For me and a few thousand fellow fanatics, it’s more than just a hobby. It’s a lifestyle. What are we talking about? The NFBC (the National Fantasy Baseball Championship) is the preeminent place to play season-long fantasy baseball. Entering its 18th season of operation, NFBC hosts online and in-person drafts & auction leagues and has set the gold standard for ADP (average draft position) reference and analysis. The company was started by fantasy industry veteran and Hall-of-Famer Greg Ambrosius. Along with multi-task master extraordinaire and former Packers’ beat writer Tom Kessenich as well as Swiss Army knife and hockey goalie Darik Buchar, the three of them run day-to-day operations and are all easily accessible for customer service inquiries.
NFBC is part of the SportsHub Games Network that includes DFS site Fanball, BB10s (best ball), league dues manager LeagueSafe and they’ve recently added Diamond Challenge (the granddaddy of fantasy baseball games and where I first started playing) in the mix. NFBC is the baseball division of NFC, which also hosts fantasy football, basketball and hockey leagues.
National (Overall) Contests
The NFBC offers a smorgasbord of fantastic games at different price points. One popular option at a reasonable $125 entry fee with little in-season maintenance is a points game called the Best Ball Cutline Championship. The most popular and traditional 5×5 rotisserie (roto) style games are the Main Event (15-team high-stakes), RotoWire Online Championship (12-team mid-stakes) and Draft Champions (Draft & Hold, no FAAB, 15-team low-stakes). Their lowest price point for league entry is $50 for a 12-teamer (the 50s), all the way up to the infamous Platinum league: a satellite 15-teamer with a $15,000 entry fee.
The NFBC’s four most popular games are all national contests. National simply means that there is an ‘overall’ component where all the teams within each league are included in a separate prize pool that pays out a large Grand Prize as well as some additional overall prizes.
The NFBC’s marquee contest is known as the Main Event (ME). It consists of 40 leagues with 15 teams each, all competing for top-three league prize payouts and the coveted overall grand prize of $150,000. These drafts take place over the two-week period prior to MLB Opening Day. They are offered online, though the ultimate thrill is to draft a Main Event team live in Las Vegas, Chicago or New York. In fact, going to Vegas every March to draft a ME squad is undoubtedly the highlight of my year. Yes, the competition is stiff, but the community and its competitors are incredibly warm and welcoming as many of us have made lifelong friends here. I started playing NFBC in 2007 and worked (won) my way up to entering these Main Events in 2011. I’ve drafted and competed in Vegas every year since and honestly can’t even put into words the camaraderie experienced here.
The Online Championship (OC) is a different beast in that it’s a 12-team national contest with more teams in the overall pool (nearly 2,500 compared to just 600 in the ME). At about one-fifth the cost ($350 entry) of the Main Event, the OC certainly has its share of casual players we can refer to as ‘dead money’ (aka folks who don’t research fantasy baseball with same tenets and discipline that you and I do). This is great if you’re an NFBC newbie and are worried about biting off more than you can chew. Once you’re comfortable with the nuances of this format (the $1000 free agent budget, twice-weekly hitter lineup changes), the rest is basically like any other roto baseball league you’ve played in.
I typically fire a few bullets into the OC and prefer to spread my drafts around between mid-February and mid-March before turning my attention to Vegas Main Event prep. As you probably know about 12-teamers, the FAAB landscape is vast, meaning there are better quality hitter and pitcher free agents to bid on each week. The 12-team format lends itself to tougher decisions on who to bid on and who to drop from your team each week which inevitably leads to a high rate of roster turnover and occasionally ‘letting the wrong players go’. Some NFBC players are good at both 12- and 15-team formats, though the overwhelming majority of veterans prefer one and are generally less competitive in the other. We all have our weak spots. As you dabble and play both, it won’t be hard to figure out the right format for you. Or perhaps you just learn to dominate both sizes of leagues.
DC drafts are 15-team Draft-and-Hold contests meaning that you’re locked in with the 50 players you head into the season with. Unlike traditional redraft leagues, the only in-season maintenance required are your weekly (pitchers) and twice-weekly (hitters) lineup changes. There are three price points for entry ($150, $400, $1,000) with corresponding league prizes for first and second – and all those who draft a team, regardless of entry, have a shot at the overall prize of $30,000. Though there are DC drafts with a quick one-minute clock (DC Express), the most popular versions are the two- and four-hour slow drafts. DC’s have been helpful in my draft prep over the last few years as a place to get familiar with the player pool, MLB depth charts, mispriced draft values and the strategies of fellow fantasy managers. I have a three-part Guidebook on the DC format if you peruse the site.
Best Ball Cutline Championship
Cutlines are a fast and fun format that is the preferred game of many in our community. These are 42-round, 10-teamers, in a best-ball points format with just two total FAAB periods all season (April 1, June 8). Cutlines only pay out only the first-place team per league as the majority of the prize pool is soaked up by the 75k Grand Prize, subsequent overall prizes and a consolation bracket, where those who don’t make the initial cut can still win $5,000. Being that this is a pseudo-best ball format, lineups are automatically optimized each day based on total points and the 23 starting roster slots until the conclusion of the Cutline’s regular season (July 7). After that, three rounds of ‘cuts’ take place over a nine-week period with the Cutline contest ending on September 19, 2021.
Drafting Cutlines are incredibly addicting and can really hurt your annual fantasy budget if you’re not careful. Those who have been successful in this format have applied different strategies including punting closers or stolen bases entirely. There are many ways to win, though the best way to put yourself in position to do so is to aggregate projections from Steamers, The BAT, ATC and others (or use your own) into their points-based scoring system to create your own rankings to draft from.
Basic scoring for Best Ball Cutlines:
- At-Bats: -1
- Hits: 4
- Runs: 2
- Home Runs: 6
- Runs Batted In: 2
- Stolen Bases: 5
- Innings Pitched: 3
- Hits Allowed: -1
- Earned Runs: -2
- Walks Issued: -1
- Strikeouts: 1
- Wins: 6
- Saves: 8
Satellite (Stand-alone) Leagues
Leagues that don’t offer overall money and only pay out league prizes to the top three are called satellite leagues. Some folks prefer to avoid national contests and stick to satellites because of the different strategies involved. All satellite leagues are 5×5 roto and so it’s certainly possible for someone to end the season in the money in a satellite by strategically punting (or unintentionally getting crushed in) one of the 10 standard categories that NFBC uses (HR – RBI – R – SB – AVG, ERA – WHIP – W – K – SV). I’ve seen fantasy managers win and place in high-stakes satellites punting saves or batting average. Though crafting and planning this isn’t typically recommended for those with little experience as you’d of course have to truly nail most of the remaining categories.
The 15k Platinum that my friend Rob Silver and I share a team annually is a satellite league, as is the 10k Diamond, 10k Diamond Auction, 5k Ultimate, 5k Ultimate Auction two 2.5k Supers (15-team and 12-team). We typically prefer to draft optimally for balance and value, though punting categories in future seasons is never officially off the table.
The ultimate ‘starter’ league for someone new to NFBC who does not yet want to try out a national contest is a standard satellite league with price point entry fees of $125, $250 and $500 for 15-team leagues and $150, $250 and $500 for 12-teamers. Though they can be a profitable endeavor, it’s difficult to manage too many fantasy leagues that require weekly FAAB (free agent bidding) as most of us who have played in FAAB-based leagues know the amount of time and effort this requires of us. If you have a full-time non-fantasy job and a family, it’s difficult to properly dedicate the time required to manage 10 FAAB leagues for the entirety of a grueling 26-week regular season.
The main difference in draft strategy between national and satellite contests is a ‘swing for the fences’ mentality in the former. Contests with that ‘overall’ component require a bit more risk in terms of the type of profile we’re looking for when drafting hitters and pitchers. Those drafting in a ME or OC are more likely to chase players with higher upside and lower floors, while those in satellites are wise to focus on year-over-year consistency: players with higher floor but less upside. That does not necessarily mean focusing efforts on drafting all the low upside, ‘boring’ players. But in a satellite, targeting the likes of year-over-year consistent guys like Nolan Arenado and Freddie Freeman in those early rounds over say an Adalberto Mondesi helps one avoid inevitable and inherent volatility that would otherwise be more acceptable in an overall contest.
There are of course folks who live and die that roto life by the auction. Truth be told, there is nothing more fun than sitting in a Las Vegas or NYC hotel ballroom with an auctioneer and 14 league-mates going toe to toe, bidding on players for four hours. NFBC offers a variety of options in the auction format:
Auction Championship – $1,400 and $2,500 entry fees, $30,000 Grand Prize
Online Auction Championship – Entry fees: $150, $250, $500 with a $3,000 Grand Prize
Standard Auction Leagues – Low-stakes ($125 entry / $1,000 1st place, pays top 3); mid-stakes ($500 entry, $4,000 1st place, pays top 3)
AL and NL Only Auctions – $1,400 entry, $8,400 1st place, pays the top three
Once auctions are complete, they follow NFBC’s standard roto format with a $1,000 FAAB budget and weekly / twice-weekly lineup changes.
Other Types of Formats
For the second season ever, NFBC offers two newer formats for baseball, including 15-team Guillotine leagues ($200 entry, $1,400 top league prize) and a single-entry format called the Solo Shot.
Solo Shot is $1,000 to enter with payouts to first ($4,500), second ($2,200) and third place ($1,000) along with 10 payouts for the best teams’ overalls, including $25,000 as the Grand Prize. The Solo Shot is the season-long version of DFS single-entry tournaments with a maximum of 150 total teams in this contest. It serves as a true barometer of fantasy skill and prowess since each of us is only allowed one entry into the contest unlike ME, OC, DC and Cutlines, where folks can enter multiple times.
NFBC also offers a popular starting entry contest called “50’s” which are satellite $50-entry, 12-team leagues. Winner gets $400 and second place gets $100. For the first time ever in 2021, all NFBC 50 teams will be thrown into one large overall tournament where the top-scoring teams receive the following: 1st – a 2022 Main Event entry, 2nd – 2022 Solo Shot entry, 3rd – Online Championship entry.
They also offer Qualifier leagues. Winners of the $50 Qualifier leagues receive a free 2022 entry to the OC and winners of the $125, a free entry to the 2022 Main Event.
Finally, NFBC has introduced Keeper leagues for the first time ever. Entry fees there are at three price points – $250 ($2,000 1st place), $500 ($4,000 1st place) and $1,000 ($8,000 first place). Teams are allowed to keep a maximum of five players (or less, if preferred) for the following season.
What Should You Play?
Now that we’ve navigated the countless options, it’s time to hone in on what works best for you. Those with tight fantasy budgets can start with the “50’s”(the $50-entry 12-teamers) to get a feel for playing in the NFBC.
If you budget approximately $500 for the season, then you have a variety of options.
For those who don’t want to deal with too much in-season management, a three-pack of the Best Ball Cutline for $450 ($25 off) would be the ideal solution. Otherwise, to get a taste of different worlds (12-team vs. 15-team, satellite vs. national), I’d recommend one 12-team OC ($350) and one 15-team satellite for $125. If you’re itching to draft now, and also prefer to manage less FAAB, then just replace that satellite with a $125 DC (Draft-and-Hold). If you’re looking to spend a couple grand, then there’s truly no better option than a live Main Event in Vegas, New York or Chicago.
Drafts can be addicting, so you need to be careful with drafting too many FAAB leagues if you don’t intend on spending ample time over the weekend to set bid orders, researching and planning. This season, I’ve started drafting earlier than usual as I’m on my fourth Draft-and-Hold DC and will plan my first ‘quick/regular’ drafts in late January (Cutline and OC). As March rolls around, it’s usually all-systems-go wrapping my brain back around the 15-team format and preparing for my live drafts (Main Event, Platinum) in Las Vegas.
The NFBC isn’t the only place to play fantasy baseball, but it’s my personal favorite. It’s a community I enjoy hanging out and talking shop with. The mom-and-pop feel of the staff and their helpful, non-corporate nature is a breath of fresh air for a company so well established that pays out millions of dollars in fantasy winnings each year. NFBC is the gold standard in fantasy baseball for a reason. If you’re a subscriber and plan on entering for the first time (in any format), I’m always happy to help out and point you in the right direction (DM me on Twitter @RotoGut).