(*if you have the funds!)
The first time I heard about “The Main Event” of fantasy baseball, it was on a podcast in 2019. I believe it was either Clay Link, Jeff Erickson, or maybe Scott Jenstad discussing their team on a Rotowire podcast.
I didn’t even know what it was. But then I started hearing those two words—Main Event—more and more on other podcasts. Kind of annoying since I barely understood what it was and had to cobble it all together over time.
In those days, my fantasy baseball user experience was totally on the Yahoo fantasy platform. When the pandemic shut down baseball in 2020, I started to expand my horizons beyond my home leagues. For the first time, I drafted several dynasty and best ball teams on Fantrax. That really helped fill the void of not having real games—no stats from actual games to see how I was doing, but I had lots of different team rosters that I could stare at.
Then, in 2021, I played my first leagues on the NFBC site, and experienced FAAB (the free agent bidding system) for the first time. Competing against some of the best players anywhere, I had mixed results.
In one 15-team league, I finished 12th. But I also had a 3rd and and a 5th place finish. The highlight was winning a league, and finishing first in the overall component of the Pallazzo Podcast Invitational tournament. That meant I was first against 74 other managers who had participated in a slow “draft and hold” format (no adds or drops—you set your lineups twice weekly, but use only the players you drafted). Not too shabby! But also super lucky to beat everyone. As anyone who has ever won a fantasy league knows, winning takes a lot of things to go your way that are out of your control.
The bottom line is that that 1st place overall finish gave me the confidence to sign up for the 2022 Main Event.
THE FULL MAIN EVENT EXPERIENCE
What sets this league apart from the others on the NFBC site is the entry fee. It’s steep. Very steep. $1750 gets you a slot at the draft table, along with 14 other managers. And everyone (there were over 700 teams) competes for the $175,000 grand prize for finishing 1st overall. (This year, it’s jumped to $200K! Also, $1750 isn’t their top price point, either. The NFBC also has other contests where the entry fees range as high as $15,000!)
It wasn’t an open-and-shut case, mind you. I debated whether or not I should give it a go. Even if you can afford the entry fee, that’s an awful lot of money to gamble. And who am I, anyway? Sure I’ve won my share of leagues, but I don’t have some grand design or foolproof scheme to win leagues. Hell, I can barely use a spreadsheet!
For that matter, I don’t consider myself an “expert.” I mean, do I know more than Nick Pollack or Eno Sarris about starting pitchers? Can I evaluate hitters better than Paul Sporer, Derek Van Riper, Justin Mason or Dave McDonald? Am I a more knowledgeable baseball prospector than James Anderson or Eric Cross? Can I keep up with the closer scene as well as Greg Jewett? Do I have a handle on how much to bid better than “The FAAB Whisperer” Vlad Sedler? Are my projections more accurate than ATC’s Ariel Cohen? Am I able to “mine the news” as thoroughly as Jeff Zimmerman?
The answer to all of those questions is a resounding NO!
I’m basically just a regular guy who reads the articles that these and many other fine analysts write. And I’m a person who listens to some actual fantasy baseball experts on a great number of outstanding podcasts.
In short, I like to play fantasy baseball—and I try to do whatever I can to win the leagues I enter. Probably much like you!
DRAFT DAY TREPIDATIONS
So with some profound anxiety, I ponied up the substantial entry fee for an online Main Event draft to take place the Sunday afternoon before the 2022 season began (there are also live, in-person, drafts that take place in New York and Las Vegas).
I was nervous to draft. I was going up against the very best fantasy baseball players on the planet, all of whom seem to know more than me. Who wouldn’t be nervous?
But I’m friendly with the aforementioned Vlad Sedler, and he relieved me of some of my anxiety by assuring me that I was plenty prepared. Well, if someone who is as great a player as Vlad thinks I’m ready, who am I to argue?
LET THE DRAFT BEGIN
4 o’clock rolled around that final Sunday afternoon before opening day, and we were off. I’d drawn the #2 pick in the NFBC KDS style draft (that means you can rank your draft slot preferences). With my first pick, I selected José Ramirez after Trea Turner went off the board at 1.1. I was filling the shallow third base position with a power/speed guy. My strategy coming in was to make sure I had steals covered, because from past drafts, I knew that they ran out quickly. So when the draft board returned to me in the second round, I grabbed Starling Marte (although having former #1 pick Ronald Acuña still there sure was tempting).
I now had two speed guys in the bag, with potential homers to boot. At the “2/3 turn,” drafter number one picked Lucas Giolito and Josh Hader, leaving Acuña still on the board. I couldn’t believe my luck! I snagged him. Potentially 40 homers and 40 steals in the 3rd round! (Remember that word … “potentially”). So, I started the draft J-Ram, Marte, Acuña. I love this team! I’m gonna win! Whoo hoo! Bless my league-mates for letting me get the guys I wanted!
OK. Calm down. It’s early yet.
The word is that in the Main Event starting pitching is pushed up, so I knew it was time to address pitching. In rounds 4 to 6, I took Joe Musgrove as my ace starter, Jordan Romano as my first closer, and Alek Manoah as my starting pitcher two.
I won’t go through all my picks, but when the draft was done, I was very, very pleased with my team. It appeared to have speed, power, great starting pitching, and at least one solid closer. Actually, I adored my team! You could say ecstatic. Not only that, but the draft software loved my team. It was projected to finish first, with a draft score of 99/100. An A+ draft! People in the industry universally, to a person, pooh-pooh those scores because they are rarely accurate, but it sure felt better than getting an F grade!
Oh what a team—judging by 2022 preseason standards, of course. My SPs: Musgrove, Manoah, Bassitt, Kershaw, and Rasmussen. Offense “stacked” with J-Ram, S.Marte, Acuña, JD Martinez, Max Muncy, Jared Walsh, Jesus Aguilar, Brendan Rogers, Eddie Rosario, Nelson Cruz, Brandon Nimmo, and Joc Pederson. More steals from Jonathan Villar. Even my 30th and final pick, Seth Brown, promised some homers and steals. At least that’s how it seemed at the time.
THE SEASON STARTS, AND THEN THE REAL PROBLEMS BEGIN!
Luckily, this team got off to a good start. For the first six weeks or more, I was in 1st place in my league with around 125 points, and I even got as high as Top 5 overall! Actually, at one point very early on, I was in 2nd place against everyone playing in the Main Event. I made a screenshot for posterity and to show my family. I was even mentioned on the Pull Hitter Podcast with Rob DiPietro and Todd Whitestone where they cover the Main Event every week. Very heady stuff!
Eventually reality set in. My team went on the longest and most profound slump I’ve ever experienced in all my 30-plus years in fantasy baseball. Oh, it was so painful. Jared Walsh went well over a month without so much as a home run, and had just one RBI over that time. Nellie Cruz also had no homers, as did Joc Pederson during this stretch. JD Martinez had a homer and 5 RBI over that month. Even the great (and third round draft pick) Ronald Acuña had but one homer and just 5 RBI in that time frame (his power essentially never came around). Alek Thomas, one of my free agent pickups, had a homer and a “huge” 9 RBI.
Shall I go on? Villar was dropped from his major league team. Aguilar was an absolute bum. Muncy was less than a zero for more than half the season. And it turns out, Cruz was playing with an eye injury most of the year, so maybe that’s why he did nothing. Even top pick J-Ram significantly fell off in the second half due to an injured thumb which required surgery. Yeah, real great offensive team you drafted there! (Where’s the sarcasm font?)
Within a six-week period, I went from 125 points and leading my league, to around 88 to 90 points in my league depending on the day. That dropped me from first to third, and even sometimes I fell into fourth or fifth place. Overall, against all the players in the Main Event, I slumped from Top 10 to Top 50, to Top 75, to the 100s, then dropped all the way down into the 200s! SO DEPRESSING!
It got to the point where I stopped looking at the standings. Honestly, I’d cover my eyes when I was looking at my team’s standings so I didn’t have to see how far I’d fallen. Yeah. It was that bad!
Sometimes fate smiles upon you though just as much as it frowns. For example, in September I had a pitching week where I had 53 innings pitched midway through the week, and my staff had given up just two earned runs over that entire period for an ERA of 0.3396. Amazing!
FAAB IS YOUR FRIEND!
Of course, you’re not stuck with underperforming players. You get a $1000 budget for free agents to be used throughout the season. Some fantasy players go big, and use a lot on one player. Others try to budget themselves throughout the season. In the first bidding period after the season began, Josh Lowe, a power/speed prospect on the Tampa Bay Rays was available. Someone in my league put in a winning bid of $555—that’s more than half of his total budget spent in the first week alone!
That same week, another league-mate grabbed Spencer Strider for the far more reasonable price of $31. (Of course, to paint the full picture that same league-mate then dropped Strider, and someone else picked him up for $2 three weeks later! Where was I when all of this went down?!)
It wasn’t until May 8 that I had a pickup that helped my team. MJ Melendez came aboard for $27 and stayed in one of my two active catcher slots the remainder of the season. And Clay Holmes joined my relief squad for a pittance—$3 (backup bid was $2). He was extremely valuable until he got injured and I dropped him several months later.
NO. ACTUALLY FAAB WILL HAUNT YOU!!
I’m still crying about this one because it scarred me so bad. I bid $23 for Jon Berti of the Marlins when it looked like he would be filling in for a week or two in early June. Seemed like a safe bid. Unfortunately the guy who went on to win the league outbid me by $4, and he got nearly 40 steals from this one player alone. What a difference maker this move turned out to be! I can’t tell you how many times I lamented not bidding a bit higher so I could have had those steals on my team. Wah!
TURNS OUT THE MAIN EVENT IS LIKE ANY OTHER LEAGUE* (*except the entry fee!)
2022 was a roller coaster ride. And despite the many ups and downs, my team finished in third place in my league with 103 points, and was 115th overall out of the 705 total teams. When you finish third, you earn your money back. So in my first year playing the Main Event, I “made” $1750. The same amount I paid to join. And you know what? I was very relieved to finish 3rd! Because that wasn’t always a sure thing. There were many paths to doing worse. Much worse. A 3rd place finish wasn’t assured until the final two days of the season.
In the beginning, I had dreams of winning my league, and doing well in the overall. I was on the way to having that happen. Then real life set in. Players just didn’t perform up to expectations. But that happens! You don’t win by having the best projected stats. Some players flat out underperform. Others get injured. You go through long dry spells. If you play fantasy baseball, you know the deal!
The point of this story isn’t to take apart my team or to talk about every twist and turn, the highs, and the depressing lows. Or even to talk about the daily grind. Because it is all of that.
Rather, the point is to say that after my one year of experience, I will suggest that basically the Main Event is more or less like all the other fantasy baseball leagues you compete in with one big $1750 difference. Really, the only reason you might not be able to take part in it is that high cost. But you should know many people take on partners, to split the entry fee to make it more affordable, and they swear by it.
Maybe it was just beginners luck that I finished 3rd, and luck surely plays a role. But this is simply fantasy baseball on a grand scale against steep competition.
To be clear, some of your competitors are mathematical geniuses who have developed elaborate systems, winning processes, and/or have various elaborate strategies to win. Vying for a $175,000 grand prize will do that. So I’m not saying it isn’t hard. It is hard!
But look—you can do this! I know you can!
With some luck (actually a lot of luck—that’s always a huge part of the game), anyone can compete. And anyone can win. Including you, my friend!
So this year, I’ll be looking for you at the draft table … because after this past season’s roller coaster ride, I for one will be back for more!