Fantasy 101: AL/NL Only Leagues

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

For the vast majority of fantasy baseball players, their league is comprised of 8-12 different owners and all MLB players are 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 proud few who has elected that type of format, allow me to help you understand the key differences from more standard leagues. For those worried about my credentials, I have played in an AL only league for the last nine seasons, winning five times and finishing second twice.

Making the transition from a standard league to AL/NL only 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 key differences.

I’m here to talk to you about those differences, as well as why AL/NL leagues are a fun alternative to standard leagues, and 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 an eight or ten 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 a week or two, 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 2018 season include infielders David Fletcher and Dixon Machado, outfielder Derek Fisher and reliever Jace Fry. Just so you 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. I have seen tons of different ways to handle midseason trades, none which are necessarily ‘better’ than the other.

Here are a few options, all using last year’s Manny Machado trade from Baltimore to Los Angeles as an example:


Don’t Do Anything


In this situation, the team that owned Machado would continue to accrue Machado’s statistics 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 draft strategy. For example, if I was picking between Francisco Lindor and Machado last season, I’d have taken Lindor simply because of the risk that Machado might be traded. This particular set-up eliminates that risk, although it isn’t exactly a ‘pure’ AL/NL only league, if owners can rack up points when a player is in a different league.


That Player No Longer Counts


This is how most formats, including ESPN, automatically set up the league. In our example, Machado 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. If he does get dropped, he automatically disappears from the player pool. Obviously, this particular deal was devastating for the owner who lost his first round pick halfway through the year. In our format, that is the end of the transaction.

Some leagues have awarded the owner first claiming rights to the players coming over in the return – which can help even the playing field. However, in today’s prospects-for-stars trading mantra, this type of setup is rarely beneficial outside of dynasty formats. Our owner who had Machado would not have gotten much out of Breyvic Valera, who played in 12 games for Baltimore after the trade. The other four players all stayed in the minors, so in a redraft league this setup would not have been worth it.

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. Machado was obviously the biggest piece to move hands last year, but Brian Dozier, Chris Archer, Jonathan Schoop and Kevin Gausman were all valuable fantasy assets that were lost to the NL. How do you determine their value in order to assign a waiver order, or an extra draft slot? It’s a trickier 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 Tommy Pham trade that saw the outfielder go from the Cardinals to the Rays. 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, Pham appeared in our free agent pool as a claimable player. Each owner had two days to place a claim, and he was awarded to the owner who had the highest spot in the claiming 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 Pham could 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 Pham, Jonathan Villar, Tyler Glasnow, Austin Meadows and even Logan Forsythe had some degree of fantasy relevance. Obviously in this case the clear No. 1 claim was Pham, but for team’s who had waiver claim No. 2 or 3, they had a tougher choice. All part of the fun.

In auction leagues, a player joining the player universe would be subject to whatever auction 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. Right now, no matter where he signs, Bryce Harper is a fringe first round selection. But if he stays in the NL, he won’t be a part of your AL only draft. If he signs with an AL team, 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! I will be releasing an AL/NL only offseason guide sometime before the season starts (and after all the big names finally sign) that you will be able to access and use to help draft some unfamiliar faces and win your league.

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.

2 responses to “Fantasy 101: AL/NL Only Leagues”

  1. BBBoston says:

    Well… I’ve been in one of the oldest AL Only, auction 5×5 leagues (8 keepers) for the last 7 years, established in 1985 by a few Pepsi guys and cleverly named the Soda Jerks league. Last year we had 12 teams and every team had to roster platoon players. Just a few top of mind comments, for this type of league:
    – Every year guys slowly box themselves out of contention (even if they are highly ranked) by losing control of their ratios. If you think about it, with so few quality pitchers in the AL, it’s really easy to wind up with terrible WHIPS and ERA. Especially now, the AL is really weak in SPs.
    – The league is particularly fun because it requires finding nuggets of gold through preseason research leading to picking up unknown players during dollar rounds or through FAAB that end up contributing meaningfully.
    – Deciding who to “keep” becomes as much art as science, as scarcity of position and stars plays into success more than other leagues.
    – Punting categories becomes a meaningful strategy, as auction budgets never suffice.
    – Keeper value, while enormous in preseason, becomes nearly meaningless until teams decide to dump near the trade deadline, at which point it becomes paramount again. This creates huge complexities to getting to a successful trades, because every team looks at keeper value differently.
    – Injuries often make or break seasons.

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