For the majority of Fantasy Baseball owners that played Fantasy Football first, Head-to-Head or H2H leagues are the best way to start. Because of that, H2H League Draft Strategy is an imperative tool. Even though the basis of Fantasy Sports was founded with rotisserie-style Fantasy Baseball, H2H leagues have become more and more popular. As a society we are all about instant impact. H2H leagues give you a weekly win/loss. A roto league is a season-long grind for your result.
At this point, some may liken H2H Fantasy Baseball to Fantasy Football in that the waiver wire is almost more important than the draft. I counter that with your roster size in Fantasy Baseball. While the waiver wire is still a vital component to a successful season, the 20-plus man roster in Fantasy Baseball means you still are relying on the draft more than anything.
Now just like in Fantasy Football there are a variety of strategies to employ in your draft. My personal H2H League Draft Strategy is a bit on the risky side. No matter how risky, if it is successful then you give yourself the best chance to win.
That is the real point that I am trying to make: I want to win. I don’t want to just compete. With H2H Fantasy Baseball, the luck factor is immense. I will get more into that in a second.
For the purpose of this H2H League Draft Strategy I will assume a few things. First, I am working off a 12-team league. Anywhere from 10- to 14-teams is about the same strategy, and most leagues fall in this range. I am also working off of the assumption that it is a 5X5 Category setup. The hitting categories are Runs, Home Runs, RBI, Stolen Bases and Batting Average. The pitching categories are Wins, Saves, Strikeouts, ERA, and WHIP. I will discuss the variation of my H2H League Draft Strategy in a Points system as well.
H2H League Draft Strategy
I am 100% certain you will see a H2H League Draft Strategy article that will hammer home the point: “Do NOT punt categories!” I understand the philosophy. You want to give yourself the best chance to win as many statistical categories as possible.
What is the goal of a H2H League though? It is NOT to win the most categories. It is to win each week. All it takes to win a week is six categories (with no ties). All it takes to not lose the week is five wins. So I can sacrifice two or three statistical categories and give myself a better chance to win the five or six needed to win the week.
Thus, the term “punting categories” comes into play. I am going to focus on 5-6 statistical categories that I can dominate. I will get to which categories pair well together for the middle of the draft.
The Luck Factor
I have gone on an extensive rant about trying to reduce the luck in Fantasy Sports before. The bottom line is that there will always be a luck-dynamic. The trick is to try and diminish the amount of luck involved.
The luck involved with Fantasy Baseball is mostly to do with the streakiness. A .300 hitter will hit .150 the first month and .450 the next month. A 40-home run guy can go off with more than half of his bombs in a five-week span. This streakiness is impossible to predict or forecast.
This is no good for a weekly Fantasy Team. Even if you have the best team in all 10 categories, if they are on a down swing in the first week of the playoffs, you could lose 6-4.
The luck involved with Fantasy Baseball is why I choose to punt categories. Even doing so, and you are the most dominant in the league in five or six different statistics, it is still not a given that you win a weekly match-up. I at least would like to be a heavy favorite in five or six categories going into the week. Now how do we accomplish constructing a team to make this possible?
Top of the Draft
For any strategy, let alone H2H League Draft Strategy, you have to nail the top of the draft. I have been saying it for both Fantasy Football and Fantasy Baseball for a few years now. You do not have to come away with the best player in Round 1, just avoid the bust.
In both Fantasy Football and Baseball there are usually 8-10 studs that will not bust barring injury. The first round is not the place to get cute and reach on potential. Take the bird in hand and leave the bush alone.
When you plan on punting a few categories, I still advise to take the best, most bust-proof player available. Let the draft dictate which statistics you focus on. This is the best way to accumulate the most value with each pick.
I see nine players worthy of Stud-status this season; Mike Trout, Joe Altuve, Kris Bryant, Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, Clayton Kershaw, Bryce Harper, Josh Donaldson and Max Scherzer. I need another year from Mookie Betts to prove his studliness. I am also hesitant on Manny Machado because of his inability to stay on the field, and Miguel Cabrera will get old at some point.
Hopefully you can come away with one of these guys in the first round. In a 12-team league, I can almost assure that at least one will be available.
Linking Statistical Categories: Hitters
After you lock up a stud in Round 1, you will know from your cheat sheet which categories have the most stock. Of course, you will only have one side of the 10 categories. That is why I highly advise to get a pitcher in the first two rounds. If you make sure to get an elite player on both sides of mound (so to speak) you know where your early strengths are.
Once you know where you are strong, you can go forward with certain categories that are linked in most players. By linked, I mean a player is more likely to be good in both statistics. The obvious two categories would be home runs and runs batted in.
Almost without fail a player that hits a lot of home runs is above average in RBIs as well. This is by far the easiest linkage to acquire. This type of power-only hitter is usually terrible at batting average and never steals bases. Because of this, the guys chasing all categories will pass on them.
Stolen bases and runs scored are usually linked as well. I mean if you are taking extra bases toward home, you are more likely to score. I would advise against trying to dominate batting average. It is the ultimate streaky category and you never know when it will let you down.
Linking Statistical Categories: Pitchers
Pitching wise, ERA and WHIP can be closely related. With starters, however, it can be deceiving. Strikeouts and wins are completely reliant on volume. If someone is streaming starters, then these two can be won consistently.
So to me, there are two routes to go with your pitching. You can stream your starting pitching. If there is no innings/waivers limit, then start as many as you can. That will allow you to get wins/strikeouts every week. With your draft capital, secure the best closers. You can then win all of the counting stats: Saves, Wins, and Strikeouts.
The other route also involves getting the best closers. I like just loading up on closers. As many as I can start. They then assure you a win in the Saves category, while also giving you a dominant ERA/WHIP combination. You then throw in the elite starter you drafted to get to an innings minimum. Once again, three category wins.
Either way, you need a good pool of closers. I know, you have always heard to not “pay for saves.” I think this is going the other way in baseball now. Bullpens are becoming a primary focus and if you can lock up three of the elite closer with a couple of the mid-level guys, you can form a formidable stable of Saves/WHIP/ERA.
I also know what you are thinking: these routes only lead to a 5-category dominance. If you are going the power route, but you got a guy in Round 1 that steals a lot of bases, pick up a couple of steals-only producers late. Same thing if he scores plenty of runs. Either way, getting to five is the important part. You cannot lose a week if you win five categories.
Since there are so many different paths with this H2H League Draft Strategy, I thought I would just show a sample draft. I used the Fantasy Pros ADP consensus from March 6.
|1||Kris Bryant||HR/RBI/R||10||Jose Bautista||HR/RBI|
|2||Madison Bumgarner||W/ERA/WHIP/K||11||Evan Gattis||HR/RBI|
|3||Nelson Cruz||HR/RBI/R||12||Troy Tulowitzki||HR/RBI|
|4||Kenley Jansen||S/ERA/WHIP||13||Sam Dyson||S/ERA/WHIP|
|5||Aroldis Chapman||S/ERA/WHIP||14||Jake Lamb||HR/RBI/R|
|6||Zach Britton||S/ERA/WHIP||15||Jonathan Schoop||HR/RBI|
|7||Chris Davis||HR/RBI/R||16||Kole Calhoun||HR/RBI/R|
For the linkage, I put which categories the player had elite numbers for their position. I would say the Runs input might not be elite, but at least above average for these players. That would definitely be the sixth category that is 50/50.
As you can see by the current ADP ,the Power/Closer combo is quite doable. I cannot imagine losing any of the HR/RBI/ERA/WHIP/S combination most weeks. You should be able to pull in a runs win most of the time as well.
Obviously this is a best-case scenario, but it is not unlikely at the same time. Most people want to wait on closers. They also will pass on inflexible categorical production. These are both inequities in the actual value that can be contrived from these types of players.
Conclusion: Downing the Punt
Punting categories is without a doubt a risky H2H League Draft Strategy. As the saying goes though: no risk, no reward. If you use this strategy and draft well with it, then you are setting yourself up for a chance to actually win, luck be damned. To me, that is the only way to play.
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