Although fans of Stat-O-Matic and APBA may beg to differ, modern fantasy baseball got its start in 1980. Those board games had been using historical stats to simulate games and seasons for quite a few years, but 40 years ago Dan Okrent dreamed up what most of us now know as fantasy baseball. Okrent, a magazine editor, and several friends of his from the media held the first draft at a restaurant they frequented, La Rotisserie Francaise in Manhattan. Thus was born Rotisserie Baseball. If you’d like to read more in-depth on the history of it all, check out Imagine Sports, “Who Invented Fantasy Baseball.”
The season is not here yet, but why not get a head start and jump in a Fantrax Classic Draft contest? Get a jump on the season with a Best Ball league or maybe a Draft and Hold. Or put some green on the line with a new season-long league to try and conquer. There’s no better time than now to get your baseball on!
The Basics of Rotisserie Baseball
Like all fantasy sports, Rotisserie Baseball involves drafting a team of real-world players to represent you against a group of fellow ‘owners.’ The successes and failures of the players you select will dictate the success of your team within the league. While fantasy baseball can involve months of research and analysis, the basics of the game are pretty straightforward.
Rotisserie Baseball scoring is built around statistical categories. The cumulative stats of your team are pitted against those of the other teams in your league. The better you do, the more points you get in that category. For example, take a 12-team league. The team with the best score in a category would get 12 points, the second-place team 11, the third-place team 10, and so on until the team with the worst score in that category would get one solitary point. The image below shows how the points unfolded in the HR category for the 15-team Tout Wars Draft and Hold League in 2019.
In the early days, there were eight categories, four hitting (Avg., HR, RBI, and SB) and four pitching (Wins, ERA, WHIP, and Saves). This was known as 4×4 scoring. Gradually many leagues added Runs Scored and Strikeouts to make it a somewhat standard 5×5 scoring system, although many league substitute OBP for Avg. or play with several additional categories.
Luckily for you, Fantrax can handle an almost endless combination of categories and the scoring is all automated with real-time standings any time you want them.
Surprisingly, standard rosters in Rotisserie Baseball haven’t changed too much. Many leagues still use the 23-player rosters that Okrent decided upon back in 1980. Each team consisted of 14 hitters (2 catchers, 1 first baseman, 1 second baseman, 1 third baseman, 1 shortstop, 1 middle infielder, 1 corner infielder, 5 outfielders, and 1 utility player) and 9 pitchers (any combination of starters or relievers).
Some leagues have decided that the catcher position lacks exciting players so they’ve taken one catcher out and replaced it with another utility player. Other leagues have added a 24th player allowing each team to use it for a pitcher or hitter. Many other leagues only use three outfielders.
As you can see, while there’s still something resembling a standard configuration, we’re seeing more variation than ever before. That’s as it should be. Your rosters should fit the needs and wants of the owners in your league. Leagues hosted on Fantrax have complete control of their rosters. You can decide which positions to use and how many players can be active. Maybe you want something close to a standard league so that the great analysis from FantraxHQ and other sites is directly applicable. Easy enough. Maybe you donned the tools of ignorance in Little League and you want an all-catcher league. You probably have issues, but hey, we can fix you right up. Fantrax makes it easy to customize every aspect of your Rotisserie Baseball league.
During the first few years of Rotisserie Baseball, each league used players from only the National League or only the American League. These 8- to 12-team leagues used a very high percentage of the players within their given player pool. This meant that even backup middle infielders and quite a few middle relievers were drafted.
Many people still play in AL- or NL-Only leagues, but probably the majority of leagues now allow you to roster players from any Major League team. These are known as mixed leagues.
All of these league settings are available on Fantrax. Heck, you can even select individual teams from around MLB and use your own custom player pool.
Rotisserie Baseball leagues generally have anywhere from eight to 18 teams, but I’ve seen fantasy leagues with one team for every MLB team. Obviously this means you’re using a majority of MLB players in your league. I hope you’re doing your research!
When deciding how many teams to have in your league, the important aspect to consider is how deep you want to go into the player pool. If you want to stick to everyday starters and names that even casual fans know, you probably want to stick to 12 teams or less. If you want to get down and dirty with backups and set-up men, you might want to try an 18-team league or do an AL/NL-only league.
Fantrax actually allows a league to have an incredible 200 teams in the same league. In this extreme case, each MLB player could be rostered by multiple fantasy teams.
Each season begins with a draft to acquire players for the season. League generally use one of two methods for this. Just like in the early days of rotisserie baseball, many leagues still use an auction format. Generally, each team has $260 to ‘purchase’ their 23-man active rosters. This method ensures that every team has an equal chance at every player provided they want to pay up. Auctions were prevalent in the early days when most drafts were live and in-person.
When the internet came around and on-line draft became a thing, snake drafts became a necessity, as the technology for on-line auctions did not exist. Snake drafts involve teams taking turns choosing players with the order reversing after every round. Snake drafts are the most popular form of player acquisition these days, but improved technology by sites like Fantrax has started a resurgence in the leagues using the auction format.
A third method of player acquisition involves teams setting their player rankings ahead of time followed by an automated draft. This method is generally not preferred and is typically used in more casual leagues.
TYPES OF ROTISSERIE BASEBALL LEAGUES
Rotisserie baseball leagues come in three basic flavors; re-draft, keeper, and dynasty.
In redraft leagues, each owner drafts an entirely new team each year. This gives each owner the chance to start anew each season and right the wrongs of the past season.
Keeper leagues allow each team to keep a certain amount of players, anywhere from just a couple of players to up to maybe half your team. Usually, players are given a contract when they are added to a team and can be kept for the length of that contract. Keeping a player longer than that may not be possible or may involve some kind of cost, whether it’s an increased salary during your auction or the cost of a particular draft slot in snake drafts. Keeper leagues allow you to build a team that can compete now and in the future, while at the same time allowing for a pretty rewarding draft experience.
Dynasty Fantasy Baseball Leagues allow an owner to keep players pretty much as long as they want. Dynasty leagues allow for long term planning and probably come the closest to replicating the experience of a real-life MLB GM. While the MLB draft process in Dynasty Leagues can be a bit of an afterthought, in most leagues all that draft day excitement transfers to the minor league side of things where prospects take on a lot more value
IN-SEASON ROSTER MANAGEMENT
Draft day isn’t the end of the road in rotisserie baseball leagues. You’re gonna have to deal with injuries and try to add value to your team as injuries and role changes continually shake up player values.
The fantasy baseball waiver wire is a great way to improve your team during the season, but the term itself is a bit of a misnomer. Yes, there are many leagues that still use a traditional waiver wire system, where teams are placed in an order, usually based on the reverse order of current standing, and then they can claim players based on that priority.
In reality though, more and more ‘waiver wires’ are based on a FAAB (Free Agent Acquisition Budget) system. Each owner is given a certain dollar amount (not real money), typically $100 or $1000, and each week they can bid on available players with the highest bidder winning. Once you are out of money, you are out of luck, though some leagues do allow $0 bids to help maintain active rosters.
Trades are also a way to improve your team during the season. Of course, they can also be a huge source of controversy. There are way too many aspects of trading to cover here, but good trades generally involve teams trading from categories of strength to shore up categories of weakness. But trades can be much different in keeper leagues. Sometimes an owner recognizes that their team cannot compete in the current season so they trade players with tons of current production (and probably a high cost) for players they think have future value at a low cost. These types of trades are known as dump trades. They’re a source of much consternation in keeper leagues, but there are ways to deal with dump trades that can keep everyone happy.
READY TO JOIN A ROTISSERIE BASEBALL LEAGUE?
Does all this seem like a lot? It can be a bit overwhelming to take all in, but if you approach the season as a few distinct periods it can help. The draft is huge so all your attention should go toward that in the beginning. Have a good draft and your regular season will be much easier. Screw up the draft and you may face a pretty big mountain to climb.
The good news is that it’s really easy to get started in rotisserie baseball. There are many free or low-cost public leagues forming on Fantrax every day. Of course, if you want the chance to win a bit of green with your roto initiation you can also do that. Fantrax offers many Classic Drafts where you pay an entry fee and can come away with prizes.
Whether you play for money or just the thrill of competition, rotisserie baseball can be a great way to test your knowledge of baseball and sharpen your strategic thinking. Fantasy baseball doesn’t have to be the big complicated beast many make it out to be. Start out with simple concepts and you’ll be moving on to the advanced level soon enough.
There’s only one way to find out if rotisserie baseball is for you though. Go out and join a league today!
For more great analysis check out the 2023 FantraxHQ Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit!