Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Bennett & Bodin on Baseball: Setting up your League

[Editor's Note: This Article is the first of a seven part series on how to prepare for your fantasy baseball draft. The authors, Cameron Bennett and Larry Bodin, are both fantasy sports experts. Each has competed with distinction in the League of Alternative Baseball Reality ("LABR")--a fantasy league formed by John Hunt, and which has featured Peter Gammons, Keith Olbermann and Bill James amongst others.]

Overview of Certain Aspects of Fantasy Baseball

A fantasy baseball season consists of the following three parts:

  • The Preparation: What the owner does to prepare for the season. This aspect of fantasy baseball is critical if the owner wants to be successful. We will discuss the preparation for the auction or draft in the next couple of columns.
  • The Auction or Draft: The auction or draft is generally the most anticipated event for a fantasy baseball owner. There are many things to consider when forming an owner’s fantasy team. We will devote a few columns to discussing the strategy the owner can employ in selecting his team and what to expect in an auction.
  • The Owner’s Management of his Team: Once the owner selects his team, the owner has to manage his team. He has to pick up free agents, release players, move players between the active roster and the reserve squad, etc. We will discuss some of these ideas in a few columns that should appear in late March and April.

All three of these aspects are important if the owner wishes to be successful. Although we will discuss each of these parts in greater detail in subsequent columns, what we want to do with the remainder of this column is to try to come down to a common base among the different types of leagues. It is easier to discuss some of these issues if we have a common base.

Category Management – a Key Theme in Being Successful

A theme that we will discuss throughout these columns is the notion of category management. Most fantasy baseball leagues have 8+ categories and the teams are ranked in each category. The team that is best in a particular category gets the number of points equal to the number of teams in the league, the 2nd place team gets one less point than the first place team, the 3 rd place team gets one less point than the 2nd place team, etc. The winner of the league is the team that gets the most points added up over all of the categories that the league employs.

To be successful, the owner has to select an initial team that is competitive in most categories. The owner has to make moves that allow them to move up in certain categories while not getting severely hurt in other categories. Successful category management requires the owner to carefully assess every situation and make the moves that best benefit their team. Proper management can be time consuming and require care on the part of the owner. The owner will not win if they do not employ proper category management.

An Important Note

A fantasy baseball owner should remember the following. When you play in a fantasy baseball league, the game you must be primarily concerned about is the fantasy league in which you are participating. The major league baseball (MLB) games and baseball players provide the data and the players for your fantasy baseball league. Who wins the AL or NL should be of little concern to a fantasy baseball owner. Of course, a fantasy baseball owner should be a fan of MLB; however, this is not the primary criterion.

Considerations in Fantasy Baseball Leagues

There are many considerations in order to be successful in a fantasy baseball league. We will discuss some of the simple considerations in this article and more complicated considerations in the next two articles.


There is no standard set of fantasy baseball categories. Most 4x4 leagues use the following categories:

  • Hitting: Home Runs, Stolen Bases, RBI, Batting Average.
  • Pitching: Wins, Saves, ERA, WHIP = (hits+walks)/innings pitched.

In a 5x5 league, runs and strikeouts are generally added. Other categories that we have used are (i) innings pitched (not a great category), (ii) strikeouts – walks (a great category but difficult to manage), and (iii) total bases + total times reaching base (almost the numerator in the OPS) and a great predictor of hitting points except for steals.

Types of Leagues

A fantasy baseball league can generally be broken down into either a Cumulative Category League or a Head-to-Head League. A Cumulative Category League adds up the points that each team earns over all of the categories and the team that wins the league is the team that gets the most points.

In a Head-to-Head League, two teams go head-to-head against each other for a week. The team that gets the greater number of points that week gets a win and the other team gets a loss. The team that wins the league is the team that has the most wins. Often, in a Head-to-Head League, there are playoffs to determine the winner of the playoffs. Head-to-Head Leagues with playoffs are very popular in Fantasy Football. Since we prefer a Cumulative Category League, we are only going to consider Cumulative Category Leagues in our columns.


Some leagues allow trades and other leagues do not allow trades. Trading can be the most controversial aspect of any fantasy baseball leagues. Leagues have broken up because of unbalanced trades, possible collusion among owners, etc. We will devote an entire column to trades.


Some leagues allow owners to keep players while other leagues do not. A no-keeper league is equivalent to every player having a one year contract. The Tout Wars League, LABR and LLRG are non-keeper leagues. In a non-keeper league, every year is a separate contest. Many of us feel that a non-keeper league or a league with only a few keepers is preferable. Other leagues like the notion of ‘legacy leagues’ and ‘long term contracts’ so owners can invest in minor league players who may make it to the majors in a couple of years.

There are positive arguments for having a non-keeper league or a variant of a keeper league. In terms of strategy, in a keeper league, an owner must decide the players to keep before the draft or the auction. More on this in a later issue.

Issues Regarding Selecting Players Using a Draft

Owners in some leagues select their players via a draft while owners in other leagues select their players via an auction. There are some issues that one can describe regarding selecting players using a draft. These issues are described in the next article. After the next article, strategies for selecting player in an auction are described.

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