In fantasy baseball, all formats require you to draft a roster using one of three possible pools of talent. In mixed leagues, players from both the American League and National League are available. AL-only leagues, as the name suggests, restrict owners to players plying their trade in the American League. NL-only leagues allow owners to pick only from players on one of the 16 National League clubs.
The superficial differences between the three are obvious, but there are significant strategic variations in each.
The availability of players is the biggest issue. Those in mixed leagues get the best of both worlds. AL-only formats draw from only 14 teams, but they get 14 more batters in the lineup each day courtesy of the designated hitter. In recent years only a handful of players have been fantasy-worthy everyday players at the designated hitter spot. NL-only leagues can cull from two additional teams, although the contributations of these extra players is often not difference-making and in some cases detrimental.
Middle infield spots and catcher have been considered the most threadbare positions in terms of fantasy value in mixed leagues for a long time. Nowadays, there's less of an impact in mixed leagues. Those drafting in AL- and NL-only formats find that things differ, and scarcity can strike at several positions.
Scarcity is a fluent phenomenon, which means you'll need to size up the talent pool each year to see which areas are shallower than others. A good approach is to put your options in tiers and know which players you can target in them. Determine how much difference drafting a top option at a scarce position and a lesser player at a deep position will make based on projected value.
While rarely of much value in mixed leagues, one-category hitters hold significant value in league-specific formats. For instance, a player with a .235 average and 20 home runs won't hang around all season on a mixed-league team. However, his power is much more valuable in AL- and NL-only leagues, even if you take a hit in other areas. The same is true with speed - players who are little more than glorified pinch runners become legitimate fantasy contributors.
High-quality setup men and middle relievers have value in mixed leagues, but they're crucial in league-only formats. As noted earlier, there aren't a ton of closers to go around, so these other bullpen arms can push your team in other areas. They may even luck into the closer's role, depending on their situation.
Production over playing time
In AL- and NL-only leagues, don't make the mistake of believing that a marginal starter is more valuable than a good part-time player. You have to weigh the positives and negatives on a case-by-case basis for any players. Is Player A's .250 average and eight home runs in 500 at-bats more valuable than Player B's .285 average and 15 home runs in 275 at-bats? Probably not.
NL pitchers face their counterparts and some weak hitters at the bottom of some lineups. Pitching talent isn't necessarily more abundant in the NL, though.
Basic math tells you that in 12-team leagues there simply aren't enough closers for most teams to have more than one. In AL- and NL-only leagues it is sometimes best to target a couple of undervalued closers and sleepers at the position rather than investing an early pick in a top-flight stopper. Top-notch closers warrant big dollars from some, while others speculate on a number of less expensive relievers and hope for the best.
Relief pitcher value
One of the biggest differences between playing in a mixed setup versus a league-specific format is the value of middle and situational relievers. In a mixed league, most fantasy staffs are composed primarily of starters and closers, with the occasional setup man. That isn't the case in AL- and NL-only formats. With the dearth of quality pitching available, the value of relievers who can help keep your team ERA and WHIP down - and add strikeouts, wins and saves - goes way up.
There is less margin for error in league-specific formats because the waiver wire can hold less appealing players after the draft. As such, the draft stock of proven producers goes up, while that of untested prospects goes down.
You simply can't miss with your early- and mid-round selections or high-dollar investments. But you need to create a solid foundation, so sometimes a more even-keeled approach - adding plenty of midrange players - is a sounder strategy.
Of course, you'll need to find sleepers, and you hope to unearth a few boom-or-bust players who boom. Put simply, risk management takes on a whole new level of importance when drafting in league-specific formats. Evaluation of sleepers becomes perhaps the most important skill. Cheap players with big upside are gold mines.
The waiver wire won't exactly be a haven for players in NL- and AL-only leagues. You'll really need to be on top of what's going on in baseball because players will fly off the wire once they land in any position to make a fantasy contribution. Be aggressive with your bench in trying to find those occasional diamonds in the rough.
About Herija C. Green
A graduate of the prestigious Top Gun school, Green's ego writes checks his body can't cash. When he's not overdrawing his ego's bank account, Green enjoys games of beach volleyball, riding his Kawasaki Ninja motorcycle, and buzzing the tower (whether the pattern is full or not). He resides in the Danger Zone and yes, Ice... Man, he is dangerous. He also writes.
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