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Fantasy Baseball: Head-to-Head Strategy

Feb 8, 2016


Clayton Kershaw is the very definition of consistent

Introduction to head-to-head fantasy baseball

It happens every year. The behemoth known as fantasy football has receded into its cave for another summer, leaving you hungry for more fantasy action. You decide to seek out a group of fantasy players through work, mutual friends or the internet to tackle the upcoming baseball season, but the problem is, not everybody can get behind the traditional rotisserie style fantasy baseball game that manifested in the 1980s. Chants of: “We want this game to be more like fantasy football!” have led to the creation and popularity of season long head-to-head fantasy baseball games.

Head-to-head is different from traditional rotisserie in that the stats you accumulate on a weekly basis reset when you face a new opponent. Winning a head-to-head league involves winning enough match-ups to get to the playoffs and then winning two or three match-ups during the playoff period in September. There are plenty of instances where a team will stink it up in the first two months of the baseball season only to come storming back during the second half for a successful playoff run. What matters most is winning your match-ups consistently so you make the playoffs where, by then anything can happen.

There are a few different types of head-to-head games so make sure you are aware of the scoring system in your league before you draft. The three most common types of games are:

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Head-to-head categories with a single win/loss result system

In this type of league, the most you can earn at the end of a week is one loss, one win and possibly a tie, although some leagues will have tiebreaker stipulations to avoid ties. Your team needs to win a majority of the statistical categories in your league’s scoring system to earn a single win.

Head-to-head categories with a multiple win/loss system

Much like the previous game, you need to win a majority of the statistical categories to earn a win for the week, but, you earn wins and losses in EVERY category for the week. You can win 6-4, 7-3, 8-2, etc. Losses won’t hurt you in these leagues as much as they do in a single win/loss league. Most leagues allow for ties in this format as well.

Head-to-head points

This type of league is the most like fantasy football. Statistics are converted to points and you need to score more points than your opponent to earn a single win for the week. This type of scoring system give certain types of players more or less value depending on how points are calculated. For example: strikeouts for hitters are often worth negative points, which can hinder their scoring. This type of league requires the most pre-draft work in determining value. I’ve found that there are a lot of resources online for determining value in points based formats and not that many for the other two formats I’ve covered.

Pre-Draft Strategy

First you want to identify if you have a snake or auction draft. This will determine your draft strategy. In an auction draft, every player is available to you at any time during the draft, provided you have the money to spend. In a snake draft, you’re left with what is available at your slot.

My favorite strategy in an auction draft for a head-to-head league is to spend a lot of money early in the auction on elite talent that I plan on keeping for the entirety of the season. There are only a handful of players that produce elite numbers on a week-to-week basis and you want as many of those players on your team as possible.

Snake drafts are different (and probably better for start-up head-to-head leagues) in that you can’t just go and get Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Paul Goldschmidt or Clayton Kershaw if you don’t have one of the top four picks. Instead, you need to determine the best player available to you when your pick comes around. In head-to-head snake drafts I’ll often draft what I believe is the best five-category talent available in the first ten rounds and then I’ll begin to reach for players that I think will be highly productive in at least two categories throughout the season.

You’ll often hear fantasy experts shying away from the idea of picking Clayton Kershaw in the top half of the first round because pitching is deep and you can find value later, even as early as the second and third rounds. While that is true, Kershaw is an elite pitcher capable of carrying your staff every week during the season. He’s a perfectly viable candidate for an early first round pick in a head-to-head league. Consistency is king.

Francisco Lindor is a good example of a middle-round reach this year. He has an average draft position of 77th overall according to our ADP data here at Fantasy Pros. I think he has a good chance to contribute consistent runs and steals at the top of the Cleveland lineup this year and I don’t mind reaching on him with a sixth round pick (in a 10-team league) if he fits how I’m currently building my team.

Pitching is similar. I like pitchers with K/9 potential on teams projected to win a lot of games, or teams in a bad division, to maximize the chance for wins. Towards the end of the draft I’m looking for players with opportunities. There will always be forgotten closers and starting pitchers available late and this is a great place to grab those types of players. I also like to look for players in later rounds that are projected to hit high in lineups as that maximizes their production. Ender Inciarte is an example of a player with an ADP of 209 that could easily exceed his value if he hits at the top the Atlanta lineup, as that maximizes his opportunities to score runs and steal bases.

Know your league’s settings!

A good head-to-head manager is aggressive. Your aggressiveness will be determined by your league settings. A league’s acquisition settings are crucial in determining your overall strategy for the season. If you are in a league that has daily unlimited roster moves and no matchup acquisition limits you want to take advantage of that as much as you can. This allows you to stream pitchers and even hitters in certain situations. If I see that I can add and drop as much as I please, I’m going to take advantage of available position players with games in prime hitter’s environments, or pitchers facing weak offenses.

If you’re in a league with a match-up acquisitions limit, but no cap set for the season, you’ll still want to remain aggressive with your adds and drops, but you’ll want to save a few bullets for later in your match-up so you can try to catch up and win categories where you are trailing.

Leagues that cap your acquisitions for the season are a different beast. You’ll want to manage how many adds/drops your making throughout the season so you have enough left for the playoffs. This doesn’t mean you should shy away from making a crucial add because you’re worried a better opportunity should come around, but it does require you to weigh your options. I like to save some acquisitions so I can make moves around the MLB trade deadline and my league’s trade deadline (which is anywhere from a few weeks to a month after the MLB deadline). There will be less streaming in leagues like this, so building a stronger pitching staff through the draft is often advised.

In an effort to combat this strategy of making moves on a daily basis, some leagues have a setting where they lock for the week when the first game on Monday evening begins. In this type of league, the roster you have set after the first pitch of the first Monday game is the roster that you’ll use for the week. There is a greater emphasis on looking ahead in these leagues. Streaming will focus mainly on two-start pitchers in an effort to accrue more wins and strikeouts, and you’ll want to manage players with extreme platoon splits more carefully as they may be in line for a light week based on their opponents. Leagues like this are good for beginners in that you won’t have to worry about playing against the “sharks” who are tweaking their team to maximize their week’s production every day.

In-season management

In-season management in a head-to-head league is far different than a rotisserie league. Basic rotisserie strategy suggests that you should wait for a solid sample of numbers before making any drastic movies, usually two months at the least. With head-to-head, it benefits you to make moves early and as often as you can. If you’re working with a team that is very top heavy from an auction draft, you’ll want to be aggressive throughout the season as players emerge from position battles and hit the ground running with consistent production. If you’re playing in a mixed league of up to 14 teams, you’ll always find value on the waiver wire to begin the season. Last year Alex Rodriguez was a free agent to start the season in all of my leagues, and he was snatched up in all of them in the first few weeks. Sure there are those leagues where everybody pays attention during the entire season but in reality, if you’re just playing with friends or co-workers, that won’t be the case. You’ll always have the team that sets their lineup on opening day and doesn’t make a move until the trade deadline. Football season will creep closer in August and some managers will pivot their attention that way, especially if their team isn’t doing well. A good head-to-head fantasy manager is paying attention every day throughout the whole season.

I remember reading a quote from a major league player where he suggested that most major leaguers thrive on a few good months of numbers surrounded by a few average months and one poor month. So many things contribute to a player’s production throughout the season: injuries, skill adjustments, long road trips and that it is extremely hard for a player to be consistently productive on a week-to-week basis. Some weeks are just better than others for a vast majority of the player pool. It’s your job as a head-to-head manager to build and maintain a team that produces consistently over the entire season. CONSISTENCY is king.

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JP Gale is a correspondent at FantasyPros. To read more from JP, check out his archive and follow him @gojpg.

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