Head-to-Head points primer

As seen throughout consumer catalogues and popular culture, fusing two desirable products into one super product can be the perfect marriage. The IPhone, the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup and the totally awesome Keytar are just a few examples.

The obsessive fantasy world we live in is no different.

For those that find watching burly 350-pound meat commodities participate in 40-yard sprints and frantic bench presses somewhat engrossing, you have 168 days until kickoff.

However, for those adventurous football fans who could love the ultra-competitiveness of pigskin fantasy blended with the challenge and depth of virtual baseball, your season begins now.

Points-based head-to-head (H2H) baseball leagues are the hottest, most addictive new trend in fantasy. Similar to its pigskin cousin, points-based H2H baseball takes owners on a hypnotic daily – not weekly – thrill-ride where the season stretches over an incredible 26 trash-talking, action-packed, ultra-challenging weeks. The best part: You don’t have to wait until Sunday to comb the box scores.

Unlike traditional rotisserie formats, the intensity is palpable and personal. In roto scoring, averages are generally used as a means of calculating team performances in certain categories (e.g. BA, ERA and WHIP). But in points-based H2H leagues, scoring features are more intimate and customizable. For example, over the past 13 years I’ve been the acting commissioner of a local 12-team points-based H2H league. In my format, we attach specific point values to singles (1 point), doubles (2), triples (3), walks (.5), earned runs (-1), strikeouts (1), walks issued (-.25), hits allowed (-.25), etc. Even bonuses for anomalous performances are awarded (e.g. grand slams, no-hitters, hitting for the cycle). When Tigers ace Justin Verlander masterfully no-hit the Milwaukee Brewers last year on June 12, his owner was rewarded 25 bonus points for accomplishing the feat. Unmistakably, points-based H2H leagues truly engage fans in all facets of the game.

You shout: “Enough yapping already. Where can I sign up?”

If you’re interested in the cutthroat world of points-based H2H baseball, leagues are part of our Yahoo! Plus package. Versatile, flexible and dependable, our game allows commissioners to assign point values to a whopping 31 hitting and 38 pitching categories.

Also, for the first time this season, the Y! fantasy brass is hosting a points-based H2H baseball experts league – the Y! H2H Invitational – to give you, the audience, a glimpse at how similar, yet different drafting strategies are in this exciting format. The draft goes down Tuesday, March 12.

Because points-based H2H baseball is an entirely different beast when compared to the mundane marathon of standard rotisserie leagues, unique strategies need to be employed.

Based on my 13-year points-based H2H rawhide experience, here are six head-strong tips to help you tower over your opponents and capture the diamond gold:

Tips are based on a standard head-to-head scoring format: 1 point/single, 2 points/double, 3 points/triple, 4 points/HR, 3 points/SB, .5 points/walk, 1 point/RBI, 1 point/Run, 1 point/strikeout, 2 points/inning pitched (SP), -1 point/earned run, -.25 points/walk issued, -.25 points/hit allowed, 8 points/win, 8 points/save

1. Consistency is King
The key to week-in, week-out success in the rawhide marathon is the steady tortoise, not the varied hare. Avoid perceived stars, such as Andruw Jones, Adam Dunn and Carlos Delgado. These rollercoaster contributors tend to rack numbers in bunches, are more prone to long droughts and are wildly inconsistent. Case in point: Last year the three whiffers averaged 8.7 “down” weeks apiece. Sure they may finish ’08 with superb power lines, but it only takes a couple of star-faded weeks for your season to sink into an abyss of 0-fers. Live by the axiom: Stars can be deceiving.

To combat boom and bust cycles, shoot for dependable consistency kings. Generally, these steady producers sport adequate on-base percentages, a batting average greater than .285 and are extra-base hitting machines. Guys like Curtis Granderson, Placido Polanco, Todd Helton and Aaron Rowand were are all monster contributors last year who averaged a microscopic 4.5 “down” weeks and finished in the upper-third at their respective positions in total points. That’s the reliability needed to succeed.

2. All-Around is Almighty
Similar to versatile running backs in football (e.g. Brian Westbrook) hitters who score adequately in various categories can positively influence your team’s weekly direction. In 2007, half of the top 30 scorers had at least 12 home runs and 20 stolen bases. To prove just how valued across-the-board-scorers are, check out this comparison:

Player A: 107 walks, 94 singles, 26 doubles,0 triples, 94 runs, 47 homers, 136 RBI, 1 stolen base, 615.5 total fantasy points

Player B: 61 walks, 122 singles, 43 doubles, 3 triples, 112 runs, 23 homers, 112 RBI, 18 stolen bases, 612.5 total fantasy points

As you probably guessed, Player A is Philadelphia master blaster Ryan Howard. Meanwhile, Player B is multi-tooled Orioles outfielder Nick Markakis. Although Howard is going some 37 picks before the Baltimore youngster on average in 12-team mixed drafts, his value last season was nearly identical to Markakis’ box score bonanza. Crazy.

To maximize potential and make your opponents envious, target elite stat sheet stuffers such as Carl Crawford, Alex Rios and Corey Hart. Rip Van Winkles Delmon Young (ADP: 109.7), Rickie Weeks (108.3), Matt Kemp (119.0), Alex Gordon (141.2) and Colby Rasmus (322.4) are a handful of 20-20 upside players that should be zeroed-in after Round 8.

3. Fantasy Chicks – and Dudes – Dig the Longball
Power hitters are Heidi Klum bombshells. Since 2004, 74 percent of those who finished in the top-60 of scoring hit at least 20 homers in a season. Because a solo home run accounts for six points (HR (4) + R (1) + RBI (1)), player scoring potential is fueled by the long-ball.

As captivating as the home run can be, it’s important to separate power hitters by all-around abilities and consistency levels. For example, Paul Konerko, arguably one of the most prolific corner bombers in the game – he’s averaged 35 homers and 101 RBI per season since 2006 – ranked 38th in average total points per year among batters over the past three seasons. Why then is Konerko rated so low if homers are profitable? His lack of extra base hits (2B average: 29, 3B: 0) squelched his overall head-to-head contributions.

Remember to always take Hideki Matsui’s .300 batting average and 25-30 homers over a 35-dinger, .250 Andruw Jones.

4. Target Power Pitchers
For guys that average six or more punchouts per game, serviceable numbers can be scored even in a bad outing. For example, on June 28, 2007 Scott Kazmir posted what many rotisserie owners would consider a puke-worthy line against the White Sox: 5.1 IP, 6 H, 3 BB, 4 ER, and 9 Ks. To the roto crowd the mere thought of a 1.76 WHIP would trigger delusional paranoia, but for the head-to-head owner, nine strikeouts are a silver lining on an otherwise forgettable day. The marginal performance obviously won’t single-handedly dropkick your opponent, but it makes a deplorable day salvageable. Hey, a handful of points could be the difference between a W and an L.

To expand on the importance of Ks, last year 80 percent of the pitchers who finished the season in the top 30 in total points at their position had at least 150 total strikeouts. More shocking, a fair chunk of those players were mid-to-late round selections in ’07 drafts. This year will be no different with powerhouses James Shields (ADP: 106.3) Brett Myers (111.3), Matt Cain (128.4), Tim Lincecum (118.1), Rich Hill (114.1) and Chad Billingsley (150.2), to name a few, all available on average after pick 100 according to Average Draft Positions (ADP) from Mock Draft Central.

Usually, I take one high-K hurler (7.00 K/9-plus) who racks a healthy amount of quality starts and innings sometime in the first six rounds, avoiding additional pitcher temptation until at least Round 8. With so many strikeout specialists available in the middle rounds, you can build a dominant staff with minimal investment. Why would you pass on a quality bat to chase skepticism?

5. Plan Ahead
Regardless of sport, head-to-head play boils down to one factor: matchup exploitation. If weekly roster moves are made wisely, scoring can be maximized.

Streaming is one effective tactic that produces results. Simply put, owners raid the waiver wire each week in search of two-start starters with the best matchups. Whether it’s a couple of games versus a weak opponent or two starts in a favorable park, these rented mules can carry a first-rate load. Hey, ’07 waiver wire mainstay Doug Davis had 19 quality starts. 19! As I’ve constantly preached, you can always find pitching diamonds-in-the-rough any given week.

This type of thinking can also be applied to hitters. For instance, if Wily Mo Pena is scheduled to play a four game set at Coors, start him. If Jack Cust travels to Arlington to face a vulnerable Texas rotation, plug him in. If burner Michael Bourn has a three-game slate versus defensively-inept catcher Josh Bard, activate him. Don’t be afraid to toy with your lineup each week to take advantage of optimal situations.

6. Seeking Scarcity
Steals and saves are the most controversial, misunderstood and misdrafted categories in fantasy.

Although long-bombers are the Cadillacs of head-to-head, top-notch base burglars are also smart money. In 2007, speed exclusive player Juan Pierre finished in the top 15 of scorers and ahead of preeminent slammers Vladimir Guerrero, Lance Berkman and Manny Ramirez. Ichiro, Pierre and Chone Figgins are the best of the bunch, but other premium speedsters like Dave Roberts need to be classified differently. To limit confusion, separate speed players into tiers. Players that rack high on-base percentages and extra-base hits should be placed at the head of the class because they create scoring opportunities. Along this line of thinking, late-round afterthoughts Michael Bourn and Ryan Theriot instantly come to mind as players that could surprise with 500 at-bats. Just remember with any speed-exclusive player, inconsistencies are the norm when compared to power hitters.

Like chicken pot pie punisher Joba Chamberlain views NutriSystem meals, owners need to have an adverse approach to saves in the early rounds. On average since 2002, 13.2 bullpens per year have seen a stark shakeup. Because of injuries, ineffectiveness and managerial chess games, a sizeable percentage of closers are untrustworthy. Sure, having three stoppers on your roster is a luxury, and can be lethal at times, but the reasonable likelihood of turnover enhances the risk. Why take a chance before Round 8? Use your noggin and don’t reach.

When you do finally dip your toe in the volatile closer pool, it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out high-K guys like J.J. Putz and Jonathan Papelbon command more value. Unfortunately, you’ll have to pass on a sound offensive force like Hunter Pence to get them. Instead, take the discount and aim for hidden gem Joakim Soria (ADP: 159.2) in the later rounds. A certified power closer who posted a dynamite 2.48 ERA, 17 saves and 75 strikeouts in 69 innings last year, Soria has the stuff and demeanor to be spectacular.

Finally, don’t freak out when top-tiered closers run dry on draft day. At some point, the waiver wire will churn out a saves saint, or ten.

Oh, and if you’d rather flirt with unattractive women in an inebriated state at your favorite watering hole than do research, starting Week 1, the Noise’s “Weekly Rundown” returns to breakdown all the numbers you need to set a winning lineup.

Brad "The Big Noise" Evans has obsessed about his fantasy teams since the days when Jeff George had value. Yahoo! Sports fantasy’s resident baseball, football and bracketology expert, Brad also lends advice on the two-time Emmy-nominated webcast "Fantasy Football Live" each NFL Sunday.
Follow him on Twitter. Send Brad a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Wednesday, Feb 27, 2008