The 2022 MLB season is almost here and the time to start prepping for fantasy baseball is now! This article will focus on head-to-head, or H2H, leagues as the popular alternative to rotisserie-style in the season-long format. If you want to know more about roto leagues, check out Matt Selz’s article from yesterday. Also, be sure to check out ALL of the MLB Draft Guide content from the Fantasy Alarm team!
Head-to-head is arguably more common with casual fantasy baseball players and “home” leagues because it requires a little less strategy, attention and daily maintenance. That’s not to say you shouldn’t be on top of your game to win in H2H - but it’s just a tad easier than, say, a roto league.
Even still, there are plenty of important strategies and tips you need to know to claim the league championship by September/October. That’s what we’ll dive into here with a breakdown of head-to-head fantasy baseball leagues!
H2H Points vs. Categories
There are two main types of head-to-head leagues: points and categories. H2H Points leagues typically assign a given point value to individual statistics (i.e. HR=4, RBI=1, etc). You accumulate points over the matchup period (usually a week) and either win, lose or tie your opponent depending on the competing point totals.
H2H Categories leagues are more common. You select a certain number of stat categories (usually 10) and each category is essentially its own matchup vs. your opponent. At the end of the scoring period in every matchup, you will have a win, loss or tie in each stat category (i.e. 7-2-1 in a 10-category setup). Casual fantasy players tend to use this league setup more because you can still earn some “wins” on your overall record even if your opponent has the better team and takes down more categories - but he/she just won’t win the entire matchup.
Know Your League Rules
This should go without saying for any fantasy sport you play, but it’s especially true in head-to-head fantasy baseball leagues. There are so many little rules and intricacies that you need to be aware of and every league is different depending on the commissioner, league mates, etc. We just went over the H2H points vs. categories types of leagues. But let’s look at a few more specifics in terms of league settings.
First off, know which stats or scoring settings are being used. This will obviously affect how you draft and manage your team throughout the season. As a default, most leagues start off by using 10 stat categories to count stats/points in - whether you’re playing in H2H points or categories. Those 10 stat categories are usually home runs, RBI, runs, batting average, stolen bases, wins, saves, ERA, WHIP and strikeouts.
However, pay attention to which specific stat categories are being used because more and more leagues are moving away from the traditional setup. Some leagues use OBP instead of batting average, quality starts instead of wins, or saves+holds instead of just saves. Commissioners or leagues can add/subtract any other counting stats from the head-to-head scoring nowadays - so definitely make sure you know which stats are in play before the draft.
Along the same lines with these stats, know if there are any minimums or limits on innings pitched or at-bats for a given matchup period or the full season. Usually leagues will set an innings-pitched or at-bats minimum for a week’s matchup to make it more fair and force teams to field full rosters. At the same time, some leagues impose limits so that you can’t go over a certain amount of innings pitched or at-bats. This is important to know for those that like to stream starting pitchers or load up on relievers. It’s not as much of an issue with hitting, but any COVID or rainout postponements could make an impact on the at-bats minimums.
Daily or Weekly
Another important league setup rule to know is if there are daily or weekly lineup changes and waiver adds. H2H leagues can go either way with this, but roster management and waiver strategy can be very different depending on if your league has daily or weekly changes.
If it’s weekly and rosters lock for a full week and/or across a matchup period, then you need to plan your starting lineup ahead of time. That means start your pitchers that may have two-start weeks and play your relievers and hitters that have the most games scheduled that week. This format obviously doesn’t take as much day-to-day management because you set your lineup on a Sunday night or Monday morning and don’t have to worry about it until a week later.
If it’s daily lineup changes, this clearly takes a bigger time commitment each night or morning as you set your lineup every day of the matchup period. You don’t want to end up sitting one of your ace starting pitchers when it’s his day on the mound or have multiple hitters in your lineup that have a day off while others are stuck on your bench. That’ll cost your previous ground in the head-to-head format when your opponent maximizes his own roster.
Waiver moves can also either be daily, weekly or bi-weekly in head-to-head leagues. Daily moves allow you to stream starting pitchers at a quicker turnover and it forces you to be active on the waiver wire either at night or in the morning before the next day’s games. Weekly and bi-weekly require more planning ahead of time as you look ahead to the next week of games and see how pitchers line up with their team’s schedule.
Importance of Two-Start Pitchers
We just touched on this, but it’s important to understand how valuable two-start pitchers can be in the head-to-head format - especially if you only have weekly roster moves. If your roster or waivers lock for an entire week, it’s imperative to look ahead and plan for which pitchers have two starts in each week. Daily moves allow for more flexibility here as you can stream starting pitchers more easily. Still, you may want to add two-start pitchers with favorable matchups before others in your league do the same thing - and especially before your head-to-head opponent that week.
In the H2H Categories format, some teams like to go heavy on starting pitching and the pitching stat categories. If you’re facing one of those teams, then grabbing some two-start pitchers will give you a better chance at competing or winning those categories like wins/quality starts and strikeouts. It might not matter as much in H2H Points leagues if you’re loaded on hitting but adding a couple two-start pitchers off waivers could mean the difference between winning or losing your matchup.
Balanced Roster vs. Category-Heavy
In both H2H Points and Categories leagues, there are pros and cons to either having a balanced roster or loading up on hitting/pitching to stack specific stat categories. Let’s look at both strategies.
In categories leagues, you can make the decision on draft day whether you want your team to be hitting or pitching heavy. Maybe mid-season injuries or breakout waiver pickups change that strategy during the year, but you can target the top-tier hitters or pitchers over the first few rounds of your drafts to load up one way or the other. Some teams will want to essentially ensure they’ll win the home runs, RBI, runs or stolen bases categories and target hitters that are expected to lead the league in those stats. And then they’ll do it a couple times over to stack up the categories.
The same can be done with pitching. If you draft multiple starting pitchers over the first few rounds, then you’re planning on winning the strikeouts and wins/quality starts categories nearly every week. Or you can draft multiple elite closers early and plan on loading up on saves/holds while ideally keeping your ERA and WHIP lower in the head-to-head format.
The cons of going heavy on specific stats is that you’ll severely lack in other areas. For example, if you draft 2-3 power hitters and a couple starting pitchers over the first five rounds then you’re likely not going to be competitive in the stolen bases or saves categories. And if you take a couple closers and a speedster or two, then your home runs and strikeouts categories won’t be as strong.
With all that said, one can easily make up for the lack of certain stats by being active on the waiver wire or making trades during the season. But when it comes to the drafts in head-to-head leagues, you must dedicate yourself to the strategy of going heavy on certain categories - if that’s the way you want to do it.
Then there’s the simple strategy of just going with a balanced roster and essentially drafting “best player available” when you’re on the clock. In H2H Points leagues, most people will go with this draft strategy and try to build the best overall team possible because they don’t have to worry about winning specific categories. You can still go heavy on power hitters or speed or starting pitching, but it’s not as impactful as in H2H Categories leagues. Going with a balanced roster in categories leagues is also a solid strategy if you want to try to win each stat category in your head-to-head matchup - but you’ll have to really hit on those late-round sleepers and find gems on waivers. It’s risky, though, because you’re one or two injuries away from then being at a disadvantage in some categories.
Know Your Opponent’s Roster
It may not matter as much in fantasy football, but it becomes much more important to know your opponent’s roster in fantasy baseball head-to-head leagues - and specifically the category-based format. Like we mentioned earlier, some teams prefer to go heavy on pitching or hitting in the draft - which sometimes forces you to make lineup or roster changes in that week-long matchup.
If you’re facing a team with tons of starting pitching or relievers, you’ll have to decide whether to concede some pitching categories or add a few pieces on waivers to match them. Same thing if a team has tons of speed or power and your team doesn’t have as much. Again, this might not matter as much in H2H Points leagues if you can make up the difference elsewhere. But knowing your opponents’ roster is paramount in categories-style leagues because every team employs their own strategy.
Winning Now vs. Winning Later
Like fantasy football or any other season-long fantasy sport, you must make the choice in fantasy baseball of drafting players that’ll be relevant in the short or long term. Do you want to win now or plan to win later in the season? You can do both and take chances on rookies, sleepers or injured players in the later rounds after you fill out your starting lineup early. However, some teams will take an injured star or a top prospect earlier than most and plan to be without him for a month or two. If you do that, just make sure you take safer picks elsewhere or be active on waivers to win in the early going.
This strategy isn’t specific to head-to-head leagues more so than roto, but it’s important to pay attention to how other teams are building their rosters through the draft so you know what you’ll be dealing with when that matchup comes up. You could face a team in the first week of the season that looks much different than the one you face in July or September.