I started playing fantasy baseball 6 years ago. The first league I played in was crazy, 16 different categories in a head-to-head format with 11 other guys. I was in over my head. I wound up finishing in the middle of the pack, but decided that if I wanted to continue to play that I would have to tone it back and learn the basics. I felt like I was trying to jump off the high dive before I even knew how to swim. Over the next couple of years I played in more simplified leagues, which included 10 categories (hits, HR, stolen bases, batting average, RBI, wins, strikeouts, saves, ERA, WHIP). We had 10 different guys in that league and it was a blast. I finally got the concept of how the game was played. The format was weekly, so you set your lineup on Monday and not again until the following week. This is nice for people who work full time, and while at the time I was in high school, many of the other people I played with did not have as much time to spend on it daily. The other interesting thing about that league was that it was an auction league. For those who do not know, auction leagues are set up in such a way that each player is bid on during the draft, and the players are auctioned off. Some owners are aggressive and bid right away, others sit back and grab a ton of above average guys and maybe only have one superstar on their team. Auction leagues give owners a lot of say in who is on their team unlike snake drafts where you might not have the chance at specific players based on your draft order.
For me, the first few years of fantasy baseball were just something to do while I waited for fantasy football to start back up again. I set my lineup on Monday and would check it daily but couldn’t make any changes. I liked the idea of being able to make daily changes and so I asked some buddies who I played fantasy football with if they would want to play fantasy baseball. 10 guys were in and we started creating what the league should look like. We came up with our categories and decided that we all had time to look enough to make daily changes. Once I started playing in leagues where you could make those daily changes, I was hooked.
For those who know me or have read anything I have written since I started at The Sports Script, you know how much I love fantasy football. I watch every Thursday night game unless something more important keeps me away. Sundays afternoons are usually spent in my basement (I wrote about my sweet setup here). Sunday nights are spent on the treadmill at the gym, where I strategize about what I need to have happen in the Sunday night and Monday night games. On Monday nights I am usually back on the bike to watch the first half before rushing home to catch the second half at my house. While I realized this year that maybe 7 leagues is a few too many, I still had a blast not only writing about fantasy football, but playing it as well. I love the rivalries with friends, I love the trophies and stories you hear on about on Twitter and I love the fact that millions from age 8 to 80 play the game. There are hundreds of different formats and everyone has a favorite player (or least favorite player) based on how they won (or lost) you a fantasy championship over the years. Mine is Matthew Stafford, if you want the story you will have to ask me about it on Twitter. It is one of my favorite stories to tell, even though it ended in tears of sadness and happiness all at the same time. So after all this, how can I tell you that while I like fantasy football, I love fantasy baseball?
Baseball is truly amazing, and I think that is why the fantasy game is so great. Football gets the ratings, football gets the hype, football rules all other sports when it comes to North American popularity, but football still doesn’t have that simple feel that baseball fans have come to love. Football has so many rules and penalties and changing of players between offense and defense. Have you ever tried to explain football to someone who has never seen the game before? I would rather take Organic Chemistry. Baseball is as simple as you want it to be. 9 positions and 9 hitters per team. The majority of the batters also play out in the field and when they get three outs they get to come to bat. Explaining baseball to someone who hasn’t seen it before is easier than grabbing a second plate of food at a buffet. For those who do not want simplicity, baseball has some of the most advanced stats in any sport that can have you wandering around Baseball Reference for hours. They have stats for a batter’s average when they hit the ball hard. They have a rate to see how often pitchers give up groundballs relative to fly balls. How many times did the pitcher throw a change up on a 0-2 count in the last 30 days? I am sure all you have to do is a little research and you can find pretty much any stat you want on any player. The game can be simple, but it can be advanced and that brings in an audience that is very diverse.
Fantasy baseball reaches those same people by how advanced leagues are. Your league can have 5 categories or 20. Your league can have 4 teams or 25. You can hold a classic snake draft or an auction. You can use keepers from year to year, or you can make each season a new adventure. While you might look at this list and say that fantasy football provides the same array of differences, the best thing about baseball is how many games there are.
The baseball season is long. Longer than most of Kim Kardashian’s marriages, longer than a foot-long hotdog at the ballpark and longer than any other major professional sport. The NHL and NBA each play 82 games and the NFL plays 16 games during their respective regular seasons. For many, 162 games is the reason they don’t play fantasy baseball. Too many games or too long of a season are excuses I have heard for many who have denied my invitations over the years. For some, their love of baseball is trumped by the commitment needed over the course of an entire season. Those individuals may like the weekly game I mentioned earlier. Owners can check it once a day or once a week and the outcome won’t be different because changes cannot be made once the lineup is locked.
For me, the reason I love fantasy baseball is because there are so many games. There are few days between April and August where you will not find live baseball on your television. There are games on when you are at work and days on when you get back home. Your home team might play on a Thursday afternoon and then again Friday, Saturday and Sunday night. Sometimes if you are lucky, your favorite team or players might play twice in one day! You might come home and see that David Wright just hit for the cycle or that Phil Hughes just threw a gem while you were finishing up at the office. Baseball doesn’t take breaks and either do daily fake baseball leagues. Every day you can make moves whether you want to add a hot bat off the waiver wire or pick up a pitcher who is starting.
Skill or (Andrew) Luck:
Take this quick example about fantasy football and how great teams might not make the playoffs. I know you probably don’t care about my team, but hear me out. Week 16 concluded one of my leagues and so I went and looked at the team that I thought was best. My team (at least to me) was stacked. It was headlined by Russell Wilson (QB3), DeMarco Murray (RB1), Le’Veon Bell (RB2), AJ Green (WR21), Julian Edelman (WR17) and Martellus Bennett (TE5). Keep in mind, this is a 10 team league. My final record? 4-9. 4 and 9!
Many times in fantasy football, the team with the best roster does not win. Sometimes they don’t even make the playoffs. Maybe your quarterback has just one bad game in the playoffs and your undefeated team might be out of the running for the championship. I see this a lot less in fantasy baseball, regardless on if you play in weekly leagues or daily leagues. The best overall team over the course of the season usually finds themselves in the playoffs and fighting for a championship (Editor’s note: It’s the sample size, man!). You can build your team around pitching or you can build your team around hitting or you can try to balance them out. Roto has been around forever though, which allows all the teams in the league to compete against one another over the course of the entire season, thus eliminating much of the luck. There’s a good chance some football leagues begin to move this way in the very near future.
For those who read this article and have read my Weekly Stream column every week, thank you for your continued devotion to my writing. Do not look at this article as a bash on fantasy football because obviously I still have a love for it. What readers should take away from this article is that there are other fantasy sports out there and baseball is one that can not only keep you occupied during the football offseason but also give you a completely different outlook at how you can play fantasy sports. Playing fantasy baseball and playing football are completely different but both provide entertainment, which is the main reason that we play fantasy in the first place.
For newcomers to the game of fantasy baseball, look for an article from me in the next couple of weeks about websites to help you get started with your league. I will also include some stud Twitter follows, and maybe a couple of basic vocabulary words to get you going. Look for continued articles from all of us at TSS. We had some great articles covering the Winter Meetings and will be providing more content as we move on from football. As always thanks for continuing to read and for the good words on social media.
Happy New Year! We’ll see you in 2015.
Photo cred: http://goo.gl/g2byu1, http://goo.gl/PTSPTz
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Jared “Minnesota Nice” Hines is a fantasy football contributor at The Sports Script. Follow him on Twitter @Jared_Hines27!