You may not like Head-to-Head (Points) leagues, but you're probably going to have to play in one at some point in your life. Or maybe you love Head-to-Head leagues, but you're always looking for new ways to improve your strategy (for instance, did you know that there's a way to set up leagues to play more than one team at a time?) Or maybe you just googled "Medlen squeezes Duchscherer Christmas dominoes" and landed here.
Whatever the case may be, I hope two things are abundantly clear: 1. You are going to need to develop separate strategies when competing in Head-to-Head leagues and Rotisserie leagues, as they have their own quirks and rules, and, 2. Things are going to get a little weird later in the column.
Full disclosure: I do not like Head-to-Head leagues. But I play in them because I like the people who ask me to join them. It's like making dinner plans for a restaurant you really hate, but agreeing to eat there anyway because the other people going are cool and the drinks are cheap. Suck it up, have some fun, and you can always go to a bar you like that same night (Roto leagues) to balance things out.
If that doesn't get you fired up for my following four Head-to-Head strategies, I don't know what will. Read on and enjoy!
1. Don't reach for sleepers
Unlike Roto formats, where 23 players are drafted as starters, Points leagues have a truncated roster -- three outfielders instead of five, no corner or middle infield spots, one catcher, and smaller rotations that force you to pick a certain amount of starters and relievers. Because of this, many deep-ish sleepers are either marginalized or irrelevant. If you have a lot of love for a player like Lonnie Chisenhall, for example, it may have to continue in secret, as he could be too deep to even use a bench spot on in most standard Head-to-Head formats.
2. Get ready to ignore low-end closers
There are a handful of pitchers who will be starters in 2013, but retain relief pitcher eligibility because of the appearances they made last year. Kris Medlen, Aroldis Chapman, Hisashi Iwakuma, and Alexi Ogando are probably the most high-profile, but there are a few more lower-tier options who could make a case for Head-to-Head relevance (like David Phelps, Andrew Cashner, and Wade Davis). Their eligibility as relievers essentially sets off dominoes and squeezes the lower-ranked closers out of the draft window. And because those closers are then sent to the waiver wire, there's really little reason to use limited bench spots on them, as they'll be available for adding and dropping throughout the entire season. So while Bruce Rondon and Jonathan Broxton have plenty of value in Roto leagues, they may be little more than waiver wire fodder in Head-to-Head formats, at least initially.
3. Don't be obtuse about the scoring quirks
I used to be an idiot, refusing to use starters in RP roles and ignoring doubles and walks when I played in Head-to-Head leagues. Then, one night, I was visited by the three spirits, who took me on a journey through my past, present, and future and showed me the folly of my ways.
The Voided Check of Leagues Past took me to 2008, when I complained in message board posts about how dumb it was to allow starters to be used as relievers, losing to my college roommate, Rob, twice that season because he used Justin Duchscherer in his RP slot and I insisted on plugging in only closers.
The Hundred Dollar Bill of Leagues Present brought me to Rob's fancy apartment in Boston, pointing out all the cool stuff he was able to buy with his winnings from that year.
And the League-Fees-Are-Due E-mail Reminder of Seasons Yet To Come took me to my gravesite, where I died broke and penniless at the age of 41, having given all my money in the form of league fees to my friends (who, incidentally, all pitched in for a nice baseball-shaped floral arrangement). I woke up with a new paradigm: If the rules allow for you to plug in Kris Medlen as a reliever -- which will result in him accruing more points for the absurdly heavily-weighted innings pitched, for instance -- then you do it. You're not going to win any titles sticking to Rotisserie strategies, personal ideals, unfounded feelings of nobility, or anything else that would, in a normal world, fall under the umbrella of fairness and logic. As much as I hate the idea of rewarding a player for hitting doubles, I'm still going to run Alex Gordon up my Head-to-Head ranks. If you don't address these quirks, you are setting yourself up for failure.
4. Persuade your commissioner to enact some playoff changes
One of the biggest gripes from people playing in Head-to-Head formats -- especially those in the standard variations -- is that teams scoring a lot of points end up with mediocre records and eventually miss the playoffs. In my many years of playing, I've found two fixes for this:
1. Convince your league to change playoff requirements. If six of your league's 12 teams make the playoffs, then have the first four be placed by record, with the final two wildcards getting in based on highest point totals. If only four make it, then the top two records should be seeded along with two high-scoring wildcards. This way, you avoid the all-too-familiar scenario of a great team having scored more points than most of its opponents, but getting shut out of the playoffs because it got stuck with an unfavorable schedule.
2. CBSSports.com has a pretty awesome option, where a commissioner can opt to have teams play more than one opponent each week. So if you score the second-highest amount of points in a week and get pitted against the team that scored the most, you still have another game against another opponent that same week. Instead of finishing the week 0-1, you have a 1-1 record. The downside to this is that it kind of squashes the anticipation and fun of playing just one friend each week, as you have to spread your attention over two games. The upside, though, is having a larger sample size in terms of win-loss record, thus avoiding those weeks where the second-highest scoring team gets stuck with a loss.
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