How to play fantasy baseball – A guide for beginners

You may have friends or co-workers that are really into fantasy baseball but maybe you have no idea how to play. You could be a lifelong baseball fan that has never dabbled with the game because of the 162-game baseball season that has 10 times as many games as football and about twice as many games as basketball. Or you may be intimidated by the perceived unlimited statistics or saber-metrics when it comes to baseball lingo and the confusing acronyms a casual fan hears every so often such as WAR, OPS, WHIP or BABIP.

Sure, those acronyms don’t seem too pleasant when making the transition from the gridiron or hardwood to the baseball diamond; however, it’s easier to digest once you set the foundation. Fortunately for you, your friends at Fantasy Couch will be with you from this point on as your friends, co-workers and fellow managers will cry “beginner’s luck” on your way to wins against them and a possible trip to the postseason.

How does fantasy baseball work?

For starters, fantasy baseball is simply the culmination of players you draft to represent your team and the combination of those statistics in comparison to your opposition. While some leagues are American League (AL) or National League (NL) only, in most instances every player in the Major Leagues is available to be drafted. This includes injured players. So, be sure to have a cheat sheet (list of baseball players you want to draft) so you don’t draft a bunch of bandaged zombies that will butcher your chances of starting strong out of the gate. That is certainly not how to play fantasy baseball.

You can play with a group of people you know, where one person is designated to be the commissioner. The commissioner or “commish” is responsible for collecting league fees, organizing the draft process, creating all the league settings and rules while making sure everyone plays fair and has fun. This is not a job you want to take on for your first year as a rookie. If you don’t know enough people who play fantasy baseball, then you can join a public league on a site like ESPN or Yahoo and start drafting right away.

Leagues are normally comprised of 10-12 teams, but there are leagues getting ready for spring training with as many as 20-30 teams. Those who are beginning to get a feel for fantasy baseball would want to stay around 10-12 teams as it would be a good way to gauge yourself among the competition, in and outside your league. Most articles you read regarding rankings and mock drafts will have 10-12 teams and much of the info you need for your draft will be based off of that. We highly recommend using our fantasy baseball resources to prepare for your draft.

Checking a cell phone during our fantasy baseball draft

Know your league format

Before we get into the draft, I’m going to touch on something that has a direct effect on how you choose to draft. In most instances you’ll have the choice between a fantasy points leagues, or something called categorical scoring leagues. The former is much like fantasy football in that the stats have a certain amount of points. In the same way a reception (1 point) for 25 yards (2.5 points) and a touchdown (6 points) would equal 9.5 points for a receiver, a single (1 point) that drove in two RBI’s (2 points) would equal three points for a batter. The latter is a categorical league that would consist of a set number of stats for pitching and batting. The key here is having a greater number of these specific stats than your opponent over the course of a calendar week. The team with the majority of these stats won would be the winner for that matchup with either a single victory for the week or by using each week’s category total towards the overall standings. For example, if you win seven out of the 10 categories, you win that contest 7-3 and it puts the importance on winning every possible category over the course of a season. There are also head-to-head formats, where you face a different opponent each week and rotisserie (roto) where stats are accumulated throughout the entire season. We recommend head-to-head, categorical formats.

The fantasy baseball draft

Draft day is hands-down the biggest day for fantasy baseball! You can choose to draft online (this works better with buddies who live far away or with strangers) or offline, in-person which is so much fun. You can see a photograph of our live draft below:

Checking the computer at our fantasy baseball draft

In order to equip yourself with the best possible team, you’ll need to consider the best coarse of action for each format. If you’re in a categorical league, draft with those specific stats in mind. In most cases you’ll want batters that are consistent (AVG > .280) but still have the power numbers that will fuel you when it comes to RBI’s, runs and homers. On the mound, you’ll want 20-win pitchers with an ERA under 3.00 and 200-plus strikeouts to show for it, while utilizing a handful of relief pitchers that will earn your team saves.

In points leagues, which normally includes detractor statistics like strikeouts for batters and runs allowed by pitchers, team managers will want to get a feel for the league by utilizing the history of past seasons and asking for last year’s end of season rankings. Given the greater number of statistics used in this format, these kinds of leagues account for more of the in-game action and are a better indication of how each team or player is doing. Implementing this kind of “cheat sheet” before the draft will allow you to get a feel for the league before you even get started and allow you to see where the best value was in fantasy last year at every position. By no means am I saying to draft from that list, it is simply a taste of how your league scores and knowing that makes all the difference.

To give yourself a bit of perspective ahead of draft day, it would be wise to do a handful of mock drafts prior to your draft with the same format and number of teams. After a few mocks you should be able to have some form of strategy regarding who you like in certain rounds and when to draft specific positions that won’t leave you picking a backup catcher in the fifteenth round.


Once your team is drafted, it’s time to face the competition. Over the course of the season the stats will be accumulated over the course of a week (Monday-Sunday) and converted into points for you. The team with the most points scored or categories won will take the week. Depending on your playoff platform, the fantasy postseason will start in August or September as MLB playoff games aren’t used for fantasy leagues.

The draft is an important element of your future success in the season because you as a team owner will have to fill your team’s needs while trying to get the maximum value with each selection. You’ll end up deal with injuries, inconsistent performances, suspensions, rainouts and other curveballs the fantasy baseball gods will send your way. To handle these things properly you’ll need to make good use of your DL spot (this is where you put players unable to play if your league allows it) and gauge the value of players who may miss extended periods of time. Unlike actual MLB team owners/managers, those in the fantasy realm aren’t forced to hold onto players we don’t want. Good teams make use of the waiver wire by seeing which bats or arms are hot to add them while dropping a lesser producing player. The waiver wire is a pool of players who are not designated to any team, and are free to be picked up once the waiver period is cleared. This period varies from league to league with the order normally based on the league standings with the best team last and the worst team first in line.

The only other way to alter your team would be via trade. Being on constant lookout for possible deals would be wise of each owner, but it’s important to make the best possible trade for your team. It is rare to get a fair and honest offer from another owner, so don’t accept a deal until you have countered it a few times in most cases. If you are offered a deal, it’s normally because they feel they are weak in a particular area and/or they have a surplus. Take advantage of that opportunity and look to improve your team where it’s needed most. Just be sure to make sure you don’t hinder your team in the process and we can help with that.

If you can avoid lengthy injuries to top players and make good use of the waiver wire by paying close attention to who’s hot and who’s not, you could find yourself in your first postseason this fall and soon may be teaching a class on how to play fantasy baseball to your fellow league managers.

If I have left any questions unanswered feel free to ask me on Twitter @ThisJustM or ask the Fantasy Couch team @FantasyCouch. Feel free to follow us for more tips and future articles as well.

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