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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
Report: David Aardsma to throw bullpen next week for teams
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(10:07 am ET) Free-agent pitcher David Aardsma will throw a bullpen session for interested teams next week, according to his agent, Jamie Murphy.

"(Aardsma) is looking to showcase added velocity after a change in mechanics and an extremely intense offseason workout regimen," Murphy told FoxSports.com senior baseball writer Ken Rosenthal.

Aardsma missed the entire 2014 season after suffering a torn adductor muscle. He was last with the Mets in 2013 when he posted a 2-2 record with a 4.31 ERA and 36 strikeouts.


Orioles' Jonathan Schoop trying to cut weight for upcoming season
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(9:37 am ET) Orioles second baseman Jonathan Schoop wants to raise the level of his game for the 2015 season. The 22-year-old is hoping to be more mentally and physically prepared for the grind of the 162-game season.

"My weight is lower than last year. I want to have more range and be faster. Trying to steal some more bases and be faster for the team on the bases to help put more pressure on the defense." Schoop said. "I learned a lot from my teammates. They helped me a lot. One year of experience. I'm better than last year. Mentally and physically, everything. My ups and downs helped me a lot to know myself better too."

Schoop, who hit .209 with 16 home runs and 45 RBI in 2014, is also taking more advice from his teammates about his approach at the plate.

"Be patient. Don't chase too many pitches. Let them throw strikes and swing at strikes. Just have to work on getting better pitches to hit. See how they pitch you. If I can do that, I'll be better," he said. "I worked on everything (this winter). I want to get faster. You have to work on all of it, speed, defense. I want to be a better player than last year."


Twins' Byron Buxton named No. 1 prospect by MLB.com
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:00 am ET) Twins outfielder Byron Buxton was named the top prospect in baseball by MLB.com Friday.

Buxton played just 31 games in 2014 due to wrist and concussion issues and finished with a .240/.313/.405 line along with four home runs, 16 RBI and six stolen bases in 121 at-bats with high Class A Fort Myers. He also went 0 for 3 at the Double-A level. Buxton is making his second straight appearance atop MLB.com's top prospect list.

The rest of MLB.com's top-five prospects (in order) are Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant, Astros shotstop Carlos Correa, Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor and Cubs shortstop Addison Russell. None of the quartet appeared in the top five of last year's MLB.com prospect list, though all four cracked the top 12.


Red Sox designate Drake Britton for assignment
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1/30/2015) The Red Sox designated pitcher Drake Britton for assignment Friday, clearing a roster spot for pitcher Alexi Ogando.

Britton appeared in seven games with the Red Sox in 2014, tossing 6 2/3 scoreless innings while striking out four batters and walking two. He posted a 5.86 ERA and 37:38 K:BB ratio in 58 1/3 innings with Triple-A Pawtucket.


Peter Moylan 'doing fantastic' in return from Tommy John
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1/30/2015) Free-agent pitcher Peter Moylan indicated Friday that he's "doing fantastic" in his return from his second Tommy John surgery, the Houston Chronicle reports.

"I’m doing fantastic, mate. Dropped 35 pounds," Moylan said. “My goal is to be 100 percent by end of spring. Ball is coming out great, though. Probably have to throw for some teams right around the start of spring to gauge interest, but there have already been some nibbles, which is encouraging."

Moylan underwent the procedure last March after receiving a non-roster invitation from the Astros. He's throwing from about 70 percent strength off a mound and in the process of deciding whether to sign a a deal in the near future or after the season begins. He hopes to resume pitching in the big leagues by midseason at the earliest.

Moylan has made 309 appearances since debuting in 2006, compiling a 21-9 record, 2.80 ERA and 213:121 K:BB ratio in 276 innings.


Braves' Shelby Miller: Sinker is 'going to take me to the next level'
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1/30/2015) Braves starting pitcher Shelby Miller had an up-and-down season with the Cardinals in 2014. He began the season by going 6-2 with a 2.79 ERA before going 2-7 with a 5.11 ERA over his next 16 appearances (15 starts).

Miller, however, was able to finish the season on a high note, going 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA and .190 opponents' batting average over his final seven starts. Miller attributes his success down the stretch to incorporating a sinker into his repertoire, per FOX Sports South.

"I said I'm going to throw some of these, and we'll see where it's at," Miller said of a conversation he had with catcher A.J. Pierzynski before an Aug. 23 start against the Phillies. "It felt good so we just went with it. I started throwing it literally within three days. It's a good pitch that I picked up quick.

"I still need a lot of work with it. I need a lot of work with all my pitches. There's all sorts of ways to get better. But I think that's definitely a pitch that will help me be more efficient and take me deeper into games. That's [the sinker] going to be a huge pitch for me this year that's ultimately going to take me to the next level. Not only that but kind of mixing it all together, becoming more of a complete pitcher more than a thrower."

Miller added he will also begin to work more on his changeup, which he threw just 2.2 percent of the time in 2014, per FanGraphs.com.

"I know [Braves pitching coach] Roger [McDowell] has been known for changeups," Miller said. "A lot of great pitchers have come through this organization, [and] that's a pitch I would love to pick up. I want to be able to throw it more consistently, [and] have a little bit more confidence in it."


Scott Baker agrees to minor-league deal with Yankees
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1/30/2015) The Yankees agreed to a minor-league deal with pitcher Scott Baker, according to CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman. If Baker makes the major-league roster, he will be paid $1.5 million.

Baker made 25 appearances (eight starts) for the Rangers in 2014, going 3-4 with a 5.47 ERA. He had 55 strikeouts in 80 2/3 innings.


Rockies designate Jayson Aquino for assignment
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1/30/2015) After completing a two-team trade Friday, the Rockies decided to designate Jayson Aquino for assignment, the team announced.

Aquino spent 2014 bouncing around the minor league, pitching in 18 games with a 5.13 ERA in 107 innings pitched. He went 5-10 with 83 strikeouts in stints with both Double-A Tulsa and Class A Modesto.


Report: Red Sox express willingness to trade Edward Mujica
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1/30/2015) The Red Sox have expressed a willingness to trade reliever Edward Mujica, a source told FOX Sports. The right-handed reliever is set to make $4.75 million in 2015.

Mujica, who was an All-Star with St. Louis in 2013, went 2-4 with a 3.90 ERA and eight saves in his first season with Boston in 2014.


Orioles 1B/OF Steve Pearce agrees to $3.7M salary for 2015
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1/30/2015) The Orioles avoided arbitration with outfielder/first baseman Steve Pearce, agreeing to a $3.7 million salary for 2015, according to CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman. Pearce reportedly filed for $5.4 million, while the Orioles reportedly offered $2 million.

Pearce is coming off his best season as a major leaguer, batting .293 with a .373 on-base percentage, .556 slugging percentage, .930 OPS, 21 home runs, 26 doubles and 49 RBI in 102 games.


 
 
 
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