Commentary

Grand Theft Roto: Trading in head-to-head leagues

Updated: May 17, 2008, 11:07 AM ET
By Shawn Peters | Special to ESPN.com

I recently got on Facebook for the first time and was amazed by the influx of past classmates, pals and former co-workers who found me within a matter of days, each with a digital message asking me to confirm them as a "friend." If I have any idea who the person is, they get a "yes."

Then again, if Congress was investigating someone I hadn't seen or spoken to since we were doing Upside Down Kamikaze shots in our college suite's common room, I'd be much less likely to give them "friend" status.

In short, it's all about context. But for some reason, I've noticed many fantasy players don't put their trade tactics into the context of the league they are playing in.

I know it isn't football season yet, kids. But if you're in a head-to-head league, let's talk about punting.

Casing the joint

In rotisserie leagues, especially 4x4 and 5x5 leagues, the decision to forgo or "punt" even one category is beyond risky. Sure, it works out once in a while, but then again, so does the rhythm method and socialism. With roto punting, all it takes is another team finishing in the top three across the board and you're basically sunk.

Not so in H2H leagues, where you're looking to just win a majority of categories each week, including the playoffs. You don't need to go 10-0 on a weekly basis. A seasons worth of going 6-4 will put your name on the trophy just the same.

In fact, I'd argue that if you're in a head-to-head league that uses 10 total categories or more, you're making a mistake if you're not considering punting one of them.

Let's say your league uses holds and saves. Why would you ever try to win both when relief pitchers that get one, never get the other? You can deal your closers and pick up high-strikeout, low-WHIP middle relievers who get holds and vulture wins for free in most leagues. On the hitting side, are you in a league that rewards OPS in addition to the traditional fantasy stats? Then why would you ever value a .275-hitting speed demon when you can get at least three categories of love from a slugger who takes walks?

The idea is to part with an asset that really benefits you only in one area, for a player who could push you over the edge in the majority of hitting or pitching categories.

Step one is to look at your team's performance over the past seven weeks and study your record within each category. If there is a statistical column that you have lost three-quarters of the time, you should consider dealing your best player in that category while bolstering the others.

Punting wins is as easy as keeping two high-strikeout, low-ratio starters on bad teams -- Tim Lincecum or Javier Vazquez come to mind -- and then filling the rest of your staff with middle relievers who average more that one whiff per inning. Punting saves is even simpler.

On the hitting side, steals is the obvious category to abandon. Less common, but just as workable is punting batting average. The fact is there are always a handful of "four category" players who have intriguing power/speed skills, but a real issue keeping their average up. "Paging Chris Young. Mr. Chris B. Young, please come to the GTR phone." If you can get this type of player cheap, it really doesn't matter whether you lose your weekly batting-average battle by 10 points or 40 points.

Paying special attention to targeting imperfect players who might work with a punting strategy, let's take a look at:

Three I'm stealing
[+] EnlargeAaron Harang
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesHarang is a fun word to say, and a very fun pitcher to own in fantasy.

Aaron Harang: When I mentioned strikeout pitchers on bad teams, Harang actually would've been at the top of my list except I was saving him. Harang is going to have a real hard time winning 16 games for the third season in a row. But his 2-5 record is the only blemish on what has been an outstanding year. He could easily finish 2008 with 200 strikeouts to go with his current ERA of 3.32 and WHIP of 1.12 despite a sub-.500 record. Once you've decided to punt wins, Harang becomes as valuable to you as a Josh Beckett or Jake Peavy, but he won't cost as much.

Edwin Encarnacion: Call me WKRP because I'm staying in Cincinnati for punt-friendly players. Encarnacion has been less-than-helpful in the batting average department -- .259 through Wednesday's games -- but he's an outstanding value buy in head-to-head leagues, especially ones that use OBP or OPS. Encarnacion has walked 19 times with only 22 strikeouts, indicating the kind of patience that suggests his batting average could come around. But even if it doesn't, he's a slugging third-baseman who easily could top 80 runs and RBIs, who will cost you half of what it takes to get a top name at the hot corner.

Zack Greinke: I have a "Royal" crush on Greinke and actually covet him in every format. When a player who showed as much early promise as Greinke and starts to fulfill that promise, I jump in with both feet. But Greinke is exceptionally useful if you're looking to punt a category because some are grumbling about his 38 Ks through his first 56 innings. Personally, I think he'll end up striking out 160 batters -- he has fanned 29 in his past 32 innings -- but if you can sell his owner on a guy with more whiffs and get back Grienke's ERA and WHIP, that's a big win.

Three I'm dealing
[+] EnlargeVictor Martinez
AP Photo/Mark DuncanIt'll be hard to trade VMart, but you might just be better off for it.

Victor Martinez: I'm not saying you should have a clearance sale at the V-Mart. But I think there is something fundamentally different about his swing this year. Martinez is supposed to be a slugger, yet approximately half his balls in play have been on the ground. When he does actually get under the ball, it's getting caught more than 90 percent of the time. V-Mart has tried to address this by being aggressive at the plate, and a look at the past three seasons shows that he has had more pop when he puts the ball in play early in the count. But this season, it's not working, so you may get more by dangling all those phantom homers that are pent up in his bat.

Felix Hernandez: Hernandez is an ace, right? Well here's a list of "ace-esque" things he hasn't done yet over the course of a full season. He hasn't had an ERA below 3.90, he hasn't won 15 games, he hasn't struck out 180 batters and he hasn't had a WHIP less than 1.33. Still an ace? The previously-mentioned Mr. Greinke is a good reminder that young phenoms sometimes take a step back. Hernandez has allowed 45 baserunners in his previous 23.2 innings and his ERA hasn't reflected that fact yet. Emphasis on the word "yet."

Micah Owings: Owings is a winner and on that team the wins will keep on coming. But the league is batting .219 against Owings this year and that simply shouldn't continue. After all, Owings had one of the best batting-average-against marks in the National League in 2007 -- BAA of .253 -- and equaling that for this season would still involve a hefty regression. Owings minor league numbers don't paint him as unhittable, so even with his newly improved strikeout rate, there are just plenty of reasons to think that Owings ERA and WHIP both should rise.

Pulling the job

I have some stuff in the works, but wanted to take the time to respond to some reader feedback on last week's trade of Albert Pujols, John Maine and Aaron Rowand for Carlos Guillen, Adam Wainwright and Carlos Quentin.

Timmydd (ESPN Conversation) wrote:

I think you lost that deal roto stealer unless you have a very nice backup to Albert at 1B.

I had Lance Berkman filling an outfield slot and Adrian Gonzalez at corner infield, so yeah. I was dealing from team strength.

Ken in Florida chimed in:

I think you could of gotten more for Pujols. In my head-to-head keeper league I got Nate McLouth and Joe Mauer.

My hat's off to Ken. In a keeper league, that's a spectacular deal. For this year, though, I like Quentin as much as McLouth, and like I said a week ago, my shortstop cupboard was bare.

Finally, Jarod in Buffalo offered:

You got smoked in that deal. Are you seriously an 'expert'?

No, Jarod, I'm humorously an expert. At least sometimes I am.

Shawn Peters is a fantasy baseball, football and golf analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him your own grand theft rotos by clicking here.

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