What type of fantasy baseball game should I play?

Which format should I play?

Every year the top search engines see tons of web searches trying to determine the best fantasy baseball game to play. There are so many choices and so little unbiased information regarding each of these games. The purpose of this blog post is an attempt to narrow some of this information gap. At the end of this post I will share five key questions that you need to ask in order to figure out the correct fantasy format for your own personal interests. Before I get to the questions, I need to give a brief history of fantasy baseball. This will ensure that everyone is on the same page regarding the types of fantasy formats, strengths of those formats and also the weaknesses.

It is generally accepted that the first fantasy baseball format that used live performance results was Rotisserie. It was started in 1980 by Daniel Okrent. The name comes from the place where the league met – a New York City restaurant called “La Rotisserie Francaise”. Rotisserie baseball is typically referred to by the number of batting and pitching categories that are monitored. A 4×4 roto league tracks 4 batting categories and 4 pitching categories. This format became popular because one could easily add up their player’s stats using weekly data information that was published in the USA today. In a 12 team roto league, the top manager would get 12 points in a category they lead, 11 points for second, etc. By adding all the category points together for those players you started that week, you derive the leaders (and eventual winners) of your league. Simplicity is the biggest strength of this format. You can run it just like a fantasy football league. Waivers are processed on one day. Weekly standings are published at the end of the weak. Etc. Etc. That is probably why this has become the largest fantasy baseball format. The negatives are the game does not reflect real individual player performance. Team stats like RBIs, Wins, Losses, etc. are dramatically impacted by the strength of a player’s team in lieu of their individual performance. Roto also doesn’t emphasize the daily nature of baseball. Everything is done on a weekly basis. In other words, the simplification that makes it popular to casual fans has also made it unrealistic for baseball purists. As real-time stats have become more accessible, many rotisserie variations have popped up. Head-to-Head leagues use rotisserie categories to award team wins, losses or ties on a weekly basis. Some leagues have even replaced traditional roto categories with sabermetric calculations.

Before rotisserie, a game called Strat-o-Matic (created in 1963) was the baseball diehard’s game of choice. Many didn’t consider this real fantasy baseball because live stats were not used. It was actually a tabletop game that used historical player data recorded on player baseball cards to simulate games and even seasons. Some sites still exist today that are built upon either historical or fictional player performance. All of these games have their roots in Strat-o-Matic. The pro of this format is that mangers often play a full 162 game season that has the daily feel of major league baseball. The obvious negative is that the game does not use live performance data. Thus, you are not really playing “fantasy” baseball.

In the early 1990s, a new game called Baseball Manager teamed with prodigy to create the first online fantasy baseball game. In order to recreate the real baseball feel of Strat-o-Matic and combine it with the live performance data associated with rotisserie, Baseball Manager chose to use newly created sabermetric projection systems to simulate daily head-to-head baseball games. The game engine combined live performances of players that played that day with banked performances that had not already been used in a head to head game. A fantasy manager’s team offensive performance was calculated by running their players thru the Bill James Runs Created formula. Defensive performances were a combination of pitcher ERAs and player’s fielding performance. A daily head-to-head game would be decided by comparing the offensive and defensive performance of each team. A daily sports page was published each evening for participating managers that read just like your local newspaper. Managers chose their daily lineups based upon pitching matchups (LH/RH); established their pitching rotations three days in advance like a major league manager and even simulated travel to an opposing team’s park to play a 3 game series. Although the game has obviously matured from the days of prodigy (web based), the basic idea of the game is still the same. The major positive of a simulation format is baseball realism on multiple levels. That is also the negative. Managers looking for simplicity or a draft and go type of league should not play simulation leagues. It isn’t a huge time commitment. But, you do have to spend some time on your team every few days. Over the last several years other simulation games have popped up that compete with Baseball Manager. Based upon second hand information, these other formats have resolution formulas that are not based upon sabermetric theory. However, I have not played these leagues so I don’t feel qualified to evaluate them within this post.

The last format that began emerging over the last 10 years is the head-to-head point leagues. These are very similar to roto in the sense that you draft your team and play baseball on a weekly basis. The difference is that the games use a resolution formula to award points for individual player statistical categories in lieu of ranking them from 1 to X. In a sense, they have attempted to use resolution formulas like the simulation leagues while maintaining the weekly format of roto. The positives and negatives of this format are really the same as roto. Simplicity, weekly formats, team based stats, etc. It is just a different way to represent the results.

You’ll notice that I did not discuss the various draft formats. I’ll attempt to cover that subject in another post since it seems that I have been typing on this topic for a while. Once you pick a format, this may be a differentiator for some managers.

So…, without further delay, the questions that you need to ask yourself when you want to choose a fantasy game are as follows:

1. How important is being part of the “main stream” of fantasy baseball?
a. Important – You should play rotisserie
b. Doesn’t Matter – Go to the next question.

2. What is more important to you – Simplicity or Realism?
a. Simplicity favors weekly formats like rotisserie and point leagues.
b. Realism favors simulation leagues.
c. Doesn’t Matter – Go to the next question.

3. Do you get bored with fantasy baseball within a month of finishing your draft?
a. Yes – You may want to try a more realistic version of fantasy baseball.
b. No – Go to the next question.

4. How long do you want to play – Full Season or Partial Season?
a. Full Season fantasy baseball is the standard for all fantasy baseball formats. Go to the next question.
b. There is only one format that offers a partial season – Simulation Leagues. Baseball Manager offers a lightning version that is 54 games in lieu of the standard 162.

5. How important is the level of competition that you play?
a. If you want to play the very best competition, you have three choices.
(1). Rotisserie winner leagues – Some sites allow managers who win within a public league to play in a winner league the next year.
(2). Money leagues – Managers typically only put big money into a league when they are serious about winning. Almost every format has money leagues.
(3). Progression Leagues – This is unique to the Baseball Manager Simulation leagues. In essence this is a fantasy pyramid scheme. There is one Tier 1 league, two Tier 2 leagues, four Tier 3 leagues, etc. If a manager wins a lower level league they are promoted to a higher tier the next year. The two bottom managers at the end of each year in each league are demoted to a lower tier. This is the only format I have played that has consequences for winners and losers. As a result, I have never seen an abandoned team in a progression league.
b. If you just want to win, public rotisserie and point leagues may be your best choice. Many of these sites suffer from abandoned teams and only a handful of quality managers per league. But, winning is certainly much easier in these formats.
c. If you really don’t care or you just want to have fun, you may want to go back and consider one of the other questions when choosing your type of league. You can always find a group of friends to play any format if fun is your goal.

I’m hoping these questions help you choose the fantasy baseball format that best fits your interests. Feel free to offer comments if there are other things that you found important when making your choice of formats.

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