“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.