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How to Attack Head-to-Head Category Leagues

Michael Florio RotoExperts Staff Writer March 1, 2017 3:55PM EDT
So you have ventured into the world of head-to-head category leagues. Some may say that this format is Fantasy Football meets Rotisserie Baseball. In this format, you have to compete in a number of different categories, both on the offensive and pitching side of things, much like Roto leagues. However, you also get to go mano e mano with another owner in your league, much like Fantasy Football. But the question remains, what is the best strategy to win in this format? Well, you have come to the right place.

First and foremost, you need to know the scoring in your league. A standard league in this format will use the traditional 5×5 categories, but many will incorporate other categories such as OBP, total bases, slugging percent and quality starts. Just a note, if your league uses the standard 5×5 categories, you should be using Roto rankings. But if your league uses OBP and total bases, for instance, than that incorporates walks, doubles/triples, etc., you should be using points league rankings, which ties all this into them. Also, unlike traditional Fantasy leagues, you usually do not just come away with a win or a loss in this format. Instead, your record of a given week gets added into your season-long record. For instance, if you go 6-4 on a week, you will be awarded six wins and four losses in your season-long record.

Given that, the obvious strategy is to win as many categories as possible. To do so, you want a well-rounded team. Traditionally, I will take a hitter in Round 1, as these are hitters that can be elite in multiple

Nolan Arenado is elite in multiple categories. (Photo by Russell Lansford/Icon Sportswire)

Nolan Arenado is elite in multiple categories. Photo by Russell Lansford/Icon Sportswire

categories. However, I have a similar strategy regardless of league format, and that is to grab at least one, but usually two reliable starting pitchers early on. Have two to of these pitchers in the first five rounds allows you to build a stable core of both hitters and pitchers. I am a fan of constructing balanced teams in this format, however, I have seen owners attack this style in different ways.

Another popular strategy is to load up on hitters early on, and use the middle rounds to fill our your pitching staff. The thinking here would be that pitchers are more injury prone than hitters, as well as starting pitcher being a deep position. Doing this allows you to get a leg up in the offensive categories. However, you will need to target high-upside pitchers. It is riskier, but given the influx of young starters with a high ceiling, it is a strategy that can certainly pay off.

An interesting position to address in this category is the closer position. Most of these leagues will have a minimum innings limit, usually 20 or 30 innings. One strategy I have seen people elect to use is to select a reliable starter or two and load up on elite closers. The logic to this strategy is that the elite closers will provide great ERA, WHIP, compile strikeouts and saves. Yes, you will lose wins most weeks, but you can win the other four categories. As long as you can reach the minimum amount of innings necessary, this can be an effective strategy. The issue with this is the elite closers go so early that it can take multiple picks between the fourth and eighth round to land them. That right there takes away from your hitting, especially if you use another pick to land a starter or two.

I have also seen owners go in the complete opposite direction and just completely punt saves. Instead owners will focus on hitting and starting pitchers. They could go as far as having no closers, or if they must start relievers, owners may wait and take closers late in the draft or even take elite setup men that will help stabilize ratios and provide strikeouts. The thinking behind this is you will lose saves, but will likely win strikeouts, wins, and will compete in ERA and WHIP, while having a solidified offense. Remember, the goal is not to win every category, just to win more than you lose.

One last caveat is you do not have to overpay for stolen bases in this format. In Roto, you have to at least be competitive in the overall standings. However, as we have discussed, you don’t have to win every category in this format. A player like Billy Hamilton or Dee Gordon who will provide elite speed but no power, a questionable average, little RBIs and we hope, runs, are not worthy of an early-round pick. Instead, you would be better suited to take a Matt Kemp, Anthony Rendon or Carlos Santana, all players that will help in multiple categories. You can either punt steals or select players that will steal 15-20 bases, and hope to piece it together throughout the season. Stolen bases are one of the hardest stats to predict on a week-to-week basis anyway.

One aspect that is far more important in this format than in standard Roto leagues is consistency. In a season-long Roto league, all you care about is the end-of-the-season numbers. If a player hits 30 homers and drives in 100 RBIs, you don’t care if he hits six of them in one week, as long as he is in your lineup. However, in this format, that one monster week will be great, but the other weeks when he is not hitting any homers and batting .250 or less will definitely hurt.

One player that comes to mind is Justin Upton. I have always said that on a year-to-year basis, Upton is extremely consistent. He has hit between 26 and 31 homers in each of the past four seasons, driven in 80-plus runs in three straight seasons, and stole eight or more bases in the past four seasons. However, getting to those numbers will be a complete rollercoaster ride. Just last year alone, he had four months where he hit below .250, and had five or fewer homers in every month except September, where he had 12. He continually does this every year, and therefore should be valued less in this format. Other players that struggle with consistency are Jay Bruce, Lucas Duda, Carlos Gomez and pointed out to me by my man Frank Stampfl, Ian Desmond. I also am less likely to take players such as Chris Davis, Khris Davis, Miguel Sano, Keon Broxton and Chris Carter. What do all these players have in common? They all strike out more than 30 percent of the time. My thinking is that these players have such poor plate discipline that it is easier to see them go into prolonged slumps than a player who makes consistent contact. Before drafting in this format, take a minute to look at a players split and see if they are consistent. It is extremely valuable in this format.

The last bit of advice I would say is know if your league allows you to change lineups weekly or daily. This will greatly affect those players who are in a limited situation or platoons. For instance, it would be difficult to trust Evan Gattis or Javier Baez in a weekly lineup, because we are currently unsure if they will play every day. However, if you have daily lineup changes, you can plug them in on the days they are in the lineup and go in another direction when they are not. You can also exploit platoons. For instance, two years ago I owned Chris Young, despite him not having an everyday job with the Yankees. Why? Because he crushed left-handed pitching and put up All-Star numbers when he’d get in the lineup against them. When he wasn’t playing, I threw another outfielder in that spot, but when the Yanks had a lefty on the schedule, he was in my lineup.

If you have any other questions on this format, feel free to ask me on Twitter, @MichaelFFlorio.


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