The Different Types of Fantasy Baseball

Explaining the rules formats used by fantasy baseball leagues

Will Rhymes
Rob Foldy/Contributor/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

If you play fantasy baseball, you're familiar with the rotisserie format. What you might not have tried is a points-based league. If you haven't played in a league in which the weekly scores get into the 200s, think double what your average fantasy football game might be, you owe it to yourself to try one. You might even, believe it or not, enjoy the points leagues more. (We're all for any format in which Mr. Strikeout, Mark Reynolds, can't crack the top 15 among third basemen, thanks to being penalized for Ks.)

That brings us to our breakdown of the basic types of fantasy baseball. There are three common rules formats, along with a gimmick style used by some high-profile websites. All four can pertain to American League-only, National League-only, and keeper leagues. Without further delay, the three basic types, plus the gimmick style, of fantasy baseball:

Rotisserie, Season

This is the old-school format that once was the preferred type of league but now seems to have lost popularity to the head-to-head leagues.

In standard roto leagues, you have a set number of categories, and each team is awarded points based on where it stands among the other teams in each category for the season. For example, if you rank first in a 12-team league in home runs, you get 12 points. If you're second, you get 11, etc. At the end of the year, if you're third in home runs (10 points), fourth in runs scored and stolen bases (nine each), fifth in RBI (eight points) and sixth in batting average (seven points), you would have 43 points in the five hitting categories. Combine that with your points in the five pitching categories, and you have your total for the year. (So easy Jose Canseco could do it.) Often in these leagues, there are limits for innings pitched and at-bats for the season.

A negative to these types of formats: Once you get to the halfway point of the season, there could be at least three or four teams that have no shot of finishing near the top. Those owners usually lose interest, affecting the rest of the league, which now has less competition for free agents and fewer options for trading. In head-to-head roto formats, more teams are usually in the running, which adds to the fun.

Most common categories: Batting average, runs, home runs, RBI, stolen bases, pitching wins, saves, ERA, strikeouts, and WHIP.

Rotisserie, Head-to-Head

Like the standard roto leagues, there are a set number of categories. Only in head-to-head formats, you play an opponent each week and see how you stack up in the categories for that Monday-to-Sunday period.

For example, if Team A beats Team B in batting average, RBI, steals, wins and strikeouts, ties Team B in saves and loses to Team B in homers, runs, ERA and WHIP, team A would win 5.5 to 4.5 (a tie in a category is worth a half a point for each team). Team A would then be 1-0 heading into its Week 2 matchup against Team C. Each week, the stats, unlike Reynolds' strikeout total, start over.

As you would in other head-to-head formats, there is a set number of weeks for the regular season (usually 22), followed by a two- or three-week postseason in which four, six or eight teams qualify for the tournament.

One important note about head-to-head roto leagues: Your league should set a weekly tiebreaker -- hits, on-base percentage, and WHIP (if it's not used as one of the 10 categories) are good ones. No matter if you have an odd or even number of categories, there is always a chance the teams will tie for the week since categories can often be shared. In a nine-category league, you could have a 4.5-4.5 game, just as a 10-category league could have a couple of 5-5 contests.

That's another advantage of points-based leagues: Ties are much less common since the scores are so high. If you use a fractional scoring system (say, half a point per inning pitched), it would be a surprise to have one tie all season.

Most common categories: Batting average, runs, home runs, RBI, stolen bases, pitching wins, saves, ERA, strikeouts, and WHIP.


Since the scores each week often get into the 200s, these leagues should always be head-to-head. Like head-to-head roto leagues, you try to outscore your opponent each week, only your score will look more like a basketball video game than a Twins-Royals battle.

There is a set scoring system in which players are awarded points for a single (one point), double (two), triple (three), home run (four), run (one), RBI (one), etc. In these formats, two-start pitchers can be more valuable if they throw twice and win twice since wins can be worth 10 points each, but terrible two-start outings can be even more damaging.

Depending on your league's scoring system, closers might not be as valuable unless you have saves worth almost as many points as wins (not recommended). Also, if you deduct one point per strikeout (recommended), players such as Reynolds won't be starting options, which is a good thing.

Sample scoring system: Single, 1 point; double, 2; triple, 3; home run, 4; run, 1; RBI, 1; stolen base, 2; caught stealing, -1, strikeout, -1; win, 10; loss, -5; earned run allowed, -1; inning pitched, 0.5; pitching K, 1; save, 5; blown save, -2.

Contest or Prize Leagues

In these gimmick formats, you select players with a salary cap instead of competing with other owners in a draft. Once you select your team, you see how you compare to other owners' lineups, with the website awarding prizes to the top finishers.

Basically, you pay a fee and very few cash in. These leagues can be roto or head-to-head.

The lone advantage: The settings are determined by the website, so there is no haggling over certain rules or category preferences.