Fantasy Baseball: How to play roto

BY foxsports • February 7, 2011

Let’s get the primer rolling.

Rotisserie Scoring: Ride the Pendulum

For those owners among you accustomed to the clean-and-easy head-to-head scoring format, the initiation to the “rotisserie” scoring style can be confusing. You’re used to accumulating positive points, so the idea of a standings board that rises and falls in a manner akin to the NASDAQ is an affront to your senses.

Let me tell from years of helping to administer fantasy games and monitor customer feedback. You’re not alone. So, let’s get the basics out of the way.

Participants are ranked in decreasing order from highest to lowest within each individual scoring category. The highest point total available a single category equals the number of teams participating in the league. The lowest point total available for that category is equal to one. So, the leader in home runs has the highest point total available for the category. The second-place team’s score in the category is one lower, and so on until one point is awarded to the last-place team. Therefore, to find a team’s total score on a particular date, one reviews their ranking in each of the league’s chosen categories.

The summation of their ranking for each of the categories in use within the league will equal their overall ranking or score. With games being played daily, team point totals are subject to fluctuation throughout the season. Naturally, the scoring swings will be much more volatile early in the season as statistical baselines are established. I use that line with a note of caution. Many times, fantasy owners will review their place in the standings and note that there’s been no change in their score, or at least a significant one, for some time. This leads to the “abandonment” effect.

What owners fail to recognize is that the gap between their ranking in a particular category and those of their opponents may have narrowed to the point where one or two good days can create a huge swing. Dig deeper to find opportunities to close gaps on the wire or via trade.

Never surrender.

Now that we’ve covered the basic structure of the game, let’s dig into game specifics and strategy.

Settings Check: Monitor Your Limits

One of the major mistakes made by first-time participants is the failure to monitor the innings limit set within their league. Most rotisserie leagues introduce the cap to prevent owners from abusing the waiver process.

New owners (and some veterans) sometimes fail to manage the cap and use the waiver process feverishly in the early part of the season. They successfully amass a huge win total with a mountain of strikeouts. Unfortunately, they bump into the cap early and stop accruing statistics in any of the pitching categories.

In making their myriad transactions, these owners generally sacrifice “quality” for “quantity” and sabotage their ERA and WHIP output.

This type of capping process sometimes applies to games for positional players, but it’s usually less of an issue.

Do You Fear Commitment?

The biggest knock against fantasy baseball is that it requires an enormous time commitment as opposed to fantasy football. On some level, that is true. You do need to monitor player performance and trends on a daily basis and stay apprised of injury issues. And, there’s that pesky matter of working through a 162-game season.

However, there is a simple solution that helps to account for vacations, sick days, school holidays and family events that separate you from your television and online reports. It’s the institution of weekly transactions. That way, owners can log in and complete their waiver claims at their leisure and everything is batched and run at once. It helps to level the playing field and should allay some of those commitment fears.

Many Roads to a Title

There are, of course, many ways to build a championship team. It’s a long season, full of starts and stops and peaks and valleys. Along the way, players will be promoted and demoted and sometimes leave you scratching your head.

Some owners place a huge premium on building the perfect pitching staff and amass a bevy of power arms.

Others build out a huge, power-laden lineup and eschew drafting pitchers until later. They’ll then wait it out and wheel-and-deal extra bats for would-be star pitchers that started slowly. If those pitchers then approach their lifetime averages down the stretch, the owners can make up for deficiencies in their pitching output.

Some love their hometown team to the point of bypassing players from the natural rival. I know. The idea of leaving Albert Pujols behind because you’re wearing “Cubby Blue” is strange.

Some pride themselves on finding “the next big thing” and load up their squad with potential breakthrough players with the unquantifiable tag of “upside.” Their counterparts want established players with a track record and leave the prospecting for others.

The paths to a title are varied, but one simple fact remains. Owners must be fleet of foot and quick with the keystrokes. The team that was drafted in February or March is not the team that finishes September.

Let’s set up a basic framework to get you rolling on the path to dominance.

Create Tiered Rankings

Following off of the previous pre-draft thoughts, it’s clearly important to enter the draft room prepared. Bring the FOX Fantasy Baseball magazine as your guide, but personalize the experience by taking your rankings to another level. You need only draw lines in marker, ink or crayon to delineate between the options. Separate the position into tiers and be mindful of where you identify dropoffs in quality.

You’ll be able to guard against runs at a position and better manage positional needs.

Additionally, you want to track the positions being filled by your opponents. It sounds elemental, right? Knowing how many players at a position have been selected isn’t enough. This extra piece of information tells you when you need to play a hand and when you can wait.

“Work for Balance and Definition”

It’s an old bodybuilding mantra from the film “Pumping Iron” that holds true here. Owners need to achieve balance across all categories. That isn’t to say that a saves-deficient team or one that has no speed can’t win. It’s merely suggesting that strategizing to take a ranking of “one” in one of the 10 or 12 categories leaves owners less room for error.

.300: Not The Movie

That decimal point makes all the difference. In 2010, a total of 23 batters hit at least .300 and qualified for the batting title with at least 502 plate appearances. Of those players, all but four of them hit at least 15 home runs. Thirteen of them hit at least 25 home runs.

To take a different spin on the matter, a total of 18 players hit at least 30 home runs last season. Only one (Mark Reynolds and his brutal .198 batting average) finished with a batting average lower than .260.

Don’t Chase Wins

I know it’s all about wins and losses in the real world. I do. There’s a break between the reality and fantasy worlds that must be mended, a chasm to cross.

In 2010, 86 pitchers completed at least 162 innings and registered an ERA of 5.00 or lower. Only six of those players won fewer than nine games. Of the 80 who won at least nine games, 73 percent (58) registered an ERA of 4.00 or lower.

The Battle for Power

Go find the power pitchers and make the most of your draft selections.

In 2010, 15 pitchers amassed 200 or more strikeouts. All of them won at least 12. All of them finished with an ERA lower than 4.00. All but four of them finished with an ERA lower than 3.50.

The Forgotten Ones: Vultures

I recently posted a column in which I ranked the top 30 middle relievers for 2011. As I sat down to write that piece, my mind immediate sailed to thoughts of this primer. These players don’t receive huge writeups on the national stage, and generally only appear on the highlight reels for the big strikeout to get out of a jam or for blowing a lead. But, these hurlers are essential to the title quest.

In addition to posting an occasional save or “vulturing” a win in middle relief, some of them (such as a Mike Adams or Aroldis Chapman) pile up strikeouts and amass enough innings to factor positively into a team’s ERA or WHIP. Instead of reviewing a pitching staff’s fourth or fifth starter, spend time reviewing their middle relievers.

At worst, you land a three-category performer for your team. At best, they eventually unseat the team’s closer and give you added value or an extra trading chip.