Sometimes, The Wheel is on Fire

Sometimes, The Wheel is on Fire

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Fantasy Baseball: A Primer

For a stat geek like myself, there’s no better sport than baseball. Beyond the statistics that everyone recognizes, there are dozens upon dozens of others, covering every aspect of the game from hitting to pitching to fielding to hot dog vending. If you want to know how well a certain player hits with two outs in the ninth in the second game of a double header, with a lefty on the mound, at a time when the moon opposes Jupiter in Pisces, somewhere out there is a stat that does just that.

I was a sophomore in high school when I created my first fantasy baseball league,1 and I’ve been hooked ever since. While some people prefer to build a team by wheeling and dealing, I enjoy poring over players’ stats and trying to predict who will excel in the coming season. Of course, as much as I like the stats, I enjoy one aspect of fantasy leagues even more... and that’s gloating when I win.

I realize that many of you know next-to-nothing about fantasy baseball. Some of you may know next-to-nothing about baseball itself. Well, that’s where I come in. As a public service, I will now review the basic terminology. Therefore, if anyone ever starts talking to you about fantasy baseball, instead of shying away, you’ll be able to hold your own in the conversation... at least until you can get the can of mace out of your purse.

Fantasy vs. Reality
In the major leagues, if a guy is a defensive wizard or excels at getting left-handed batters out, he can make millions of dollars and be a great asset to a team. However, in most fantasy leagues, if the guy can’t hit or rack up wins or saves, he’s about as helpful to your team as the batboy.2

Rotisserie vs. Head-to-Head
To select a player in a rotisserie league, the owner gets spun around under a hot lamp, and then stumbles over to the list of available players tacked to the wall. He gets whichever one his finger lands on.

In a head-to-head league, any owners who want the same player bash their skulls together. Last one standing gets him.

Mixed vs. Single
Similar to mixed doubles tennis, a mixed league contains an equal number of teams run by men and women. (Some men will pay extraordinary amounts of money to be in these sorts of “fantasy” leagues.)

In single leagues (such as AL-only leagues), every owner is a dateless loner. Named Al.

Re-Draft vs. Keeper vs. Dynasty
At the end of each season, in a re-draft league all players are dropped from the teams and made available for the next season’s draft.

In a keeper league, not all of the players are dropped. Owners may choose to hold onto the “keepers:” the players who are the best-looking, most thoughtful, come from rich families, etc.

In a Dynasty league, owners select soap opera stars instead of baseball players. You need a good roster of murderous double-crossers to take first place in this one.

Auction vs. Draft
At Madison Square Garden tonight! Johnny Auction vs. Syd “The Snake” Draft in a no-holds-barred, rock’em sock’em battle for the Heavy Featherweight Boxkicking Championship! Order now on Pay-Per-View!!

The most common type of league is called a standard 5x5. And of course, thanks to the character of Faith in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, we know that when things are “five by five” that everything’s great. Therefore, it goes without saying that these are the best leagues out there. I’ll quickly run down the statistics involved, since the abbreviations can be a bit tricky.

Hitting Stats
  • HR – Easily the most recognizable stat on this list: Human Resources. The total number of servants in the player’s mansion added to the average number of people in his entourage.
  • BA – Also known in some circles as the “Baracus Index,” this measures how hard the player can hit the ball, divided by how many times he’s been tricked into flying on the team jet after sleeping pills were slipped into his milk.
  • R – Runs. The lower, the better. The total number of times a player’s stomach has disagreed with him during the season after a team served Mexican food in the post-game spread.
  • RBI – Really Bad Injuries. Each one is assigned a value based on a sliding scale, starting at a 1 for a severe sprain, all the way up to 100 for decapitation.
  • SB – Stolen Bases. A running tally of the number of bases the players swipe without the umpires noticing that they’re gone.
Pitching Stats
  • W – The total number of times a player has watched Josh Brolin portray George Bush the Younger.
  • S – Saves. The total number of times a pitcher keeps a ball from getting past him. This includes batted balls as well as those thrown toward him by the catcher or the ump.
  • ERA – Total number of different eras represented by your players’ clothing styles. Ideally, there’s enough variety on your roster to cover the Roarin’ 20s all the way through to today.
  • K – The amount of potassium in the player’s diet.
  • WHIP – How hard the player can rear back and throw the ball. Control doesn’t matter at all, so whether the pitch hits the batter, the bat, or the backstop, the value’s the same. Bonus points for having a huge windup.
Well, there you have it. Sure, fantasy baseball might seem like a silly hobby for the uninitiated, but it’s a lot of fun. If you want, you can go out to Yahoo or ESPN and join a free league today. Or, if you prefer, you could do a quick round of Head-to-Head on your own and forget you ever read this article.

1 We were careful to call it a “rotisserie baseball league,” though, since back then the word “fantasy” had only negative connotations. We might have been geeks, but we weren’t Dungeons & Dragons geeks.
2 Another notable difference: Unlike fantasy baseball, real baseball has a marked absence of rainbows and unicorns.


  1. Until I was about 13, that's exactly what a save was! I collected baseball cards, and couldn't understand why my fav player, Jim Abbott had no saves. Then when watching one of his starts, the batter hit a comebacker to the pitcher and the TV announcer said "And Jim Abbott saves it!" It all made sense to me, I figured it was because he needed some extra time for the glove switch, which led to 0 saves. I anxiously looked forward to Jim Abbott's next baseball card, which would feature at least 1 save.
    Separately, this RBI stat makes it tough to have repeat 100 RBI seasons.

  2. Tough, but not impossible. For instance, players might suffer "internal decapitations," which are a completely real thing that I didn't make up right there, and those aren't always fatal. Or, a player (Chipper Jones, let's say) might succumb to multiple severe injuries every year that could put him over the 100 RBI mark; a couple amputations a year would do it...

  3. Chipper would work well since he's a switch hitter. If you amputate the right-arm, he'll just bat left-handed.

    Sadly, Jim Abbott retired with zero saves, but he did have a few RBI, which could explain a few things.

    Not sure about this internal decapitations thing, perhaps that's a good topic for a future post.

    PS Denise, bunnies make good pets.