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Roto versus Head-to-Head Strategy (Fantasy Baseball)

by Josh Shepardson | @BChad50 | Featured Writer
Jan 24, 2020

The LABR Mixed League draft is one of the biggest industry events of the season.

Fantasy sports have evolved, and with that evolution has come a variety of formats that cater to different tastes of fantasy baseball gamers. Having said that, rotisserie and head-to-head (H2H) category leagues remain extremely popular. Both often use the same traditional 5×5 categories (runs, homers, RBIs, batting average, and stolen bases for hitters; wins, strikeouts, saves, ERA, and WHIP for pitchers), but it would be unwise to treat the two games identically even though they use the same stats for scoring. They’re different games, and different strategies and nuances should be applied toward your quest to win in each.

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Prospects/Injury Stashes
Modern baseball fans and fantasy gamers are as informed about the game’s next wave of solid players and future superstars as ever. Prospects can help gamers in roto and H2H leagues, but valuations for various prospects can change between the two formats. Expanding on this idea, an electric 30 innings from a starting pitching prospect doesn’t necessarily move the needle much in roto leagues with a 1,400 innings limit, as it amounts to under three percent of the max. However, if those innings come from a top-notch prospect who made a September debut and dominated during the H2H fantasy playoffs, they could help get a team over the hump to a fantasy championship. With that in mind, H2H gamers should be more open to stashing a potential playoff difference-making prospect than gamers in roto leagues, who would be eating zeros from that player for a minimal payoff when he finally arrives.

Injuries can be viewed fairly similarly. An injured player who has the potential to make waves in the fantasy playoffs in H2H leagues makes for an enticing stash. However, a player who gets hurt in June and isn’t expected to return until middle to late September is less enticing to stash or hold in roto formats. Caveats apply for stashing prospects and injured players in both league types — namely whether a league uses daily or weekly lineup changes, the size of benches, and the number of IL spots available. For instance, a manager in a roto league with weekly lineup changes, large benches, and numerous IL spots has a greater deal of flexibility for stashing prospects and/or injured players. On the flip side of the coin, a gamer in a H2H league using daily lineup changes with a small bench and no IL spots won’t have as much ability to stash.

Innings Limits and Timing
Young pitchers and those coming back from injuries — recovery from Tommy John surgery specifically comes to mind — often face innings limits. In roto leagues, when a pitcher piles up high-quality innings is of little consequence since the stats they produce all go toward the same bottom line. The same can’t be said for H2H leagues. This is essentially the reverse scenario of stashing a top pitching prospect for fantasy playoff contribution potential noted above. If a pitcher hits his season innings limit prior to your fantasy playoffs, he’ll be contributing bupkis to your squad when it matters most. It’s imperative gamers in H2H leagues do their homework regarding potential season innings limits for pitchers.

Unfortunately, clubs often aren’t forthcoming with specific innings limits for their pitchers and how they plan to avoid going over their intended limit. A rebuilding team not projecting to contend might take a straightforward path of shutting its pitcher down early. A team that plans to contend or surprisingly finds itself in contention, on the other hand, might get creative with limiting the pitcher’s innings. Options include skipping starts, moving him to the bullpen for a period of time, shutting him down briefly, or taking other measures to make sure they have this pitcher available later in the year. This could mean saving innings for the postseason if the hypothetical team already has a playoff berth locked up during the final days or weeks of the regular season. In that case, the saved innings won’t help you in your fantasy playoffs if the pitcher is resting for the actual playoffs. Thus, gamers in H2H leagues need to stay abreast of news that leaks during the season about teams handling pitchers on innings limits. There’s also likely to be some guesswork applied on your part, too, and having fallback plans in mind for one or more of your pitchers being shutdown is advisable.

Punting
In short, it’s not a good idea to punt in roto formats — at least during the draft. Punting a category entirely in roto leagues creates an uphill battle and requires near perfection elsewhere to pick up the slack for a category’s last-place finish. That doesn’t mean roto players should expect to dominate every category. Having some stronger categories than others is to be expected, but drafting a balanced squad allows you to make in-season moves to maximize your point total.

I specifically noted that punting during drafts is a bad idea in roto leagues, but sometimes injuries and players failing to meet expectations create the need to change on the fly during the year. In roto leagues for cash that pay out more than the top spot, pivoting to punting a category in order to enhance your chances of finishing in a cashing position can be a prudent move. Even in free leagues, sometimes it becomes clear first place is unattainable. Changing gears to finish more respectably in the standings can involve punting.

In H2H leagues, however, punting is a defensible and sometimes optimal strategy — especially in drafts. If league mates overpay for saves or stolen bases, don’t be shy about zigging while they zag. Overpaying for specific categories in H2H drafts is a mistake.

Saves are a great category to punt, as there’s significant turnover among closers annually. Coming out of the draft without closers doesn’t mean you’ll be unable to compete in saves during the fantasy playoffs. At the same time, being strong in the other categories and not reliant on saves in order to win matchups means you’re not compelled to add a dicey closer for saves at the expense of risking ERA and WHIP.

Statistical Benchmarks
Gamers in roto leagues should have statistical benchmarks in mind during the draft. Those who have played in the same league multiple years in a row can look back at previous seasons to see how many points were required to finish in first place each year. With that number in mind, benchmarks can also be applied to finishes in each category to determine how many runs, for instance, have historically been needed to lead the category, finish in the middle, or simply avoid the basement.

Home run benchmarks can be a little trickier to set in the wake of the juiced ball last season and more deadened ball used in the postseason and other previous years. Regardless, the idea of having goals in mind for each category is a good move. They don’t have to be rigid goals, as the season doesn’t end with the draft. However, avoiding glaring holes will give you more flexibility during the season.

End of the Regular Season
Roto is a marathon, but H2H is a marathon that’s capped with a frantic sprint to the finish line. Unless there are financial incentives for finishing at or near the top of the league in the regular season, getting to the dance with a squad best positioned to win postseason matchups should be the only goal in mind. Sure, if your H2H league has byes for the top finishers, there is some incentive to finishing in one of those spots. Still, winning the playoffs is the primary goal.

A 6-4 win serves the same purpose as a 10-0 win in the playoffs, so H2H gamers should mold their rosters to survive and advance as the postseason approaches. One way to do this is to familiarize yourself with which teams/players have the most games during your playoff matchups. Loading up on players with more games creates greater opportunities for piling up the counting stats (i.e. runs, homers, RBIs, and stolen bases for hitters and wins, saves, and strikeouts for pitchers). If you’re punting more than one counting stat category such as stolen bases and saves, you’ll have to be more cognizant of the other categories (batting average, ERA, and WHIP) in addition to your strongest categories since you’ll need to win one of the three in order to secure at least a 6-4 victory.

In addition to paying attention to the number of games for players during your fantasy matchups, you should monitor where they are playing. A batter playing a full week in hitter-friendly parks has an advantage over a similarly talented one in pitcher-friendly venues during the same period. The end of the year is of the utmost importance in H2H leagues, and gamers best positioned to take advantage of the schedule down the stretch can gain an edge over their opposition.

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Josh Shepardson is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Josh, check out his archive and follow him @BChad50.

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