Fantasy 101: AL and NL Only Leagues, Explained

Andy Patton takes a look at the unique aspects of AL and NL only leagues, and how you can find success in those formats.

The vast majority of fantasy baseball leagues are comprised of 8-12 different owners and every major and minor league player available at their disposal. However, a small, brave minority of fantasy owners choose to eliminate half the draft pool by participating in an AL or NL only league. If you are one of the brave few who have decided to begin traveling down this path, allow me (a 10-year AL-only vet) to help you understand the key differences between AL/NL only and more traditional formats.

Making the transition from a standard league to an AL/NL one can be tricky. While most of the fantasy strategies remain the same (check out the rest of our Fantasy 101 tips for more info on drafting, trading, etc.) there are some important distinctions.

I’m here to talk to you about those differences, as well as provide an analysis of how AL/NL leagues can be a fun alternative to standard formats. I will also provide analysis on different ways to set up an AL/NL only league if that is what you’re interested in.

For more general fantasy advice, explore our other outstanding pieces.


Why AL/NL Only?


Because it’s different! Because you love/hate the DH! Because that’s the league your friends decided to sign you up for! There are plenty of reasons to decide to join an AL/NL only league. The most common is that it adds a challenge for owners. If you are in a standard 8-10 team league, the amount of talent on each roster is staggering, and there are multiple marquee free agents available on the waiver wire. As such, less research is needed and trading is often diminished.

For fantasy players who want to dig deep into that platoon player who mashes right-handers, or that rookie who debuted with little fanfare but is quietly hitting .290, or that eighth inning stud who might close out games in the second half of the season, AL/NL leagues are the way to go. I caution that AL/NL only leagues should not be any deeper than 10 owners – I did a 12-team AL Only league once and some of the players that were rostered would make your skin crawl.

However, a 10-team league offers a challenge to find talent on the waiver wire, which can make things a lot more interesting. A few players who I rostered for large chunks of the 2019 season include infielders Nicky Lopez and Rowdy Tellez, outfielder Jacoby Jones and reliever Tyler Clippard. One ends up rostering some real deep cuts in AL/NL only leagues, so just know what you’re getting into.


Setting Up An AL/NL Only League


Honestly, this doesn’t have to be any different than a regular league. AL/NL only leagues can be auction or snake draft format, they can be H2H or roto scoring, they can have as many owners as one would want, and so on. Just know that with the pool of available players cut in half, the scoring could look a little different.


Losing Players In Midseason Trades


This is probably the most difficult, and well-debated, aspect of AL/NL only leagues. Sometimes players get traded across leagues, and all of a sudden your starting outfielder in your AL-only league is playing for a National League team. I have seen tons of different ways to handle losing players due to midseason trades, none of which are necessarily ‘better’ than the other.

Here are a few options, all using last year’s Nicholas Castellanos trade from Detroit to the Chicago Cubs as an example:


No. 1 Don’t Do Anything


In this situation, the team that owned Castellanos would continue to accrue his stats, even though he has been traded. This is often considered the most ‘fair’ way to handle midseason trades, as otherwise owners that lose players at the deadline get heavily punished. Of course, you could argue that allowing midseason trades to impact your team could factor into an owner’s draft strategy.

For example, if during the draft I was picking between, say, Michael Brantley and Castellanos, one factor for taking Brantley instead of Castellanos is that he was less likely to be traded. The risk, generally speaking, is that if a player is traded mid-season to the other league, I lose that player entirely and end up with nothing. However, if your league chooses this option, then there would be no risk. While this particular set-up eliminates the risk, it isn’t exactly a ‘pure’ AL/NL only league, as their owners can still rack up points even though their player is in a different league.


No. 2 That Player No Longer Counts


This is how most formats, including ESPN, automatically set up the league. In our previous example, Castellanos would no longer accrue statistics for the team that owns him. If the owner forgets to drop him, he will just take up a roster spot without accruing stats. If he does get dropped, he automatically disappears from the player pool. Obviously, this particular deal was devastating for the owner who lost a very productive outfielder halfway through the year.

In most formats, that is the end of the transaction.

Some leagues have awarded the owner who lost their player first claiming rights (like being at the top of the waiver order, but only for specific situations) for the players coming over in the return – which can help even the playing field. However, considering many trades these days are prospects-for-stars trade scenarios, this type of setup is rarely beneficial outside of dynasty formats. Our owner who had Castellanos would not have gotten anything out of the two prospects Detroit acquired from the Cubs, so in a redraft league, this setup would not have been worth it.

Plus, look at the complicated Trevor Bauer, Yasiel Puig, Franmil Reyes trade. That one would have been difficult to handle. Does the owner who lost Bauer get both? Unlikely, but when weird trades like that happen it’s easier to have a simpler game plan for handling midseason deals.

Another option is to award owners who lose a player a higher spot in the waiver order, or even a higher draft pick the following season. While these are certainly options, it can be tricky if multiple players are dealt at the trade deadline. Castellanos was one of the biggest pieces to move teams last year, but Shane Greene, Jay Bruce, and Roenis Elias were all valuable fantasy assets that were lost to the NL. How do you determine which team lost more value in order to assign that higher waiver order, or which team earns an extra draft slot? It’s a tricky endeavor, and probably one best served for more advanced leagues.

Gaining Players In Midseason Trades


So now that we have covered how AL/NL only leagues can handle losing players via trade, let’s talk about how they can handle gaining them. We’ll look at last season’s Zack Greinke trade that saw him go from the Diamondbacks to the Astros. These situations are typically easier to handle – depending on your league’s format. In a league that featured a snake draft (or an offline draft) you’ll typically just use the waiver order. For our league, Greinke appeared in our free-agent pool as a claimable player, also known as being on waivers. Each owner had two days to place a claim, and he was awarded to the owner who had the highest spot in the waiver order.

If your league opts to go this way – it is IMPERATIVE to keep your waiver claim heading into the deadline. In AL/NL leagues, there are rarely going to be players dropped during the season that are worth wasting a claim on, but a player like Greinke will change your team dramatically.

One challenging aspect is determining which player, or players, to place a claim on. In an AL/NL only league, even fringey players who get traded become fantasy relevant. Last year, in addition to Greinke, Yasiel Puig, Franmil Reyes, Tanner Roark and even Travis Demeritte had varying degrees of fantasy relevance. Obviously in this case the clear No. 1 claim was Greinke, but for teams who had waiver claim No. 2 or 3, they had a tougher choice. All part of the fun.

In auction leagues or leagues that use FAAB (Free Agent Acquisition Budget), a player joining the player universe would be subject to whatever rules your league has for free agents. Effectively, these players are just like any other claimable free agents – they just have the ability to instantly turn your team from pretender to contender.

Offseason Research


Another fun aspect of AL/NL only leagues is that offseason trades and marquee free agent signings can drastically alter your draft strategy. As a hypothetical, before he signed with the Angels, Anthony Rendon was projected to be a fringe first-round selection. However, if Rendon had stayed in the NL he wouldn’t be a part of your AL-only draft, but because he’s in the AL now he immediately becomes a big time first round pick.

If you’re worried that you won’t have time to keep track of all the new additions to your AL or NL universe, never fear! We will be releasing an AL/NL only offseason guide sometime before the season starts (and after all the big names sign) that you will be able to access and use to help draft some unfamiliar faces and win your league.

Featured image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)

Andy Patton

Andy is the Dynasty Content Manager here at PitcherList. He manages all of the prospect content on the site, while also contributing a weekly article on dynasty deep sleepers, and the weekly hitter and pitcher stash lists. Andy also co-hosts the Never Sunny in Seattle podcast on the PitcherList Podcast Network, and separately hosts the Score Zags Score Podcast.

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