Varying levels of competition in Fantasy Baseball leagues is often evident in the actual participants of any given group. You and your friends might fancy yourselves beginners, intermediates or truly advanced owners.

However, the style of league you select tells quite a bit about the interests and competitive nature of your participants. More than any other sport, Fantasy Baseball has numerous variety of league styles, ranging from Rotisserie-based scoring systems to Head-to-Head formats; mixed leagues to ones that use exclusively AL- or NL-only player pools; and 4x4, 5x5 or custom scoring systems that use specific stat categories of your choosing.

Don't make the mistake assuming a given strategy holds true regardless of the style of league you select. Each system has its own set of rules, trends and tricks of the trade, so ensure you not only choose a league style that suits your needs, but that you're well prepared to handle the intricacies of your league's format.

Rotisserie-based scoring

The oldest and best-known scoring format, Rotisserie Baseball has nothing to do with a style of cooking chicken, but rather refers to a statistical system that selects a set of categories and ranks the participating teams against one another to determine a winner. Created by a group of New York professionals in the late 1970s and named after the restaurant that hosted the first draft, La Rotisserie Francaise, Rotisserie Baseball originally set eight categories -- batting average, home runs, RBI and stolen bases for hitters, and wins, saves, ERA and WHIP for pitchers -- by which to judge a team. Teams accrued "points" by outperforming the competition in an individual category. For instance, in a 12-team league, the team with the most RBI at year's end earned 12 points in the category, second-most RBI earned 11, and so on down to the last-place team, which earned just one point. Each category was broken down and a team's total points in the eight categories were summed to give a total score, with the team earning the highest total crowned the league champion.

Among the most notable leagues to still use this Rotisserie 4x4 system, as it is traditionally called, is the League of Alternative Baseball Reality (LABR). LABR breaks itself down into AL- and NL-only Roto 4x4 leagues, with talent pools virtually tapped and the competition high.

More experienced Fantasy owners tend to warm to this type of system, because it's one of the few that makes backup catchers, part-time outfielders and middle relievers useful starters. Roto 4x4 scoring generally rewards people who know how to scout talented players even if they don't necessarily play the biggest roles on their major-league squad. Even lesser-known players who aren't assured regular at-bats or quality innings, like Craig Wilson, Melvin Mora or Ben Weber, can be more valuable than mediocre everyday players like Brad Ausmus, Bobby Higginson or Rocky Biddle.

As the years have passed since the advent of Rotisserie Baseball, 5x5 scoring has become far more prevalent, and is now probably considered more popular. Leagues that use the 5x5 system adopt the 4x4 categories but add runs scored to the hitting side and strikeouts to the pitching side. A prime reason many leagues continue to switch to Roto 5x5 formats is the continuing decline in stolen-base production and increase in focus on power pitchers during the past 25 years. Keep in mind that in 1980, Rickey Henderson and others regularly topped 100 steals, while only Nolan Ryan and Steve Carlton were annual members of the 200-strikeout club.

If your league adopts Roto 5x5 scoring, playing time takes on far greater importance. A player's totals in RBI, runs scored and strikeouts is largely related to the amount of time he's on the field, and that means everyday hitters and starting pitchers become much more valuable than part-time offensive spark plugs or low-ERA middle relievers. Simply having a player like Kenny Lofton, who should serve as the Yankees' leadoff man, or Matt Clement, who strikes out a fair share of batters and is on a winning team, means much more than it would in the traditional 4x4 format.

Among some of the more advanced strategies to exploit in Roto 4x4 or 5x5 scoring: 1. Consider grabbing a part-time or unheralded catcher as your second starter. Investing heavily in two catchers, a position that is often overpriced, hurts your flexibility in other areas, and every year free-agent bargains either end up qualifying at catcher or get promoted midseason; 2. Exploit two-start pitchers as much as possible. If you can, consider using your entire reserve list to grab starting pitchers, shuffling those with the best matchups in and out of your lineup on a weekly basis; and 3. Don't dig yourself a big hole in batting average, ERA or WHIP early in the year. These ratio/average categories are notoriously difficult in which to make up ground, and if you're at the bottom of the pack by May or June, you might be stuck there all season.

Head-to-Head leagues

Head-to-Head leagues are a system far more popular in Fantasy Football than Fantasy Baseball, but many owners like the thrill of being matched up against one another in any given week. Having scheduled matchups where your team squares off against a buddy of yours is popular with some because it parallels the sports world, while providing a forum for trash talk.

In a Head-to-Head league, you draw a new opponent either every day, week or other determined period of time, with a determined number of wins or points (usually one) at stake. Most leagues simply reward points to players for their exploits in a variety of stat categories, then give the team with the higher team point total the win. However, some leagues use Rotisserie scoring, which either rewards the team that led in the most different stat categories the win, or gives the team with the higher total a win in each of the selected statistical categories. At season's end, your combined record is ranked against your competition, with the best teams squaring off in the playoffs late in the major-league regular season to determine your league's champion.

Regardless of whether your league uses a point-based or Rotisserie-style Head-to-Head scoring system, consistency counts in the Head-to-Head format. Injury-prone players like Kevin Brown, J.D. Drew and Ken Griffey Jr. become much riskier selections in these leagues. Such marquee names regularly get drafted in the early rounds, but can kill a squad by landing on the disabled list and leaving a huge hole in your lineup. Players like Adrian Beltre and Paul Konerko, who generally excel in either the first or second half of the season but not both, are also much riskier starters.

Among some of the more advanced strategies to exploit in Head-to-Head leagues: 1. Don't be too patient with struggling players. Dontrelle Willis might have dazzled you with his antics and dominant statistics in the middle part of last season, but he made a terrible starter in these formats once hitters began to catch up with his stuff in August. If he hits some rocky stretches in 2004, you can ill afford to keep him in your active lineup hoping for the best.

2. Many times, it's better to cut a name player in favor of a red-hot hand, taking the chance that an opponent grabs your trash and rides him to victory several weeks down the road. Standing pat and enduring four or five weeks of losses on the prospect that your player might help you rack up a four- or five-game win streak will still only help you break even, so don't be afraid to take the chance earlier than you might in a Rotisserie league.

Mixed leagues vs. AL- or NL-only formats

The three most popular player pool options, mixed, AL- and NL-only provide differing levels of depth and talent, much like in the major leagues. If your league's owners are based out of Milwaukee, are mostly Brewers fans and know their baseball, chances are an NL-only league might be your style. New Englanders who love their Red Sox and hate everything about the NL might choose an AL-only format. Owners who like the sport as a whole, don't like scouting deep talent pools or don't have the time to invest hours on end on Fantasy Baseball are probably best suited to a mixed league using both AL and NL players.

Each of the three talent pools has its advantages. Mixed leagues provide the ability to compose a virtual All-Star team, an exciting prospect for many owners, but also don't exercise the extent of your Fantasy Baseball knowledge. AL-only leagues exhibit impressive hitting totals, but are more of a challenge in the pitching scouting department. NL-only leagues feature plenty of top pitchers, but offense is often tough to come by in the middle infield positions.

For owners who choose AL- or NL-only play, ensure you know whether you'll be able to retain stats for players traded across leagues midseason. Pending free agents following the 2004 season, like Carlos Beltran, Magglio Ordonez and Jose Vidro, are much riskier picks if you lose them entirely if they switch leagues at the trade deadline.