With our commenter leagues sign ups in full swing, we decided to look at different fantasy baseball league formats.  Most fantasy baseball league providers (inc. ESPN, Yahoo!, CBSSports.com) offer a number of league formats.  This post is a quick primer on how to find the league format that best fits you.

League Depth

The two biggest decisions when creating or joining a fantasy league are:  1) Drafting from MLB rosters vs. AL/NL-only and 2) Number of Teams.

There is no one right choice.  If you are playing with a group of friends/colleagues, the first thing you need to consider is their baseball knowledge and dedication level.  If you have a number of novices, skip past AL/NL only and go to MLB.  I’d suggest either a 10 or 12 team MLB league.  If your friends/colleagues are more advanced, I’d consider 14-16 team MLB leagues.  Of course, this depends on whether you can wrangle up enough people.  If you can’t, I’d generally stick with 10 or 12 team MLB over AL/NL-only unless everyone is really on board.  If you only have 8 teams, I would do AL/NL-only.

If you are looking to join a new league, you can be more selfish and think about your strengths and what you enjoy.  If you really enjoy combing the free agent wire and churning through your roster, your best bet is shallow leagues (10-12 MLB).  If your interest level peaks in March but you really like draft strategy and player valuation, go with a deeper league (14+ team MLB, 10-12 AL/NL-only).  Just realize that deeper leagues require both a broader knowledge of MLB players and the ability to find pleasure in owning mediocre to below average players.  Here’s a quick illustration of the projected ‘replacement 3B’ (e.g., best player not drafted and available as a free agent) in all the league formats (Runs/HR/RBI/SBs/AVG).  Note that AL-only is more shallow than NL-only because there are two less teams in the AL.

10-team MLB: Chase Headley (71/14/71/13/.263)
12-team MLB: Danny Valencia (62/12/69/5/.283)
14-team MLB:  Edwin Encarnacion (70/25/74/3/.246)
16-team MLB: Wilson Betemit (63/17/72/3/.263)
8-team NL:  Chipper Jones (65/15/65/4/.280)
8-team AL: Kevin Kouzmanoff (53/16/64/2/.252)
10-team NL: Brooks Conrad (33/8/33/4/.241)
10-team AL: Mark Teahen (38/7/34/4/.259)
12-team NL: Mat Gamel (26/7/30/2/.256)
12-team AL: Omar Vizquel (32/3/29/7/.244)*

* My AL-only team got so decimated with injuries that I had Vizquel starting for most of the 2nd half.  It’s sad when you do a Tiger Woods fist-pump for a 1-for-4 day with a run.

Daily vs. Weekly Roster Changes + Free Agency

The decision behind daily/weekly roster changes and how to handle Free Agency are inter-related.  If you are an active player, you likely want a Daily league where there is no cost (either actual $ or symbolic $) to picking up free agents.  You also want the ability to rotate in bench players if your starters have an off day.  I generally recommend this format for 10-12 team mixed leagues.

In deeper leagues, there are fewer impactful free agents.  Allowing free pickups can dramatically alter a season and can be very frustrating for those that played the deeper format in search of more strategy.  Most AL/NL-only leagues go with a fixed FAAB (Free Agency Acquisition Budget) that allow players to go to the highest bidder (vs. the quickest bidder).  This can be managed on a daily basis but tends to be easier to manage on a weekly basis.  I would recommend a weekly/FAAB approach for AL/NL-only leagues.  Depending on the league, you can still have weekly free agency with daily roster changes.  Most expert players prefer weekly roster changes vs. daily.

For 14-16 MLB leagues, you can go with either approach.  I would generally recommend daily pickups/roster changes unless you have a lot of novices (the weekly FAAB lets the slower teams catch up).

Roster Positions

While the various league providers let you adjust rosters, I suggest using either:  1) C/1B/2B/SS/3B/5 OF/CI/MI/UTIL/9 P or 2) The same as #1 except 2 catchers.

I prefer either of these formats as they tends to pull evenly across all major league positions.  Assuming your CI and MI are equally divided amongst 1B/3B and 2B/SS, this format nets out to the following per team (before you start filling up UTIL and Bench spots):  1.5 1B, 1.5 2B, 1.5 SS, 1.5 3B, 5 OF.  If you divided this against a real team’s starting lineup, you get 1.5 for all the infield spots and 1.66 for OF.  The one UTIL spot will generally pull from 1B and OF to drive those positions’ replacement level close to 2B/SS/3B.  (Note: Catchers are their own beast.  I don’t find much difference in 1 or 2 catcher leagues – I generally suggest sticking with one catcher for mixed league and two for AL/NL only (because that’s the default format for AL/NL-only).

The Yahoo! default format that has no CI/MI, 3 OF, and 2 UTIL is also proportional but I find it’s too shallow.  You’re basically losing 4 hitters per team (2 OF, CI, MI) and adding one UTIL.  This inflates the available free agents.  I would only suggest this if you have 14-16 teams but the players are very novice.

As for bench and DL, I recommend sticking with 3 bench and 1 DL for shallow leagues and 5-7 bench spots/1 DL for deeper leagues.  For deep leagues, it’s fun to use the bench for both necessary filler (e.g., a Brooks Conrad type that might give you something when your starter gets hurt) and prospect speculation (prospeculation?).  In shallow leagues, the free agency pool is so rich that deep benches only serve to frustrate active owners.  There is nothing worse than seeing potential free agent targets languishing on the bench of someone who checked out of the league.

Draft Type

The two primary draft formats are Snake (Team with #1 pick in 1st round has last pick in 2nd round and first pick again in 3rd round) and Auction.

The benefit of auction is that you could always get a certain player or players if you’re potentially willing to overbid.  You can, in effect, draft multiple first round picks although, since there’s a salary cap, this means you’re set for a top-heavy team – especially in deeper formats.  For those who prefer balance on their team, you have the opportunity to forgo expensive picks and build an extremely deep, well-rounded team.  In deeper formats, ‘well-rounded’ generally means that the majority of your players are set for 400+ ABs.  In shallower formats, it means that you were able to stock up on better starters that might have all been picked, say, before the 20th round.  There are a number of winning strategies for auction leagues but I’ll leave that for another post.

Much like with choosing the League Depth, this depends on the people in your league.  There is no reason to do auction with casual players.  Auctions are more difficult and lead to harsher penalties if they don’t show up to the draft (I personally love it when an expert skips a draft.  You can fill their roster up with a whole bunch of scrubs if you nominate marginal players that they value at more than $1).  I think auctions only start to make sense at 14-team MLB.  You want to get to the point where teams left with $1 per position have to take weak hitters/pitchers.

Scoring Format

There are two main scoring types:  Rotisserie and Points.  There are two scoring periods:  Head-to-Head (weekly) and Cumulative.

Rotisserie is the most common and my favorite.  I recommend this for the majority of leagues.

Points leagues are more fantasy footballesque.  I don’t like them because they do not penalize teams that are unbalanced.  You could draft a softball team and still do well because your extra power neutralizes your lack of speed.

The cumulative format (adding stats for the full year) is the default format for most rotisserie leagues and rewards the best player.  The disadvantage is that weaker teams may check out early.

Head-to-head might appeal to those that enjoy fantasy football and it’s a good idea for 12-team casual leagues as it allows the lesser players a chance for bragging rights (so maybe they will stay active a bit longer).  If you are a strong player, I think the randomness of week-to-week performance is more annoying than enjoyable.  There are weeks where you hit a ridiculous amount of HRs but you only get your one HR point and nothing carries over to the next week.  There is also the issue of ‘playoffs’ which – like in football – can turn a dream season to ruins because of a bad week.  If you are setting up a H2H league, you need to consider a weekly Games Started cap as a common practice is to continually churn through marginal pitchers to bulk up on Wins and Strikeouts.  I am not saying you have to place a GS cap – or that it has to be particularly constrictive – just that you have to consider it.

A head-to-head points league actually isn’t too bad for a casual league.  While points might not penalize unbalanced teams, it at least rewards your team more than 1 point if you have a massive week in power, speed, starting pitching, etc.


If you are in a perennial league with friends/colleagues, the keeper format is a great idea – particularly for deeper leagues.  Generally, a team can keep 3-5 players.  It is recommended that there is an escalator in place to make sure that some players can’t hoard a player for eternity.  If you do a snake draft, you can allow someone to be kept at the round in which they were picked the previous year BUT, in future years, the round number would go up 5 rounds.  So if you snagged Jason Heyward last year in the 20th round, he will cost you a 1st round pick in 5 years.  If you do an auction draft, you can add $5 to the price every year until the player becomes cost-prohibitive and they have to release the player.

The great thing about keepers is that it can mirror the dynamics of a real pennant race.  Contending teams trade prospects to losing teams in exchange for veterans that can help now.  While this is great in theory, just realize this can also lead to extremely lopsided trades that might bruise leaguemates feelings (e.g., here are all the good players on my team for 1-2 prospects because my team is in 10th and what do i have to lose?).  If you are going to do a keeper league, you may want to find an arbiter who can come up with a fair way to determine if trades are fair.

  1. Eddy says:

    Rudy, in a 14-team league that includes holds, there are 16 total SP, RP, P and BN spots.

    I am designating one spot for a positional hitter. This leaves 15 of those spots open.

    I have decided to designate them as such:

    7 SP
    5 CL
    3 Holds pitchers

    1) Should I keep this 5:3 ratio of CL to Holds pitchers, or should I make it 4:4? Not too confident in my ability to get 5 CL in a deep league, especially considering I don’t pay for saves.

    2) Should I draft more than one positional hitter or no?

    It’s a hybrid league between ESPN and Yahoo! where there are MI/CI, but 3 OF and one Util.


  2. Just realized I didn’t talk about the stat categories in the post.

    I recommend sticking with the standard 5×5 (R, HR, RBI, SB, AVG / W, SV, ERA, WHIP, K) in all league formats unless you have an advanced league and everyone is in agreement. I’ve played leagues that are OBP instead of AVG, that include Holds, etc. They were more complex but they weren’t more fun.

  3. JustMatt says:

    Rudy, I’m in a 12-team MLB, rotisserie, auction league, with a $250 cap. We start 16 hitters (2-C,1B,2B,SS,3B; 5-OF; 1-Util) and 9 pitchers.

    You addressed this a little in Point Shares and it sounds like you have more coming on draft strategy – but do you have a personal split of how you like to spend your auction dollars between hitting and pitching? Also, how about how you spread your dollars – do you prefer to grab a few top tier guys and then wait to grab value late or do you like to keep money on hand to find value throughout the draft?

  4. Yep, I said it.... says:

    I am in a 16 team dynasty H2H in the third year at Yahoo with 10×10 scoring. It is a lot of fun, actually. Here are our categories. I know fielding percentage sounds strange, but it proved to be an interesting addition last year.

    Hitting categories: H, BA, 3B, HR, RBI, R, SB, OBP, SLG, F%
    Pitching categories: IP, K, ERA, WHIP, W, S, CG, HD, QS, K/9

    Just sharing. No question. Thanks for the interesting post.

  5. JustMatt says:

    Rudy, I consider myself a top notch numbers guy if nothing else, but this one has always eluded me. In MLB there are 30 teams, so in my 12-team league (let’s assume all 30 closer jobs are solidified for argument’s sake), at any given time, there are 6 teams starting 3 closers and 6 teams starting 2 closers. My league sets line-ups weekly, so if you start 3 closers then you only start 6 starters that week. If you start 2 closers you can start 7 starters but you fall behind in saves.

    Do you have a preference of which side you prefer to be on? If you are starting 3 closers you obviously gain in saves but you can fall back in both K’s and Wins. So it seems obivous in that way that you’d want to only start 2 closers – but I’m guessing that’s offset by what that 7th starter is doing to your ERA and WHIP, right? So, what’s your preference in this scenario? Does your answer change if you factor in the fact that closers are generally inexpensive at my auction because of this whole scenario?

  6. JustMatt says:


    I started doing auctions five years ago – two pieces of advice:

    1. mock auctions are useless – most participants jump in for the first 100 picks or so, spend all their alotted cash and then leave. the money spent on each player is not an indication of value. if you can pull any value from the auction it’s the relative value of how much players are going compared to others. if Haren is going for $29 and Hanson is going for $25 then you can assume Haren will cost you a little more than Hanson this year.

    2. if you want to directly apply the Point Share to your auction draft you need to know the total player value in each pool. if you are in a 10-team league with one hitter at each position, 3 outfielders and 5 pitchers then you need to create a spreadsheet with the top 10 players at each position and the top 30 outfielders and the top 50 pitchers with a column next to them for their Point Share values. add up all the values of those players that will drafted during the auction. let’s say that total is $2,000. then figure out what the total salary cap of your league is. let’s say it’s $250 per team. so, during the draft $2,500 will be spent (if everyone spends all their money). that means there is more money than value, so if you stick to the Point Shares values you will be out bid every time. you need to divide 2,000 by 2,500 to figure out there is 25% more cash on the table than value based on your league settings, so in the column of your spreadsheet next to the Point Shares you create a new value which is Point Share times 1.25, which will equal the actual value the players should go for if all dollars are to be spent during the auction. long story short – use the Point Shares as the relative value of player worth – but you need to know how much total money there is to spend in your particular league before you can determine how much each player should go for.

  7. Joe says:

    I am in a 10-team H2H points league. I know, i know, you’re probably saying “where’s the fun in only having 10 teams?” Our league is made up of close friends, and we basically can’t find any other friends who even want to play fantasy baseball.
    Right now our league is set to Yahoo! default roster postions. I am a little confused. Are you saying our league should add a CI, MI, and 2 OF’s (and take away 1 UTIL) to our roster positions to maximize the fun level? Or is that only for 14-16 team leagues?


  8. JustMatt says:


    Those values become your targets but don’t be afraid to spend a few dollars more on guys you really want. That’s the primary benefit of an auction league – you have the ability to end up with the guys you want. Ideally, you then balance those slight overspends with some values on other players. Because your opponents are using auction values from other sites they will not value players the same way you do.

    My auction league in on CBS and my league mates often use the CBS values as a guide. Grey has Ricky Nolasco as his #32 ranked SP and I think the Point Shares have him just over $10. CBS has him at $5. If your leage mates don’t read Razzball they may stop bidding at $5 or $6 and you can get a #3 starter well under the Point Share value. That’s where you make up the difference if you have to reach for someone you really like.

    The other way to look at overspending on a player is how similar players in that tier are being priced. Grey’s piece on how to build a pitching staff groups pitchers, noting you should grab one from each tier along the way. If 4 of 6 pitchers in a specific tier have all gone for $5 over their value then maybe you spend the extra $5 on the 5th guy in that tier to ensure that you get one – and then you keep in mind that there will be bargains later on because you’ve already calculated how much money can be spent on the available talent.

    However, if everyone goes crazy in the first half hour of the draft and spends $10 over the value on every player brought up to bid, you can feel confident sitting back and waiting because eventually they will run out of money and you can purchase all the second tier talent at a discount while they round out their rosters with the scraps at the end.

  9. JustMatt says:


    Thanks for the great advice. I went too heavy on offense last year with a 200/50 split and actually went with 6 starters and 3 closers and fell just short in my league.

    This year I’m going to give more of my budget to pitching and go with the 7/2 starter/closer split.

    You have a great analytical mind for this – do you have articles specificly targeting auction strategy coming up? Or a schedule of topics you plan to cover over the next three weeks or so?

  10. Eddie says:

    16 team H2H keeper league with custom points scoring. Just how custom are we talking? Halladay, F-Her, Wainwright, Ubaldo, C.C., Weaver and Verlander all outscored the highest scoring hitter, Pujols. Halladay outscored him by more than 150 points.

  11. JustMatt says:


    One last question – are you participating in any early expert drafts this year that we can follow or could you provide a summary of a draft that will play out that you participated in? I would enjoy seeing your work stack up against some of the other minds out there.

    Thanks again.

  12. Mike from Jersey says:

    When are you doing the “20 risky pitchers” article?

  13. NewBVick says:

    Speaking of Points Leagues. Any ETA on when the Razzball Fantasy League sign-ups will go down?

  14. Jeff says:

    I have been playing for 5 years in a 8×8 h2h complete roster keeper league where you can keep players all the time you want and it has been a really fun league. For me, rotiseries leagues are very boring and predictable. In h2h you can have the best team and being eliminated in the first playoff round, impossible thing in roti.

  15. Mark says:

    Hey Doc,

    I have the 10th pick in my money league. This may sound a little bit crazy but what do you think about taking 2 1Bs with my first 2 picks. My league only starts 3 OFs and 1 Util, by the way. Before you discard the idea, think about it. I can have 2 out of Howard, Te(i)x, Gonzalez, or Fielder. That’s a ton of stats (plus my league counts OPS, which all of these guys excel in). It would also take away an available first baseman for the other teams. One extra team starting a Kendry Morales or Billy Butler at 1st base that I get to face. I feel confident that I’d be able to pick up either Reyes or Kinsler/Uggla in the 3rd and either A Hill (to go with Reyes) or Andrus/SDrew (to go with Kinsler/Uggla) in say round 9. I could pick up Alvarez or Ramirez in say the 7th. So I’d still have a 4th, 5th, 6th, 9th, and 10th to get OF and pitching.

    So it would look something like:
    1) Gonzalez
    2) Teixera
    3) Reyes
    4) OF (Heyward/Pence/Cruz)
    5) P (Liriano/Gallardo)
    6) OF (Young, Bruce, etc)
    7) Ramirez
    8) Aaron Hill

    I’m not too bad up the middle with Reyes and Hill and have 3B covered okay with Ramirez. I’d need to go after pitching hard, but I feel like there’s a ton of value in the middle rounds there.

    Sorry for the lengthy post, but what do you think? Still think it’s a terrible idea?

  16. Wake Up says:

    Our league does 6×6 including Quality Starts and OPS. Also, I’m a big fan of keeping a couple prospeculates hanging around.

  17. Pops says:

    I’m taking part in a 14 team, head – to – head points – based league that uses the following scoring system.

    Batting Categories
    1B – Singles 1 point
    2B – Doubles 2 points
    3B – Triples 3 points
    BB – Walks (Batters) 0.5 points
    CS – Caught Stealing -1 point
    GSHR – Grand Slam 8 points
    HP – Hit by Pitch 0.5 points
    HR – Home Runs 4 points
    KO – Strikeouts (Batter) -1 point
    R – Runs 1 point
    RBI – Runs Batted In 1 point
    SB – Stolen Bases 1.5 points

    Pitching Categories
    BBI – Walks Issued – 1 point
    BS – Blown Saves -3 points
    ER – Earned Runs -1 point
    HA – Hits Allowed -1 point
    INN – Innings 0.5 points
    K – Strikeouts (Pitcher) 1 point
    L – Losses -7.5 points
    NH – No-Hitters 12 points
    S – Saves 5 points
    SO – Shutout 5 points
    W – Wins 10 points

    This question goes out to anyone that is familiar with and has succeeded in this setting…. are there any strategies that you would recommend for such a league?

  18. Tom Thumb says:

    I suppose I am in the minority on different categories for leagues. I personally love categories that don’t necessarily make it so deep it isn’t fun, but that allow you to look into different players. For instance, I am not a fan of playing in a 16-team NL only league with holds where you are forced to draft Chad Durbin or something. However, playing in an OBP or XBH league where Logan Morrison is valuable as a sleeper and Nick Markakis is a solid OF is fun. Guys like Pujols, Votto, etc. are still at the top, but it brings a ton of under-valued players into the equation. I think OBP is the most under-utilized cat because it is so valuable in real baseball.

  19. Bern says:

    I’m sure this has been answered, but I can’t seem to find it. When are you going to release the Risky Pitchers column?

    Thanks Rudy.

  20. Tom says:

    I’m setting up a basic 5×5 12 team Roto league for the first time. I’ve always used Yahoo! for h2h baseball so I plan to stick with the basic 9 batters and I’ll use a 162 games played max. For pitchers, I’ve decided on a 1450 IP max but I don’t know what the standard ratio is for SP:RP or how many total pitching slots to use. 2 SP, 2 RP, 2 P slots is my initial thought but wanted to make there aren’t any pitching settings that could lead to easy arbitrage opportunities.

  21. DrEasy says:

    Great article, thanks Rudy!

  22. Bern says:


    Thank you

  23. Philomath says:

    Hey Rudy, wanted your, and others, opinion on our new draft format this year. We have always done a snake style. However, this year we will be conducting it like a real life draft 1 to 12 over and over – meaning no reverse order a la snake. Thoughts on this?

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