ASK ROTOMAN: Getting Ahead in Head 2 Head

Dear Rotoman:

I have played in a head to head league on CBS sports for the past five years.  The first year, I followed fantasy advice and skewed heavily towards hitters rather than pitchers.  I got destroyed that year.

Mat_Latos_01In this league, pitchers go first and often.  By the time I started drafting pitchers I was left with Mat Latos, Kyle Lohse, and downwards from there.  The best teams in the league had 12 starts for their pitchers each week because they had so many pitchers, while I had 5-8 starts.

Since then, I have sought the best bat available in the 1st round, two aces in rounds 2-3, and a decent player with position scarcity in round 4.  In the next 18 rounds, I target middling pitching, youth (ages 25-32) and OBP.  I don’t draft relievers until late and usually punt 2nd base and catcher.

Any ideas how I can improve my draft philosophy this year?

“Trying To Get Head 2 Head”

Dear Trying:

I guess after taking the standard fantasy advice, things didn’t go much better the next four years. Am I right? So you’re back.

I will not give you standard head 2 head advice, because you didn’t tell me your scoring system, so I can’t get to much into that. But I do have some suggestions I’m sure are worth taking a look at.

Take A Look At History: If the team that wins every year takes an ace starter early, and teams that don’t take an ace starter struggle, it’s probably worth giving the winning way a try. Not only will you end up with a better pitcher than usual, but your opponents will end up with lower-ranked pitchers in their later slots.

Take A Look At Categories: Different providers have different point values for different stats, so it is dangerous to get too specific about values from provider to provider. But CBSsports has a good stat download service, allowing you to download last year’s stats (I think) and definitely this year’s projections. You can then multiply the category values  by the player’s stats or projections in a spreadsheet, add them up, and see which players have real value across the season. One reason starting pitching often has a extra value is because points are given for a Win and a Quality Start and Strikeouts. That makes an ace on a good team a huge contributor when he pitches. Closers usually get a nice bump for a Save, too, though you can often find guys who get saves in the later rounds.

Take The Best Player Available: In auction leagues, you can concoct different strategies for your team by deciding how to budget your money, but in a draft league you want to focus on the best available player with each pick. Early on this is easy, the only questions will be whether you should take players at the less hitting-rich positions ahead of similarly rated guys at 1B and the OF. The answer is almost always yes, but you should always be looking at your next two picks, trying to find the best available talent for those two spots combined. I’m not sure how you’re dumping 3B and C, but my guess is that at some point you’d be better off taking better guys at those positions and scrambling at the end for your last outfielder.

Take Fun Guys Late: The last few rounds are the time to look for high upside risky players. There will always be boring productive guys on your waiver wire, so use those last spots to take erratic starters with high strikeout rates, and the home run hitting prospect who may not be called up until June, or the overall bum who has amazing splits against lefties or righties (or maybe at home versus the road). These types will vary depending on the size of your league and how aggressively owners chase this sort of talent. Just remember that you don’t have to be the most aggressive to score big here, if you study up before your draft.

The bottom line is that you’re going to win if your accumulate the most talent, so the only trick is knowing who has the most talent so that you make the best pick each time your turn comes. Good luck.


ASK ROTOMAN: Should I take a pitcher or hitter?

Dear Rotoman:

Having trouble deciding who to take first round. Its a 6×6 H2H league and a 4 keeper league, so technically the first round is the 5th. I have the first pick and here are the best available in the order I like them.

  • Jose Fernandez
  • Alex Rios
  • Adam Wainwright 
  • Jose Bautista 
  • Steven Strasburg
  • Ian Desmond
  • Hunter Pence
  • Matt Carpenter
  • Chris Sale
  • Sin Soo Choo

My keepers are already : Ryan Braun, Jay Bruce, David Price, and Adrian Gonzalez.

“Sitting Pretty”

Dear Sitting,

I’m flying a little blind here, since I don’t know what six pitching categories you’re playing with. Some leagues add Holds. If that’s the case in your league I would definitely take a hitter with your first pick, but even if your sixth category is Quality Starts (another popular choice) I would probably take a hitter.

That’s because you already have a quality starter as a keeper, and in Head to Head you want to pile up quality at bats. Obviously pitching matters, you want quality starts, but as we’ve seen, there will be plenty of starting pitching available late in the draft, in the reserve rounds and off the waiver wire for you to stream against weak offenses in pitchers parks week after week.

There won’t be power speed guys like Alex Rios, or power/on base guys like Jose Bautista after the next round or two. So load up while you can.

That said, I’m not sure Rios and Bautista are your best hitters in this spot. Rios had a fine year again last year, perhaps escaping the yoke of an every-other-year reputation, finally. But given his age, shouldn’t he be more in danger of one of his inexplicable extended slumps? While Bautista has the injury time bomb ticking beneath him.

Don’t get me wrong, both are reasonable picks at this point, but I think the durable Hunter Pence is a better, more reliable pick, and not as good as Ian Desmond, who may be the youngest and best offensive player of the bunch and a shortstop to boot. That’s who I would take.


ASK ROTOMAN: Four-Letter Players Starting With C

Dear Rotoman:

I’m in a points league, head-to-head just like fantasy football. Pitchers obviously get you more points, but would you trade away Cano to get Cain? I’m on the fence on this one.

“Tough Cs”

Dear TC:

The only way to give you a definitive answer is to understand how points are scored in your league and what the roster requirements are for your team.

But I can say that, just like in fantasy football, the gross number of points isn’t the important thing. Quarterbacks generally score more points than other positions, but the difference between the average QB and the replacement QB is generally less than the difference between the average RB and the the replacement RB.

You have the same issue here. What you have to determine is how many more points Matt Cain will score versus the pitcher who takes his place, then compare that to the difference between Robinson Cano and the second baseman who would replace him.

Without knowing your league settings I can’t tell you who rates better. And without knowing the makeup of your team (do you have a strong squad of hitters now, so you can afford to take a little hit to improve your pitching staff) it’s equally difficult to give you a definitive answer. But if you think about it this way I suspect an answer will become quickly obvious (or this really is a close call).

Until then, I’ll say: Cano.


Bonus Link: My friend Todd Zola has written the primer-to-end-all-primers on Head to Head Points over at ESPN. It looks like you need to be an Insider, but I include it here in case you are an Insider, or maybe you don’t need to be.