Fantasy Baseball Rule No. 1: Know your league rules.

It really is as base and remedial as it sounds. But after nearly two decades of writing about fantasy sports and advising those who seek out my opinion, the fact that most fantasy players don’t even bother to read their league rules continues to baffle me. Seriously – most. It blows me away.

Even those of you who are rolling your eyes and getting ready to click the back button – how many of you have actually read your league rules from start to finish? Not just skimmed them; not just read through the first two sentences of a section and moved onto the next. Read them. Word for word.

It doesn’t matter if it’s the most basic league you and your friends are playing on ESPN or some complex, linear weights league your FanGraphs-loving brother asked you to join, it is imperative for you to read the rules from start to finish and make sure you understand each and every aspect from roster limits and position eligibility to waiver processing and trade deadlines. You may, in the end, find out you actually did know everything coming in, but there are also those moments where you stumble along and find something you just might be able to use or exploit when planning your draft, structuring your roster and making roster moves during the season.

Again, maybe it’s just the same ol’ thing. Maybe you don’t find anything different. That eventually becomes the case if you’re just playing in standard re-draft leagues housed on ESPN or Yahoo. It’s the rules and constitution created by your commissioner where you must study and analyze most. And actually, even in those standard league set-ups, there are a few settings the commissioner may adjust, so keep your eyes open.

Here are a few things you should be searching through in your rules:

Important Dates/Times

First off, make sure you have your settings correct so you are looking at the correct time zone. With so many online leagues and so many of us spread about the country, times can get screwed up during league communications. My recommendation is that you use Eastern Time for all communications. Even though I live on the West Coast, most MLB and TV schedules go by the East Coast.

When is your draft? What day? What time? Don’t be THAT guy who shows up late or suddenly has a random conflict with the draft day which has been set now for a month.

When do lineups lock? Are your roster moves weekly or daily? If they’re weekly, when do they lock on Monday? If they’re daily, do they all lock at the start of the first game of the day or do they lock individually based on when that player’s team actually plays? This will be particularly helpful when the city of Boston has Patriots Day and you who live in California are wondering why the heck you can’t make a roster move at 9:30 in the morning.

When is your trade deadline? It’s astounding how many people miss this one. You send them a trade offer the night before the deadline and then a follow-up the next day only to hear them say, “Jeez man. Relax. Give me a couple of days to think about it.” Idiots.

Roster Limits

Understanding proper roster construction is imperative when deciding how to fill out your bench. Are you allowed to have an unlimited number of starting pitchers there or is there a limit? Is your outfield delineated by left, right and center or can you just use any outfielder anywhere? What about IL spots? Are they unlimited and when are you allowed to move players to the IL. This will be particularly helpful for those of you who will be allowed to draft a player opening the season on the IL and get to immediately replace him with a waiver claim before the season even begins. And, of course, when do you have to move a guy from the IL back to your active roster? Some leagues have penalties for not activating a player who comes off the IL within a week’s time.


For your leagues that use categories, whether it’s roto or head-to-head, this is pretty easy and straightforward. However, if you are in a points league, your knowledge of the scoring is HUGE! Is the scoring skewed towards pitching or hitting? Is there one position in particular who seems to score the most in your league and therefore, a position you’d want to fish from for utility spots? Always look at how your league scores everything and do yourself a favor – go back and look at last year’s final stats. See which players scored the highest last year and use that information to your advantage in this year’s draft.

Position Eligibility

Always a big one here. Find out what the minimum number of games a player must have under his belt to qualify at a particular position. Is it ‘games started’ or ‘games played’? That’s a big difference, so make sure you know and understand. Most leagues use 10 or 20 games played the year before as the criteria which is relatively standard, but there are those sites/leagues which grant eligibility after five games or in some less-competitive leagues, one. Make sure you check your league’s eligibility settings.

Some leagues may also include a 10-game (or something like it) in-season mark to add a position to someone’s eligibility. For example: Luis Urías played 10 games at second base and 30 over at third base for the Brewers. In most leagues, those are the two positions at which he is eligible. However, there is plenty of talk of him moving over to shortstop (where he played eight games last year) on days when Keston Hiura is in the field and not DHing, so after playing in 10 games (or whatever your league mark is) at short, he will then add that position to his eligibility. This can be fantastic knowledge on draft day as you may look to add Urias, but rather than worry about adding another middle infielder in the middle rounds, you may consider adding someone else to increase your depth at a different position.

Waiver Process

Crazy important. First off, what is your league’s process? Is it first come-first served, waiver priority or FAAB bidding? If it’s priority, how does the league set waivers each week? Can you hold the top priority for weeks on end or does it reset by record/standings each week? If it’s FAAB bidding, how much do you have? When is the deadline for submitting bids? What day are bids processed? Is it first-come, first-served after the waiver bids are processed? If you’re playing in multiple leagues, you better set yourself up a chart to open the season or you’re eventually going to make a mistake and miss a deadline.

Trading Process

Not a whole lot of complexity here, but some leagues do have roster limitations and position restrictions with regard to trading. Make sure that you are adhering to the specific rules of the league and don’t just assume that you can trade anyone at any position to anyone you want. Also, keep an eye on how trades are done. Is it a league vote? Do all trades go through no matter what? Does your commissioner have complete autonomy? Definitely some key information you’ll want to have during the season.

In-season Restrictions

Do yourself a favor and make sure you know if there are any particular restrictions for in-season play. Is there a games-played limit for positions? Is there an innings-pitched minimum? How about a maximum? If the league is head-to-head, is there a cap on the number of starts per week? Innings? At-bats? This will not only help you on a day-to-day basis, but also help you in rounding out your bench during the tail-end of your draft.

Rules Changes

Have there been any rules changes made in the offseason? If so, what were they and why were they made. Quite often, you’ll see commissioners make rules changes because they were unhappy about the way something went down the year before. Did someone use an all-closer strategy in your head-to-head league and, after losing in the playoffs, did your commish suddenly add an innings minimum? It’s happened before. I’ve seen it done, first-hand.

For keeper/dynasty leagues, rules changes can be a huge ordeal. You draft with the understanding that things will go one way, but suddenly they go in another direction? Or what about trades you made the year before to set yourself up for the upcoming season? If the commish alters the rules, how does it affect the players you picked up? You never want to think anyone is being shady, but changing the rules can be a very touchy subject.

In Conclusion

There may be a few things I am failing to include here in this article, but every league is different and rules vary from league to league. Just make sure you take the time to read them thoroughly and you know all the ins and outs ahead of time. And remember, there will be plenty in your league who don’t, so if you can exploit their ignorance, well….who’s the savvy owner now?