Fantasy Baseball Player Pools: Shallow vs. Deep

by Herija C. Green on December 1, 2010 @ 01:00:01 PDT


Fantasy baseball leagues come in sizes small and large, with many in between. The terms "shallow" and "deep" describe the player pool based on the number of teams in a league and the number of players on each team. Teams in very shallow leagues will usually be loaded with top players at each position, with a virtual embarrassment of riches obtainable on waivers. Those in deep leagues find navigation through the draft more challenging (and fun) and fewer attractive options on the wire (which requires more anticipation).

A typical shallow league has eight or 10 teams, with, for example, 21 players (16 active, five reserved), which comes out to 168 or 210 players. That figure comprises roughly one-quarter of active major leaguers. It's considerably less than deep leagues with 336 or 392 (one-half of baseball's active players) you'd find in the basic 12- or 14-team leagues with 28-man rosters (23 active, five reserved).

The draft

Shallow leagues

Fantasy managers have a little more flexibility to roll the dice on potential during the draft. With so many good players inevitably finding their way to the waiver wire after the draft, it's not difficult to absorb a few bad selections. It's not necessarily wise to take many more chances so much as it is to be a bit bolder with the chances you take.

In general, pitchers are riskier due to injury concerns, inconsistency and the performance of those around them. The talent pool at pitcher is deeper than that of hitters, with more pitchers likely to emerge from the free-agent pool. Therefore, fantasy teams are advised to draft a little more heavily on offense in the early and middle rounds.

Fantasy managers are generally advised to select reliable starters before closers; starters comprise a bigger chunk of your team's innings pitched, and closers are more volatile. A manager who stays informed can stockpile relievers at the end of a draft and add more as the season progresses since there is usually considerable turnover in the role. This strategy is a safeguard to avoid the midround closer flameouts that seemingly occur every season.

Deep leagues

The margin for error is thinner in a highly competitive formats. It's not uncommon to find managers holding on to minor leaguers - especially in league-only formats - for future returns, stockpiling setup men with the hopes that they receive a turn as closer or stashing weak-hitting players because they can swipe a few bases.

The draft is a little more critical; decisions in AL and NL leagues can make or break a team. Hitting on your early picks takes on added importance. Competitors are encouraged to take a more conservative approach unless there's potential for a very high return. This exception should be reserved for a player on the verge of a breakout, an undervalued stud coming off a down year or an All-Star player returning from a non-lingering injury.

End-gamers - inexpensive players - with big upside are considered the best gambles because the risk is minimized. Targeting such players with a get-him-no-matter-what mentality is a strategy that can burn a manager, too. Don't stay married to any of your targets, and instead learn when to let go. It's important to balance risk and reward; the costlier the investment, the wiser it is to avoid the risk.

In the early rounds - or with your high-dollar investments, should you go that route - you must be selective. It's a little harder to overcome the loss of a high-cost player. However, it's the middle and late rounds are where you must outsmart your peers. Fantasy owners should acquire as much information as possible so they can make knowledgeable decisions. It's vital to hit on your projected sleepers, so do your research, and show some patience if they don't pan out immediately. The available talent on the waiver wire won't often be awe-inspiring; if you give up on a forecasted sleeper too soon, another fantasy manager is likely to benefit.

Players who contribute in certain categories or play certain positions - depending on your league's universe - see a slight upgrade in value. Players who qualify often dry up quickly and don't come cheaply. Keep that in mind on draft day and decide how to address those areas well ahead of time - whether it's by pursuing the "sure thing" at second base to avoid having a black hole at the position or taking an even-keeled approach to steals so you don't overpay for a specialist.

In-season management

Shallow leagues

Managers can be very flexible. Due to the deep free-agent pool, they have the luxury of being impatient with their late-round fliers, sleepers, and in some cases even their projected top-end players; fantasy owners can readily exchange them for players who are hot.

For leagues that use a first-come, first-served free-agent and waiver system, waiver priority can be a little more valuable; it can be saved for players who have a better chance to make a huge impact because, as noted, impatience is often a common trait in this format. A lesser player on waivers doesn't warrant the use of a high waiver priority unless he fills a great need. Otherwise, one can probably find a comparable player in the list of free agents.

In leagues that use an FAAB system, fantasy owners should take a similar approach with their dollars. An impact player will likely require a hefty bid, while solid free agents are a dime a dozen.

Trading is less necessary to improve in shallow leagues. However, owners should pursue trades if they make sense - in other words, they improve your team and address needs.

Deep leagues

The number of players likely to make an impactavailable is significantly lower. Players on your roster with long-term upside but not short-term prospects have more value; other teams will pounce if you discard those players too quickly. Fringe players - part-timers or pitchers acquired for a one-time play because of a beneficial matchup - have little value and can be exchanged frequently.

In first-come, first-served leagues, waiver priority is a little less valuable. It's rare that a fantasy owner will have the opportunity to use it on an impact player. That doesn't mean you should use it carelessly. Heavily consider where you are in the order and how likely the player is to help you. Address needs.

In FAAB leagues, it's not often that players worth high-dollar bids are available. There are exceptions, of course, such as new closers, injury substitutes with high ceilings or call-ups.

Fantasy players should follow the minor leagues closely. Each season there are prospects who find their way to The Show and make an immediate contribution. The key is learning which farmhands are legit prospects (skills evaluation) and could be in a position to contribute; differentiate them from the numerous second-tier players who get the call during the season but don't have high expectations or won't see the necessary playing time.

It's likelier that fantasy managers will not end up with a balanced squad at the end of a draft. Therefore, wheeling and dealing becomes an important way to improve. The best trades when you can deal from an area of strength to address one of weakness. Just remember: Not every deal is going to be a blockbuster. Often it's the little moves that make a big difference in the end.

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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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