Each year, millions of sports fans across the United States try their hand at owning and managing their very own professional baseball franchise. A relatively new genre of gaming known as “Fantasy Sports” has seen phenomenal growth over the past few years, mainly as a result of its perfect suitability for Internet play.
From its humble beginnings in 1979 as a contest between a group of sports writers playing for a six-pack of Yoo-hoo, fantasy baseball has boomed into a nationwide pastime where league prizes could reach into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. No matter whether you’re a high stakes fantasy player or just the average sports fan looking to play for fun, there is sure to be a fantasy baseball league as close as the nearest computer.
Let’s start with the overall concept of fantasy baseball. In fantasy baseball, participants draft real-life pro athletes to create teams. Each team scores points based on actual statistics compiled by real-life athletes. Teams win by scoring the most points. In some leagues, participants pay entry fees and winners earn money.
Participants can watch their games in “real time” on the Internet and get up-to-the-minute results. Watching highlights and sports news takes on a whole new meaning for the fantasy player. Real-life player performances are what influence lineup and trade decisions within each league. Injury reports are scoured as to not leave a team vulnerable at any position.
Some fantasy baseball players such as James White, a 33 year-old Army recruiter in Tallahassee, Florida, can spend as much as 5 to 6 hours a day mapping out team strategies. “I get home from work, say about 5:30, and I’ll look at it until 11 o’clock at night about every other day,” said White in a recent interview. “It’ll consume all of your free time, and get you in trouble with the wife if you’re not careful,” he added laughingly.
Specific rules of the game are can be as varied as the number of leagues available. However, the basics of play are relatively consistent. The fantasy team owner begins by drafting his roster of players for the season. The two most popular draft methods are a “live” draft or a “computer aided” draft. In a live draft, each owner will select one player at a time in a specified draft order until all roster positions have been filled.
Live drafts tend to be very time consuming as each owner waits their turn in real time. Though longer, a live draft offers more of a sense of realism to the game. Computer aided drafts are conducted by having each fantasy owner rank individual athletes at each position in the order they would like to have them. Each team’s rankings are then fed into a computer program that will perform a “draft” for each owner based on the order of their selections. This type of draft is usually popular with casual fantasy players playing for fun.
Developing a Roster
An example of a fantasy baseball roster will look similar to the following: 4 starting pitchers, 5 relief pitchers, 5 outfielders, 1 first baseman, 1 third baseman, 1 shortstop, 1 second baseman, 1 first or third baseman, 1 middle infielder (ss or 2b), 2 catchers and 2 utility players or designated hitters. Most rosters will consist of about 24 players total.
Setting the Weekly Lineup
Once all players have been drafted, it’s time to develop the lineup. Some leagues like to use the stats of all players on the roster for scoring while others only use the stats of players who have been “activated” for that particular week.
In the case of the latter, it will be necessary to decide what players will start during the next playing period. Again, the amount of players activated will be dependant on league rules, but generally at least one player at each fielding position and all starting and relieving pitchers are activated. This is why it is vitally important to check injury reports and prior statistics in order to avoid leaving a void at a particular position.
What’s the Score?
Prior to the start of the season, each league will publish the statistical categories that will be used for the purpose of scoring. There is a wide range of scoring options being used in fantasy leagues, but the basic concept is rather straightforward and easy to understand. Pitching statistics generally include wins, losses, saves, and strikeouts. Hitting statistics commonly consist of hits, homeruns, runs batted in (RBI’s), and strikeouts.
As you can see, it is possible to add any number of statistical categories into the scoring process. A predetermined amount of scoring points correlate directly to each statistic. For example, the league rules state that each hit is worth 3 points and strikeouts count for -2 points. Your second baseman manages two hits and a strikeout in his game, so he accounts for a total of 4 points towards your fantasy team’s total. Scoring statistics are normally compiled on a weekly basis.
When the season begins, a fantasy baseball team is usually pitted head-to-head against another team within the league each week. The teams will remain opponents for approximate one entire week. Statistics from the activated players on each team are compiled for the whole week and applied to each team’s total points. The team with the most points wins that week’s game.
So, a real major league team may play 5 to 7 games in a week‘s time, but a fantasy team plays only one game using the statistics generated from all of the real major league games. Before the start of the next week’s game, each fantasy owner will have the opportunity to make lineup changes, conduct trades and even pick up free agents (non-drafted players). Once all games have been played, the team with the most wins is declared the overall winner.
Wheeling and Dealing
For many fantasy baseball enthusiasts, the real fun of the game comes from negotiating deals with fellow fantasy owners for the hottest players. Leagues usually have strict rules about trading players in order to keep the game fair for all. Most leagues require a vote from the rest of the league before two teams can complete a trade deal. This can alleviate any unfair trade practices that could undermine the integrity of the league. Teams are generally free to shuffle lineups, remove players from their rosters, conduct trades, add free agents and in some leagues even place players on disabled lists. Fantasy baseball gets as detailed as the league commissioner and players want.
Fantasy baseball has become a virtual link to major league players and franchises often thousands of miles away. Highly addictive and enjoyable, fantasy baseball has produced a bevy of Internet leagues and statistical services who have joined in on this national phenomenon. There were more than 15 million fantasy sports participants last year, according to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association. Will you be the next? Batter up!