If you're willing to legally change your name to Peyton Manning when the home team loses, take pleasure in endless Terrell Owens media soap operas and/or believe a date with a scantily clad pigskin pom-pom pusher is possible, you're only 134 days away from the start of your fantasy season. Yep, it's a beer-line-at-halftime-long NFL offseason.
Come on, rip into a box of Cracker Jacks! What else are you going to do? Waste your summer listening to John Cougar Mellencamp's football anthem "Our Country" and reminisce about the season?
To quench your thirst for cutthroat fantasy, get off your can and signup for a points-based head-to-head baseball league. Similar to its pigskin cousin, head-to-head baseball takes owners on a daily, not weekly, thrill-ride where the season stretches over a whopping 26 trash-talking, action-packed weeks. The best part: You don't have to wait until Sunday to comb the box scores.
Before you type "Enlarged Peavy" as your team nickname, understand this: compared to the marathon rotisserie format, head-to-head baseball is an entirely different beast where fresh, unique strategies need to be employed.
Based on my 12-year head-to-head rawhide experience, here are six head-strong tips to help you tower over your league:
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), .5 points/inning pitched (RP), -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 this marathon is the steady tortoise, not the varied hare. Avoid perceived stars, such as Andruw Jones, Adam Dunn and Richie Sexson that tend to rack numbers in bunches, are more slump prone and are largely inconsistent. Case in point, last year the three whiffers averaged eight "down" weeks apiece. Sure they may have superb end-season 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 an on-base percentage above .350, a batting average greater than .285 and are extra-base hitting machines. Guys like Garrett Atkins, Adam LaRoche, Lyle Overbay, and Raul Ibanez are all unheralded contributors who averaged a microscopic 4.5 "down" weeks and finished in the top-15 at their respective positions in total points. That's the reliability needed to succeed.
2. All-Around is M-O-N-E-Y
Similar to versatile running backs in football, a la Steven Jackson, hitters who score adequately in various categories can positively influence your team's direction each and every week. In 2006, 20 of the top 30 players in total scoring had at least 15 home runs and 15 stolen bases. To prove just how valued across-board-scorers are, check out this comparison:
Player A: 98 singles, 25 doubles, 1 triple, 104 runs, 58 homers, 149 RBI, 0 stolen bases, 700.0 total fantasy points
Player B: 128 singles, 30 doubles, 17 triples, 122 runs, 19 homers, 81 RBI, 64 stolen bases, 766.5 total fantasy points
As you probably guessed, Player A is Philadelphia master blaster Ryan Howard. Meanwhile, Player B is Mets speed demon Jose Reyes. Although Howard ranked third overall in total points among hitters, his value was dwarfed 66.5 points by Reyes' box score bonanza. Crazy.
To maximize potential and make your opponents envious, target elite stat sheet stuffers such as, Carl Crawford, Jimmy Rollins and Johnny Damon. Rip Van Winkles Coco Crisp, Alex Rios, Mike Cameron, Josh Fields, Chris B. Young and Jeremy Hermida, are a handful of 20-20 upside players that should be zeroed-in on after Round 8.
3. Fantasy Chicks-and Dudes-Dig the Longball
Power hitters are Gisele Bundchen (Oh, to be Tom Brady!) bombshells. Since 2004, 72 percent of those who finished in the top-60 of scoring hit at least 20 homers or more in a season. Because a solo home run accounts for six points (HR+R+RBI), player scoring potential is fueled by the longball.
As captivating as the home run can be, it's important to separate power hitters by all-around abilities and consistency levels. For example, Troy Glaus, arguably one of the most prolific corner bombers in the game, averaging 37.5 homers per season since 2005, ranked 80th in average total points per year over the past two seasons. Why then is Glaus rated so low if homers are profitable? His .250 batting average and lack of extra base hits squelched his overall head-to-head contributions.
Remember to always take Hideki Matsui's .300 batting average and 30 homers over a 40-dinger, .240 Adam Dunn.
4. Target Power Pitchers
For guys that average six or more punch-outs per game, even in a bad outing, serviceable numbers can be scored. For example, on August 30, 2006 Aaron Harang posted what many would consider a puke-worthy line against the Dodgers: 6 IP, 10 H, 2 BB, 4 ER, and 7 Ks. To the roto crowd the mere thought of a 2.00 WHIP would trigger delusional paranoia, but for the head-to-head owner, seven 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 every pitcher in the starter top-25 had at least 150 total strikeouts. More shocking, a fair chunk of those players were mid-to-late round selections in '06 drafts. This year will be no different with powerhouses Felix Hernandez, Brett Myers, Cole Hamels, Matt Cain, Jonathan Papelbon, Rich Hill, Ian Snell, John Patterson and phenom Homer Bailey, 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 who racks a healthy amount of quality starts 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 dominate staff with minimal investment. Why would you pass on a quality bat to chase skepticism? Ideally, seek inning eaters with a K/9 mark of 7.00 or higher.
5. Plan Ahead
Regardless of sport head-to-head play boils down to one commonality: 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, '06 waiver wire mainstay Claudio Vargas had 16 quality starts. 16! 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 Jacque Jones is scheduled to play a four game set at Coors, start him. If Milton Bradley travels to Kansas City to face a flappable Royals rotation, plug him in. If burner Kenny Lofton has a three-game slate versus defensively-inept catcher Victor Martinez, 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 smart money. In 2006, speed exclusive players Juan Pierre and Chone Figgins finished in the top-40 of scorers and ahead of preeminent slammers Aramis Ramirez, Mark Teixiera and Paul Konerko. Ichiro, Pierre and 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. Place high on-base percentage and extra-base hit rackers who bat at or near the top of the order at the head of the class because of their ability to create scoring opportunities. Along this line of thinking, late-round afterthoughts Chris Duffy and Ryan Freel 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 beluga whale Bob Wickman views NutriSystem meals, owners need to have an adverse approach to saves in the early rounds. On average since 2000, 10 bullpens per year have seen a stark shakeup. Because of injuries, ineffectiveness and managerial chess games, a sizeable percentage of closers are untrustworthy.
Sure, 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 diaper-wearing astronaut to figure out high-K guys like Billy Wagner and J.J. Putz command more value. Unfortunately, you'll have to pass on a sound offensive force like Prince Fielder to get them. Instead, take the discount and aim for hidden gem Jose Valverde in the later rounds. A certified power closer who posted a dynamite 1.90 ERA, four saves and 26 strikeouts in his last 22 innings of 2006, Valverde has the stuff and renewed confidence 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 clean the kitty litter box than research, starting Week 1, I'll be starting my "On Deck" column, which will breakdown all the numbers you need to set a winning lineup each week.
- John Cougar Mellencamp