If you are new to playing Head-to-Head fantasy baseball or if you are a veteran looking for some advice on how to dominate your league, you came to the right place. H2H leagues are personally my favorite because it combines the traditional “roto” aspect of fantasy baseball, while also furthering the competitive spirit by going against a single, rotating opponent every week. Instead of the champion being crowded at the end of the year by who has the most roto points, teams are fighting year long in the standings in hopes to earn a playoff spot and ultimately win a couple playoff matchups to bring home that coveted championship trophy.
There are a few different variants to playing H2H leagues. You can play using point-based scoring, similar to how fantasy football works, or using categories like roto leagues. Categories is much more popular than points, but I still want to touch on both. For points leagues, hitters and pitchers earn fantasy points based off the statistics they accrue throughout the week and give their owner a raw total. The team with the most points at the end of the week gets a win while the other team gets a loss.
Categories leagues typically use 5×5 scoring, which means 5 hitting categories and 5 pitching. For hitting they are typically batting average, runs, RBIs, HRs, and SBs. Pitching is usually ERA, WHIP, Wins, Saves, and Ks. Throughout the week both teams’ stats are tracked under each of the categories which you can get a single win, loss, or tie in each. So if you are winning six categories, losing three, and tied in one your score will appear as 6-3-1. The two variants to category scoring are Head-to-Head with a single win/loss, and H2H where each category counts as a win, loss, or tie individually. For example, winning 6-3-1 in week 1 can either make you 1-0, or it can make you 6-3-1 in the standings if you score using each category.
I personally think that playing H2H Each Category is the ideal way to play as it combines tracking each category like roto leagues, with the competitiveness of playing a new opponent every week to keep things fresh.
I know the following advice I offer may not be groundbreaking, but these are things that have helped me win many leagues that I wish to share with you so bear with me. Without further ado, here are my keys to dominating your H2H league.
1. Know Your League
This one especially may seem really simple and self-explanatory but it is still essential, especially for rookie H2H owners. Finding out whether it is Points, H2H Single Win, or H2H Each Category is the best place to start. From that go check out the scoring system to find out how many points each statistic is worth, or check out which categories it tracks if it differs from standard 5×5. Make sure you check out the roster settings to know how many players at each position you will need to complete your squad. For example, does your league use corner and middle infielders as well? You will also want to check and see if your league has daily or weekly roster lock times. Weekly rosters require a bit more preparation and checking out the matchups but it shouldn’t make a big difference. Aside from that, check out the rules regarding waivers and how many moves you can make each matchup. Make sure you understand everything about your league before draft day.
If you are in an existing H2H league, check out your draft from the year prior to see which picks worked out for you and which ones did not pan out so well. Additionally, use this time to check out how the other owners of your league drafted. Check out the tendencies of each owner whether it be when they select starting pitchers, or what categories they place the most emphasis on. This is what I mean by know your league. You know your league better than I do, and looking at the league’s history if available is an essential tool to get to know your opponents better.
2. Don’t Over-invest in Starting Pitching
Starting pitchers are essential to succeeding in fantasy, but I see too many people over-invest on them in the first few rounds. Early on, I’d much rather take a solid hitter that I know will play 5 or so games a week as opposed to someone who will help my team ONCE a week, or sometimes twice. Additionally, pitchers are much more susceptible to injury than position players and thus will be on the DL or miss games more often than hitters usually. Aside from injuries, numbers like ERA and wins have shown to have quite a bit of year-to-year variance and is part of the reason why projecting pitchers is so difficult. Instead, check out numbers like strikeout and walk rates, and metrics like fielding-independent pitching (FIP) and swinging strike rate to evaluate pitchers.
I am a firm believer that there is lots of solid value in the middle rounds for SP. I like to load up on hitters primarily and usually only end up with two pitchers after the first 7 or so rounds. In the middle rounds, I like to focus on pitchers in pitching friendly ballparks, on teams with a productive offense, high strikeout rates, and pitchers in the NL. I also find that it is much easier to trade for pitchers as the year goes on than it is to trade for quality hitters.
3. Position Scarcity is (mostly) a Myth!
Every year you will see owners scrambling and reaching on certain players while citing that the given position is “shallow” this year. You typically hear this when people are talking about middle infielders and catchers, but I’ve heard people claim nearly every other position is shallow at some point in time. Sure, there may be a drop-off from the top guys to the next tier but that is also the case with every single position.
People are just used to the notion that shortstops and second basemen typically aren’t great offensively and that you need to pick one early or else you’ll miss out. Owners let old stigmas carry over year after year, even though there are middle infielders that are solid hitters available later on too. I do think that the catcher position can seem scarce given the amount of rest catchers get compared to the other positional players. However, I do not think it is a reason to try to snag one several rounds before where they are going. The waiver wire usually produces a few starter-worthy options for each position so make sure you are keeping track of that.
4. But Multi-Position Eligible Players are Valuable
Players that have multi-positional eligibility have always had a special place in my heart, and on my rosters. Guys like Jose Ramirez (OF, 2B, 3B) who are studs offensively that can play multiple positions can be a huge difference maker. It helps you maximize the number of games you get out of your hitters as well as allows you to seamlessly patch up your lineup when injuries come your way. Additionally, drafting someone like Jose Ramirez who you know can play three different positions allows your team to have incredible flexibility as the draft goes on. This will help ensure that you don’t reach due to that darn positional scarcity myth since you now have a bigger pool of players to choose from in the middle rounds.
So go check out what positions each player is eligible for this upcoming draft, as it varies site to site. This year, you can draft Anthony Rizzo and plug him in as your second baseman. This would allow you to draft another first baseman to plug in at 1B, thus essentially having two first-basemen in your lineup.
5. Don’t “Punt” Categories
I am a believer that you should never under any circumstances completely “punt” or purposefully ignore any category. The most common examples are owners that neglect stolen bases, or go with all starting pitchers and ignore trying to win saves. While in theory you could still build a championship team while punting categories, I never think it is a good idea to neglect any of them. You are essentially giving your opponent a free category every week and makes it that much harder for you to pull out a win.
With that being said, I don’t think you should go all-in for any one category either. While Billy Hamilton will steal many bases this year, you should not be overpaying for those steals. He is essentially a one-category contributor that forces you to make up for his lack of offensive ability elsewhere. Don’t give up on any categories, but don’t overpay or over emphasize them either.
Building the most balanced team possible will give you the best shot to win week in and week out, and that is the name of the game in H2H leagues.