Fantasy Baseball Rotisserie vs. Head to Head Formats

by Jeff Trela
Fantasy Baseball Rotisserie vs. Head to Head formats

Fantasy Baseball offers many different styles of play for different types of players.  Before joining a Fantasy Baseball league, you need to decide what is best for you, a Rotisserie League, or Head to Head.  Both offer a unique way to play the game and can appeal to all levels of gameplay.

Fantasy Baseball was the crux of my coming into adulthood. I used to walk to the store to get the USA Today for box scores and tally the stats by hand. Then I would take a telephone with a thirty-foot wire attached to it and call my friends every day to let them know what place they were in. They would have to leave a voice mail with their transactions for me. I then had to run waivers manually!

Eventually, this evolved into faxed in transactions and a weekly standings recap delivered by snail mail. Even more recently, we were able to upgrade to dial-up internet and actual stat services. Signing in to your email to see if your trade had been accepted was an event. The dial-up tone could be heard throughout the house and would oftentimes wake the baby. But this was all love, 100%.

My intention here is not to hit 88 mph in a Delorean and take you back. It certainly is not to compile the "sorry, Boomer" responses from the millennials reading this. The fact is Fantasy Baseball is on the decline and it needs a lifeline. Between lockouts, pace of play concerns, and poor marketing, baseball has fallen far behind the NFL, and even the NBA in many markets.

It will never go away, as we Generation X will be doing our 5x5 auctions in a bubble on Mars someday. But we are now definitely Pedro Martinez, and Fantasy Football has become our Yankees.

The baseball season has always been too long for the casual fan. The everyday component can get overwhelming. Simply having to navigate around a minimum of seven positions versus three or four from football is a bit much for the casual player. And, seriously, if you decided to start playing Fantasy Baseball and the first article you read started talking about wOBAcon or OPS+, what would you think?

The answer to resuscitate Fantasy Baseball is simple and it already exists. It is mirroring Fantasy Football and embraces the variety of both Head to Head and Rotisserie formats. Fantasy Football is played by millions and millions of people, all of which are potential Fantasy Baseball players. One can watch the game, see your running back churn up yards, receptions, and maybe even a touchdown. You can then count out how many points you just received in your head and then take out your smartphone and verify your math with a live scoring app.

In a standard 5x5 baseball league, you can watch Fernando Tatis blast a walk-off three-run homer, topped off with a glorious bat flip, and then check the live scoring and...nothing. It may not move the needle at all.

Please do not interpret the above paragraphs as Rotisserie bashing. For me, it is actually my preferred form of Fantasy Baseball. I embrace the grind, and there is no arguing at the end who the true champion of the league is. It cuts out some of the variances that head-to-head contests can at times bring.

So, maybe if we as an industry embraced our variety, we could rebuild this thing back to its glory days. If you build it, they will come.

Rotisserie vs. Head to Head Formats

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Head to Head Points

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Fantasy Baseball meets Fantasy Football in head-to-head points formats. You can roast James from accounting because you know the score and exactly what you need to win. You are always in the game. Players can even add a best ball element so there is no lineup variance. There is no need to dig too deep into predictive analytics. Good baseball acts get you points and bad ones take them away. What you do need to pay attention to more than anything is the schedule and pitching rotations.

This format plays like Fantasy Basketball, where having the most available minutes is more important sometimes than having the best players. The Fantasy Baseball equivalent to this is looking ahead at opposing pitcher-handedness, two-start pitchers to stream, park shifts, and reliever rest. So basically, there is an edge there if you want it to be. There always is, you just have to identify it. Playing in a daily lineup points league will give you the early baseline to cross into the next aspect of Fantasy Sports, DFS.

The beauty of head-to-head points is that you can completely ignore your blind spots and draft into your strengths. You will never have to reach for stolen bases, you can build a championship around all boppers. If you hate dealing with closers, you can just draft only starters and let your opponents fish for saves. Playing rotisserie style, the categories have to drive you. In a points environment, you simply have to identify the players that accumulate the most total points, regardless of the means.

The biggest adjustment for a rotisserie player to convert to points leagues is the interpretation of hitters striking out. In points leagues, the how of the outs a player makes matters. Players such as Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, and Juan Soto who have better than league average strikeout rates get a boost in points formats while Tatis, Matt Chapman, and Eugenio Suarez who swat at flies see some of their power production negated by the negative points of the strikeout.

Head to Head Categories

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As Michael Scott said so eloquently, "Adapt, react, re-adapt, act". The head-to-head categories format is the hybrid rotisserie style, with a head-to-head element. They must be approached with the categories in mind, but unlike most roto formats, you can easily get away with punting a category or two. If you ignore relievers, you can load up on Wins Quality Starts, Innings, whatever category suits you.

Or you can go polar opposite and draft all relievers, thus winning saves, k/9, holds, etc. every week. The lack of need to draft a starter would allow you to fully load your hitters. It will look ugly on paper, but you will be in an advantageous spot against your opponent that drafted a straight-up, well-rounded team more weeks than not.

You can take a similar angle of attack with your offense. If you were to ignore batting average completely, round by round you can bump up players like Jose Ramirez, Adalberto Mondesi, Luis Robert, and Javier Baez. These are all four category players. In roto formats, I generally want players that offer something in all five or at least collectively get me to an 80th percentile in all five. But if I have decided I simply do not care about the average category, I am prepared to start every week down 0-1 to improve the rest, it opens up the player pool to me. Players I previously viewed as "do not draft" gain significant value and change my entire approach.


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And then we make our way back to us stubborn old-timers. Maybe you have changed the AVG category to OBP, or Wins to innings, or even spiced it up and went up to 6x6. In the end, the game remains the same. Rotisserie Fantasy Baseball is a year-long grind, more so than Head to Head. It requires an attack plan before the draft, and a willingness to adapt if the plan falls through. Punting categories becomes more of a placing strategy than a winning strategy. There are a finite amount of "points" you can earn, so it needs to be maximized.

As mentioned above, I operate with the 80th percentile rule. I do not try to win any particular category, per se. My grand design at the start of the draft is to address every category with the intention of being in the top 20% of each of them. This is why I am consistently drafting players like Liam Hendriks and Josh Hader as early as round three in roto drafts, as painful as it may seem. These players are not even on my draft board in head-to-head formats. I do not want to be left out in the cold in the saves category, especially in a year with so much uncertainty at the position. With an accurate projection model and a persistent approach to constantly improving your roster, the cream will always rise to the top of a roto league.

A rotisserie league is a marathon. It's the Craig Biggio of Hall of Fame inductions. You have to build a foundation of stats, and then compile on top. And then compile on top some more. It runs wire to wire and is unforgiving of inactivity or incompetence. It is accurate and absorbs the variance. You don't take a loss because of an untimely rainout, an 0-for-9 slump by your best player, or the fact that your opponent had a lot of players with no days off.


We live in a world of instant gratification. The casual player may not grasp the rotisserie style quickly. They certainly aren't waiting for the mailman to bring them their weekly stats. We want to win today more than we want to win this season. Head-to-head formats fancy all of these wants.

There is a format for everyone. In Fantasy Baseball, you can choose between Rotisserie and Head-to-Head formats.  We need to guide the right player to the right format. Those of us who play in several leagues need to embrace the challenge of the uncomfortable.  Head-to-head leagues are rising in popularity, and are just what the doctor ordered to bring Fantasy Baseball back to the forefront alongside Rotisserie.   Teams that are non-competitive in rotisserie leagues will stick out like a sore thumb as soon as June/July. Queue here the novice's reasoning why they don't play Fantasy Baseball, "the season is too long".  Actually, for them, it was too short. They just chose the wrong format.

For deeper more specific player valuations based on format, I can always be reached on Twitter @JTrela20. Make sure to keep your eye out every Sunday morning for the NFBC FAAB Run article, where I do all of the work to get you ready for your Sunday pickups.

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