How to Play Fantasy Baseball: A Beginner's Guide (2024)

If you are looking for the purest form of fantasy sports, there is nothing better than learning how to play season-long fantasy baseball.

The most common way to play fantasy baseball is season-long. Season-long fantasy baseball runs across an entire 162-game MLB season, from MLB Opening Day (late March) through the end of the regular season (early October), usually 26 or 27 weeks.

Fantasy baseball does require more research and effort than fantasy football because the season is much longer, the player pool is bigger and the stats more plentiful. If you love fantasy sports and are a fan of the sport of baseball but have felt like fantasy baseball is too much of a time commitment, you’re not wrong. Like everything else in life, the more time and effort you put in, the more successful you’ll be at it. But there is simply nothing like the 6-month journey and the amount of fun it is to keep up with baseball through the fantasy lens. You’ll catch yourself watching more games on TV and checking box scores incessantly, wondering what took you so long to get into it.

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Unlike other fantasy sports like football or basketball, baseball is less impacted by team context and usage. It is more of an individual game – the batter vs. the pitcher. This means that each hitter will have a chance to help your team in their 3-4 plate appearances per game, and starting pitchers can be projected to make 30-plus starts in a year.

How Does Fantasy Baseball Work?

Scoring

There are a handful of scoring formats to play in fantasy baseball.

  • Rotisserie (aka roto)
  • Head-to-Head (points)
  • Head-to-Head (categories)
  • Head-to-Head (categories, one win per week)
  • Best Ball (points)

The traditionalists prefer roto, but for a person who is used to fantasy football, H2H points is the most natural transition from fantasy football. H2H formats include league playoffs, which typically make for an exhilarating finish. Roto compiles all your teams’ stats daily and facilitates a point total based on how many points you have in each category. For example:

  • 10-team league, 10 roto categories = 100 points maximum
  • 12-team league, 10 roto categories = 120 points maximum
  • 15-team league, 10 roto categories = 150 points maximum

Say it’s June 5. If you have the lowest number of strikeouts in your league of 12, you then have just 1 point. If you have the most home runs, that’s 12 points. Add up that 1 + 12 + your point total in the other eight categories, and that’s your point total. The winner of a 12-team league usually ends up with about 95-110 points. Every site that hosts fantasy leagues has a live scoring page where you move up and down the standings with each at-bat, home run, strikeout, etc., throughout the six-month season. It’s quite the grind, but it’s exciting!

Categories

Fantasy baseball leagues can be customized to score dozens of different statistical categories, but traditional roto baseball leagues utilize these 10:

Hitters:

  • Batting Average (BA or AVG)
  • Home Runs (HR)
  • Runs Batted In (RBI)
  • Runs Scored (R)
  • Stolen Bases (SB)

Pitchers:

  • Strikeouts (K or SO)
  • Wins (W)
  • Earned Run Average (ERA)
  • Walks + Hits / Innings Pitched (WHIP)
  • Saves (SV)

This format is known as standard 5×5 roto. One could create a league that is 6×6 or 7×10 or 5×4 using a variety of other categories. Some of the most popular ones are on-base percentage, slugging percentage and holds (to include middle relievers).

Best Fantasy Baseball Sites

There are over a dozen sites from which to choose. Here are the most popular ones:

ESPN, Yahoo! and CBS are the oldest and largest platforms. All have their various pros and cons, but the public leagues are fairly soft, which is a huge advantage to anyone who does their homework. All three sites offer a variety of formats, and you can set up free leagues or premium leagues with commissioner services.

Fantrax and RT Sports are baseball-friendly sites that offer a variety of customizable leagues and game types. Fantrax is a well-known platform for dynasty and keeper formats. RT Sports is a good place for beginner to intermediate players with league entry fees on the lower side, between $20 to $100. Both sites offer 10-team roto leagues, draft or auction formats and AL- or NL-only leagues.

Underdog is the premier place for the draft-it-and-forget-it best ball format. They are primarily known for their NFL best ball contests, including one that paid out $3,000,000 to the winner of the large $25-entry contest. Underdog offers drafts for as little as $5 in contests where you can draft up to 150 times. Underdog Fantasy’s Head of MLB Brendan Tumawrote a splendid overview of their best ball product in the 2024 FTN Fantasy Baseball Draft Guide. If you’ve never signed up for Underdog, you can receive a deposit match bonus using promo code FTN.

NFBC stands for National Fantasy Baseball Championship, and it’s the most prestigious site for fantasy baseball, where ultimately the best players play. Entry fees start at $50, including the Online Championship Qualifier, and they are a perfect way to get your feet wet. Vlad Sedler broke down their 20-plus contest offerings in thisfree FTN article. Their options range from traditional 5×5 roto, best ball points, auction, guillotine, salary cap and many others. NFBC hosts live drafts in Las Vegas every March, right before the start of the season.

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How to Play Fantasy Baseball

Rosters

I recommend a 12-team league to begin in fantasy baseball. That way, you don’t have to go too deep in the player pool and there are always options available to improve your team. The 10-team format is a popular one with casual fantasy players, but it creates a vast pool of weekly pickups in the free agent pool, which takes away some of the fun and the challenge. NFBC formats include two catchers, one first baseman, one second baseman, one shortstop, one third baseman, one middle infielder (second baseman or shortstop), one corner infielder (first or third baseman), five outfielders, one utility player (any hitter) and nine pitchers (either starting pitchers or relievers/closers). NFBC leagues also allow for a reserve list of seven players as well.

Draft

There are two main methods to draft players, a snake draft and an auction draft. Auctions are more so for experienced players, and they revolve around a $260 salary cap to purchase a player’s services. A snake draft is the more common draft method and is well-suited for a beginner. Traditional roto drafts are 30 rounds (23 in starting lineup, 7 bench). The Draft-and-Hold formats are usually 50-round drafts with no in-season management (FAAB), so you are “stuck” with the 50 players you drafted.

Lineup Changes

How often you can change your lineup depends on the league settings. A daily league means you can sub in/out players every single day based on who is in the lineup, who has a day off, etc. A weekly or bi-weekly league is often set on Mondays, and you need to forecast the entire week on that Monday, but there is no further lineup maintenance after your player’s first game begins.

Player Transactions

In terms of adds/drops, the NFBC strictly uses free agent acquisition budget, or FAAB. This is the most strategic and fair way to allow players to be added since fastest finger leagues favor those who can check their leagues while at work or those who are most online. FAAB involves a budget (generally $100 or $1,000), and you bid the amount of fake money you are willing to spend on a player, and hopefully you can win that player for your allotted amount. Knowing how often your league runs FAAB or transactions is crucial too. Usually, they run Sundays, but some leagues allow for daily moves, or run FAAB nightly. Knowing your format is imperative, especially when it comes to transactions.

Know Your Format

Knowing your league’s rules is a big advantage, or at least will keep you on a level playing field with more seasoned fantasy managers. If you know that your league doesn’t reward closers because it combines saves + holds, or if you know there are starting pitchers you can get off waivers/FAAB, you can use that to your benefit. Knowing the rules is imperative. For example, I played in a league with a manager who was unaware that they could change their pitchers on Fridays in a Fantrax Draft-and-Hold league, and he missed out on adding more volume on the weekends. Knowing your rules matters.

FTN Tools

You are ready to jump into a fantasy baseball league but haven’t begun prep, no problem! We have you covered atFTN Fantasy. You can useVlad Sedler’s VDP rankings, and our late-round hitter/pitcher columns to find some sleepers as well as a myriad of other tools to help get you ready for Draft Day! If you are curious about what the current player market looks like and who people in paid NFBC drafts have been drafting, check out average draft positions withNFBC’s ADP report.

Remember to have fun with it, and to keep it simple! There are many ways to get lost in the weeds, but the tenets of fantasy baseball can be simple, so do not overcomplicate it. Fantasy baseball may take a couple of years to feel like you have a good grip on it, but it is an incredibly fun game that rewards those who can maintain their rosters well during the marathon of a six-month MLB season.

If you are feeling a little overwhelmed, do not fret. The fantasy baseball community is incredible at helping others and uplifting each other! One of our guest writers at FTN, Drew Forte, parlayed an Online Championship Qualifier ($50 entry fee) victory in 2022 to winning the Online Championship Overall ($150,000 grand prize!) in 2023. His story shows how much you gain in playing fantasy baseball if you spend the time researching and committing to it. As the old saying goes, you get in what you put in. With fantasy baseball, that’s a ton of fun and perhaps some prize money as the cherry on top.

How to Play Fantasy Baseball: A Beginner's Guide (2024)

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