The Basic Rules of Fantasy Baseball

Explaining the different formats, types of drafts, leagues and more

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Atlanta Braves
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If you're new to fantasy baseball, there are three basic things you need to know:

1. Albert Pujols is your friend.

2. A.J. Burnett is not.

3. If you join a league, you need to keep up with your team. Otherwise, you shouldn't have said yes in the first place.

Unlike Burnett, we have faith in you. So here are four quick summaries of the basic fantasy baseball rules you need to know if you're just getting started.

1. Rules formats

The three that are most common:

  • Rotisserie, season: Each league chooses a set number of categories -- some of the most popular are batting average, runs, home runs, RBI, stolen bases, wins, ERA, saves, strikeouts and WHIP. Your team is awarded points based on where it stands among the other teams in each category for the season. For example, if you are first in a 12-team league in homers, you get 12 points. If you're second, you get 11. The league standings are calculated by adding up the teams' points in each category. The team with the most points at the end of the season wins.
  • Roto, head-to-head: Again, there are a set number of categories, only you play another team in your league each week. If you're in a 10-category league and you are scheduled to play Team B in Week 1, you get a point for defeating Team B in any category in which your team has better numbers than your opponent. If you win six of the 10 categories (or 5.5, since some categories can be tied, especially wins and saves), you win your game to improve to 1-0 on the season. The next week is a new game, and the stats start over.
  • Points: This format isn't as popular, but it is entertaining. These leagues are head-to-head, but instead of your game being determined by categories won each week, it's scored as if it was a softball game with a 100-foot fence in center field. For example, a single is worth one point, a double two, a triple three, a home run four, a run one, etc. Your points are added up for the week, and you need to outscore your opponent -- often, the scores will be in the 200s (somewhere, the Tim Hardaway-Chris Mullin-Mitch Richmond Golden State Warriors are smiling).

2. Types of leagues

If you want to hold on to Pujols, we've got a league for you ...

  • Standard: Players in the AL and NL are available to draft. If it sounds simple, it is. Everyone is there for the taking, depending on your draft position.
  • American League only: Your roster is comprised strictly of AL players. These leagues are more challenging, since the pool of players is reduced, and the teams aren't as strong. A warning: In these leagues, often when a player is traded from the AL to the NL, you're out of luck if you have that player on your team. It's almost as if you lost a player to injury -- only you still see his name in the box scores each night.
  • National League only: Think AL only, only the opposite.
  • Keeper: This format can be an interesting change of pace. You are allowed to protect a set number of players each season, and often you are only allowed to keep a player for a certain number of seasons. Thus, you enter the season with a few players already on your roster and try to fill in the other glaring holes in your lineup. Keeper leagues sometimes have a rule in which you lose a draft pick for the corresponding round in which you selected your keepers. So if you drafted Hanley Ramirez early in Round 1, you're obviously keeping him, but you're also starting your draft a round later the next season.

3. Types of drafts

Some leagues prefer to draft online. Some prefer to heckle each other in person. Regardless, there are different styles to online and offline drafts:

  • Auction: Teams are given a budget for acquiring players. Owners then put in a bid for a player, and the amount can be increased by anyone else who wants that player. Usually, there is a time limit after an owner makes a bid on a player for another owner to counter. If no one else bids, the player goes to the owner for the bidded amount. If you begin the bidding for David Wright at 23 dollars, other owners will increase the ante until it gets into a price range that makes a good amount of the league uncomfortable. If you bid high on a player, hoping to get another owner to spend more money than he wants on David Ortiz, there's always the chance you will have an overpaid designated hitter on your team.
  • Snake: A draft order is drawn prior to the big day, and the order is reversed in the even rounds. For example, if you get the 12th pick in a 12-team league, you will get the first pick in Round 2, the 12th pick in Round 3 and the first pick in Round 4 -- lessening the blow of selecting last in the first round.
  • Keeper: These leagues sometimes have a standard snake draft, but some have rules in which the last-place team from the season before picks first, followed by the second-to-last team, etc. In these formats, that order might stay the same for the first few rounds to level the playing field.

4. Post-draft happenings

Once you get the hang of it, these everyday tasks will become a habit:

  • Set your lineup: Many baseball leagues have weekly lineups in which your games are contested from Monday to Sunday. If that's the case, you will have to set your lineup before the games start on Monday. In other leagues, you can change your lineup daily.
  • Monitor the waiver wire: Undrafted free agents will be available for you to add, and early in the season there will be some hidden gems (see Bautista, Jose).
  • Test the trade market: If you have a glut of outfielders and Carlos Pena at first base, look for another owner who has two strong first basemen and a weak outfield.
  • Keep track of your team's stats: You won't know what you need unless you follow.

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