Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Joys of Deeper Leagues

I recently reached out to fantasy baseball veteran Mike Gianella (bio) of Roto Think Tank for his perspective on "league-only leagues" versus "mixed leagues" and the following are some things to consider when deciding which format is right for you. Mike should also be followed by you on Twitter @MikeGianella. Enjoy his viewpoint.

2010 marked my 24th year playing fantasy baseball but it was the first time I was invited to play in a mixed league. I had won a CBS expert A.L.-only league so was asked to participate in the now-defunct CBS League of Champions. Toward the end of the online draft, I happened to mention to the league’s commissioner that this was my first time playing in a mixed league. Based on his reaction, you would think that I had told him that baseball itself sucks.

When people ask me why I prefer N.L. or A.L.-only leagues to mixed leagues, I have a lot of different answers. But if I’m honest about it, the real reason I play N.L. and A.L.-only is that when I started playing mixed leagues was practically unheard of.

I discovered Rotisserie League Baseball in the 1980s the way a lot of people did: by stumbling onto the original book at my local bookstore. Instantly, I became enamored with the concept. How could I not? Strat-O-Matic was one thing, but there was a game where the statistics of live baseball games counted? This sounded like the greatest thing ever to a 16-year-old kid who loved baseball and gaming.

The Rotisserie League Baseball book painted such a negative picture of mixed leagues that I was perfectly happy to start out doing N.L.-only. By the time mixed leagues were in fashion in the mid-to-late-1990s, I was happily in playing in one A.L.-only league and N.L.-only league and was fine with that.

I used to waste a lot of time flogging people for playing in mixed leagues. As I’ve gotten older and (hopefully) wiser I take more of a live-and-let-live approach. I can also see some of the advantages of mixed leagues, as well as some of the different challenges they present.

But if someone new to fantasy baseball asked for my opinion, I’d definitely try to sell him on the advantages of a deep N.L. or A.L.-only league. Here’s why:

It’s a great way to learn (even more) about the game you love: It’s difficult to argue with the entertainment value of a 23-player line-up where all of the hitters are starters and all of the pitchers are #3 starters or better or closers. When I started playing Rotisserie-style baseball I had to not only figure out which starting second basemen were better but also which back-ups were better and which ones might wind up starting in the Major Leagues over the guys ahead of them on the team. By the end of my first season, I went from thinking that I knew everything there was to know about baseball to realizing that there was plenty to learn about the game and how it worked.

Your talent evaluation skills are truly tested: In one-league leagues, you’ve got to make a call early and live or die with it. Erik Bedard is a great example. Sure, it’s apparent in mid-June to anyone with a pulse that he should be on your team. But in an A.L.-only you had to either take the plunge in April or not own Erik Bedard in 2011. Then you had to decide whether or not his terrible start was worth suffering through or if you should cut bait. Having the option to wait on Bedard is probably easier on the stomach, but I like these types of challenges and truly testing my baseball acumen.

Rosters more closely resemble the real thing: I’m not going to get on my soapbox and try to make a rational argument that owning Humberto Quintero is exciting. But while I don’t like owning Quintero, I do enjoy having to make tough choices about my team. Do I want to focus on power hitters or guys with speed? Do I want to try and grab a couple of ace starters or get a top flight closer and hope to pull and pray with my rotation? Real teams with budgetary constrains make decisions like this all the time. I also have to carry bench players and middle relievers, just like real Major League teams. And just like real MLB teams do, I have to choose wisely or my team will fail.

One-league leagues are better suited to keeper/auction leagues: If you like drafts and starting over every year then this argument doesn’t play, but I prefer keeper leagues and auctions. I like having the opportunity to keep players for a few years before I lose them to the free agent pool and like the complexity salaries and contracts add to this dynamic. I’ve seen mixed league keeper leagues with auction formats but they are few and far between.

If you do insist on playing in a mixed league, I would recommend playing in a 14 or 15-team league so that you at least have some of the challenges I’ve outlined above. 12-team mixed leagues start to resemble All-Star leagues; 10-team mixed leagues or fewer are probably fun for some but conceptually don’t seem competitive to me. In the end, though, you have to do what’s fun for you, not me. I love deep league formats. But I understand that while I find them exciting, you might not. Whatever format or type of league you play in, make sure it’s fun for you.


  1. Good article.

    I've never really understood the whole AL/NL only thing. Personally I prefer a good 20 team mixed league, which is essentially the same level of depth as a 10 team AL/NL only league.

  2. Hopefully Mike gave you some insights into why so many people prefer the league-only format.

    I'm definitely a fan of the very deep mixed league format and my coverage of fantasy baseball on COSFBA reflects it.