisserie” or “roto” league.

The number of players and specific roster allocations vary from league to league as well – traditionally, baseball fantasy owners draft nine pitchers (they can be either starters or relievers), two catchers, a first baseman, a second baseman, a shortstop, a third baseman, a middle infielder (generally a second baseman or a shortstop), a corner infielder (this must be either a first or third baseman), five total outfielders, and a designated hitter / utility player depending on whether they’re in the NL or AL. A “reserve” list of between three and five players is also commonly used to combat injury troubles down the stretch.

Fantasy Baseball Strategy

There are some basic tricks of the trade that newcomers to fantasy baseball should be aware of. Like any other daily fantasy sport, you’ll want your lineup strategy to be sound and optimal – especially if you want to make some good money long term. Here is a brief guide to performing well as a fantasy baseball owner.

How to Pick Hitters

Scoring big in fantasy baseball requires big bats, or at least very clever ones. Generally speaking, fantasy baseball owners looking for good hitters should look at players from three perspectives – how much discipline do they show at the plate, how much power do they have, and how fast are they. Some power hitters are free-swingers that rack up strikeouts – look at Sabermetrics for a few minutes and this is a clear trend that goes back decades.

Growing home run totals over the past season or two are a key indicator of rising power. And though speed between the bases may be a long-gone factor in the real-world game, it is a huge factor in fantasy, thanks to generally uneven scoring for stolen bases and extra base hits.

A particularly good state for fantasy owners looking at hitters is their SBR or Stolen Base Ratio. Players with a less than 60% success rate when attempting to steal are not only making bad decisions, they’re likely to see fewer opportunities for steals in the future. This is a general indication of a player’s value to a fantasy owner over the long-haul.

Overrated stats for hitters? Pure batting average is essentially meaningless, with almost no relation to the amount of runs a player is likely to score or their fantasy value. Too many outside factors can cause swings upward and downward, especially early in the season. Look for hitters that walk often, strike out rarely, and have some speed.

How to Pick Pitchers

Only three factors should count when evaluating pitchers for a fantasy baseball draft – their likely starting or relief role, their ability to earn pure strikeouts, and a low number of long balls allowed. Some of the best value in fantasy baseball drafts comes from young high-skill pitchers that find themselves in a new starting role. When hunting for these gems, look for a few specific statistics:

  • At least a .66 ratio of strikeouts to innings pitched.
  • At least a 2-to-1 ratio of strikeouts to walks
  • Less than one HR per 9 innings pitched.

As far as overrated stats for pitchers, there are plenty. It’s generally good to ignore last season’s W/L numbers – a terrible pitcher (one with a 4+ ERA) can still win 18 games in the right system, and an amazing pitcher can be limited by his surrounding roster’s abilities.

It’s generally also advisable to ignore the “Hits Allowed” stat so prominently displayed for most pitchers. Hits Allowed doesn’t translate well in terms of fantasy value because factors like ballpark size, overall team defense, and field condition play too big a role.

After gaining a basic understanding of what’s needed to select high-value pitchers and hitters, go ahead and join a mock baseball draft. The major fantasy platforms allow for mock drafts with tons of variation. Armed with some basic insight about the game, as well as strategy for selecting high-value players, anyone can become a legendary baseball owner, even if the whole thing is just for bragging rights or a few bucks.

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