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2013 Draft Prep: Scott White's Head-to-Head strategies

Senior Fantasy Writer
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More Head-to-Head strategies: Al Melchior | Nando Di Fino

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.

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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.

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

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Player News
CC Sabathia not expected to be among Yankees' first spring starters
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(7:00 pm ET) Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia is not expected to be among the team's first starters this spring as he continues to focus on his return from knee surgery, MLB.com reports.

"We're taking it slow with him, knowing that we don't really think that he's behind and he's got plenty of time," Girardi said. "We're not rushing it because of his knee, and we want to take it step by step."

Giradi also added that he has no issues with Sabathia continuing to wear his knee brace during the season, though he has yet to talk to the team's trainers about it.

"I've said all along, you're really not going to know until we get into the season and he's going every fifth day, how his leg is going to do," Girardi said. "I've said all along, it's a concern of mine. The fact that he's wearing a brace or not wearing a brace doesn't concern me anymore. If [trainers] feel that he'll stay healthier wearing the brace, then I would tell him, wear the brace."

Sabathia was held to just eight starts last season, going 3-4 with a 5.28 ERA and 48:10 K:BB ratio in 46 innings.


White Sox SP John Danks feeling healthier
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(6:52 pm ET) White Sox pitcher John Danks has only thrown fastballs, changeups and a few cutters in his early bullpen sessions and live batting practices but said Friday that everything feels good, MLB.com reports.

"I'm certainly feeling better, healthier," Danks said. "But I've only been through this once now, so I'm kind of going into it blind a little bit. Like everything they said, it's getting stronger and I'm getting a better feel for things as more time goes on."

Danks had his shoulder checked extensively during his yearly physical as has become customary since his arthroscopic surgery in 2012. He went 11-11 with a 4.74 ERA and 129:74 K:BB ratio in 193 2/3 innings last season.


White Sox RP Zach Duke adds arm angle
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(6:47 pm ET) White Sox reliever Zach Duke said Friday that he's added an arm angle rather than adjust his normal angle, MLB.com reports.

"I didn't adjust my arm angle. I added a second one," Duke said. "So, I throw from multiple angles. That's really what it is. I still throw from my normal angle. I just added a second one."

Duke used the new arm angle prominently during Friday's bullpen session.

"It's kind of a sidearm one that I incorporated, and I've got fastballs and breaking balls from both," Duke said. "The hitter doesn't really know which one I'm going to throw from at any time. It really helps me just as far as reactions from the hitter are concerned. They don't know where the ball is going to come from."

"There's not a lot [of pitchers] that can sit there and change arm angles and be effective and hit spots like he can," said White Sox manager Robin Ventura. "It's definitely an added bonus when you can get a guy to do that without hurting himself."

Duke made 74 relief appearances with the Brewers in 2014, going 5-1 with a 2.45 ERA and 74:17 K:BB ratio in 58 2/3 innings.


White Sox's Carlos Rodon not penciled in for Cactus League start
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(6:40 pm ET) White Sox pitching prospect Carlos Rodon is not currently scheduled to start a Cactus League game, MLB.com reports.

Rodon, the team's top prospect, will throw innings while progressing as a starter, and he may be tabbed to pitch a "B" game during one of the team's two split-squad days. Pitching coach Don Cooper said he wants the young pitcher to feel comfortable in his first camp.

"In some ways I can almost see him, 'Am I in the right spot?' a little bit. 'I don't want to overstep my bounds,'" said Cooper. "I want him to be himself every day.

"He's got a good fastball that we are trying to see if we can locate better and better, not unlike anybody else. He's got a good slider and we are trying to do the same thing with that pitch. And, oh by the way, we are working on his changeup.

"Sometimes there's a little bit of frustration on his part because he has the bar high and expects himself to be able to do everything well right away. Certainly I understand that. We want the battle to be whatever we are working on. It's not that battle, and oh yeah, my frustration, too. Then there's two battles. We only want one battle. I think he expects a lot of himself."

Rodon threw 24 1/3 innings at three levels after being selected with the third overall pick in the 2014 draft.


Reds' Price on Johnny Cueto: 'He's special'
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(6:17 pm ET) Reds manager Bryan Price said the instincts of Johnny Cueto on the mound are as good as any pitcher he's ever seen, highlighting his ability to make adjustments within a given at-bat, MLB.com reports.

"If there's anyone that I've ever been around that could simply go into a game and pitch it without any understanding of the lineup he was facing -- it'd be Johnny," Price said. "He cuts you up, spits you out. He's special."

Price also compared Cueto to Greg Maddux -- ""[Maddux's] ability to find that spot in the zone and the speed with which to induce that ground ball -- that's what I sense where Johnny has elevated himself" and Pedro Martinez -- "A lot [of similarities] -- enjoyment, they're so acute with their command, they're so precise."

Cueto finished second in the voting for NL Cy Young in 2014, going 20-9 with a 2.25 ERA and 242:65 K:BB ratio in 243 2/3 innings.


Christian Colon hoping for long season with Royals
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(6:03 pm ET) Royals infielder Christian Colon skipped playing winter ball in Puerto Rico to get ready for what he hopes will be a long season in the majors, MLB.com reports.

"I just worked out, worked on my body," Colon said Friday. "I just continued to hit and take ground balls. I've lost about 10 pounds and gained some good weight. I'm able to move around better, and that's all I was looking for."

Colon made his major-league debut in 2014 and went 15 for 45 with the Royals. He also hit .311/.366/.433 with eight home runs, 47 RBI and 15 stolen bases in 344 at-bats with Triple-A Omaha.


Dodgers RP Kenley Jansen fitted for protective boot
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5:57 pm ET) Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen was fitted for a protective boot Friday as he continues to recover from surgery, MLB.com reports.

After Jansen has his stitches removed next week, Jansen will be able to begin placing weight on the foot and gradually increase athletic activity. He is expected to be out until at least the end of April after having a growth removed from his fifth metatarsal.


Dodgers' Hyun-Jin Ryu reports no back issues after catch
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5:50 pm ET) Dodgers pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu said he made about 35 throws from 60 feet in a game of light catch Friday and reported no ill effects, MLB.com reports.

Ryu, whose back stiffened up after a bullpen session Tuesday, reiterated that he should be back on a normal throwing schedule soon and was "not worried at all" about being ready for the start of the season. He went 14-7 with a 3.38 ERA and 139:29 K:BB ratio in 152 innings last season, his second with the Dodgers.


Royals' Pena thinks extra offseason reps will help him earn a spot
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(5:47 pm ET) Royals backup catcher Francisco Pena told reporters that his reps for the Dominican Republican in the Caribbean Series earlier in February could help him win a spot on the roster this spring, per MLB.com.

"I feel like the more games you play, the more chances you have to get better," Pena said. "I love baseball. It's what I know. I was inspired by watching the World Series, and I saw how much hard work and sacrifice it takes to get there. That's also something my father taught me, to work hard and be prepared."

Pena was a September callup last season, but only made one appearance in the majors in 2014. Although it's early in camp, Pena has an outside shot to make the club. The Royals have Erik Kratz currently listed as the backup to starter Salvador Perez.


Report: Blue Jays, A's among teams talking to Dayan Viciedo
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(5:46 pm ET) The Blue Jays and Athletics are among the teams talking to free agent outfielder Dayan Viciedo, sources told FOX Sports. The Indians have previously been linked to showing interest in Viciedo, who was released by the White Sox in early February.

 
 
 
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