Every year, fantasy baseball grows in size, exposing more of the population to the sad, masochistic, stat-filled addiction that the strange few of us already know like the back of our hands. Usually, the first decision new managers have to face is which format they want to play under: rotisserie (roto) or head-to-head. My recommendation to new owners: join one of each because even though both are amazingly addicting, they’re remarkably different. I enjoy head-to-head formats better than rotisserie because I like the thrill of week-to-week drama. The rivalry aspect is also unique to head-to-head formats. But let’s not put the cart before the horse.
Before we delve into the differences, let’s make sure we don’t leave any stone unturned and quickly discuss the history of the “sport.”
Fantasy Baseball has been around for over a hundred years, but it always hasn’t resembled the game we know today. Throughout baseball’s history, fans and children have played card, board, and action based games that revolve around player stats. There’s always been an infatuation with baseball fans to believe they’re a part of the game, probably because since its inception until now, baseball, in some form or another, is something that we’ve all played.
The first modern fantasy baseball game was conceived in 1960 by John Burgeson and IBM, which generated two teams of baseball players and statistics to determine a winner. But, skipping ahead, it wasn’t until 1980 when Daniel Okrent (known famously for his interviews on Ken Burns’ Baseball documentary) invented Rotisserie League Baseball (Fun Fact: it was named after the restaurant, La Rotisserie Française, where Okrent and his friends met at to pound out logistics). This would be the first “fantasy league” where prior seasons’ statistics weren’t used; instead fantasy-team owners would have to predict what players were going to do in the upcoming season.
It wasn’t until the invention of the Internet that other formats, such as Head-to-Head, became popular. The Internet made score keeping easier and has attracted experts and casual fans alike.
I want you to think of roto as owning a company and your players are your employees. Your company has 10 goals to reach (5X5: R, HR, RBI, SB, BA, W, SV, K, ERA, WHIP) and each employee is skilled in helping you reach those goals. Over a full season, a roto team will need X amount of runs, homers, RBI, etc. The averages are trickier because they aren’t as cut and dry. For your averages, you’ll want to avoid players with an extremely low batting average or an extremely high ERA/WHIP. Even if those players are super producers elsewhere, they’ll make it impossible for you to win the average categories, and ultimately, sink your company.
When drafting for roto, it’s important to have quality depth in the infield and outfield. Most leagues have a “games played limit,” meaning you only get a certain amount of games from each position, and once you’ve reached that limit, you can no longer play someone at that position. Having a decent backup shortstop or outfielder or even a super utility man isn’t a terrible idea, especially when injuries hit. You don’t want to reach your “games played limit” early in the season, but you also don’t want to have games leftover at the end of the season. Also, because there is usually an inning limit for pitchers, it’s advantageous to load up on really good starters, and relievers, with really good splits. You don’t want to waste innings on poor pitchers.
Let’s talk about in-season strategies for the roto format. It’s great to be the best in a category, in fact it’s awesome to be 100 homeruns up on everyone else by midseason, but sacrificing other categories to be the best in homeruns isn’t ideal, and it isn’t something we stand behind here at Rotoballs. If you’re first in steals in June, it might be time to trade away a guy who primarily steals bases for a player who can boost your stats in other categories. In other words, you want to maximize your output and have balance. Being last in one category completely negates being first in another. You won’t get more points if you’re leading a category by an enormous amount at the end of the season.
This format is more user-friendly than roto, mainly because you get to turn the page every week. If you screw up one week, it’s ok, because there is a new week starting soon. And because of these quick match ups, end of year player stats don’t matter as much. In this format, you’ll want consistent players and guys who are going to peek at the end of the season for the fantasy playoffs (September). While roto takes a ton of managerial skill and number analysis, head-to-head is a bit more of a crapshoot. How can you predict what a player will do week-to-week? Good luck.
For newcomers, the head-to-head format will use the same 10 categories (in standard leagues) as roto (5X5: R, HR, RBI, SB, BA, W, SV, K, ERA, WHIP), so there will be ten possible points to earn each week. If you outperform your opponent in a category that week, you get a “win” for that category. So over the year you’ll be accumulating wins, losses, and ties. Generally, the six teams with the best records at the end August will move onto the fantasy playoffs.
The important thing to remember, and I’ll say it again, is to not worry about what a player’s numbers look like at the end of the season. What is important is getting more wins than your opponent each week, and to load your team up with hot players for the playoff run. If you’re in a non-keeper league and you own a notoriously slow finisher, don’t be afraid to bench or trade him for a notoriously strong finisher. Remember: don’t fall in love with what your players have done. Ask yourself, “What are my players doing now? What do I think they will do from here on out?”
You choose: Would you rather win with a hot Ryan Doumit or lose with a cold Buster Posey? It doesn’t matter who is on your team at the end of the head-to-head season, all that matters is who’s holding the trophy.