Fantasy Baseball: How to play H2H

BY foxsports • February 8, 2011

In years past, the fantasy baseball game was commonly referred to as “rotisserie” baseball. The classic scoring style was the standard when fantasy enthusiasts considered their hardball heroes each spring.

While “rotisserie” leagues still overwhelmingly dominate the fantasy baseball mindset, the popularity (is that a gross understatement?) of fantasy football has shifted the landscape to some degree.

If you’re already feeling the itch and need smack-talking and spreadsheets to bide the time until training camp, you can always set up a fantasy baseball league using head-to-head scoring.

Teams are matched up against one another for an entire week of games. You don’t have the quick and easy resolution of the two-day competitions from fantasy football. Instead, you ride out the highs, lows, injuries and struggles of a full week, while accounting for off-days, day-night combinations and myriad issues (platoons, personal catchers, historical splits, etc.).

The league functions essentially the same as the standard “rotisserie” style. However, instead of adding the accrued statistics and ranking each column as you would in a standard rotisserie league, each individual category is counted as a win, loss or tie. In a league using 10 categories, teams will rack up some combination of 10 wins, losses and ties per week.

A small number of leagues will utilize a “one-win” head-to-head scoring system that most closely resembles the beloved fantasy football format. Again, the individual categories are tallied in the “rotisserie” style and each category counts as a win, loss or tie. However, you’re not logging a huge number of decisions into the standings. The team that captures more category wins in the week receives one win. The team with more losses receives a single loss.

The “one-win” solution helps to keep the feel and spirit of the fantasy football world. With the labor situation in the NFL heating up in short order, this scoring system could serve as a welcome substitute.

Make an Investment

The biggest criticism of fantasy baseball is that the season is too long and time intensive. I understand their sentiments and concerns given the deluge of games, statistical information and the endless parade of injury and transaction notes.

Commissioners of private leagues do have the ability to limit both the number of transactions allowed per week and the time in which they are processed. In this type of system, owners are not forced to feel “tethered” to their computers. It’s the style of game preferred by most employers. Owners make adjustments on their own schedule in advance of a predetermined weekly deadline. It levels the playing field among the league’s owners.

Obviously, those managers who can watch more games, who read the work of beat writers or who view the words and videos of analysts (such as me) will have a leg up on developing stories and rising stars. The advantage just won’t be quite as pronounced in a league using weekly transactions. The fear of abandonment by owners is mitigated somewhat.

Building a Winner


Players who regularly dominate the basepaths rarely contribute significantly to other categories. In 2010, a total of 22 players stole at least 25 bases. Twelve of those players batted at least .275, thereby making at least some meaningful contribution to the team’s composite batting average. Only nine of those batters hit 15 or more home runs. Only five drove in at 75 or more runs.

Fantasy owners need to determine whether a player’s contribution to the stolen-base category outweighs their middling or tepid contribution to the other ranking measures. Rajai Davis swipes a ton of bases, but offers little in the power categories (five home runs and 52 RBI in 2010) with a solid, albeit unspectacular, batting average (.284). Michael Bourn ranked second in Major League Baseball with 52 thefts, but he also batted .265 with just two home runs and 38 RBI.

In standard "rotisserie" scoring, fantasy owners can ride out the highs and lows of a player’s performance, and the only thing that matters is the final stat line (provided that those players remained in the team’s starting lineup). In head-to-head leagues, a prolonged slump from a one-category hero leaves an owner exposed in all of the scoring categories.


As indicated in the description of the stolen-base category above, owners need to be cognizant of how prone a player is to wild swings in production. Players with markedly different first and second-half splits, those with a veritable chasm separating their home and road efforts, or those who play in a tough division aren’t your ideal head-to-head contributors. Those players’ overall totals will read fine and aid those in season-long rotisserie leagues. But the need to micro-manage on a series-to-series bases can be maddening.

Obviously, players are going to be prone to streaks, slumps and “off years.” As you traverse through the ranking process, you can’t let these factors dictate your decisions. But you should be aware of them and build your team accordingly. You can’t build a squad replete with hitters working in pitchers’ parks or pitchers toiling in the AL East.

Power Overload

When owners consider power hitters, their thoughts immediately turn to gargantuan sluggers who load up the home run, RBI and strikeout categories while dragging down the batting average column. Admit it. You consider a player from the past, such as Gorman Thomas or Rob Deer, or you look to the current stat lines for Mark Reynolds or Adam Dunn. That’s a short-sighted and narrow reading of the landscape.

In 2009, 18 players hit 30 or more home runs (declined from 30 in 2009). Fifteen of those 18 players drove in more than 100 runs. Seven of those players batted at least .298, while 13 of them batted at least .270.

To translate the power concept to the mound, a total of 27 pitchers struck out at least 180 batters. All of those pitchers won at least 10 games. All but three of them pitched to an ERA lower than 4.00.

MVPs: Middle Relievers

The head-to-head style of play lends itself perfectly to stocking a pitching staff with multiple middle relievers. Grabbing an elite middle reliever, such as Matt Thornton (who was a closer in 2011) or Daniel Bard, instead of a fourth or fifth starter may allow an owner in a head-to-head league to eke out wins in multiple categories.

In traditional rotisserie leagues, the production of some middle relievers may not be enough to move the needle. They may log solid ERA, WHIP or strikeout totals, but their total number of innings pitched may not weight heavily in the overall statistics. Here, a win or save with a decent strikeout total out of relief may swing a category for the week.

Eschew the use of another middling starter. Go find your more consistent three-category producer. Don’t chase the wins!

The Risks and Rewards of Churning Through Starters

How active do you want to be? How often does your league allow you to add and drop players?

As the scoring week draws to a close, you may find yourself in a dead heat in several categories. The decision point is whether to add a middling starter and churn through players or plod ahead and concede a category.

I propose that your final rotation spot is one that can be rotated to try and boost your strikeout and win totals. It’s possible that each and every move that you make to take advantage of a tremendous matchup explodes in your face, but it’s unlikely. Your ERA and WHIP categories are at risk, but the moves may also serve to secure the other categories.

“Clear the Mechanism”

It’s the mantra that was whispered in the last of the Kevin Costner baseball trilogy as Billy Chapel worked toward his perfect game. (Go watch this one again, even if only to listen to longtime Dodgers announcer Vin Scully). With this draft tenet, I’m proposing that the best option in your lineup is sometimes a player named “Empty.”

There will be some instances where you obliterate an opponent in a particular category and where upside is limited. Earlier I wrote about chasing wins and strikeouts while churning through viable waiver wire options. Here, I’m proposing that you sit down your worst starters (or even the better ones), and avoid the possible implosions and terrible outings. By starting those players, you leave yourself exposed in the ERA and WHIP categories and potentially lose those categories.

Play to the rules of your league. If the league owners have discussed the matter and the practice is allowed, then use it for your pitching staff as necessary.