Playoff Strategy: Reacquainting Myself with H2H Leagues

A year or two before ottoneu was founded (so about a decade ago) I swore off head-to-head baseball leagues. The beauty of baseball, I think, is in the daily grind – six months of daily grind, with no one day being more important than any other. Besides, if you are going to make one day count more than another, choosing September, when the rules of the game change and when different teams have such wildly different incentives and goals just does not make sense to me.

But I am now in my second year playing in a matchup league again. I took over a last place team in this dynasty league, barely missed the post-season a year ago, and now I am just a few hours away from my first playoff matchup in years. And the strategy for the post-season is taking some getting used to.

By far the most frustrating thing for me has been the injury/DL situation. This league allows four bench slots and three DL slots, which should be more than enough room for any team, but September creates issues. In the last two weeks, I have seen Ike Davis and Justin Masterson go down with injuries that, under normal circumstances, would mean DL stints, allowing me to stash and replace them. Instead, with infinite roster space, the Mets and Indians chose not to DL either of them, forcing me to cut Davis and to waste an active roster spot on Masterson, who is too cheap to cut and risk losing.

The problem of course is that in the fantasy playoffs, missing a single start can be devastating. You lose something like 10% of your pitching stats. If you are in a roto league and sitting on Masterson, losing a start or two, or even three or four, is frustrating but just a blip on the radar over the season. In a one week matchup with the season on the line, one start can be a back-breaker.

I am dealing with a similar issue with Carlos Gonzalez, who would never be on the 25 man roster as a pure pinch runner/defender, but is no longer on the DL despite having zero fantasy value. Do I drop CarGo, effectively handing a dirt cheap keeper to whoever picks him up, or waste an active roster spot on him, too?

All of which gets me back to the real question at hand – how does strategy change when playoffs come into the picture?

I am a big believer in the idea that flags fly forever, and in my roto leagues, I tend to be an aggressive buyer when I think I have a shot to win the whole thing. But a third or fourth place finish is not worth sacrificing the future. The problem is the playoffs make it so much harder to know where you stand. Yes, there is the simple in-or-out question, but beyond that, it is up in the air. I am going to finish the regular season in fourth, but as late as the middle of this week, I was sitting in second. So what does that mean? Should I be aggressive (screw Gonzalez and Masterson, I need guys who can help me win NOW!) or is it not worth selling off keepers when I am a bad day away from the 5th/6th place finish that comes with an early playoff exit.

In general, my advice would be to stay aggressive, but not crazy. For me, that means letting go of Avisail Garcia, a player whose future I think is very bright, because he is likely to miss about half this week with a tooth issue (yes, a tooth issue). It means passing on Cody Asche to pick up Alex Rodriguez who I imagine will have no value next year, but seems like a valuable addition for the stretch run this year. It may mean dropping Danny Salazar, who may be electric but who also isn’t getting enough innings to qualify for wins.

It does not, however, mean dropping a top tier OF and potential MVP candidate (pre-finger injury) nor does it mean dropping a SP with a top-75 ranking and a $3 salary.

How do I plan to float two useless roster slots? First, I am picking up a two-start SP for this week (giving me three total). My first choice is Zach McAllister, but Mark Buehrle is on my radar, as well. Second, I am going to be willing to turnover the rest of my roster to pick up a game played here or a game started there.

And third, I am going to remind myself that the playoffs in fantasy, just like in real life, are more game of dice than game of baseball, and that anything can happen. I think the moves above will help line me up for a shot at a title, but a little luck (get back in the batter’s box soon, CarGo!) wouldn’t hurt.




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21 Responses to “Playoff Strategy: Reacquainting Myself with H2H Leagues”

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  1. tylersnotes says:

    i like the h2h playoff strategy in that it brings some of the frustration and unpredictability of real baseball into fantasy, but it definitely has some issues. in a 16 team dynasty league i’m in, our playoffs started 2 weeks ago so this week is the final week. This is actually a little better than waiting til the final weeks of the reg season, as it means mlb teams haven’t completely given up and are still trying to field competitive teams. I’ve seen some leagues that make the playoff matchups 2 weeks, which is also a good way to make up for the vagaries of sept baseball.

    my strategy was essentially to build a team ready for the playoffs. in my league this meant pitching depth, and not caring about whether i won or lost any given week in the regular season as long as i was in competition for a playoff spot. last year i went into the playoffs as the best team in the league, but lost in week 1 because i was forced to pick up bruce chen as the best available 2 start starter. This year, i was prepared with enough depth that the only reason i lost is cuz Kershaw was slightly less than amazing and put up 0 points for me in his 1st start of the week. That kind of thing happens, hard for me to be mad as i had done the best i could.

    i think h2h leagues work best if they are very deep or very shallow, making it easier to make keep or cut decisions. if you can have 3-5 keepers, then deciding what to do with danny salazar or ike davis becomes a lot easier. if you have a deep bench, then you may be keeping everyone anyway.

    the other thing with h2h is, if there’s a trade deadline, you basically have to get your roster down to guys you’ll either definitely keep or definitely cut by that deadline. if you get riddled with injuries to keepers heading into playoffs, thems the breaks and your year might be done. it’s much harder to justify cutting decent keepers in favor of help today given the variability associated with h2h playoffs.

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    • Chad Young says:

      The deep vs. shallow point is interesting. The league I am talking about is 12 teams, 5 SP, 3 RP, 12 Position players (C, 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, MI, CI, OFx4, Util) and 5 bench slots, but you can keep as many as 13 players. So a guy like Salazar, while only moderately useful this year, is a guy I would like to be able to keep next year.

      There is also an odd situation with minor league spots that results in quite a few useful fantasy pieces (Bogaerts and Wheeler on my team alone) being effectively removed from the player pool, which really impacts depth, particularly at a position like SS or MI, where Bogaerts, Profar, Gyorko and others are basically inaccessible for this season.

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  2. Eric says:

    I’m in the semis and looking into the week ahead for starting pitching. Current starters are: Strasburg, Bumgarner, Wacha, Ervin Santana, Fister & Nolasco.

    In looking into the free agents, I see Nova (@Bal, @Bos) out there as well as Buerhle (LAA, Bal). Was thinking of dropping Fister (KC) for one of them.

    Can you give me your thoughts? At this point, with one start this week, Fister doesn’t seem to be worth holding on to. Thanks!

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    • LuckyStrikes says:

      I’m in the final week of my own H2H playoffs and also have Nova. I’m out-gunned against another team regardless, but I almost immediately decided not to start Nova this week at BAL and BOS because of those lineups, but, when looking deeper, realized Nova has dominated the Orioles this season (2 CG). So, I decided to start him, which means you shouldn’t, because it’s inevitable that he will get blown up in my rotation this week…twice.
      I’ve been playing H2H for years and I’ve now finally decided (after 3 years of also playing Ottoneu), that the roto format (Ottoneu, specifically), may be the best way to go. It’s so frustrating having a great team and then losing in the playoffs when one team can just throw some extra starts out there. Yes, that can happen in MLB too, but it seems extra painful when you have a dominant regular season team and then get bounced early in the playoffs. Seeing guys like Gee and Ubaldo lined up against me this week, I’m likely looking at my second final round loss in a row this season. I vote for Ottoneu…

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    • Chad Young says:

      I hate to drop Fister for one of those two, but I would probably go with Nova, given the choice. If you need the start, it’s a good move.

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      • Eric says:

        Thanks, Chad. It seems to come with the territory with H2H. Fister has one start this week vs a hot KC and never really gives you anything sexy (e.g. Ks). IF lucky he gives you 7 innings, 3 ER, 2 to 3 walks and 4 Ks. I guess I’m just trying to maximize my starters. That being said, I’m sure if I drop Fister, someone will grab him for his start this weekend and he will burn me.

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  3. Rob says:

    Funny, I am in the exact same situation with CarGo and Masterson, only add Marte to the mix. I opted to drop JM for Wacha and plan on holding onto CarGo and Marte in the hopes that I can make it through this week and they will return for the second round. Fingers crossed

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  4. Sgt Hulka says:

    Bryce advice? Also need Stanton advice.

    I am shocked I made the playoffs in this one league.

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    • Chad Young says:

      Not a lot you can do with those guys, particularly if this is a keeper league. If it is not, I am probably cutting Harper – why would the Nats mess with his health in a non-playoff year when they were so cautious with Strasburg last season?

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  5. Joe says:

    In keeper leagues, we found it helps to set a keeper cut off day. We use 8pm, the last Sunday before playoffs start. At that time rosters are set for next year, any changes made after that time, aren’t reflected on your roster after playoffs are complete. Those in the playoffs, don’t have to worry about cutting guys like Cargo, Ellsbury, Jose Fernandez because of innings limits and the Harvey’s due to injury

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    • Chad Young says:

      I really like this idea. Quick clarification – if I drop Cargo after your keeper cut off day, can I basically add him back as a keeper in the off-season? Or is it just that no one else can keep him either?

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      • Eric says:

        Who do this, too. Our “keeper rosters” are locked at the end of the regular season, so anyone dropped or picked up in the playoffs has no effect.

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    • Ruki Motomiya says:

      I like this idea. You could call it “Playoffs Roster Expansion”.

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  6. Cybo says:

    H2H playoffs are just like RL playoffs. Just keep getting in and eventually you luck out and win one.

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    • Chad Young says:

      100% agree…which is why I am not really a fan of real life playoffs (particularly one-and-done playoffs), either. I kind of love the way things work in the Premier League and other soccer leagues – the title comes from the season, and the tourneys are for fun/pride/other titles. That breaks down a bit with the Champions League, but in general the focus is on a full season of success, not a couple weeks of luck.

      This is also why I like the college football set-up. Beat the teams in front of you, and you have a shot at a title. You have to be great in the regular season to win.

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  7. Ryan says:

    Roto rewards drafting well, H2H rewards paying attention all season long. That’s the biggest difference to me.

    I’m in second place in an H2H league with playoffs starting next week and I’m ready to throw all my logs on the fire. I’ve traded away most of my keepable $1 studs (Donaldson, Iwakuma, etc.) to the basement dwellers for big name RoS rentals (Cabrera, Price, etc.) I’ve saved some free agent bucks so I can pay outrageous prices for streaming starters that I will cut as soon as I’m done with them. I’ll even cut my stashes for next year (Springer, Castro) if I need the roster spots.

    Flags fly forever and I know I can always rebuild next year during the draft and watching the free agents early in the season.

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    • Chad Young says:

      I’m not sure I agree about the draft vs. paying attention thing. Successfully rotating players, riding hot streaks, playing matchups, etc. has a big impact in roto, too. And the draft in H2H is just as important, although the focus maybe different, as sometimes you are drafting to set yourself up for September rather than to play great in April. But I think both are a balancing act.

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  8. KB says:

    Right now dealing w/ both Robertson (league that counts holds) and Felix being injured but not DL’ed. Both big losses for the format. I am a big advocate for H2H, but have to admit that it’s pretty frustrating that when you need to win the most (in September), most MLB teams have different priorities.

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    • Chad Young says:

      The rules and priorities are what kills me. Why is Cargo not on the DL? Why should a owner who drafted Harper have to worry that he’ll be shut down while the owner who drafted Marte knows his team will fight to get him back in the lineup? And we let this time of year decide who wins? Bah.

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  9. Ben Thompson says:

    I was in a similar situation with CarGo, only I was sitting in 8th a few weeks back – 6 team playoff/14 teams. I decided to make a gamble and dealt him for Alex Gordon + a sizeable draft pick upgrade for next season. I wound up 6th, making the playoffs while the team I dealt with missed out. I’ve also managed to knock off the #3 seed already and am up against #1 this week

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  10. Cybo says:

    A couple things I like about H2H vs roto is in H2H the season is never over even if you’re in first place. There’s always work to be done unless you’re out of the playoff picture for your league. Roto leagues are often decided before Sept even starts which is really lame for everyone but whomever is winning. H2H is also a lot harder to win beacause of this. In roto leagues if you have the best draft you will probably win. At least its much more likely then in a H2H. All in all I like fantasy baseball however its played but only H2Hs can offer you exciting matchups every week that go to the Sunday night baseball game wire.

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