Head to Head Strategy

Here is Lukas’ letter from today on head to head strategy.  On a personal note, I’ve never been a fan of head to head baseball leagues but usually join one each year.  And right now’s not the time to talk to me about it!  After blowing away the competition all year en route to a .670 winning percentage and a #1 seed along with a first round bye in the playoffs, my team picked the worst possible time to have their worst week of the season!  I land up losing 8-2 to the #5 seed, and just like that my season’s over.  This is exactly my problem with H2H leagues.  The best team doesn’t always win.  Well enough of my sob story.  Let’s hear from Lukas.

Zach

Hey Fellas,

I’m a long-time podcaster and recommend the show to as many people as I can without giving up the competitive advantage you provide.

Awhile back there was a request for a head-to-head breakdown and I understand the daily grind doesn’t invite putting that together.  Not to mention that you’re hardcore roto guys.

The first league I played in, and I continue to play in, is head-to-head and while I’ve been converted to the church of rotisserie in general, I don’t like losing in any format so this is a breakdown of what I’ve learned in dominating my league the past few years…

A DOMINANT OFFENSE IS SLIGHTLY MORE VALUABLE THAN IN ROTO, BUT ELITE STARTERS ARE ALSO VITAL…

The general 411 axiom of building an F-U offense is even more important in a head-to-head format as offense is significantly more consistent than pitching. Unlike roto stats, counting numbers accumulated in head-to-head are not yours to keep.  For all intents and purposes, you have to compete in 25 separate seasons.

The one caveat to this is that dominant pitchers are even more valuable in the format. If a stud falls to you, and Will Carroll has him on green, it’s worth taking them early (I took Peavy with the second pick in the 4th round and supplemented him with Sabathia late in the 7th and Haren in the 10th).  Add in a waiver wire grab of James Shields and I’ve been tough to beat in the ratios, saves and losses–we’re in a 6×6).

ROSTER FLEXIBILITY AND BALANCE IS KEY.

Playing on a week-to-week basis and having to compete against a specific opponent’s strengths, roster flexibility is at a premium and to squeeze the greatest value from your roster you should pay even greater attention to splits.

Unlike a rotisserie format, there are no points for second place in a category so you should be able to put up numbers across the board on a regular basis.  Because of the categories’ binary format many owners will choose to punt some areas, but it’s a strategy that rarely works because most stats are streaky and a team with lesser closers and middling speed can win those categories several times over the course of a season.

In the draft you should slightly favor those players with multiple position eligibility and pay special attention to players with extreme splits that might look like iffy pickups from the waiver wire, but will be gold to that player willing to platoon for maximum value.

AS THE 411 PREACHES, A STRONG BULLPEN’S VITAL TO MITIGATE THE DAMAGE OF BLOWUP STARTS.

Building a solid bullpen is extremely important in this format to keep your ratios in check, compete in saves and pick up the vulture win.  I’ve horded the top relievers that have "SP" eligibility–Brett Myers, Carlos Marmol–so I can run out a great deal of arms on a daily basis and compete with a smaller starting rotation.

THE KEY IS WEEKLY CONSISTENCY

Restarting every week can make streaky players maddening, so try to move streaky players during hot streaks for more consistent providers.  A cold snap can end a great season if it happens in the playoffs.

Look to vacate elite catchers for a replacement level player if you can get good value for them as they usually wear down.  Also younger players that aren’t used to the grind and pitchers crossing new thresholds should be trade bait as the league’s deadline nears.

THE MOST IMPORTANT FACTOR IS THAT YOU ARE BUILDING A TEAM FOR WEEKS 23-26…

You build a team for the playoffs. That needs to color all of your decisions for the first 22 weeks of the season.  This entails aggressively targeting those players that have been discounted for DL visits and pursuing talented veterans that have fallen out of favor with frustrated owners.  Other ways you can do this are…

RETAIN TRANSACTIONS IN THOSE LEAGUES WITH A CAP

Save as many transactions as possible for the playoffs so you can pick up hot players and pitch and ditch at a greater rate than your opponent.  The wavier wire has a ton of value at season’s end because of three factors.  1. Rosters have been expanded to include the Daric Bartons, Joey Vottos and Clay Bucholtzs of the world.  2. Teams may have blown out their transactions.  3. In a format where teams are eliminated, there are less owners actively searching the wire.  Last season I was able to bolster an iffy rotation with Rich Hill and Esteban Loaiza’s strong finishes.

AS THE SEASON PROGRESSES, PACK VALUE ON YOUR ROSTER AND SORT OUT THE CONFIGURATION AS YOU GO.

At one point this season I held 3 shortstops in a league that starts 9-man batting orders.  Having Renteria, Furcal and Peralta didn’t allow for a ton of flexibility over a six week period, but as other players got injured I was able to move them.  I paired Renteria with Morneau in a deal for Jose Reyes and then sent Peralta (with Crawford and Haren) to a team for Berkman and Nathan.  It’s okay to run out the flavor of the week at another position so you can wait for a fair value deal from your depth.

YOU WIN LEAGUES WITH SUPERSTARS.

Get the best players on your team even if you have to overpay.  Sending two players that have 130% of the value of a single player you get in return is a win if you’re able to backfill with bench or waiver wire contributors and in a 12 team league there’s almost always a serviceable piece to be had.

THE TIEBREAKER IS ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT FACTORS TO BE WARY OF

The tiebreaker for most leagues is ERA, so you should make your team as strong as possible in this category (consider it worth 1.5 categories).  This works with the idea of a strong bullpen and limited starters.  Also, be wary of who you are starting down the stretch.  Don’t throw lefties at Milwaukee, etc.

AND THE BIGGEST ADVICE I CAN GIVE TO ANY FANTASY OWNER…

Use the prospectus forecast manager.  Nate Silver’s smarter than you are.  Take out the players Will Carroll’s marked as high injury risks.  Plug in your sleepers at 70 percentile pecotas instead of the weighted mean, but by and large take the value on the board.  Teams that lose their season on draft day either make drastic miscalculations in player values or try to outthink the room. Be risk averse early, trust your rankings and understand if it’s a "draft party" the rest of the league will literally pay you to stay sober until the end of the draft.

I hope this was helpful and thanks for the show.

Lukas

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