OpinionDecember 28, 2006

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Find the Right League for You
Part One of a Two-Part Series

By StlSluggers

This article is part one of a two-part series designed to help new and prospective fantasy baseball players find a league that will fit their tastes. Part one covers league attributes. Almost every league out there must choose from a strict set of attributes, and this article will make sure that you understand exactly what each one means. Part two will be released in a few weeks. It will discuss what leagues are available, and how their setup affects game play.

League Attributes

If you have made the decision to play fantasy baseball and begun to look at your options, you may be feeling a bit overwhelmed. There are so many options! In fact, it seems like no two leagues are the same. However, if you take a step back and look at the big picture, you will find that most leagues are actually fairly similar. Since they are all built with four attributes – scoring system, competitive format, acquisition method, and scope – in mind, it’s tough to stray too far out there. You might be surprised to learn that when it comes to picking an attribute, each league typically has but two choices:

AttributeChoice #1Choice #2
Scoring SystemCategoricalPoints
Competitive FormatRotisserieHead-to-Head
Acquisition MethodDraftAuction

This article will cover each of these choices in order to help you understand how they affect a league.

Scoring Systems

A league’s scoring system is probably its most important attribute. The scoring system provides the grounds for competition, and it has a substantial impact on the value of any given player.

Categorical scoring is exactly what it sounds like. A league picks a set of statistical categories, and players accumulate those stats over a given period of time. The categories that are chosen should be familiar to anyone that ever collected baseball cards. Stats such as home runs, batting average, runs, wins, saves, and strikeouts are all popular choices among categorical leagues.

Any number of categories can be chosen, but most leagues pick a like number of hitting and pitching categories. Categorical leagues will often refer to themselves as 5×5 (pronounced five-by-five) or 6×6. The first digit is the number of hitting categories; the second digit is the pitching categories. While nice-and-neat, the “XxX” label lacks in that it does not tell you exactly what categories the league scores. That information must be listed separately. Most leagues either play – or slightly modify – the “standard” 5×5 system, which consists of the following categories:


In this manner, many leagues will describe themselves as the standard system plus-or-minus some categories. For instance, a typical 6×6 league will score the standard system plus OBP (for hitters) and Holds (for pitchers).

Point scoring differs from categorical scoring in that it does not tally stats per se. Instead, point values are assigned to specific events such as home runs, stolen bases, wins, or saves. As those events occur, points are awarded into an aggregate sum for each team. After a given period of time, teams compare total points and determine a winner.

Point systems are often tailored to a variety of the league’s variables, such as the number of teams or the size of each roster. For that reason, you will rarely see the same scoring system used by two leagues. In fact, the only given among all points leagues is that they always refer to themselves as simply being points leagues. Specifics are very rarely provided because most point leagues will score quite a few events; sometimes more than two dozen!

Competitive Formats

The competitive format of a league decides how often, and in what manner, teams are forced to score against each other. The format also determines how a winner is chosen.

Rotisserie leagues, named after the restaurant where fantasy baseball was invented, compare their categorical (or point) totals one time at the end of the year. This format does not feature playoffs because teams are actually competing against every other team at all times. Teams continue to add into their scoring system over the course of the entire season. At the end of the season, the team that scored best within the system is declared the league champion.

Head-to-Head leagues, often labeled as H2H, pit two teams against each other for a given time period, typically one week. At the end of the week, the two teams compare their totals. If the league is a categorical, teams will compare themselves across each scored category. For point leagues, teams compare their respective point totals. Wins and losses are handed out weekly in both formats (note that typically in categorical leagues, your weekly won-loss record is based on the number of scored categories – so, assuming ten categories, instead of being 1-0 after the first week you might instead be 7-2-1).

Each team accumulates wins and losses over the course of the season. Generally, H2H leagues finish their season with a single-elimination tournament. The top teams are seeded and paired together based on their wins and losses. The winner of that tournament is declared the league champion.

Acquisition Method

To play fantasy baseball, you have to have baseball players on your fantasy team. Each league has to choose how league owners will acquire those players.

Draft leagues assign a draft order that the owners follow. There are a variety of ways to hold a draft; too many to list in this article. The important thing to remember about a draft is that owners take turns picking one player at a time until they fill their entire roster.

Auction leagues are decidedly different than draft leagues. In an auction league, each team is given a supply of “money” (generally, $260). Players are then put up for auction, and any owner may bid any amount of his monies on those players. Like draft leagues, there are many options when it comes to holding an auction. The one constant between all the options is that each player is assigned to the owner that bids the most money on him.


The final piece of the league puzzle is its scope. The scope determines what teams do with their players at the end of the season. A league’s scope will also give you a hint about how long the league feels it will be around.

Redraft leagues force owners to give up all of their players at the end of a season. The following season, each team starts with no players and must acquire an entirely new team in the draft/auction. Redraft leagues typically experience a short-term lifespan. Many redraft leagues also experience high owner turnover. Others simply cease to exist after one or two years.

Keeper leagues come in all shapes and sizes, but they all have one commonality. At the end of the season, an owner gets to keep some – or even all – of his players. There still might be an auction or draft at the beginning of the following season, since some owners will undoubtedly need more players to fill their roster. However, the draft/auction of a keeper league will be markedly smaller than that of a redraft league because fewer players will need to be acquired. Keeper leagues typically have a goal of lasting for more than one year. They accomplish this goal by seeking out dedicated owners that can be counted upon to return year after year.

Choosing Your League

That summarizes the four basic attributes that are the cornerstones of most fantasy baseball leagues. These attributes (and the two options for each) won’t apply to all of the leagues out there, but they will apply to the great majority of them. Once you have a good grasp on what these attributes mean, the question becomes, “Which league is right for me?” Part two of this series will help you answer that question. In part two, each combination of league attributes will be analyzed, and an explanation of how they shape the playing style of that league will be provided. At the end, the article will even direct you to a handy place to find a league that matches your exact tastes.

John Sherwood is one of a growing number of fantasy experts who write for the Cafe. You can catch up with John in the Cafe's forums where he posts under the name of StlSluggers.
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