FB405: H2H League Concepts and Strategy

05/20/2007 11:16 PM - 

FantasyBaseball.com University Series
Contributed By: Kimbal Binder

H2H is a wonderfully competitive way to play fantasy baseball.  Unlike Rotisserie baseball, there are playoffs awaiting the best of the teams.  Therefore, a terrible start will not doom a team nor will a hot beginning guarantee eventual success.  H2H rewards teams with staying power who have some kick at the end of the season.

If you love sports and fantasy sports, then H2H fantasy baseball is going to be fun for you to play.  The idea, though, is to not simply have fun but to win.  There are several scoring methods involved, so first we’ll look into common scoring methods and then look lineups.

Many leagues assign point values to hits, home runs, saves, strikeouts and so on.  In these leagues, you accumulate points during the week versus your opponent, who is also compiling points.  At the end of the week, the team with the most points gets a win and the other team gets a loss.  Points will likely be tallied and kept for informational purposes as the league goes along. 

In a league in which points are accumulated, you have a real interest finding, drafting and playing the most productive players you can get regardless of specialty.  Point leagues are something akin to rotisserie leagues in that dominance in a few categories of scoring does not guarantee success.  However, unlike rotisserie if you are dominant enough in a few areas you can pile up enough points to win anyway.  It is all about the totals, and not your ranks versus players in each point-producing area.  Point leagues are won by getting the best players available for each regular playing slot and then worrying about bench spots. This philosophy works for both the pitching and hitting sides.

It is more common for leagues to have several categories rather than totaling points.  Common categories include Hits, Runs, RBI, HR, AVG, SB on the hitting side and W, L, SV, ERA, WHIP and K’s on the pitching side.  You’ll find the definitions of these categories in previous articles in the Fantasy University series.  There are almost as many categories, or “cats” as you can imagine, including Holds and OPS and Plate Appearances and IP and so on.  The most popular online service has standard cats in 5 offensive and 5 pitching cats.  This is called a 5 x 5 league.  If there are 6 categories for each side it is known as a 6 x 6 league.

In a league with 6 offensive cats and 6 pitching cats, you might win your weekly matchup 7-4-1 rather than simply getting a win or a loss.  It is possible to win your matchup each week but not be tops in the league because a less consistent team has had some more dominating weeks. 

You can see that in leagues in which cats are used that the situation differs from point leagues.  During the regular season you will want to win as many categories as often as you can to be sure you are in the top 4, 6, or 8 teams that make the playoffs.  Once the playoffs begin, however, you will match up against one team at a time and either win or lose.  Losers go home; therefore, you want to have a few categories that you are sure you will usually or always win. 

Have a specific goal concerning H2H category league drafting. I am not saying this is the way to go, and of course if everybody tries no one will succeed going down this road.  But what follows is a way of thinking about taking control of a category and how you would approach such a plan.  Saves are one of the easiest cats to dominate.  Every team has 5-6 starting pitchers but usually they have only one closer.  Therefore there are hundreds of starting pitchers to choose from, and hundreds of middle and late relievers.  But there are only about 30 closers.  If you have 3-4 of the best closers on your team, you can expect to win saves and have a leg up on ERA and WHIP.  So you draft closers with great SV, ERA and WHIP numbers fairly early in your draft while others are drafting starting pitchers.  You will grab your starters later on after you believe you have saves covered.

Perhaps you decide to try to lock up steals.  If you look to draft guys like Bobby Abreu and Carlos Beltran and Derek Jeter, you are getting players who get steals and also contribute in other key categories.  When judging between similar players at a position, you would want a Jason Varitek who might steal 10 bases versus a Mike Piazza who might steal 2.   Drafting Brian Roberts gives you a guy who steals, but hurts you in HR and RBI categories.  You should be able to get away with drafting a Juan Pierre, Carl Crawford or Chone Figgins but should you draft 3-4 of this kind of player you will lost HR and RBI every time.  Drafting H2H teams gets to be like spinning plates on sticks, pay too much attention to one and another one drops and breaks.

Of course, your opponents will also be likely to have a few categories they will “load up” on.  Here is where your judgment of talent comes into play.  Whereas you may target a few categories as your priorities, the wise roster drafter will get players when possible who are good in several categories.  In this way, you not only win most of the categories that you target but have a chance at winning your secondary cats from week to week as well.

Possibly the variable that will influence the compilation and use of your roster more than any other is the way lineups are settled in your league.  Lineups are either changeable every day or set at the beginning of each week with no changes allowed until the following week.

Weekly leagues: 
In weekly leagues, you will draft and plan to play your team in a way that is very similar to rotisserie.  Since you pick players at one position for the entire week and cannot make changes, the keyword for the hitting side of weekly leagues is quality.  You draft to get your starting players at each position and do not address bench players until the very end of the draft.  You are not as concerned about position eligibility, since you are not going to be switching people around during the week. 

Another key word in weekly leagues is schedules.  You may have an ace like Randy Johnson who you have penciled in at the top of your pitching list every week.  As long as he is pitching even one game that week, you will start him.  But for most of your staff, you will play starting pitchers who have two starts during the week and sit the ones that only start once.  Weekly league owners need to know not just how many games each player is due to play during the week but in the case of pitchers, when are they scheduled to start and where.  If you have two pitchers who each have two starts and one of them has starts in Colorado and Arizona (noted hitting-friendly parks), then you probably want to start the other guy instead.

Daily Leagues: 
Daily leagues allow you to change the lineup every day, so there are major differences.  The first keyword is flexibility when discussing the hitting side.  Having at least two or three players with multiple position eligibility is vital in daily leagues.  One great example this year is the case of Chone Figgins.  In most leagues, Chone is eligible at 2B, 3B and OF.  Now during the course of the week you may usually have Mark Loretta at 2B, and Mike Lowell at 3B.  Perhaps on Monday they are all playing, but on Tuesday the Red Sox are off and Loretta cannot play.  Some teams won’t have a backup at 2B, but you have Figgins.  Perhaps you usually play him in the OF.  But for Tuesday, you play him at SS and put someone like Coco Crisp in his place in the OF.  Now you have avoiding having zero production from that position for that day.  For this reason, you may keep drafting hitters in the draft after you fill your primary spots in order to be sure to have a couple of worthwhile fill-ins.  Therefore, when in doubt, take the player with versatility versus the guy who only plays at one location.  Obviously, if you have Chone Figgins (2B-3B-OF) and Nomar Garicaparra (SS-3B and 1B after this first month if the Dodgers are to be believed.), you don’t have to worry about getting backup infielders late in the draft.  You can draft the best hitters still available and know you have flexibility to use them at times.

Positions in many leagues include CI (Corner Infielder), MI (Middle Infielder), INF (Infielder), UTIL (Utility) and also may have LF, CF and RF rather than OF as categories.  Customize your draft to take advantage of the positions you will have to fill.

Variety describes an important point in choosing your starting pitchers.  Most Major League starters are on a 5-man rotation and will start every 5-6 days.  You need a balance of # 1, 2 and 3 starters, maybe even a guy who is a #4.  If you have to sit a guy because there is no room for him, he isn’t doing you a lot of good.  A wise owner will have a player like a Aaron Heilman or Hector Carassco who is starter eligible but who is actually used more often as a long reliever, to fill in a starter spot when you are short of starters on some days.  Sure, if you can get two # 1 pitchers like Johann Santana and A.J. Burnett it will benefit you.  But you can afford to space out your gets of pitchers because you need a balanced schedule of starting pitchers to get the most out of your staff anyway.  Be ready to make early season trades with another owner if you have too many pitching on the same day.  You will find another owner with the same concern, no doubt, and make a fair trade that will benefit both of you.

In-Season Tools:
The best thing you have going for you is access to free agents and players on waivers.  Veteran fantasy players usually call these lists either the FA (Free Agents) or the WW (Waiver Wire).  During the course of the season players get hurt, they get hot, they get traded, they play much better than expected or much worse.  While you draft the best team available, you will no doubt do several drop/adds as the season progresses.  Keep an eye on the latest baseball player and team news so that when an injured player is ready to come back, you will react and snatch him up before the next guy.  Sometimes an opposing manager will make drop a guy who would look real good on your team.  You’ll have to make a waiver claim on him to get that player.  If you want him and have the highest waiver priority you will get him.  That will drop you to the bottom of the waiver priority list, though, so you aren’t likely going to get a shot at the next few good drops. 

Rookie Call-ups are usually no big deal, but on occasion a team is keeping someone like a Hanley Ramirez down on the farm for another month or two before fully intending to plug him into the starting lineup.  If you just know that a future star is about to emerge, grab him for your bench as soon as he appears on the FA list and have him ready if he does hit the ground running.  Also, at the end of the season a losing team may bench a few of its older regulars and give some called-up youngsters a chance.  Be ready to adjust your roster and lineup accordingly. 

Trades are another method to change your team.  You may see that you are weak in one area and remarkably strong in another.  If you find a team that is the opposite of yours in those two areas you both will benefit from a trade.  Of course you hope to get the best of a trade whenever you make one.  But actually, and especially near the end of the season, it may benefit you to trade a greater player for a lesser.  Example:  I win steals every single week, in fact, I have steals out my ears.  I am doing quite well in HR and RBI.  But I am always in a battle for the Hits and AVG categories.  The playoffs are approaching, I am in 3rd place in a H2H category league and the guy in 4th place owns Mark Loretta.  I have Alfonso Soriano.  I offer him Soriano for Loretta, he agrees; glad to get the better player.  But Loretta puts me over the top in H and AVG and I wind up winning the league title in the playoffs.

If you make a deal that really takes advantage of an owner, for instance trading Frank Thomas for Travis Hafner when the guy you are trading with thinks Thomas is coming back in April, it may come back to bite you.  That owner may never trade with you again, and other owners might steer clear of you as well.

Analyze your team periodically during the season.  Look to see how you are winning and/or losing each week and consider how you might change things for the better.  Know which players tend to play better in the first half versus the second half.  You may see that you may need to platoon at a position, particularly one in which you have a player with a home stadium that is very friendly or very unfriendly to hitting or in the classic way a hitter who struggles against left-or-right-handed pitching. 

Enjoy all of this.  Don’t get in fights with fellow leaguers unless it is just trash-talking.  Don’t be a guy that sees conspiracies every time other owners want to make a trade.  You love baseball; this is another way to enjoy it, right?  Best of all, if you have good judgment and pay attention you can win, which makes it that much more fun.  Good luck!

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