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2013 Draft Prep: Al Melchior's Head-to-Head strategies

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More Head-to-Head strategies: Scott White | Nando Di Fino

Head-to-Head leagues don't have the tradition or the purist appeal of Rotisserie. What it does have is the thrill of actual, you know, head-to-head competition on a weekly basis.

Not only does the format offer a chance to create and build rivalries with each scoring period, but as in real baseball, all kinds of player contributions count. Doubles, triples, walks, innings pitched ... these things matter in the real game and they matter in Head-to-Head. So if realism is what you want, Head-to-Head gets you closer to it than Rotisserie.

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The broader array of categories that goes into standard Head-to-Head point totals creates very different markets for players than standard Rotisserie drafts and auctions do. Doubles hitter Alex Gordon may not have the home run clout of Adam Jones or Jay Bruce, but he could actually be more valuable than either of them as long as he continues to hit 45 or more two-baggers per year. Similarly, Martin Prado is a top 10 third baseman in Head-to-Head due to his stinginess with strikeouts, but that skill doesn't take him nearly as far in Rotisserie leagues.

The 16-player roster, as compared to the 23-player version found in Rotisserie, also impacts players' values. For example, with three outfield spots to fill instead of five, there is less urgency to the get that position filled. However, the same logic does not apply to catchers, even though there is only one spot for them instead of two (more on this below).

For those more familiar with Rotisserie, the world of Head-to-Head may seem bewildering, but a few simple rules of thumb will help you to navigate the myriad of scoring categories and scaled-down rosters. The adjustment may seem awkward at first, and life without MI and CI spots will feel strange and unfamiliar, but you'll gain the satisfaction of having a chance to emerge the victor of a one-on-one battle week after week.

1. Look for innings eaters

In any Fantasy format, there is a benefit to drafting pitchers who tend to work deep into games. After all, a high innings count is indicative of avoiding crooked innings and pitching effectively on regular basis. In Head-to-Head, the knack for piling up innings takes a pitcher even further. For example, Bronson Arroyo put up a nice 1.21 WHIP last season, but with otherwise underwhelming numbers, he was no one's idea of a Rotisserie stud. Because he avoids walks and pitches to contact, Arroyo has been one of the majors' more efficient hurlers in recent years. The lack of strikeouts and mediocre ERAs may make him an afterthought for many Fantasy owners, but Arroyo's ability to consistently deliver 200-plus innings makes him viable in Head-to-Head. Tim Hudson, Ervin Santana, Mark Buehrle, Wandy Rodriguez, Hiroki Kuroda and Jason Vargas also deserve extra consideration in this format, as each has placed among the top 25 pitchers in numbers of starts equalling or exceeding six innings over the last three seasons.

In deeper Head-to-Head formats, the strategy of identifying pitchers who provide high innings totals works for relievers as well. Can't find a reliever who has even a remote chance at getting saves? Try for a middle or long reliever with a track record of 75-plus inning seasons. Durable types like Matt Belisle, Alfredo Aceves and Craig Stammen are rare among relievers, and those of their ilk are worth rostering in deep leagues as long as their other stats are reasonably good.

2. Find pitching sleepers by using unorthodox stats

A by-product of Head-to-Head's emphasis on innings is that pitchers can reward their owners by getting outs through means other than the strikeout. The K is still the most productive way for a pitcher to record an out for Head-to-Head owners, but having a special knack for avoiding baserunners in other ways can also enhance a pitcher's value. Pitchers like Jered Weaver and Mike Minor, who have had success in getting popouts at a high rate, can give Head-to-Head owners a little extra value. The same is true for pitchers who are able to get outs on balls in play at a higher rate due to the quality of their team's defense. The Nationals sport some solid gloves in their infield, and while that should benefit their whole staff, sinkerballer Ross Detwiler should get an especially pronounced boost. With the additions of Michael Bourn and Drew Stubbs, the Indians upgraded their outfield defense, and that can only help their starting pitchers -- and Ubaldo Jimenez (38 percent flyball rate in 2012) and Zach McAllister (39 percent) in particular -- in Head-to-Head.

3. Get to know ISO

Just as batted ball rates and defensive metrics have their place in identifying pitching sleepers, Isolated Power is a stat that goes a long way in finding hidden gems among hitters. Also known as ISO, the stat measures the rate at which a hitter gets extra bases per at-bat. You can use the formula SLG-AVG to calculate it, and because it treats all extra bases the same, it's a way to spotlight players with extra-base power, regardless of whether it's skewed toward home runs, triples or doubles. Owners accustomed to equating power with homers may view Shin-Soo Choo as being miles ahead of Angel Pagan in terms of value, but last season Choo (.159 ISO) was only marginally better than Pagan (.152) at accruing extra bases. ISO appreciates Pagan's triples power and helps to present a clearer reflection of the two players' relative value in Head-to-Head. Ben Zobrist, Alex Rios, Andre Ethier and Shane Victorino are among the hitters who have registered an ISO greater than .165 over the last three seasons but hit no more than 60 home runs over at least 1,500 at-bats. While they shouldn't be mistaken for major power sources, the reliance that each has placed on doubles and/or triples to create power may still leave them underrated in some Head-to-Head leagues.

4. Make catcher a bigger priority

With the possible exception of Buster Posey, even the best catchers in Fantasy come loaded with risk and question marks. There still is good reason to target Posey, Carlos Santana or Joe Mauer within the early rounds, but if you miss out on them, don't wait too long to fill your one-and-only catcher spot. At least in Rotisserie, if you wait to draft your first catcher, you can balance out the value you lose by passing over the catching elite by getting a high-end No. 2 catcher. In standard Head-to-Head leagues, you don't have that luxury, so if you wait too long, your options will come down to someone like Jonathan Lucroy, Ryan Doumit or Alex Avila. Those are fine alternatives in Rotisserie, but each could represent a loss of more than 100 Fantasy points as compared to the Big Three, and that gap could be hard to make up at other positions.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Al Melchior @almelccbs . You can also e-mail us at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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Player News
Nationals CF Denard Span (hip) going back to DL on Thursday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(10:30 pm ET) Two days after being activated from the disabled list, Nationals center fielder Denard Span is heading back to the DL on Thursday. The Nationals placed the oft-injured Span on the 15-day DL with left hip inflammation. 

Span missed about six weeks with back tightness, and this latest ailment appears to be related to that injury. It is not yet clear if Span will need more than the minimum 15 days before returning.

The Nationals will announce a corresponding roster move on Friday.


Rays RP Brad Boxberger K's the side for 31st save Thursday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(10:25 pm ET) Rays reliever Brad Boxberger needed 14 pitches to strike out the side, preserving the 5-4 win over the Twins on Thursday. Boxberger picked up his 31st save of the season with the impressive showing.

This was a solid outing for Boxberger, who had allowed a run in each of his previous three appearances.


Rays' Drew Smyly knocked around but gets no-decision Thursday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(10:21 pm ET) Twins starter Drew Smyly was bailed out by his offense on Thursday, though he did not factor in the final decision. Smyly went 4 1/3 innings, allowing four runs (three earned) on eight hits. He walked two and struck out five.

Smyly was given a 2-0 lead in the first inning, but he allowed the Twins to creep back into it. He allowed a run in each of the second and third innings to tie the game. Then he gave up two runs in the fourth, including a solo home run to Eduardo Escobar. Smyly left the game trailing 4-2.

But the Rays were able to rally back and get Smyly off the hook, as they went on to win 5-4.

In three starts since returning from the disabled list, Smyly is 1-1 with a 5.14 ERA.


Twins' Tommy Milone unable to hang on to lead in loss Thursday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(10:14 pm ET) Twins starter Tommy Milone was roughed up a bit in his outing against the Rays on Thursday. The left-hander allowed five runs (four earned) on eight hits over 5 1/3 innings, as the Twins lost by a score of 5-4. 

Milone (6-4, 3.86 ERA) got off to a bad start, as he allowed the Rays to score twice in the first inning, including a solo home run by Logan Forsythe.

The Twins rallied to take a 4-2 lead over the next few innings. But Milone gave up another run in the fifth and two more in the sixth.

Milone last pitched on Sunday, working the 12th inning and picking up his first-career save in a 4-3 win over the Orioles. In three starts since returning from the disabled list, Milone is 1-1 with a 4.93 ERA


Pirates RP Mark Melancon shuts the door for 41st save Thursday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(10:07 pm ET) Pirates closer Mark Melancon did what he does best on Thursday, as he protected a 2-1 victory over the Marlins. Melancon worked around a hit in a scoreless ninth inning, picking up his MLB-leading 41st save.


Marlins SP Justin Nicolino shines, takes tough loss on Thursday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(10:03 pm ET) Marlins rookie starter Justin Nicolino was excellent in his outing against the Pirates on Thusday. The young left-hander allowed two runs on six hits over six strong innings. He struggled a bit with his command, as he walked four and struck out just one. But it was still an impressive outing against a strong offense.

Nicolino was stuck with a hard-luck loss however, as the Marlins were unable to do much against Gerrit Cole. The Marlins were defeated by a score of 2-1.

Nicolino (2-2, 3.65 ERA) allowed a run to score in the second inning, and then served up a solo home run to Pedro Alvarez in the fourth. That was all the damage done against the rookie, as he was able to limit the scoring despite the control issues.

The youngster has been impressive lately. He has allowed exactly two runs in each of his last three starts, pitching into the eighth in his last two. But he has just one win over that three-start stretch.


Pirates SP Gerrit Cole terrific against Marlins on Thursday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(10:00 pm ET) Pirates ace Gerrit Cole was brilliant in his start against the Marlins on Thursday. The right-hander allowed one run on five hits over 7 1/3 solid innings. He struck out four and did not walk a batter. Cole's strong start earned him a victory, as the Pirates held on for the 2-1 win.

The only run Cole allowed came on a sacrifice fly in the seventh inning. Cole improved to 15-7 and lowered his ERA to 2.44 with the dominant effort.

After giving up three runs or more in three straight starts, Cole has allowed a total of two runs over his last two starts. Overall, in six August starts, Cole went 1-3 with a 3.14 ERA.


Nationals CF Michael Taylor leaves with knee injury Thursday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(9:32 pm ET) As if the Nationals could use any more bad news, their young center fielder Michael Taylor was forced to leave Thursday's game with a right knee injury. Taylor collided with the center field wall at Nationals Park and was removed from the game.

Taylor was 0 for 2 before leaving the game. The Nationals should supply an update on Taylor's status before too long.


Yankees LF Dustin Ackley slams double in first rehab game
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(9:28 pm ET) Yankees utility man Dustin Ackley doubled in a run and scored in four at-bats Thursday in his first rehab game for Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre.

Ackley is dealing with a herniated disk that has kept him sidelined since Aug. 2.


Orioles' Mike Wright looks good in first rehab start Thursday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(9:28 pm ET) Orioles pitcher Mike Wright began his rehab assignment with Triple-A Norfolk on Thursday. The rookie right-hander went four innings, allowing one run on two hits. He walked two and struck out one, throwing 31 of his 51 pitches for strikes.

Wright has been out of action since the middle of July due to an oblique injury. It is not yet clear when the Orioles expect Wright to return to the team, nor what his role will be once he returns. 


 
 
 
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