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RotoBaller H2H Draft Strategy Primer

Fantasy baseball, much like the sport itself, it is one of the more complex to follow closely. Compared to fantasy football, in which nearly every league was head-to-head before the advent of best-ball, fantasy baseball comes in a variety of formats. Many leagues are roto-style, 5x5 category-scoring, with cumulative season-long stats. While that is the most common format, head-to-head is quickly catching up.

In H2H formats, you have one opponent to beat by whatever guidelines your league has set out. The advantage is a greater emphasis on strategy for every portion of the season, as it may be harder to catch up from behind in a roto league after the All-Star break. This requires a different approach to weekly lineup management but also draft day strategy.

In this article, we will discuss general strategies and advise what type of players to target to give you an edge on draft day. After all, we are your secret weapon!

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General Strategy

Fantasy baseball drafts are all about mitigating risk early and taking chances on breakouts later. In traditional redraft leagues, the first few rounds should build your foundation. High-floor players like Nolan Arenado, Anthony Rizzo, Freddie Freeman, etc. are always great picks (around their ADP), given their age and consistent production, even though they aren't flashy. High ceilings are pretty but don't let them blind you. The last thing you want to do is lose your draft in the first few rounds chasing a prospect or sleeper.

This year, in particular, players like Javier Baez and Trevor Story are being drafted insanely close to the first round. We've seen roughly a year of the first-round production that would warrant such a pick. While they could pay off and even overperform their draft position yet again, if either were to bust, as they have in the past, it could be ugly. You do not want to reach for these types of players; if they to fall to you in round two or three, then, by all means, pull the trigger.

Breakout players and overperformers pop up every year. As long as you are vigilant throughout the season, it should be easy enough to pick out a few from the waiver wire and boost your team's ceiling. Just last year, Juan Soto, Jesus Aguilar, Miles Mikolas, Adalberto Mondesi, and German Marquez were all available on the wire at one point or another in most leagues.

Rules of thumb I like to follow include:

  • Not drafting injured or suspended players
  • Finding market inefficiencies with ADP, especially in ESPN leagues where ADP's are oftentimes extremely skewed from the consensus.
  • Grabbing highly touted rookies and prospects who haven't proven themselves yet. Typically, they have reasonable ADPs later in the draft. Take them over guys who "are who they are" and don't provide much upside. Just don't hold to the prospects too long if they don't get called up.


Points Leagues

First off, if you're playing in a season-long points league or simply want more details, we've already got a full Points League Primer available here.

A points league is the most simple fantasy format to play in. Not to say that anyone who plays in one or prefers it is by any means lower than those in H2H categories or Roto leagues, but that the advice that could be given is much more limited. The objective at its core is to score more points than your opponent on a weekly basis. It's very bare-bones and simple and I understand why so many people enjoy it. There is a lot less to worry about (especially with pitchers) and they can definitely be more fun if the scoring format is set up to have high weekly totals.

The strategy to best navigate a points league draft is essentially Best Player Available. There is not much more to that. Either make your own spreadsheet with tiered/ranked players or find one online (we've got you covered there too) that provides you a solid list to go by come draft time.

Points leagues typically favor pitching, therefore it is best to try to grab a couple of aces early. Make sure you know your settings and aren't hurting yourself by grabbing someone who walks too many batters if walks are penalized harshly. More often than not, the best pitchers in points leagues are those that compile the most strikeouts and pitch the most innings. Make sure the Robbie Ray and Chris Archer types are boosted in your rankings because of it.

Hitters might have weird values in comparison as doubles, triples, and walks could be valuable whereas, in a standard 5x5 category league with average, none of those would necessarily matter. Players who are not typically hyped up about in fantasy articles could have a ton of value later in drafts because they compile atypical statistics that do not fit standard category formats. Strikeouts oftentimes count against you in points formats, which hurts top-100 hitters such as Giancarlo Stanton, Joey Gallo, Khris Davis, Justin Upton etc.

A few final points:

  • Know your league
  • Don't fret if a drafted player underperforms or gets hurt. Replacement value is easier to find
  • Streaming pitching is almost a must. Without having to worry about ERA or WHIP, you are free to grab as many starters as you are allowed to per week to give you a competitive advantage over your opponent


H2H Categories Leagues

This format offers a ton of variety. Whether it be 5x5, 6x6, 7x7, with average or OBP or OPS etc., there is something for everybody. The mix of skill required and categorical volatility per week makes it more nerve-wracking than points formats but also more rewarding when you do come out on top.

The way to play the format changes slightly if the scoring is based on one-win per week or roto scoring. If all you are seeking each week is a win, a one-category advantage is all you really need - everything else is overkill. Roto scoring in H2H formats necessitates dominating your opponents on a weekly basis and makes punting a category more damaging.

One-Win Format

This format is the more "punt-friendly" of the two and gives owners plenty of leeway per week. The best way to go about winning your draft in base 5x5 is by focusing on bats who rack up Runs, HR, RBI, SB, and high-strikeout pitchers. Focusing on having an edge in these five categories gives you an extremely high floor to work off of. You allow the percentage categories such as average/OBP/OPS, ERA, WHIP to play themselves out during the week. Streaming two-start pitchers and hitters in favorable ballparks (Coors, Great American etc.) gives you the competitive edge necessary per week.

Rotisserie Format 

You have to be a little more careful when each category matters; managing percentage categories is like walking on thin ice. Neither punting nor streaming are as viable which makes nailing the draft as important as ever. You should target players who do not hurt you anywhere while helping you as much as possible in each category. It is best to devalue a hitter like Joey Gallo if AVG matters or Adalberto Mondesi if OBP matters. You don't want tankers on your team unless they're available at an extreme discount.


Final Thoughts

Unless your league does not allow in-season pickups, there is one point I can not stress enough... closers don't matter! Do not pay for saves on draft day. Take discounts on saves, sure, but don't reach for Edwin Diaz, Blake Treinen, Aroldis Chapman, etc. Treinen, for example, was available in the back-end of the draft last season. This season, he's getting drafted over Joey Votto and Lorenzo Cain. Take one of those guys, and then draft one (or more) of Trevor May, Pedro Strop, or Alex Colome. If you can't find the next Treinen in any of these players, rest assured that there are always saves available on the waiver wire, they just might not come from the most attractive candidates.

Pay attention to closer situations throughout the year and pounce when the time is right or even getting near. Grabbing CLEWs (Closers en Waiting) during the season is beneficial in more ways than one. If they get the job, great! You just acquired a closer for dirt cheap and probably took saves away from an opponent. In the meantime, CLEWs typically provide excellent ratio boosts and strikeouts.

Closers are volatile and fungible. If a replacement-level outfielder struggles with his bat, he could make up for it with his play on the field (or vise-versa). If a closer struggles, he could be demoted and rendered worthless. Do not waste precious draft capital on a closer.

While leagues aren't won on draft day, they can be lost. Hitters are like real estate, keep it safe and invest most of your picks there early on. They don't get injured as often as pitchers and don't hurt you as much if they slump. If a pitcher gets his ratios blown up, that's harder to come back from than a bat in a temporary slump. Risk management is the name of the game on draft day. Take your chances with picks after the first 10 rounds where even the "safe" players often bust or end up on the wire.

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