A 2010 ESPN special titled 'Silly Little Game', highlights the advent of Rotisserie Baseball, a game created during the 1980s by a group of friends and baseball enthusiasts, that is now known alternately as 'Fantasy Baseball' or 'Roto Baseball'. The special documentary highlights the elements that went into the original game, which, surprisingly, differs very little from the modern version, as well as the fantasy sports phenomenon that this original fantasy game spawned. For those interested in fantasy sports, or thinking about getting in on the action, the ESPN special is a great piece to watch. More relevant for those interested in beginning their sojourn into Roto Baseball are the basics of the game itself.
While there are a great many variations of fantasy baseball, the governing tenets remain the same in virtually all leagues. A group of real-life players, referred to as 'owners' in the Roto Baseball context, gather in person or online to draft a mythical team of Major League Baseball players. Thereafter, when the baseball season begins, the same owners compete against one another and win or lose based on the performance of the baseball players they have selected for their fantasy team. Owners are free to add players from a group of free agents, or via the 'waiver wire', and to make trades with other owners.
Scoring varies, but in a standard '5x5' Roto Baseball format, the categories in which statistics are kept include five offensive categories―Batting Average, Home Runs, Runs, RBI and Stolen Bases, and five pitching categories―Wins, ERA, Walks + Hits Per Inning Pitched (WHIP) and Saves. There are also '4x4' leagues that use only four categories for hitting and pitching, and leagues that use alternate statistics such as On-Base Percentage, Slugging Percentage, etc. For the most part, each of the Roto Baseball games available share most of their rules in common, with adjustments that do not significantly change the game itself.
There are also various formats, including 'head to head' leagues where owners face another team in their league for a given time period (typically one week) and the traditional 'Roto' scoring, whereby statistics are compiled for the entire year, there are no 'head to head' matchups, and teams are awarded points based on their rank for each of the scoring categories. Finally, the 'draft' that owners go through to select their players can be based on an auction format, whereby owners have a set budget to spend on players and can bid whatever amount they wish for a given player (without exceeding their allotted budget), or on a 'snake draft' format, whereby' owners are assigned a specific draft order and players are then selected by the owners in turn, without budgetary constraints.
While the mechanics of the game are largely the same from one league to the next, strategies vary widely, and this is where most of the fun comes into play. For many, selecting players from their favorite MLB team is fun, because they can then watch the players whom they would naturally root for and cheer them doubly―both in real life and for their 'fantasy' team. While this can be fun, it is generally not a good idea to get tied to any given team or player, or to avoid others, merely because of personal rooting interests.
Instead, the successful Roto Baseball owner will select players based on value. For some, this means drafting rookies who are virtually unknown and can be had for cheap (in auction drafts) or late (in snake drafts), but who will produce well above their auction price or draft position. Still others will compile teams filled with solid, known veterans, who do not produce stellar results, but who are very consistent. Combinations of those strategies, as well as many other strategies, are often used by Roto Baseball owners. Ironically, it is not necessary to know very much about baseball itself to excel in the game (though it helps), as the game is one of numbers rather than any learned or innate baseball 'scouting' ability or knowledge. In this sense, there is potentially an interest for those who are mathematically inclined, or who may be interested in the economic principle of value.
For those who are interested in learning more about the game, or participating in a league, there are a wide variety of options. Among the most well-known and well-regarded sites are Yahoo! Sports, ESPN, and CBS Sports, though there are many better options for anyone interested in taking the plunge into Roto Baseball.