Image credit: Julio Rodriguez (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
For many fantasy baseball players, much of the appeal is pretending to play the role of a real-life general manager. You’re involved in the day-to-day personnel decisions, able to shape rosters how you see fit and assess when to push your chips all-in, while also trying to juggle the team’s potential near-term success and keeping an eye on how it might impact the longer-term outlook. In redraft leagues, where each season starts from the beginning again—and where everyone is on equal footing at the beginning of the season—dynasty leagues are essentially redraft leagues that reset every year, but you still have the same players you had last year.
Each dynasty league has its own specific rules, but in general, there are two types: keeper leagues and “pure” dynasty. Keeper leagues have some variation on how many players you are allowed to carry over into the following year. In some cases, there are “contracts” (limits to how many years you can keep players) or “salaries” (where you must keep total salaries below certain caps), or a combination of all of that. Some have specific subsets where prospects have different year limits or salary increases. In pure dynasty leagues, however, one normally keeps your entire roster year after year.
Ranking the top 50 players in dynasty fantasy baseball entering 2024, headlined by Ronald Acuña Jr.
Because there are so many variants—roto categories vs. points, or head-to-head vs. pure roto, open league vs. mixed vs. “only” leagues—we will only discuss the broad commonalities of dynasty leagues in general.
What Are The Rules Of Dynasty Fantasy Baseball?
The main element of dynasty leagues is that they are redraft leagues where some number of players on each fantasy team’s roster is carried over into the next seasons (with or without some sort of restrictions, such as term limits or where it becomes progressively more expensive to do so).
Whether the season’s winner is determined from accumulated points, by roto categories through to the end of the season, via a final few week’s playoff, or from standings of one’s head-to-head record against the other fantasy teams, the main element is that some subset of rosters are carried over year-over-year.
The main common elements of a dynasty league will be discussed below.
Main Roster And Bench
You will have a main roster of players—most commonly by fulfilling a positional requirement—which is the one that accrues the fantasy points or productions, with a bench. The bench sometimes includes minor leaguers or prospects who have little or no major league experience—or there is a further subset of non-rostered players who are in your “minor leagues.” In some cases, there are restrictions as to who can be rostered on the bench (e.g. you can’t have players from the Japanese or Korean leagues until they sign with a major league team) or restrictions on who can be on your main roster; for example, to help disincentivize tanking, some leagues require that the main roster or bench be populated with players who have at least one inning or plate appearance (to prevent putting in prospects who will be getting “zeroes” in categories).
Most seasoned dynasty players agree: the start-up draft is arguably the most fun part of a dynasty league. You can choose any path or option (within reason) on how you want to construct your team. Do you want try to “win now” with no concern for the future? Sure, go ahead. Do you want to focus on youth and prospects so that they all peak in a few years? Not a problem. Do you want to put together a pitching staff of workhorses? Be my guest. Do you want to make sure to have all of your favorite players from your favorite team because the whole point is to have fun? Absolutely, you should.
From a high level, the two main approaches that fantasy players take when having a start-up dynasty—though of course, there are different variations within each approach—are either to try to “win now” or to “win later.” The most common wisdom is that it’s in your best interest to try to win now. The reasons given are usually (1) the league may not last longer than a few years and you may not see the fruits of your investment and (2) the point of a dynasty league is still to win as often as possible, including in the first year.
Of course, there are pros and cons to each approach and the best advice is to choose one that fits your strengths. If you feel like finding prospects to help backfill your roster in future years, then an approach that minimizes the effects of that would be best. If you don’t think you’ll have time to negotiate trades with your adversaries, then perhaps you might select players who fill positional requirements instead of “best player available.” If you consider yourself a good finder of pitching talent on the waiver wire in-season, then you might focus on positional players during the draft.
What’s The Best Website For Dynasty Fantasy Baseball?
Fantrax is far and away the leading option for most dynasty leagues. There are other alternatives—some leagues use ESPN or Yahoo’s Keeper system and track prospects, salaries, etc. in a separate shared spreadsheet, but Fantrax is the most seamless option for those looking to keep everything within platform.
Most dynasty leagues have an in-season waiver wire. Most common are the weekly free agent pickups, similar to the NFBC (National Fantasy Baseball Championship) Main Event, where you submit bids which “resolve” weekly to see who you successfully added to your roster and at what FAAB (Free Agency Allocation Budget) cost. Most commonly, you must keep your roster “legal” and therefore would drop a player to the available player pool simultaneously to make room for the new player on your roster.
Other common variations are “first come first served,” meaning at any time if there is a player available “on the wire,” you can pick him up. For example, if a Closer gets injured, it is common to see fantasy owners scramble to the waiver wire to pick up the next-in-line relief pitcher. Some leagues have waiver wire only run a couple times a year.
Most dynasty leagues don’t allow players who were just drafted in the MLB draft (in July) be available for rostering, even if—for example, in the case of Nolan Schanuel—they debut in the major leagues in the same year. These players can only be selected in the upcoming off-season’s “supplemental draft,” also known as the First Year Player Draft (FYPD). In most cases, international signees—for example, Yoshinobu Yamamoto or Jung-Hoo Lee—including the January 15 signees.
The FYPD is one of the most significant events of the off season for most dynasty leagues. The draft order for FYPD is most often in reverse order of finish in the prior season. In some leagues, the draft order is selected in a way to disincentivize “tanking” to get a better draft spot. In many leagues too players who were not rostered on any fantasy team’s final roster are available to be drafted too. The most common of this type of player are usually relief pitchers who are believed to be the Closer for their respective major league teams in the upcoming season, but who weren’t valuable in the previous season.
The FYPD draft is one of the quickest ways to replenish the talent level of your team. For example, teams with an early pick who can get a Wyatt Langford, Dylan Crews, Paul Skenes or Yoshinobu Yamamoto immediately get dynasty players ranked in the top 200. Knowing the depth and quality of next season’s MLB draft (and expected international signees and free agent postings) is an important element in dynasty leagues, especially in leagues in which FYPD draft picks can be traded.
Strategy for Success #1: Understand Your League
Probably the most important element for success in a dynasty league is understanding your league. Of course, knowing the rules of your league is of critical importance, but other elements that inform your decisions are just as important. For example, is your league “active” in trades? Is it easy to trade with your competitors or are you kind of stuck with who you have on your roster or are able to pick up from the waiver wire? How does your league value prospects? Are there some owners who value them more than others? How do your league-mates value starting pitching? How do they value veterans? How do they value draft picks for next year’s FYPD? What industry rankings do some of your league-mates seem to follow? Are your league-mates rebuilding, “going for it” or are they “waiting and seeing”?
All of the above—and of course it is by no means an exhaustive list—should inform your overall strategy, your day-to-day tactics and player personnel decisions.
Dynasty Fantasy Baseball Prospects
There is nothing more satisfying than picking a prospect from the waiver wire or FYPD and seeing them skyrocket up prospect rankings or get called up to the major leagues and immediately produce. Having a Gunnar Henderson or Michael Harris on your team—a player in their early 20s who will likely get regular playing time for the better part of the next decade while producing at an above-average rate—when a year or two earlier they were not on any top 100 lists, is one of the “hacks” to having long-term dynasty success. The best way to identify these potential goldmines is from voraciously consuming prospect content such as Baseball America…before your league-mates do.
Perceived Value And Actual Value
The most famous wisdom for the stock market is to buy low and sell high. This motto applies to dynasty leagues too in that if you acquire players prior to their value increasing and trade off players at the top of their value, then you will increase your chances of success. Of course, that is easier said than done. Also, incrementally upgrading 30 players who are worth $1 to players who are worth $2 is likely not sufficient to win. Another way of looking at “buy low, sell high”, especially with respect to prospects, is to (try to) understand what their likely actual value is—that is, how much they will contribute to your team (or anyone else’s team)—compared to what their perceived value is. The arbitrage between the two is one of the best aspects of prospect valuation to utilize. In terms of “prevailing wisdom,” the following are generally simultaneously true: (1) most prospects do not meaningfully provide fantasy (actual) value, (2) projections, especially of prospects, have wide error bands around them, (3) a prospect’s highest (perceived) value is right before they are about to get called up, and…irritatingly conflicting, (4) one of the most valuable assets in dynasty leagues is a top 10 prospect.
Although one of the most satisfying parts of dynasty baseball is seeing one of “your guys” graduate to the majors, because of the high attrition rate of prospects, a better return on investment has historically been to package prospects in trades for “proven” major league talent.
Hitters vs. Pitchers: Although in (most) roto leagues, pitching is “worth” as much as hitting, historically it has not been a good strategy to weigh them equally in a start-up draft. There are many reasons for this: pitchers tend to get injured more often than hitters (and, in the case of Tommy John surgery, these injuries are often season-long) and there is more perceived year-to-year volatility amongst non-top-tier starting pitchers. But the most compelling reason is that the prevailing wisdom is that any team that is rebuilding, should be rebuilding with bats and not arms. In most leagues, any team that is not competing in the current season (and likely not in the following season) makes their starting pitchers—especially those who are older than 28 years old—available in trade. This self-reinforcing action leads to pitchers being valued less highly than hitters, and reduces the “demand” for pitchers even further (as the number of potential “landing spots” for any given pitcher is lower than for hitters). Although this applies to veteran hitters (such as JD Martinez or Starling Marte) too, it is more evident in our experience with pitchers. Because hitters are generally more highly valued (with higher trade value and more trade options), one should lean more heavily on bats during a start-up.