Core Player Strategies: AL, NL and Mixed Leagues
by Rick Morris  -  Feb 17th, 2004

Truly astute players know not to use a one-size-fits-all approach to different fantasy formats. A strategy used in a mixed-league setting should be dissimilar to one deployed in an AL-only league and an NL-only league. Of course, the means by which one differentiates change each year. Here's a look at the state of strategy in 2004: 

  • Mixed leagues: The tide continues to recede from the late '90s burst of offense in baseball. At that time, owners were well-advised to select the few top-level fantasy pitchers early because they were so few and far between. Over the past three years, an influx of elite arms into baseball has turned this equation upside down. Top hitters should now be given preference, at least on balance. Offensive numbers are now more similar to the '94-'97 era, rather than '98-'01. This means more offense than in most eras of baseball, but below the ridiculous times of McGwire/Sosa and the 1930s. Plus, baseball boasts more top arms now than in the mid-'90s, and with the steroid scandal finally coming to a boil, look for many top producers to stop juicing up and for their numbers to tumble. Put your emphasis on the bats you can trust. Also, try to get one of the top half-dozen producers at as many positions as you can from the following list: catcher, second base, shortstop and third base. And when you do move on to the mound, don't wait very late to take a top closer. While my colleague Pat Luft's “Closer Impact” article gives you the tools you need to succeed, you'd still be wise to duck as much of the volatility as you can in the closer market. This means giving credence to an early selection of Eric Gagne, John Smoltz, Keith Foulke, Mariano Rivera, Billy Wagner or Octavio Dotel.
  • AL-only leagues: In this format, as well as the mixed-league one, ARod is the top pick, hands-down. Frankly, there are fewer than usual differences this year in strategies between the two formats. Many of the above points can be utilized here as well. However, there's always one exception to any rule and he resides in Tampa. Given that Aubrey Huff has dual-position eligibility in most leagues (first base and outfield), he is the player who is rated the most differently in the two formats. From a $30 value in mixed-league auctions and a late second-round value in mixed-league drafts, he rises to $36 and a late-first round value in AL formats. An additional item worth noting is that the NL was perceived in many quarters to have a superior base of talent over the last few years. The ebb-and-flow of the offseason reversed that trend decisively, fueled largely by the Yankee/Red Sox rivalry and game of “Can You Top This?” Players in AL-only leagues have far more dependable hitters and pitchers available to them than do players in NL-only leagues.

  • NL-only leagues: The aforementioned exodus of top players to the American League particularly impacts those trying to build pitching staffs in NL-only leagues. They face significant challenges, and as such should put a greater emphasis on procuring solid pitching early than should players in the other formats. And while Aubrey Huff is the player whose value increases the most in AL-only leagues, Mike Piazza fills that role in NL-only leagues. He is the only top-tier catcher in such leagues, and carries with him the promise of dual-eligibility if he finally begins his long-awaited transition to first base this year. From the mixed-league auction value of $23 and mixed-league draft value of the mid-third round, he rises to $30 and the early-second round of NL-only drafts. Last year, Jorge Posada was the AL equivalent of Piazza. He was touted as such in this space. Prior to the emergence of Jason Varitek and the move of Ivan Rodriguez and Javy Lopez to the AL, Posada was the Alpha and Omega of American League catchers. So how did the practical application of our advice pan out? The Glenn Colton/Rick Wolf partnership won the AL-only League of Alternative Reality (LABR) expert league with Posada behind the plate and the owners have acknowledged him as a team cornerstone. We're still waiting for our cut of the winnings, gentlemen!