Fantasy baseball primer

Over the next week, Tomahawk Take will be exploring the 2014 fantasy baseball world and exactly how our own Atlanta Braves fit into that world.  Some have very strong opinions against fantasy baseball, some are very for it.  This post isn’t for those who are experienced in the game.  Check back this week for other posts regarding rankings at each position and other interesting discussion if you’re already primed on the “art” of fantasy baseball.

What is it?

Fantasy baseball’s origins trace back to New York City in the early 1980s, but pieces of what is now fantasy baseball were being played long before that.  At its roots, fantasy baseball aimed to allow “owners” to experience what it was like to manage a major league baseball team composed of their favorite players.  Originally, these leagues were only of players from either the AL or NL, but in the mid-1980s, mixed leagues became popular and have become the dominant mode of league.  There are really two ways to start a team, both are via a draft.  One way is what’s called a “snake” draft, where teams pick in order in the first round, then reverse order in the second round, and return to original order for the third round, then reverse, and so on.  If a player has been drafted ahead of your position in the draft, you lose the ability to pick that player.  The other way a fantasy league is chosen is through an auction draft.  The most popular variety of this draft is where players have $260 in “fake” money, and they must spread that money throughout their team.  One advantage of this strategy is that it allows everyone to have an opportunity to bid to own his/her favorite players.

How do you play?

Fantasy Baseball SamOnce teams are drafted, they compete against each other in two primary formats: rotisserie or head-to-head.  Rotisserie is the original game and basically entails a team accumulating all its numbers in a particular category and competing against every other team in the league for the best score in that category.  The best score earns the reverse number of points as their rank – for instance, if there are 10 teams in a league, the #1 person in home runs would get a score of 10 for that category.  The person with the highest total among all categories wins the league.  Head-to-head is exactly as the name entails.  You play one other team in the league each week and the best score in each category gets one point.  The team with the most points at the end of the week wins.  An example would be if Team One had 7 home runs in the week while Team Two had 6, Team One would earn one point toward the week’s total score.

Rosters have lots of variety.  Original standard leagues had one catcher, one first baseman, one second baseman, one third baseman, one shortstop, five outfielders, and one utility player that could be from any position along with 7 pitchers of any role.  ESPN sticks closest to these rules in their standard game, adding in a corner infield (1B or 3B) and middle infield (2B/SS) slot.  Yahoo standard leagues have only three outfielders but two utility players and also require 2 starting pitchers and 2 relief pitchers as part of the 7 total pitchers.  A number of leagues employ 2 catchers on the roster while some leagues have players pick an entire pitching staff rather than individual pitchers.

Scoring categories also differ widely, especially in the last 10 years as the growth of sabermetrics has hit the mainstream fan.  The original leagues were 4×4 leagues, meaning there were four hitting and four pitching categories.  The four hitting categories were batting average, home runs, runs batted in, and stolen bases with pitching categories being wins, strikeouts, earned run average, and walks plus hits per inning pitched (WHIP).  With the advent of leagues that used both American League and National League players, an additional category became standard, adding runs to hitters and saves to pitchers.  There are many traditionalist fantasy players who will stick to these statistics, even though they know that they don’t best reflect player values in the real-world game, simply because things like defense and team effects are hard to measure.  That said, some leagues have added in statistics to be more accurate in reflecting true player value, replacing wins with quality starts or strikeouts per 9 innings rather than strikeouts or on base average rather than batting average, for instance.  There are an infinite amount of combinations that a league could utilize for scoring categories, and this is something best decided before the draft.

What kind of leagues are there?

As mentioned before, there are leagues for each individual league along with “mixed” leagues that include both leagues.  There are also different formats for leagues as well.  Standard leagues are for one season and then you redraft all players again the next season.  Many play with the same group of friends year-in, year-out and enjoy drafting all new every single season.  Others prefer leagues that allow them to keep some of their best players from year-to-year.  Some of those leagues are called keeper leagues, where usually 3-5 players are kept from the previous year’s roster into the next season.  That helps in those style of leagues to ensure there are still valuable players in the draft, yet each player can keep a favorite for the next season if he/she would like.  The larger version of a keeper league is a dynasty league.  This type of league typically keeps all or almost all of the roster from year-to-year and often includes minor league players as well.  The growth of dynasty leagues and the growth of interest in minor leagues and prospects are similar in time lines such that there are plenty of “chicken or the egg” arguments over which caused the other.

So why would I play?

Credit: fanduel.com

Credit: fanduel.com

This is the best part – it’s completely up to you!!  I have been playing fantasy sports now for 23 years, having played in my first fantasy league at age 11 through the mail. I’ve heard everything from people who love the exposure to the totality of the game and learning about players who aren’t from their favorite team, division, or even league.  Plenty also enjoy the competitive spirit of the game.  Others compete in “money” leagues and make significant money through their fantasy “expertise”.  I’m in plenty of leagues with people I’ve been playing with for a decade or more as a way that I can have camaraderie with those guys, even though they’re now across the country.  Yes, we can talk via Facebook or email, but there’s something special about bonding over a shared fantasy league that’s just different.  Other people enjoy fantasy baseball as a way to meet new people through online leagues.

Conclusion

Regardless of your reasoning, fantasy baseball should be one thing – FUN! If every playing fantasy baseball loses the aspect of fun for you, it’s time to get out.  That said, fantasy baseball can be a great way of being even more involved in your favorite sport regardless of the success (or not so much) of your favorite MLB squad.  I can tell you that I wish I had known someone in my early years to play fantasy baseball with as the Braves toiled through the 1980s as it would have made the seasons much more fun.  My first fantasy season was 1991, and my favorite squad has been pretty darned good ever since!

We at Tomahawk Take are going to do a league this year with a number of our writers, and we’ll keep you informed throughout the season of happenings in the league, so look for more information once we set up our draft date and time so you can tell each of us how dumb we are to have XXX player on our roster!  Hopefully, you’ll enjoy the articles coming your way the rest of this week and perhaps if you never have, it will spark your interest to try one league!

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