It is no secret that, to the masses, fantasy football is king. The ‘sport’ reaches the largest audience, has the most leagues, and has stretched its arms far past the hardcore fan and into the ‘casual gamer’ space. In almost every way, fantasy football has a lock on the market.
The exception? The variety of ways in which fantasy baseball can be played.
In its infancy, fantasy baseball was driven by a unique format virtually impossible to translate to other sports: rotisserie. In a standard 5×5 rotisserie league, the success of one’s team is gauged by the accumulation of all stats throughout the season when compared to those of its opponents. Point values are attached to the rank – winning a category nets your team ten points, finishing second is worth nine points, etc., assuming a ten-team league – and the sum of these points ultimately determine a winner. While debates rage as to whether or not rotisserie baseball is the most accurate way to determine the best fantasy baseball team over the course of a given season, it does act as the core concept from which other formats emerged.
In addition to fantasy sports gaining in mainstream popularity, the growth of fantasy football over the past two decades has also provided baseball with a similar style of scoring to reward those who enjoy a weekly competition within the grander scale of the overall season – head-to-head leagues. In the most common scoring system – 5×5 head-to-head categories – the players for each team accumulate statistics in the same categories as described in the rotisserie format, but the winner is decided by which team won more categories over the course of the week. Differing from football’s natural ‘one game per week’ schedule, fantasy baseball often provides one decision – win, loss, or tie – per category per week. For example, scoring more in five, losing three, and tying two categories would yield a record of 5-3-2 for the week, to be carried into the overall season.
For those who want to follow the football format more closely, head-to-head points leagues operate almost exactly the same as their standard football counterparts, accumulating points for all actions on the baseball field over the course of the week and assigning one win, loss, or tie to each team that squared off. Without categories limiting the amount of actions on the field to consider, the game is essentially opened up to allow commissioners to assign values for nearly anything they deem appropriate.
The rules, therefore, provide the next opportunity for participants to taste a wide palette of fantasy baseball. While football leagues may consider the use of two-quarterbacks or ‘keepers’ – players that can be kept by an owner for multiple seasons – fantasy baseball’s scoring system is nearly limitless. Value defense over offense? Include errors or fielding percentage in your team’s settings and draft Andrelton Simmons. Are you a fan of Moneyball? Replace batting average with on-base percentage – this is becoming increasingly more common – and watch 36-year-old Victor Martinez fly up the draft board. Think saves are overrated? They are. Use ‘holds plus saves’ instead.
There are ‘simulation leagues’ that take into account the statistical impact of weather – real or randomized – dynasty leagues that dive deep into the vast minor league system, and, of course, the ever-growing world of daily fantasy sports. The only downside to all of these personalized options? The user base is stretched thin.
Many people play in multiple formats concurrently, but, as almost anyone will attest, fantasy baseball is a commitment, one that the casual fantasy football player will likely not entertain. Therefore, the number of users will likely never explode, and only include a shift among formats by those who already play the game. Like most things, there is a tradeoff, and the lack of rapid growth cannot be ignored.
Mock draft rooms fill up in minutes during the month of August, as people pile into virtual rooms to practice the strategy with which they will soon be drafting football players. In the dead of winter, as snow housebound thousands, most fantasy baseball mock drafts start half-full – with optimism – only to be barren within a few rounds.
The rationale is understandable – fantasy baseball requires an incredible amount of attention when compared to fantasy football. By that reasoning, it is an unfortunate truth that someone who consumes sports by glancing at the television once per week to stay up-to-date will not get hooked. But if that same person visits any website that contains scores for one sport, it is not unreasonable to think he or she could do the same for baseball. Yes, it may be a long season with games played daily – even that could be customized, as many leagues now require a lineup to be set only once per week – but the amount of time spent in preparation and execution can be minimal. It just can’t be non-existent.
For anyone who has played fantasy sports, the payoff is incredible. In addition to the rush of competition, you gain a vested interest in the teams that play outside your confined market, learning about players that otherwise would have never touched your radar. With that, your knowledge and enjoyment of the sport likely grows, and the cycle continues each season.
The only reason not to start is because you don’t know where to begin. But that’s where fantasy baseball separates itself from the pack. Figure out what you like in a fantasy sports league – draft style, frequency of lineups locking, amount of players and positions to use – and find one that fits your needs.
Don’t worry, it’s out there. There’s a fantasy baseball league for everyone.