How To Set Up A Fantasy Baseball League With The Best Settings

"Only set lineups once per week... ...draft players who are good in real life baseball and they will be good in fantasy..."

Fantasy baseball is superior to fantasy football in many ways, but a significant number of huge fantasy football fans who also enjoy Major League Baseball simply don't play.  Many times there aren't enough interested players amongst fantasy football circles to get a league together due to lack of interest in prior fantasy baseball leagues, or the long and grueling commitment demanded by some fantasy baseball settings.  New scoring styles in fantasy baseball are changing the way fantasy baseball is perceived, and in a way that is much more attractive to fans of fantasy football.  This article describes league settings that will provide the most realistic fantasy baseball experience possible while still appealing to fantasy football fans who have been previously resistant to fantasy baseball.  If a player is "good" as measured by modern advanced sabermetrics in real life baseball, he should be "good" in fantasy baseball according to the league settings described here.  If nothing else, it should provide a solid baseline for setting up your league with your own tweaks.

Unlike fantasy football, fantasy baseball leagues have a wide variety of different scoring styles and nuances within these styles.  Traditionally, fantasy baseball has been played in a category-based format in which the winner being determined by the most category points, which would be earned by ranking as high as possible in different statistical categories.  A number 1 ranking in a statistical category would net the winning team 12 points (assuming 12 teams) for that category, with the number 2 ranking team scoring 11 points, and so on.  This category method has some advantages and limitations, and a popular development has been a points-based scoring format in which - much like fantasy football - many different stats are assigned different point values.  Each time a fantasy player accumulates one of these statistics it accrues points for his team, instead of counting towards a ranking in a category.  The points based system is what we recommend here, especially when looking to attract fans of fantasy football.  It allows teams to be good in any way they want as the total number of points is what is important, not the ranking.  We have previously written in more detail regarding the differences between points and categories leagues, please refer to that for further debate on that topic.

The Best Scoring Settings For A Fantasy Baseball Points League:

Since we don't have to worry about limiting the number of categories we are tracking too excessively, we can be mostly concerned with which categories make the best and most accurate reflection of reality while keeping in mind that a fantasy league is for fun and we would like competative balance as well.  Pitching points need to be matched with hitting points in a way that accurately reflects the relative value of each in real life.  Starting with the philosophy that 1 base is worth 1 point, we can extrapolate the following scoring system:

Hitters:

  • Walk (BB): 1 point
  • Single (1B): 1 point
  • Double (2B): 2 points
  • Triple (3B): 3 points
  • Home Run (HR): 4 points
  • Run (R): 1 points
  • Run Batted In (RBI): 1 point
  • Stolen Base (SB): 1 point
  • Hit by pitch (HBP): 1 point
  • Sacrafice (SAC): 1 point
  • Strikeout (SO): -.25 points
  • Error (E): -1 point
  • Caught Stealing (CS): -1 point
  • Hit For Cycle (CYC): 5 points

Pitching:

  • Inning Pitched (IP): .50 point
  • Strikeout (K): 1 point
  • Quality Start (QS): 4 points
  • Win (W): 4 points
  • Loss (L): -1 point
  • Save (SV): 5 points
  • Blown Save (BS): -1 point
  • Hold (H): 2 points
  • Earned Run (ER): -.50 points
  • Hit Allowed (H): -.25 points
  • Walk Allowed (BB): -.25 points
  • Hit Batsmen (HB): -.25 points
  • Complete Game (CG): 2 points
  • No Hitter (NH): 5 points
  • Perfect Game (PG): 10 points

This scoring system allows us to punish poor defense and baserunning (subtracting for errors and for caught stealing stats) and punishes slightly not putting the ball into play.  We also give credit for moving a baserunner and for getting on base with a walk, which are not always rewarded in standard scoring systems.  This adds realism without adding too much complexity - just draft good players who are good in real life.  On the pitching side, it allows us to reward the common charectoristics of the best pitchers in baseball, such as striking out a lot of batters and pitching well even in a loss by rewarding both Wins and Quality Starts.  We also limit the significance of "lucky" wins by both starting and relief pitchers by making a significant component of the points for a win come from the Quality Start.  Innings Pitched are also rewarded to reward getting outs (each IP reflects that a pitcher got 3 outs) and we can also punish allowing baserunners.  We reward Holds to give the good middle relievers in baseball some significant but balanced amount of fantasy value, keeping them more in balance in terms of real life value to Closers and SPs.  

Starting Positions and Roster Sizes For Points Leagues:

Depending on the size of your league (10, 12, or more teams), you'll want to tweak the number of starters and which positions start.  For a standard 12 team league, here are the recommended settings to accommodate the most balance possible between positional values:

Starting Hitters:

  • 1 Catcher (C)
  • 1 First Baseman (1B)
  • 1 Second Baseman (2B)
  • 1 Third Baseman (3B)
  • 1 Shortstop (SS)
  • 1 Second Base/Shortstop (2B/SS or MI)
  • 1 Third Base/First Base (1B/3B or CI)
  • 4 Outfielders (OF) - Raise to 5 with 10 teams, limit to 3 with more than 12
  • 1 Utililty (UTIL) - Raise to 2 with 10 teams, limit to 1 with more than 12

Starting Pitchers:

  • 3 Starting Pitchers (SP)
  • 3 Relief Pitchers (RP) - Lower to 2 with more than 12 teams
  • 3 Pitchers (P) - Raise to 4 with 10 teams, limit to 3 with more than 12

Bench:

  • 6-7 Bench Slots (Any Position)
  • 2 Disabled List Slots (DL)

A few potential tweaks to these systems to increase depth at your preference involve adding a second Catcher or requiring one of the Outfielders to play Center Field to better promote realism by requiring one outfielder to be able to handle Center.  Outfield is generally deep, and in 12 team leagues starting only 3 outfielders will notice a waiver wire rich in OF talent.

The Best Draft, Matchups/Lineups, Adds/Drops and Playoff Settings/Payout

The best way to draft is Auction.  This takes away some of the randomness and freedom restriction of the "draft slot" and allows players to pick who they want.  Your fantasy football friends will be begging you to change your fantasy football snake draft to auction after playing fantasy baseball this way.  Snake draft is fine to, but once you go auction it is hard to go back.

The best way to do lineups and matchups - especially for fantasy football aficionados converting over, is weekly head to head matchups.  The team who scores the most points over the course of a week wins the matchup, and gets a Win while the losing team gets a Loss - just like fantasy football.  Lineups lock on Monday morning and the week ends after all games are complete on Sunday night.  This means each owner only has to his set lineup once per week.  One limitation of this is that teams can exploit pitching matchups by selecting pitchers that pitch twice in a week, giving those pitchers better than average potential to score more points.  This is discouraged by rewarding pitching Ks quite highly, as pitchers who have very high K rates will not be available on the wire to "stream" when they start twice, so streaming excessive 2-start pitchers will come at the expense of them being lower quality starters.  A tweak to the head to head matchups is doing all-play, which will decrease the luck factor involved.  Fantasy baseball is generally 20 or 21 weeks long though, making luck less of a factor overall.

Adds/Drops are best conducted using an auction system (FAAB).   Depending on desired league activity, you may choose how many times each week to hold an auction.  At minimum you will want at least one auction per week, but it is recommended to have 2 or 3 auctions per week, with one being on Monday morning before lineups lock (to allow for last minute emergency adds).  A $150 budget with $1 minimum bid is recommended.

Recommended playoff settings are to have the top 2 teams in each division make the playoffs.  These teams should play a 2-week semi-final followed by a 2-week final to allow the least randomness via higher, 2 week sample size.  It is also recommended to make the final 4 weeks the playoffs, as fantasy football will start right as the fantasy baseball playoffs begin and non-playoff teams will want to focus on that.  Recommended payouts involve paying the winner 50 percent of the prize pool, rewarding 20 percent to second place, 10 percent to third place, and 30 percent to the team who scored the most total points over the course of the regular season.  This payout reflects a hybrid head-to-head and rotisserie style league, limiting luck by paying the highest scoring team even if they did have bad luck and lost H2H matchups.  If the winner also had the most points, they can win 80 percent of the prizes - but in order to do this they must be both lucky and good.

How do we know this is a good, realistic system?

The way we know it is a good system is that it is fun and attracts players to fantasy baseball who had previously been resistant.  Looking at the most modern reflection of what constitutes a "good" baseball player, we will turn to Fangraphs player rankings for 2015 vs results from this scoring system for 2015.  If the scoring system reflects reality, we will see the values in parenthesis close to the ranking in the list except for in cases where a player missed significant time.

The top offensive players in baseball according to Fangraphs with their 2015 Fantasy Baseball (using this scoring) ranking in parenthesis:

  1. Bryce Harper (2)
  2. Mike Trout (4)
  3. Joey Votto (8)
  4. Paul Goldschmidt (1)
  5. Josh Donaldson (3)
  6. Nelson Cruz (15)
  7. Jose Baustista (5)
  8. Anthony Rizzo (7)
  9. Chris Davis (8)
  10. Andrew McCutchen (13)
  11. Kris Bryant (29)*
  12. Edwin Encarnacion (12)
  13. Miguel Cabrera (59)*
  14. AJ Pollack (11)
  15. Matt Carpenter (22)

* - didn't play full season, limiting total points

The top pitchers in baseball for 2015 according to Fangraphs metrics with their 2015 fantasy ranking (using this scoring) in parenthesis:

  1. Clayton Kershaw (1)
  2. Jake Arrieta (2)
  3. David Price (7)
  4. Max Scherzer (3)
  5. Chris Sale (6)
  6. Dallas Keuchel (5)
  7. Zack Grienke (4)
  8. Corey Kluber (12)
  9. Gerrit Cole (9)
  10. Chris Archer (10)
  11. Jacob deGrom (11)
  12. Madison Bumgarner (8)
  13. Jon Lester (21)
  14. Jose Quintana (34)
  15. Carlos Carrasco (16)

Hitters may be ranked slightly less accurately as position scarcity differs more, but only 3 of the listed players were not in the top 15 with two of those missing time.  Pitchers are amazingly close to accurately reflecting their real life values.  The top 12 are simply slightly interchangeable with the top pitchers clearly being reflected by these fantasy settings.

These fantasy baseball settings are sure to attract and entertain fantasy baseball fans of other formats and fantasy football fans alike.  The realism combined with less committment than a daily league and the fair payouts offers the best combination of fantasy baseball settings.

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