© 2010 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.

02/08/10 8:00 AM ET

Fantasy 101: Start on road to success

Several formats, competition levels available for all fans

By now, participation in fantasy sports is common activity.

Co-workers set up friendly intra-office leagues. Broadcasters crow about their picks over the air waves. Celebrities tweet about the ups and downs of their teams.

Yet, even in this day and age, not everybody is experienced when it comes to fantasy baseball. Some may be curious as to what the fuss is about, but no doubt wonder if they possess the knowledge and dedication seemingly needed to run a fantasy team.

If you fall into that category, fear not; there are all sorts of leagues and styles that cater to the casual fan.

For those interested in joining the fun, here is a fantasy baseball 101 primer to get you started:

Know how it all began
Fantasy baseball was born in 1980, when a group of fans -- including writer and editor Dan Okrent -- gathered at the New York restaurant La Rotisserie Francaise. They wrote their own rules to determine how they would draft players and keep score so that a league winner could be determined at the end of the season. It came to be known as "rotisserie" baseball, and though there are many different types of games, the hobby is more commonly known today as "fantasy"; baseball is just one of many sports involved.

Put in the time
The people who win fantasy leagues are not always the ones who spend the most time on their teams, but the ones who spend that time wisely. While leagues aren't necessarily won on draft day, establishing the foundations of a strong team in the early going makes winning that much easier.

Hence, now is a perfect time to devote some energy into researching the player pool and devising a worthwhile strategy. The MLB.com 2010 Fantasy Preview is a great place to start, as it contains more than 800 player bios and rankings by position, as well as video highlights of more than 500 players.

Find a league that suits you
There are a few different types of leagues you can join. In mixed formats, you and your friends can draft players from all 30 Major League clubs. There are also leagues that limit the pool to American League or National League players.

There's also the matter of how many teams you want in your league. Having too many makes it difficult to find good players; those formats are probably best left to the experts who understand that Player X's upticks in walks and fly-ball percentage suggest that he's on the verge of a 25-homer season. On the other hand, spreading out the game's All-Stars among a handful of teams can take some of the edge off the competition. A 10- or 12-team mixed league is a good place for the fantasy novice to get started.

Then there's the scoring system. Based on the categories -- more on that below -- some leagues award points throughout the season as stats accumulate; in other words, if you're leading your 10-team league in home runs, that gives you 10 points. Other formats, like MLB.com 2010 Fantasy Baseball, use a head-to-head scoring system in which you're matched up against another team for a week. If you beat the other team in the majority of the scoring categories, that gives you a win.

Scoring categories can differ throughout leagues, so be sure to know what yours are before your draft rolls around. The 5x5 format awards points in five categories for pitchers (wins, saves, ERA, strikeouts and WHIP) and five for position players (AVG, runs, HR, RBIs and SB). Some formats are 4x4 (no runs or strikeouts), and other leagues devise their own scoring systems. MLB.com 2010 Fantasy Baseball counts total bases and walks on the offensive end, and simplifies the pitching format by having participants draft entire Major League staffs instead of individual arms.

There are generally two ways in which you can conduct a draft for your league. In straight drafts, you take turns selecting players until all roster spots are filled. In auction drafts, you're given a fixed budget with which to bid fictional money on each player.

Seek help from the experts
The MLB.com Fantasy Homepage features regular advice columns, as well as charts to keep you updated in regard to team position battles and injuries. In addition, the gurus at Fantasy 411 are always churning numbers and studying trends to help you make the tough decisions about who to trade or who's worth grabbing off the pool of available players on the waiver wire.

There are many other fantasy fundamentals, and you'll get the hang of them after you jump in. Along the way, you'll find that some owners take the process more seriously than others, but it's important to remember that signing up for fantasy baseball is just another way to enjoy the spring and summer months with the national pastime.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.