So I've been trying to come up with a marketing slogan for Head-to-Head Fantasy Baseball -- you know, the kind that uses points, not categories. I've always preferred it to Rotisserie, but I've heard it's not all that popular outside of CBSSports.com. I'm sure I can change that, though. I just need the right angle.
Warning: I'm not actually in marketing, unless you count that poster I made for my friend Doug's magic show in second grade. But I'm pretty sure only like six people showed up for that. And three were cats.
Head-to-Head: Who says you can't win without stolen bases?
Head-to-Head: Because a competition just isn't a competition without competition.
Head-to-Head: It's like Fantasy Football ... for baseball!
Head-to-Head: Where September matters even if you're in sixth place.
Head-to-Head: Just how many catchers do you need?
Head-to-Head: Because walks aren't for sissies anymore.
Head-to-Head: When you just want the satisfaction of saying, "I win!"
Head-to-Head: Isn't WHIP a made-up statistic?
Head-to-Head: Like Rotisserie, but in a way that doesn't make you want chicken.
Head-to-Head: Oh, right. Games.
Head-to-Head: It's what the pros play.
It's what this one plays, anyway. And having played it for my entire adult life -- and for a few years before then -- I feel like I have some insight to offer on the topic.
I won't intrude too much on what Al Melchior and Nando Di Fino have already had to say. But I will some, if only to set off the alarm that repeats intruder alert in an exaggerated robotic voice.
1. Embrace points in all their forms
Whether out of a deep-seeded reverence for the original Rotisserie game or an unwavering fascination with Babe Ruth, Fantasy owners tend to fixate on home runs, ignoring the many other ways a player can contribute.
But Head-to-Head scoring doesn't. Doubles, triples, walks, innings (for pitchers) -- they're all represented here. And the players who specialize in them often go overlooked.
Take Martin Prado. The guy hit 42 doubles last year, 11th-most in the majors. He also made consistent contact, striking out just 69 times. By those two measurements alone, he had a 35.5-point advantage over Ryan Zimmerman, which explains how he finished 3.5 points ahead of Zimmerman (and sixth among third basemen) in Head-to-Head leagues despite the obvious discrepancies in home runs and RBI.
And yet Prado is the one going four rounds later in Head-to-Head drafts.
In a way, it's defensible. Last year was about as good as it gets for Prado. Zimmerman, provided he avoids last year's slow start, has room for improvement. But a four-round difference is more like what you'd expect in Rotisserie leagues, where Prado finished a distant eighth among third baseman, behind both Zimmerman and Hanley Ramirez.
That doesn't mean you should reach for Prado. Or Alex Gordon. Or Marco Scutaro. Or anyone else who specializes in this format. Ultimately, Adam Jones, even with his poor plate discipline, will likely outscore the patient, doubles-happy Nick Markakis.
But if the rest of your league is slow to catch on to those Head-to-Head specialists, you'll know to gobble them up when they slip through the cracks.
2. Even day-to-day injuries can be devastating
When a player misses three or four games because of injury, it's not a big deal in Rotisserie leagues, where only the final tally matters. He'll come back soon enough and make up for his absence over the course of the next several weeks.
But in Head-to-Head leagues, there is no making up for it. A loss never goes away.
So while you may be inclined to avoid injury-prone players anyway, it's even more of a priority in Head-to-Head leagues, especially those with weekly scoring.
The Troy Tulowitzki-type injuries that land a player on the DL are almost preferable to the little Carlos Gonzalez-type injuries that keep popping up, one after another. A tight hamstring one week. Back spasms the next. Every little ache or pain is potentially the one that sticks you with a loss.
And because of that, every lineup decision involving that type of player is nothing short of agonizing. What if he's nursing a stiff neck heading into a new week? Do you start him, presuming he's on the mend, or do you sit him, fearful of a couple days extending to a week? Or what if he's fine to start the week and gets hurt on a Tuesday? Not much you can do then.
In addition to Gonzalez, Nelson Cruz falls into the category of being perpetually nicked up, as do Jimmy Rollins, Aramis Ramirez and, really, anyone on the wrong side of 32. Granted, some of those players bucked the trend last year, but you shouldn't count on lightning striking twice. If your choice is between Matt Holliday and Justin Upton or Mark Teixeira and Billy Butler, the threat of unexpected days off should steer you toward the younger player.
3. An ace or two couldn't hurt
Starting pitchers still go way, way, way too early in Head-to-Head leagues, so by departing from my usual refrain of hitting over pitching all day, every day, until the cows come home, I risk doing more harm than good to our general understanding of hitting vs. pitching.
But admitting I went too far on a mostly correct philosophy is different from doing an about-face. The bottom line is I misjudged what a deeper pitching pool would mean for the accumulation of pitching talent.
Waiting longer isn't the answer.
As I said in my Rotisserie strategies piece, the main thing separating elite pitchers like Jered Weaver and CC Sabathia from second- and third-tier types like Jeff Samardzija and Doug Fister is innings, and innings tend to increase with experience. Because the logical next step for Samardzija and Fister would more or less close the gap on Weaver and Sabathia, an early round pitcher is a waste of an early round pick.
But because innings count for something in and of themselves in Head-to-Head leagues, the consequences for picking pitchers who don't take that logical next step are far greater than in Rotisserie.
In terms of pure value, a high-end hitter is still a better use of an early round pick than a high-end pitcher, but to protect yourself from disaster, you might need some measure of balance. Because high-end starting pitchers are plentiful enough in the post-steroids era for most teams to have two or three, going without one puts you at a significant disadvantage.
Again, you can go overboard with it, and seeing as 22 of the first 50 players selected in Head-to-Head leagues are starting pitchers, most Fantasy owners do. But if your draft devolves into that maelstrom of misunderstanding, reaching your hand in there, if only once, gives you some recourse in the event your middle-tier pitchers fall flat.
4. The bench is no place for backups
Big-league clubs use their benches as reserve pools, stocking them with replacements in case their starters go down.
But that doesn't mean you should do the same. Fantasy Baseball isn't real baseball, in case you haven't noticed.
The bench is no place for backups. It's for protecting players you don't want going to someone else. In standard 10- or 12-team mixed leagues, the waiver wire functions as your reserve pool. Why stash J.J. Hardy when a comparable shortstop would be free for the taking if the need arose?
And that's if the need arose.
So what is worth protecting? Starting pitchers, mostly. Though having quality at starting pitcher is a little overstated in Head-to-Head leagues, having quantity is paramount. In a normal week, one or two pitchers from every big-league rotation will make two starts. The more pitchers you have, the more two-start options you'll have. Granted, you wouldn't want to run just any pitcher with two starts out there, but two for, say, Trevor Cahill would normally trump one for, say, Yovani Gallardo.
If you do stash a hitter, it should be one with significant upside -- one who could potentially unseat your starter if everything goes as hoped, one who would make you sob quietly into your pillow if he broke out for someone else.
It should be one worth protecting. That's what the bench is for.
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