Preparation H2H, part 1: ride-or-die

“The will to win is important, but the will to prepare is vital.”
– Joe Paterno, Penn State Football Coach

Everybody wants to win, but few have the drive to prepare. Since I started writing for The Hardball Times, I learned there are a lot of well-educated fantasy players out there who know a lot more than I do. I like to think that what I lack in knowledge of vague sabrmetric statistical applications, I make up for it in targeted preparation.

I think most experts would agree that preparation is the key to all success. No matter if you are a head-to-head streamer or a Rotisserie auction junkie, perpetual winning is tied to your unending preparation.

I’m not sure if I actually have an area of expertise, but I grew up playing in a significant amount of head-to-head leagues. There are those in our fantasy grouping that would consider the idea of a head-to-head league as sheer blasphemy.

Derek Ambrosino would be one of the H2H detractors. His points are solid as a rock, and like a fine wine matures, my opinion of the way fantasy should be played has changed more to an agreement with Derek. Why add more luck to a game that is already entrenched with it?

The real truth is that mainstream fantasy baseball players seek to get the same enjoyment out of fantasy baseball as they would out of playing real baseball. This “feeling” is best achieved in the H2H format.

I don’t think anyone would debate the weekly battle that ensues out of a head-to-head league can be intense, especially when it involves a co-worker or buddies from high school—or better yet, both. The rivalries and trash talk born out of these leagues spills over into everyday life. A roto league that has weekly lineup changes cannot possibly generate the same kind of passion.

With all that said, the driving force behind this article is to better understand how to be competitive in a head-to-head fantasy baseball league. We will assume that the league follows the standard ESPN settings with daily lineup changes.

Streaming is, for lack of a better word, good. I’d say streaming is the equivalent to greed. Enjoying money is one thing, but when it consumes your soul it becomes unhealthy. Streaming can consume your fantasy baseball team.

A commissioner can limit moves by a number of ways like instituting a FAAB budget, but streaming at its simplest form is unavoidable in all H2H leagues. Understanding how to “stream” properly and ethically can be a stepping-stone to a championship.

Here’s an example. In 2010, you drafted Brandon Webb as your ace. You missed out on picking up Colby Lewis, and you hesitated on Shaun Marcum because of the injuries. Now your team is without a true ace. Forced to scour the waiver wire, you concentrate on two-start pitchers and favorable matchups.

Living by that strategy can be tiresome and risky. To properly incorporate what I’m going to call streaming is by using a technique we’ll call “ride-or-die”. The key to finding a replacement for Webb will not be found in a constant add/drop roller coaster. The art of the waiver wire is entangled into the philosophy of ride-or-die.

Basically, I will examine the waiver wire of my league as well as the minor leagues, and I’ll find a potential stopgap. I like to focus on guys with the most talent that have for some reason or another suffered a value drop. Usually their value has dipped due to momentary ineffectiveness, lack of playing time, or injury. Rookies and injured players can be the best ride-or-die prospects.

Another thing I like to see is an extreme upswing in performance right before I add the player. For a pitcher, that may be as little as two extraordinary starts. For a hitter, we’re looking at more of a week or two of solid statistical output. I like to hear humbleness by the player and praise from the manager.

To properly evaluate a potential ride-or-die pick up, you must use the tools easily available to you. Whether you use our lovely THT Forecasts or the piles of data on Fangraphs, incorporating statistical output with a visual scouting job is essential. Understanding statistics and understanding the baseball being played on the field are great in themselves, but if used together, they can be epic in the process of furthering your baseball team.

Barring the use of a FAAB budget, a waiver wire pickup shouldn’t cost you much. Once a player makes it through the judgment process and nestles himself into my starting rotation, I will tend to be more forgiving of poor performance, though that forgiveness always has a tipping point.

Always remember the key to a successful ride-or-die mindset is knowing when the ride has died. That thin line can be a difference between having Jose Bautista for some of 2010 or all of 2010.

When the ride for your pickup has ended, you’ll just need to give him a slap on the rear and show him the door. There is no room for being a fan or having loyalty in fantasy baseball. Then, you let the process repeat itself. This cycle, if run correctly, can really bandage the wound an injury may cause.

Lastly, I must say in no way am I endorsing the strategy of all forms of streaming. The type of streaming I am mostly talking about here is where a player with an inferior team uses the free agent list like a buffet and runs pitchers and/or hitters to accumulate the most stats possible with disregard to respecting the game itself. A streamer of this sort, I despise. There is no skill involved in this form of streaming.

I know we play the game to win, and are free to dabble in all the strategic devices available to us, but like my dad always said, there comes a point in every man’s life where he has to choose if he’s going to do right no matter what the consequences. Losing money is not cool, but even in a silly game of fantasy baseball, losing my pride is unacceptable.

My advice in dealing with a negative streamer is to outsmarting them. Like they say, beat them to the punch. Normally, a H2H league follows a 5X5, 6X6, or 7X7 category format. See which categories your competitor may be trying to target and beat him to the punch.

Most of the time, a streamer will attack the bulk categories like HR, RBI, SB, W, K, SV and categories they may already be performing well in. In times past where I have had to deal with a streamer, I had to release a few players I was prospecting on and out-stream him. In a perfect world, your league should have parameters that prevent this type of play, but sometimes that just isn’t the case, especially in head-to-head leagues.

If you’re having trouble deciphering the waiver wire of your league or feel that you may be unable to “stream” effectively, we’ll have several columns throughout the year by Josh Shepardson and Jeffrey Gross that should help break down the players that will inevitably provide the most value as the season progresses. I am also available for insight and quandaries as we enter our 2011 journey to glory together.

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  1. Brad Johnson said...

    I started out as a H2H only player until I started to get more involved with fantasy baseball. You aptly highlight the most frustrating part of playing in an H2H league – bulk streaming is utterly talentless yet incredibly effective. It really turned me off from the format in general.

    I’ve always preferred the churn and burn approach to streaming where I’ll target players with good matchups who other owners have allowed to fall through the cracks. I like to be rewarded for spotting good matchups on the wire rather than throwing together as much slop as possible.

  2. mrkwst22 said...

    Maybe I missed some important point in your article, but it sure seemed to me that you approve of ‘streaming’ as long as it meets your ideal of ‘ride and die’ (whatever the hell that means…..) and you ‘despise’ those who try to use the tool to better a weak team.

    What a crock! I’ve heard circular arguments before but yours takes the cake.

    Streaming is a just a tool. But to rely on it solely to win would be as big a mistake as not replacing a single player from your draft. And how many times you as an owner will use the tool will depend on the vagaries of the season. How many times you stream a single position totally depends on the player’s skills, history, and performance up to the point you sign him.

    There is no right way, no wrong way. But with over 30 years experience in fantasy baseball, the one rule about streaming or living on the waiver wire that seems to hold true is the more often you use it the less good it seems to do your team overall. So as with everything use it in moderation, but don’t be afraid to use it. And ignore the extremists of either persuasion.

  3. Dylan B said...

    I found the best way to keep “volume” streaming from happening is to add negative cats that punish them. Ones like ER, Loses, or Walks; or even ratio cats like k/9, k/w, ect. I didn’t notice a big difference in the overall value of most players that you would normally roster, but hurt the marginal players alot more.

  4. Samuel Lingle said...

    I’ve won leagues where I just punted ERA and WHIP and simply streamed as many pitchers as possible to win Ks, Ws, QS while having a stable of mediocre relievers to help in QS and HDs and the counting stats. With basically nothing spent on pitching in the auction, or the money spent on starters traded for hitting, this was very effective in many leagues formats.

    I’ve also been in H2H leagues where a strategy like that was impossible because there were too many teams in the league with too deep rosters so you simply couldn’t find enough pitchers to stream.

    There wasn’t much skill involved in the first example, but the league rules were set up to allow that strategy and it was a winning one. It isn’t hard to set things up so that doing something like that is impossible or detrimental to a team. Something as simple as a weekly transaction limit can prevent owners from abusing streaming while allowing smart owners to play some matchups from the waiver wire.

    If its happening in your league it’s the fault of the league settings and nothing else. You can’t expect owners to ignore viable strategies if they are allowed in league settings because of your own concept of honor or pride.

    One of the reasons why I actually like H2H is that a lot of strategies like this are viable. In roto you can’t really ignore a category and win unless you get really lucky. In H2H, you can build your team to ignore saves and its a viable strategy. You could punt average, building an offense out of guys like Mark Reynolds, Adam Dunn, and Carlos Pena in late rounds who produce in most counting stats but not in the one that sinks their roto value, and gain a competitive advantage since you spent less resources acquiring them. You can use things like streaming and take more gambles throughout a week, playing a poor pitcher because you need the extra W or 6 K’s to win your matchup while risking the ERA and WHIP hit, something that could kill you in roto with an innings limit.

    I suppose my response is more tailored towards that article you linked by Mr. Ambrosino, but its just what came to mind after reading this article.

  5. Brad Johnson said...

    fyi, Yahoo no longer supports weekly waiver moves for roto leagues. I’m not sure if that also extends to H2H leagues (it doesn’t make sense that it would, but it also doesn’t make sense not to offer the feature for both league types).

    We wanted to use the weekly waiver limit to prevent owners (mostly me actually) from doing bursts of churn and burn, a strategy I leveraged most effectively last year due to a ton of injuries and the decision to draft only 4 SP in a 1450 IP league.

  6. Jeffrey Gross said...

    Good article ben. I’m with Brad here. I too was a H2H beginner driven mad by streaming, though 2d/3d place finishes annually drove me insane, as I couldn’t keep the value of a no-hitter past the week it was tossed.

    I agree highly that H2H = the hub of trash talk. It’s a shame how “civil” roto is.

  7. Jeffrey Gross said...

    Also also,

    I think Dylan nailed on the head how you stop streaming. I’d recommend GP/IP limits and/or scaling everything to /PA or /IP.

    Turn K to K/9, HR to HR/PA, SB to nSB etc. Depending on your service, you can do this.

  8. Ben Pritchett said...

    @mrkwst22- I think you missed my point. The “ride-or-die” streaming philosophy is a strategy built to repair a void left in your roster NOT to run different guys everyday to bulk categories. For example you draft Joe Mauer. He gets hurt so you pick up Russell Martin. He plays well but begins to fall off two weeks in. So you pick up Miguel Olivo. He plays well for a month then Jesus Montero gets the call, and you pick him up and so on.

    The streaming that I hate is where you start Olivo on day one. Then on day two he doesn’t have a game so you pick up Molina. Then he doesn’t have a game so you pick up Arencibia. Everyday this streamer looks to get games played not talent fixes.

    Hope that explains things.

  9. Ben Pritchett said...

    @Brad Johnson- And that my friend is why the founding fathers ultimately had it right

    @Jeffrey Gross- May we strive to bring more smack talk to the roto world and civility to the Head-to-Head leagues.

    @Dylan B- Great ideas. We’ll stick it to the scummy streamers.

  10. Ben Pritchett said...

    @Samuel Lingle- I totally understand taking advantage of the rules and strategies of your leagues, but you need to see my point that there is a significantly less amount of skill involved in forfeiting cats and streaming the bulks. It’s just not as ethical. I’m not saying I don’t get it, especially if money is involved. But I think you get my point.

    I must also say that I love Head-to-Head leagues for what they offer in the fun department, and I get the argument of mimicking real baseball. Head-to-head just can’t show the best overall team as well as a roto league can.

  11. James Dickson said...

    My league dealt with streaming by capping adds in a week

    I think we have it capped at 13 now. The idea is enough that you’ll never really run up against it in the regular season but low enough to prevent a pure-streaming team to marginalize SP during the playoffs

  12. Kevin Ebert said...

    I like both H2H and roto. They both have their advantages and disadvantages. I love the smack talk that H2H engenders, but that may be because it’s mostly my high school buddies that are in that league. Roto feels more “pure” to me.

    Anyway, we used to have a huge streaming problem in our H2H league. Almost everyone in the league would do it. It was a race to the wire to see who could get there first. The way we fixed it was simple. We just instituted a limit on total transactions. We use 100 though that can be modidfied per league. 100 total works out to around 4 a week.

  13. Joel said...

    It seems like you’re talking only about H2H daily leagues here but there are plenty of H2H weekly leagues where hitter streaming isn’t a factor.

    As for 2 start streaming in weekly leagues, my leagues has a max limit of starts each week (10) and an even more restrictive one for the year (180 for the year in 24 regular season weeks which is 7.5 per week) so no would try and game the system by picking up the Kyle Kendrick’s of the world on a 2 start week.

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