Rotisserie leagues are the O.G.s, as the kids like to say, of fantasy baseball leagues. They were how the fantasy baseball world got started in the 1980s when a group of friends got together and decided to see what it’d be like to be GMs of their own teams. Today, roto leagues, as they’re commonly called, are still the most popular form of fantasy baseball leagues. That doesn’t mean they’re boring or old-fashioned though. Rotisserie leagues are perhaps the most varied leagues in fantasy baseball and the ones that provide the widest range of strategies year after year. That’s both good and bad and we’ll touch on why later on. One thing’s for sure though, to have success in any rotisserie leagues you play in, it’s a full-season commitment.

That starts in the offseason with draft strategies for sure, but it continues into executing on draft day. After that in-season moves, and roster management can be just as important as draft day. How do you manage swings in performance? What are the pros and cons of the rotisserie format? All of that will be discussed in this Rotisserie League Strategy session.


What Is A Rotisserie Fantasy Baseball League

Let’s get something straight right off the bat, excuse the pun, rotisserie refers to the scoring system used. That’s it. Rotisserie leagues can be keeper or dynasty or redraft or draft-and-hold formats. It can be any league size as well. Heck, I play in a 10-team Roto league and a 21-team Roto league. As long as teams earn points for where they rank in each category, with the team with the best stat in that category getting the most points, it’s a rotisserie league.

 Just because you’re playing in a roto-style league doesn’t mean you’re limited in the way your league drafts though. You can do snake, auction, or a random number generated order. Typically, you’ll see a roto league described as a “5x5” or “6x6”. That’s in reference to the number of categories for hitting and pitching that each team is scored in. These categories are where quite a lot of the customization happens in rotisserie leagues. There are the “standard” sets of categories for both hitting and pitching, but plenty of leagues have gotten away from those “standard” groupings. Usually, we’re looking at average, home runs, runs, RBI, and steals for hitters and wins, saves, strikeouts, ERA, and WHIP for pitchers in standard 5x5 roto setups but make sure you know your league rules before you just assume what stats you need to be looking at/for in your league.

How Do I Get Ready For A Rotisserie League Fantasy Baseball Draft

Anyone who wants to succeed in any format of fantasy baseball needs to put in the work prior to being in the draft room or online draft lobby. We can’t just cram the night before the draft and hope to ace it as we did with tests in high school and college. What does that prep look like though? Is it different from some of the other league formats like say a points league or categories or head-to-head for example?

Well, to be honest, draft prep will differ quite a bit depending on if you’re in a redraft or keeper or dynasty league. We’ll touch on the intricacies of each in a minute, but in general, your draft prep should start with getting a handle on the player pool available in your league. Just a general glossing over is fine. Who signed where, who was traded where, and who’s injured heading into the season. Those sorts of things. Along with what looks like the deepest and shallowest positions just at a glance. We don’t have to get bogged down with details right away, Just knowing what the options, on the whole, are can be very helpful for dialing in your research and strategy forming later on in the process.

If you’re playing in a redraft league, the biggest thing you want to get a grasp on first is injuries. With the whole of the player pool available, it’s important to know where players stand in regard to health and availability to play this upcoming season. While health of a player is important in all formats, it’s most important in redrafts since you only have the player for this year and don’t want to waste draft capital on a seriously injured player. Let’s take Bryce Harper for example, he’s expected to miss roughly half the season recovering from Tommy John surgery. Clearly, that knocks his value down a lot. Even if he plays up to his MVP-caliber ability when he returns, we’re still talking about half the stats we’d normally expect. We don’t want to take him with one of our first picks and then have to scramble for stats later in the draft. This should be something you watch all the way up until draft day as injuries can pop up during spring training or players can be healthier than expected following spring training too. There’s more draft prep to come, let’s talk about keeper and dynasty leagues first though.

If you’re in a keeper or dynasty league format, your draft prep typically starts with figuring out who to keep and who to toss back in the pool. In roto leagues, much like every other league style, the decision mainly comes down to whether the player is worth the value you have to pay to keep them regardless of if it’s a dollar value or draft pick. In points leagues, it’s generally an easy decision as the players with the most projected points get kept. It’s not quite as easy in roto-style leagues. To be successful, we need players that help with multiple categories to make them worth the price/pick we’re giving up. Sure, some keeper decisions are easy to make,, but what about the mid-tier players or the single-category guys? The best way to try and sort these players out is to simply look at the at-bats or chances for at-bats you believe they’ll have. Projections clearly help with this and take into account roster constructions for the major league teams, but why are at-bats important for these players? Getting at-bats equals getting chances to produce and the more chances a player has to produce, the better chance they have of reaching numbers that can help you win. The same thing can be said about innings pitched for pitchers. If you’re debating between starters to keep, the pitcher with more of a shot of getting innings is the more helpful one to keep. This is especially true in leagues with a minimum innings mark to hit. As for the single-category contributors, it comes down to how scarce that category is to find in the draft. Take steals for example, there are far fewer guys that are stealing 15 or more bags a year than guys hitting 25 or more homers a year. So if you’re between a player that can steal between 15-20 bags and one who can hit 25-30 homers, the steals contributor gets the edge. You have to approach this as who is the harder player to replace come draft day.

So we know injuries, we know the player pool, and we’ve made keeper decisions, what else is there to rotisserie league draft prep? Where to start? Oh yeah, mock drafting.

I can’t stress this enough, mock drafting is perhaps the best way to get ready for a draft, frankly regardless of league type. Why is it so important? Too many people put together a list of targets, perhaps per position or just overall, and just expect to get those players in their drafts. However, when they don’t they panic and the team goes off the rails. Boom season was ruined. Mock drafting gives you a chance in a live draft environment to run through different strategies and plans to build your rosters. This way if something gets you off your plan A, you have B, C, D, E, F, and maybe even G, or H ready to go. A key here is to try and find a mock that’s as close to your league setup as possible. Otherwise, it won’t be of much help.

The last step to draft prep, for non-new leagues, involves going back into the previous year’s standings. Why do this? Isn’t each year different? Sure, each year is different and we see some spikes in stats, but in general, it will tell you the trend of your league. I go back over the last three full years (so we’re still excluding the 2020 Covid year) and look at the average stats that would get me into the top quarter in each category. So take a look at home runs for example, in my 20-team home league 237 home runs is the average of fifth place (or the top quarter). So I want to set my goal for projected homers at 237 for this year. If you play in a more standard 12-team league, target the top 3-4 in each category with this method. So to ask again, why do this? Well, if you go into a draft with the goal of getting a team that can compete across the board, you’ll be fighting for a title all season. You won’t have holes in your roster and that’s a huge advantage in leaving the draft. Can it be done? Well, that’s a question for the next section, so let’s keep reading.

How Do I Draft A Rotisserie League Fantasy Baseball Team

Regardless of the way the draft takes place in your league – auction, snake, or random order – the goals of drafting in a roto league are basically the same. We’re trying to get a team that can compete in all of the categories your league counts evenly so that you have a balanced team and one that’s less susceptible to slumps and injuries. Sure, that sounds simple but as they say, easier said than done.

We laid out above how to set yourself up to hit that goal. What’s not included in that advice is the idea that not everyone on your team will help in all categories and you’re not going to be able to get top players at every position. Why? Because… well that’s impossible to pull off. There is a scarcity in positions and stats. Plus premiums to pay on those positions and stats for the top contributors, which if you’re not careful, can cost you late in drafts.

We’re not going to focus on the guys that go early in drafts, for the most part, because those guys are all well-known and their values are well-established. With that said though, how do you go about getting a roster of players that fit the stated goal above?

In the first third of the draft, whether it be auction or snake, the base of the team needs to be set up well or you have a much tougher road to how to compete. Assuming you have keepers and you’ve kept guys that can help out in multiple categories and/or multiple positions, we’re going to use our first few picks or buys on continuing to solidify that base you started with your keepers. Players that can help in multiple categories or top starting pitchers are the guys that need to be the focus in this part of drafts. Why? Just as five-tool prospects are highly sought after, 4-5 category contributors are as highly sought after in rotisserie drafts. Getting a few different players that can help in a few different categories is a far better way to build a roster than relying on individual players contributing to individual categories. Multi-category contributors will also help you negate the effects of injuries down the road as well. 

As you move into the middle third of the draft, this is where we turn into value hunters and focus on the scarcity we talked about earlier. For example, second base and catcher are notoriously thin for top-flight options, so keeping tabs on who’s still available in those positions as you get to the middle of the auction or snake draft is imperative. That’s not to say that you want to reach for names just to get a name. Rather it’s comparing the projected stat lines of the options left with ones left at other spots. For example, if you’re in the middle of the draft and you notice that there are only three first basemen left with 20-plus home runs projected but there are several options with that stat left at other positions, it’s time to snag a first baseman. With pitching being so up and down from year to year, the best strategy for building a fantasy rotation is to get a top-5-10 starter to anchor the staff and then fill in with number two and three starters. That means early in the draft you should be grabbing a starter and then focus on hitting for a while before circling back to pitching, at least in a snake draft. For auctions, you want to follow a similar plan but if you see starters going for less than you expect, pounce.

When the draft reaches its final third, the two things should be simmering to the top of your mind. Firstly, do I have a few guys that can play at multiple positions, or will qualify for multiple positions during the season, and secondly, what stats do I still need to reach my predetermined goals? 

In the back third of the draft, that’s where the single-category contributors come to the forefront. Those are the guys that are going to get you over the hump in several of the categories you’re trying to fill your goals for. For example, people tend to like to bolster their power numbers in the later parts of drafts. That’s fine, let them. That means it’s the perfect time for you to bolster the speed part of your roster as power can be found everywhere and especially in-season, speed can’t. Players like Jon Berti or Esteury Ruiz can be found in this part of drafts. Guys with high averages but not a lot in the way of counting stats are also the guys you will see going in this part of the draft. Average, like steals, can be a tough thing to find in-season so getting those shored up late in the draft is a great way to steal a few points in key categories without anyone paying attention.

Is It Okay To Punt A Category In The Draft

Now, if you’ve been paying attention, you may have noticed that there’s one category I’ve conspicuously not mentioned yet and that would be saves. While the other four “standard” pitching categories can be filled with starters and even swing guys, saves really have to be hunted for if you hope to compete for top spots in that category. SOLDS (Saves+Holds) leagues are becoming quite popular and holds are a bit easier to find, but are still, to a degree, as finicky as saves. So this begs the question that’s titling this section, can you punt a category? First, let’s explain what we mean by punt. This doesn’t mean we’re not going to build a roster that won’t put up any stats for that category, it simply means we’re not making it a priority and are simply going to pick up the scraps others look past. But wait, wait, wait for a second, you just said we should target top-quarter stats in every category, what changed? That’s true. However you still only have to average top-quarter finishes to finish highly. That’s the beauty of building teams this way. Focusing on averaging good finishes means you have flexibility in the draft for things like potentially “punting” a category.

This isn’t necessarily for the faint of heart. You are after all actively giving league mates an advantage over you in a definitive way, but the logic works both ways. If they’re expending money or draft capital to get that one category on their roster, that means they’re missing out on filling out others in a strong way. This in effect means that while they’re busy bidding up or using mid-round picks on closers, you can take a five-category hitter or very good SP2 option who really shouldn’t be falling to you. Saves is an especially good category to use this strategy with because of the volatility of the role and the rate of injuries for pitchers. Just look at last year with those that spent a bunch of capital on Raisel Iglesias for Los Angeles as a lockdown closer with a guaranteed role while no one paid attention to Paul Sewald or Devin Williams or Tanner Scott. All of those guys went at ADP 300 or later (according to NFBC) or undrafted for Scott. If you had drafted two of Sewald, Williams, and Scott, which was quite feasible, to round out your pitching staff, that’s 35-40 saves with a good ratio and strikeout rates. Meanwhile, Iglesias was traded mid-season and relegated to a setup role finishing with 17 saves on the year. It happens every year like clockwork. Paying attention to teams who may trade players at the deadline or players who are on shaky ground coming into the year is a good way to get bargains in a category like saves.

So We’ve Drafted Our Rotisserie Team, What Next

We’re done drafting, we've kept the players we want to keep and now the season is starting, is making moves any different in roto leagues than other ones? Yes, is the simple answer. Unlike H2H and points leagues where it can be apparent very quickly that you need to change things up, in roto leagues, it’s a longer wait-and-see period before you make big moves. Now if a guy gets injured early on and will be out for a while, that’s a clear move that needs to be made. However, if a player is just off to a slow start, it’s still possible to make up ground when that player gets going again. A perfect example of this is Marcus Semien last year. He was coming off a career year in 2021 in Toronto and was being drafted in the top 40 overall players. What happened? He hit .157 with no home runs and just two steals in his first 21 games before ending with a .248 AVG, 26 homers, 25 steals, 101 runs, and 83 RBI. So yeah, he did what he was supposed to do despite a slow start. Bailing on him and trading him away meant that you’d have given a .261 average and basically all of the counting stats to your opponent and you’d still be stuck with the .157 average bringing you down.

Pick-ups are a different story though as we want to capitalize on the hot hands and flavors of the week when they happen, that is without losing guys who are keys to the roster. Does everyone remember when Aristides Aquino had his moment in the sun for Cincy a few years ago? It doesn’t matter that he hasn’t done squat since, those that capitalized on that late-season run got a major boost in categories. Baseball is by definition a streaky game so getting as much exposure to the hot streaks as possible is always good. That doesn’t mean mortgaging the rest of the season for them. Another thing you don’t want to mortgage the rest of the season's performance on are rookie call-ups no matter how highly touted a prospect is. We’ve seen plenty of big-name prospects come up in the last few years and take a while to get going. Bryson Stott and Nolan Gorman were great examples of this last year with Jarred Kelenic and Jo Adell the year before that. We just never know how well or how much a rookie is going to play when they come up so take a while to evaluate their situation before making a key move for them.

What Are The Pros And Cons Of Rotisserie Leagues

Every fantasy setup has its pros and cons regardless of sport and roto fantasy baseball is no different. A few of the major pros with this format are that it gives you the most flexibility with how you build your team. This format is also the most customizable one offered in terms of draft style, league size, categories included, and how deep of rosters you play with. It’s also the format that allows for the most movement up and down the standings throughout the year.

For each of these pros though, there are cons. A few of the major ones are that it’s perhaps the most involved version of fantasy baseball as there is more to pay attention to in this format than any others. If you’re playing in a customized league with different stat categories than standard, it can be tougher to find projections and/or appropriate draft values. If you’re in a deep league and injuries hit, it can be tough to get adequate players to fill in the roster and still make up ground in the standings. The final con to this format is that if you are drastically behind in ratio stats early, it can be tough to make up ground after the first couple of months.

Final Thoughts On Rotisserie Fantasy Baseball Leagues

Rotisserie leagues have been around the longest of any league type in the history of fantasy sports and there are reasons for that. They’re endlessly customizable, can best imitate how MLB teams actually build their squads and can make riding the roller coaster that every season is that much more in-depth. If you want a more in-depth way of playing fantasy baseball, roto leagues are hard to beat for that experience but you have to be up-to-date with news and injuries to excel at them.


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