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How to Build a Winning Team in a Fantasy Baseball Rotisserie League

Frank Stampfl January 12, 2018 9:25PM EDT
fantasy baseball rotisserie league

Is it better to draft Billy Hamilton or spread your stolen bases among several players? Credit: AP Photo/John Minchillo

How Do You Build a Winning Team in a Fantasy Baseball Rotisserie League?


Admittedly, a lot of my early exposure in Fantasy Baseball was in head-to-head points leagues. That’s fine for home leagues but a large majority of experts/high-stakes leagues are played in the classic rotisserie format. Over the past few years, I’ve looked for any way to gain a competitive edge in the rotisserie format, as many others try to do. Something I’ve come across, which has been helpful for me the past few seasons was actually preached by my FNTSY cohort, Tony Cincotta.

He painted the rotisserie Fantasy Baseball format from a different perspective, one I had never thought of. It all starts with the numbers and it’s actually quite simple. Before even looking into the players and coming up with projections of your own, look at the previous year’s standings. Specifically, look at what it took to place first in each of the categories. You can’t possibly know what you’re chasing in a rotisserie Fantasy Baseball league without looking at the history.

I’ve taken it just one step further. Below, I have the results from my individual 2017 NFBC Draft Champions league as well as the Greenwich Street Tavern League, two very competitive 15-team roto leagues. Additionally, I’ve added in the results of my 2016 NFBC DC league. In parenthesis, you will find the differential between 2016 and 2017 NFBC leagues.

Winning Fantasy Baseball Rotisserie Categories (5×5)
  2016 NFBC 2017 NFBC GST 2017
Batting Average .2736 .2753 (+.0017) .2811
Runs 1,091 1,118 (+27) 1,120
Home Runs 307 336 (+29) 335
RBI 1,076 1,067 (-9) 1,057
Stolen Bases 167 169 (+2) 168
ERA 3.304 3.564 (+0.260) 3.565
Wins 113 103 (-10) 109
WHIP 1.176 1.198 (+.022) 1.210
Strikeouts 1,495 1,394 (-101) 1,453
Saves 120 113 (-7) 98

*Parentheses represent the differential between 2016 to 2017*

Embrace Change

Of course, there are a few caveats, as there will be with any Fantasy Sport. First, something that should be pointed out is the fact that baseball changes from year to year. Just because you took down wins with 103 one year, doesn’t mean it will be that way the next season. Second, not every rotisserie league is built the same. That’s obvious when looking at the saves results between the two leagues. It took 113 to win the category in the NFBC but only 98 in GST.

With that being said, a lot of the categories were very close between the two. What makes that even more interesting is that the NFBC Draft Champions is a 50-round, draft-only league. GST is a traditional league, which allows waivers, trading and so on and so forth. Why is that so interesting?

Being able to make transactions is a huge deal in any Fantasy game. Despite not having transactions, the category winners in both leagues were extremely similar. That shows these results to be a solid barometer, one you could use as a baseline in 15-team leagues, whether there are transactions allowed or not.

The Stats You Need

The million dollar question remains: what does it take to win in 2018? What should you be aiming for in each category when drafting this season? Using the results from two leagues from 2017 plus the standings from 2016, here’s a reasonable expectation as I see it:

Batting Average- .276-.278

Runs- 1,100-1,120

HRs- 330-335

RBIs- 1,050-1,075

Stolen Bases- 165-170

ERA- 3.50-3.60

Wins- 100-110

WHIP- 1.17-1.21

Strikeouts- 1,400-1,450

Saves- 90-100

One immediate question you might ask is, “why are there are ranges rather than solid numerical targets?” A common misconception people have about rotisserie leagues is that you need to win every category. That’s not true. Of course, it helps but it’s not necessary. A more realistic approach is to try and finish among the Top 3 in each category. In a traditional 5×5 league, finishing third in every category would give you 130 total points. It took 126.5 to win GST, and just 109.5 to win my NFBC league in 2017. Basically, aim for these ranges throughout your drafts, using realistic projections made by yourself or a trusted source.

Another misconception is that you can’t win a rotisserie league if you finish last in a category. That is also false. I finished 14th in strikeouts and tied for 12th in wins in a 15-team league, and I still managed to win quite handily at that. The second-place team finished 10.5 points behind me. Regardless of that, you shouldn’t just punt any category mid-draft. That is a terrible idea.

Aim For Balance and the Top 3

You still want to build a balanced roster, aiming for that Top 3 range in each category. Things are going to happen midseason. Say you draft Billy Hamilton for stolen bases and (Fantasy gods forbid) he breaks his leg on Opening Day. That’s going to put you behind the rest of the league in stolen bases. But just because that happens, doesn’t mean you can’t still win the league.

In traditional roto leagues, you start 14 hitters: two catchers, first base, second base, third base, shortstop, middle infielder, corner infielder, five outfielders, and one utility. Using the projected ranges, each hitter should average 79 runs scored, 23 home runs, 75 RBIs, and 12 stolen bases. Throughout your drafts, have your trusty pen and paper to the side, adding up the projections of each player you draft to try and meet those marks. Pitching is much more volatile but in theory, you can do the same thing.

“But Frank, where do we go from here?” Well, thankfully it’s only January. We have a long way to go before baseball season starts. I do, however, have a suggestion. In order to properly project your players throughout the draft process, you have to be aware of the latest statistical trends. That’s where my Fantasy BFF, Michael Florio, comes in! Read his article to get a grasp of the statistical trends that emerged last season. That will lay the foundation and help you understand more what’s needed to win.

**Notice: This entire article was based 15-team rotisserie leagues, but you can still use these concepts in any size league. All you need are the standings from the previous year. **

If you have any questions about keepers or who to take in a slow draft, hit me up on Twitter @Roto_Frank.

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