Starting a Fantasy Baseball League

by Bryce McRae on December 1, 2010 @ 09:00:01 PDT


Like any first-time endeavor, starting a fantasy league as commissioner can be daunting. It is a 26-week commitment that may require you to check in daily to make sure things are running smoothly. However, if done correctly, it can be an enjoyable experience. Remember that the more planning that goes into the league, the more smoothly it should run, and the more fun it should be for all involved.

The earlier you begin setting up your league, the better. In addition, the more complicated the forthcoming league will be, the more time the commissioner will need to coordinate the effort.

The basics

One of the first moves to make as commissioner is determining how many owners to include in your league. If you want to take the casual route, then look to limit the number of owners you invite. This in turn can keep the player pool shallow; for participants, it shouldn't require as much knowledge as they'd need in deep leagues. Look to have at least eight owners for a shallow league, though. Often, a common interest among peers or the general knowledge level of the prospective owners will dictate how many people to include. League format can also be a factor, so discuss the proposed parameters with potential owners.

Don't let a little extra work deter you from adding owners, either; deep leagues are just as fun, and for those who love baseball, researching the sport isn't a chore. The key point is to make sure all owners are and will remain interested. It's better to have 10 interested owners than 15 with a few who lose interest. Check throughout the offseason to determine which owners remain interested as you move toward your draft. Make sure league participants understand that agreeing to join your league is a commitment for all functions associated with the league and the entire season.

You'll also need to find a Web site to host your league. Presumably, the commissioner doesn't want to be recording all the stats and determining the standings on a daily basis. Some sites offer additional features for a fee, including live scoring, carry-over rosters (if you choose to start or expand to a keeper league) and salary tracking (for auction or dynasty leagues). If you want to go the free route, there are still plenty of options, though they're unlikely to have most, if any, add-ons associated with pay sites.

League type

The commission and league members should agree on all league formats. First, determine whether you go with rotisserie or head-to-head scoring. Head-to-head leagues might be more attractive for casual players because more owners will be alive late in the season by virtue of the allotted playoff spots. In addition, if you're out of it in a head-to-head league, there is still the possibility of knocking off that archrival late in the season.

If you're looking for a league that crowns the best team over the length of the season, consider going with a rotisserie format. In this type, all teams are ranked according to where they stand in each category. Rankings are based on cumulative stats over an entire season, so it's not hard for an owner to fall far behind early. Those who fall way behind in roto leagues tend to lose interest more easily because it is a little more difficult to make up ground.

You will also need to determine how to keep score; the most common method, in roto or head-to-head, is the 5x5 format. Few use the 4x4 method or points scoring anymore. The hitting categories for a 5x5 league are runs, RBIs, stolen bases, home runs and batting average; the pitching categories are strikeouts, WHIP, ERA, wins and saves. If you choose a 4x4 league, just drop runs and strikeouts. For a points league, you'll need to assign point values to each of the statistics your league counts.

You don't have to limit your league to said stats, but remember that the more stats you add, the more research owners have to do. Generally, the more categories you add, the more convoluted the game becomes. Those considered should be clearly applicable to fantasy baseball. Don't introduce a category that adds fantasy value to random players.

Decide which player pool you will use. There are three options: mixed, AL-only and NL-only. If you are forming a casual league, the best option is likely a mixed league, which allows you to select players from both the American and National Leagues. League-specific formats require a great deal of knowledge about many lesser known players such as part-timers, backups and prospects.

Draft format

There aren't many options when it comes to drafting. If all owners agree, consider holding an in-person draft. The location and availability of each owner will help determine this. If not everyone can make it, then jump online for the draft. Most league hosts offer an online drafting function. Just make sure that everyone has cleared their schedules. To be accommodating, ask for input from all owners, and set a draft date and time as early as possible.

The other decision regarding the draft is whether to follow a serpentine or auction format. The former is the more casual and less time-consuming method, with a random draft order assigned and owners choosing their players in reverse order in each successive round. In auctions, owners nominate players to be considered one at a time. Each owner bids on that player until he is "sold." In this format, each owner has a shot at every player. However, these drafts take longer to complete and require more advanced fantasy knowledge and experience.

In-season work

Owners should agree on a format for in-season moves. First, you should strongly consider setting a trade deadline, a date after which no trades can occur. This can help to prevent collusion near the end of the season.

Your league can allow pickups of unowned players through a waiver system or an FAAB (Free Agent Acquisition Budget) system. A waiver system - whether it occurs once per week or daily with first-come, first-served (FCFS) free agency - is simpler for the casual player. FCFS systems require constant monitoring, though, and coveted players are often scooped up by those quickest to their computers. An FAAB system involves bidding on free agents each waiver period (usually once per week) and requires more research, experience and time.

As the commissioner, make sure to stay active. You will have to keep track of finances (both fictional and real, if your league has decided to go this route), update owners on any scoring changes and quiet any fires that break out during the year. Being an active commissioner is part of the job. Keep the league fun and find ways to encourage owners to remain involved.

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About Bryce McRae

Bryce McRae is a Managing Editor with KFFL and has been involved in fantasy sports since 1999. He joined KFFL as a volunteer writer in March 2005 before becoming a Hot off the Wire Analyst in March 2006. He began working in his current capacity in September 2008. His work has appeared on fantasy sports sites such as Yahoo! and CBS Sportsline as well as in print. He graduated from the University of British Columbia in 2008 with a B.A. in History and U.S. Studies.

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