Fantasy 101: What is Dynasty Baseball?

How does a dynasty baseball league differ from a standard redraft league? How should your strategies and prep shift? That and more are explained in Part 1 of Gabe Zammit's look at dynasty leagues.

I remember when I first dipped my toe into the magical world of fantasy baseball. I had been playing fantasy football for years, and I loved it. So, when a friend of mine asked me to join his fantasy baseball league, I remember thinking, “Since I’m good at fantasy football, baseball should be a breeze.”

Well, I was wrong. Dead wrong.

Fantasy baseball has more complexities, more nuance, but also so much more strategy and reward for the patient and prepared manager. There is so much less random luck and variance that goes into a baseball player’s performance as opposed to a football player. These facts meant I had a learning curve that first year. I spent more and more time reading up on advanced analytics, player profiles, and formulated new opinions about fantasy sports as a whole. Through all of this, I found a deep appreciation for baseball, and I was hooked.

Soon enough, I found myself invited into a keeper league. These leagues require a much more thorough knowledge of players up and down a major league roster than your standard redraft league. They provide an even deeper experience more akin to being a part of running a team. Choices I make this year can ripple onto my team for the next several years.

What sports fan hasn’t fantasized at one point or another about running a real life franchise? The reality is, only a handful of people in the world will ever truly get to make those decisions. I kept thinking back to the allure of playing franchise modes in baseball video games. RBI Baseball on my NES, Ken Griffey’s Winning Run on my SNES, and so many other games I had played when I was younger had transported me into the world of being a general manager for a ballclub. I always thought that was the closest I could ever come to running a real baseball team. I would just keep playing in my keeper league and all would be as it always was…right?

Well…again, I was so wrong.

I discovered dynasty fantasy baseball. I mean, I had heard about dynasty leagues before, but in my mind they were reserved only for the ultimate diehard baseball fans. Thankfully my curiosity led me to look into what a dynasty league actually entailed. Upon doing so, I remember thinking to myself, “Holy crap, what is this wonderful creation? How could I have been so blind to this?”

I thought I knew all the players and statistics. I believed that I had worked and tested baseball strategies to perfection, but dynasty baseball took it to a whole new level. Dynasty leagues include minor league farm systems, deeper major league starting rosters, and usually more teams in a league that what I was accustomed to. I very quickly went from leagues where I’d seen success knowing 250-300 players to at least double that.

This might all sound intimidating to the uninitiated, but trust me, it is so much more gratifying to play in a league like this than you could imagine. No matter what your experience level is, you can find so much enjoyment in playing in keeper or dynasty leagues. There is a wealth of knowledge available and the community of players is second to none.

All that to say: I am going to do my best to explain to you all what a dynasty league is.

 

What is a Dynasty League

 

Let’s start with the basics. Oftentimes I hear some people use the term “dynasty” and “keeper” interchangeably when describing their league, but there is a big difference between the two.

In a keeper league, a team will keep a small, set number of players from year to year. This means the league will see a good amount of turnover on the rosters. So, in a keeper you might choose between four and eight players to keep, depending on how your league has been set up. These types of leagues can be a lot of fun and are a nice onramp into a dynasty setup or a good place to go if you are a more casual baseball fan.

A true dynasty league is one where managers keep all or a majority of their team from year to year. Some leagues may play with salaries that escalate, or even contracts to add another element of realism. Each team has a minor league farm system as well (although I have seen dynasty leagues that don’t include minor league-specific rosters). 

Most commonly, dynasty leagues use the rotisserie scoring format. The roto format is one where teams are ranked in each statistical category and given points according to where they finish in that category. The point total from each individual category is then added up to give their overall ranking comparative to the other teams in the league. So, if you were playing in a 20-team league and had the second-most home runs, you would be awarded 19 points toward your overall score. This is easily my favorite format whether we are talking redraft or dynasty. It is the best representation of good drafting and in-season management.

 

Minor League Explanation

 

The casual fantasy player will be familiar with some of the top-prospect names as they get closer to the big leagues. In a redraft setting, it is not uncommon to see top prospects stashed at the end of a bench or scooped up as they are called into action with their major league club. The number of minor leaguers you would familiarize yourself with in redraft fantasy would be relatively small as opposed to a dynasty league. This is because in most standard dynasty leagues, you will be managing a minor league “farm system.” I suppose that I should be welcoming you to your new front-office role. You see, much like your favorite real-life baseball team, now you get to draft, trade for, and even acquire minor league players in-season and place them on a roster separate from your major league roster.

 

Life on the Farm

 

At its core, a minor league farm system functions as a way for a manager to roster baseball players who have either not accrued any major league service time or are still considered eligible as a minor league player. Some of these stipulations vary from league to league. Usually, there is a major league at-bats or innings-pitched mark, and once a player exceeds that, they are no longer eligible to be stashed on your minor league roster. This brings about a whole new level of strategy, as you must now make decisions that can affect your team in so many more ways than just the current year.

Roster sizes for the minors are usually contingent on league size; I have most often seen them ranging between 10 and 20 players. The hope is that these players will grow into serviceable options. Again, players in the minors can be cycled in for aging veterans, part-time players, or even used to facilitate trades with other owners. I’ve heard it said that there is no offseason in dynasty baseball. I think this is due to the fact that you always have an opportunity to grow your team now through your minors. Scouting and trade negotiations involving your minor league players is pivotal to the success of your major league roster.

 

Dynasty Strategy

 

Anyone in a redraft league can get a little lucky and win, or hit it big drafting a “sleeper” on a major league team. In dynasty leagues, however, there is an entirely different level of foresight and then gratification that comes from seeing your minor league system develop. I always feel like a proud dad when a player I took a flier on turns into a cornerstone type and far exceeds my expectations. On the other hand, I will also feel the weight of going all-in with veteran players and the trading away of future draft capital and prospects in order to hoist the victory flag.

This more complex dynamic creates that feeling of owning and running a real team. Seeing those long shots who pan out, competing for the top of the league, and negotiating offseason trades are all so satisfying. 

 

Do. Or Do Not. There Is No Try.

 

Imagine with me if you would for a moment. Your dynasty season has ended and you finished in ninth place in your 20-team league. The first-place team (and most the teams finishing immediately behind first) have really strong and balanced rosters. They have it all: power, speed, great pitching. Some of them may have even sacrificed their top prospects in their minor league system in order to achieve this juggernaut status. You notice upon further examination that they might even push for those top spots again next year before their aging teams really drop off.

In this fictional scenario, your team doesn’t really have the proper pieces to compete strongly enough with the aforementioned top dogs. Your team isn’t old, but it isn’t exactly overflowing with a slew of youthful high-end prospects either. You do have a few really great players, and your farm system is not awful. Sure, maybe if you get really lucky, and everything hits just right next year, you could make a push. If you are being totally honest with yourself, though, you have to ask the question, is relying on that chance a winning strategy? To make matters worse, you are looking at the teams at the bottom of the standings. They sold off their aging players and stockpiled young, high-ceiling talent and loaded up on draft capital. You had some opportunity to do that around the trade deadline, but you just couldn’t pull the trigger.

Where am I going with this? Well, the biggest mistake I see owners make in dynasty leagues lies within their lack of awareness with the overall league power dynamic. If you were to only take one piece of advice away from me and insert it into your dynasty baseball brain upon this reading, let it be this: Do not be a middle-of-the-pack team treading water. 

Or, as the wise Jedi master Yoda would say, “Do. Or do not. There is no try.” 

Finding contentment in being ninth out of 20 teams is a losing strategy. Make a plan. Either sell your aging players and position yourself for the win in a year or two or go all-in if you think you have a competitive enough roster. If you are not gathering resources and making a plan to climb, then someone else who does have a plan will be passing you sooner than you think.

 

Going All-In

 

I’ve seen more and more teams take this the extra mile and go all-in on youth and upside right out of the startup draft. This is a strategy that requires a lot of research and knowledge about prospects, but it is one that can set you up to absolutely steamroll teams for years when your players mature (especially in really deep dynasty leagues).

The opposite strategy can work as well, if you plan! Be mindful of your league, and if you see buying opportunities and discounts with players over age 30, then it could work out for you to focus your efforts on winning now.

To be totally clear, I’m not suggesting that finishing middle of the pack is always a sign of bad management. If you have a young team with upward momentum, then a ninth-place finish should be an indicator that you are ready to dance with the heavyweight teams. My main point is moreso to pay attention to when you should just commit to selling. You can’t just do it halfway. 

I guess establishing a strong dynasty team is like having a healthy/strong marriage or relationship. You have to continually invest time and create intention with your significant other. Relationships don’t just magically grow and thrive with zero purpose or forethought put into them. With the right care and attention, you will see something blossom rather than stagnate. You will find fulfillment when you choose to do more than just sit back and hope for the best. I bet you didn’t think you would be getting relationship advice in a fantasy baseball article, but there you go. You’ll thank me later.

Make sure you check out the second part in this series on dynasty league baseball, especially if you are interested in starting your own dynasty league. Feel free to reach out to me on the Twitter machine too @gabezammit.

Featured Image by Nathan Mills and Justin Paradis

  • Avatar Jeff says:

    Great article. How can I get in a league like this? Also, what keeps everyone from quitting when a couple of the teams get really good?

    • Avatar Gabe says:

      Hey Jeff! One of the best ways I’ve found to get in a good league is through dynasty baseball groups on Facebook or through the Pitcher List Discord channel. As far as your second question, you are going to like part 2 of this dynasty primer! Parity is definitely important, and having a solid group with an understanding of the commitment certainly helps. I discuss that and a little more in the follow up to this article.

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