Commentary

Staff draft: Head-to-head points

Updated: March 25, 2010, 11:41 AM ET
By AJ Mass | ESPN.com

As the old saying goes, "There's a first time for everything."

With the growing popularity of fantasy baseball, not every league has stuck with the rotisserie-styled standings of the game's founding fathers. In fact, one of the more popular custom formats on ESPN.com is the head-to-head points league. Instead of worrying about how many stats you need in each category, in a points league, each one of your players simply accumulates a single scoring value for the week's worth of games. That type of scoring is familiar to those of you who play fantasy football.

Fantasy Baseball Draft  Kit

The ESPN.com fantasy staff held its first head-to-head points league draft on Tuesday using the ESPN.com standard scoring system. Hitters get one point for each total base (a single = 1, double = 2, etc.) as well as for each run scored, stolen base, walk and RBI. In addition, a point is subtracted for each strikeout. In a points-based league, a walk is truly as good as a hit.

As for pitchers, a win earns you 10 points and a save five points, while a loss costs five points. Each out a pitcher records is worth one point, with an extra point awarded for each strikeout. Walks and hits dock you a point apiece, while an earned run gives you a two-point deduction.

The breakdown of teams remains the same: one of each infield position, five outfielders, one 1B/3B, one 2B/SS, one utility player, nine pitchers and three bench spots. We wondered, however, with such a different valuation system in place how much of an impact it would have on who got selected where.

The drafters, listed in first-round order and determined at random, were: Shawn Cwalinski, Matthew Berry, Eric Karabell, Christopher Harris, I, Tristan H. Cockcroft, James Quintong, Pierre Becquey, Dave Hunter and Brendan Roberts.

Let's see how things shook out, what fantasy truisms carried over to this scoring system and what was vastly out of the ordinary for those more used to traditional drafting strategies. Cwalinski is on the clock.

What's the same? Albert Pujols, Hanley Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez come off the board before all others, proving that the cream of the crop rises to the top, regardless of the format. In all, eight of the players taken in the first round are the same names you'll find in the top 10 of ESPN.com's live draft results.

What's different? Roy Halladay and Felix Hernandez join Tim Lincecum to make three pitchers taken within the first 10 picks. The reason is clear: In this scoring system, if you have a pitcher who wins a game while allowing two runs in seven innings, you're probably looking at around 30 points for one day's work and the occasional chance that a second quality start will occur later that same week. Compare that with a week's worth of hitting with a .500 OBP, three home runs and nine RBIs, as Albert Pujols achieved during the first week of play in 2009, which was worth only 40 points. Seems to me that solid pitching, on a whole, is rewarded more than outstanding hitting.

What's the same? Corner infielders fly off the board in droves because power numbers are rewarded greatly without any reason to fret over a hitter's lack of speed. As Harris said, "You don't have to worry if a guy has a low batting average or strikes out a ton, provided he does enough good stuff to counterbalance those negatives."

What's different? Adrian Gonzalez's value is boosted thanks to his expected BB/K rate, which last year was 1.09. Anything under 1 would mean negative points during the course of the season, and only 13 players had such success, given 500 plate appearances.

What's the same? Middle infielders now start to be selected, as the difference between getting an upper-tier starter at each position and "settling" starts to weigh on the minds of drafters. But because of the larger number of starting pitchers being selected earlier in this format, we actually won't end up running through these tiers as quickly as may have been feared.

What's different? Matt Kemp (average draft position rank of 7) plummets to the end of Round 3. Why? When you're not expected to hit 30 home runs and your strikeouts minus walks effectively negates nearly all your RBIs, you're no longer a first-rounder. The stolen bases somewhat mitigate the drop-off, however.

What's the same? The Yankees' double-play combo of Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano fly off the board within a half-dozen picks of each other, and even in a rotisserie-style draft, this is around where one would expect Cliff Lee and Chris Carpenter to be taken.

What's different? Javier Vazquez? Seriously, Tristan? Well, in fact, yes. As he explains, "[Points] leagues mean greatly skewed values compared to roto, and he's one who benefits tremendously in this format, but I doubt people realize that. I'll take the chance he's OK the second go-around in New York." With the likelihood of 200-plus innings alongside 200-plus strikeouts, I totally agree.

Also, Carl Crawford (ADP rank of 9) finally gets selected by Karabell. "I hadn't drafted [him] in any leagues, but when he fell to Pick 38, I had to," he said. Of course, the problem with Crawford is that his strikeouts tend to come in bunches when he starts to hit home runs, which tends to make the gains from his bursts of power come out in the wash.

What's the same? This draft round could actually be for an ESPN.com standard league, as nobody is incredibly out of place in Round 5. Perhaps Gordon Beckham might be a stretch, save for the fact that he'll gain second-base eligibility this season, and in a weekly head-to-head league, that flexibility could pay huge dividends -- especially if the White Sox are playing when other teams have the day off.

What's different? Jacoby Ellsbury's value in rotisserie leagues comes from his ability to help you win a hidden value, and as such, there's no need to take him all that early. In fact, most players who typically are categorized as stolen-base specialists -- the likes of Everth Cabrera, Juan Pierre and Michael Bourn -- probably need not be drafted at all.

What's the same? Victor Martinez gets taken sooner rather than later. As Becquey explains, positional scarcity is readily apparent in this format as well: "For the first 10 rounds or so, I spent most of my time between picks looking at the projected points difference between the top few guys at each position and the next couple of tiers. That's why I took Victor Martinez [here]; the last few catchers taken all score significantly fewer points than the worse outfielders and middle infielders taken. It's a serious disadvantage to have to play one of those guys."

What's different? Dan Uggla in Round 6 seems like a huge stretch to those used to other formats. However, batting average isn't really a factor in this league, so who cares if he hits .230, as long as he hits 30 homers? And even though he finished in the top 10 in the National League in strikeouts last season, he also was in the top 10 in walks, so the damage to his value here is not nearly as bad as you'd think.

What's the same? The first closer goes off the board. In this case it's Jonathan Broxton, but this is usually the time you'd expect to see either him or Mariano Rivera start a minirun on saves at this point in any draft.

What's different? We don't get a run at all. In fact, many teams dispense with taking closers completely, as there's a perception that closers, at only five points per save and not pitching nearly as many innings per appearance as starters, have tons less value. Cockcroft, a points-league veteran, disagrees wholeheartedly. "The worst thing a H2H owner can do is take an 'any-old-pitcher' approach to streaming, just starting a guy because his MLB team is starting him," he said. "Well, what happens when you don't like the streaming options on any given day? Bingo, you activate a closer."

Cwalinski probably stretched a bit with the selection of Andrew McCutchen. " I would have been better off not taking McCutchen in the eighth round and taking Scott Baker, giving myself another good starter, as there was still a good amount of outfield depth available." Indeed, that was one of the biggest differences between this draft and others we've done in the past; as more and more starting pitchers were taken in the first 10 rounds, that left a far deeper hitters pool than most of us are used to seeing at this point in the draft.

Cockcroft puts his money where his mouth is, drafting Joakim Soria and Heath Bell after grabbing Mariano Rivera in Round 10. Hunter selects Brian Wilson and Francisco Cordero, ultimately ending up with five closers when all is said and done. Hunter, who has been around this rodeo before, has a plan in mind as well. "I plan on starting all five of my closers every week in an attempt to stream starting pitching," he said. "I'll keep two of my bench spots open for this purpose. Overall, I came away with a team that should compete for a playoff spot."

Meanwhile, whereas this is usually the portion of the draft where people realize they are lacking in stolen bases and grab Nyjer Morgan and Julio Borbon, Morgan ends up not being drafted at all, and Borbon drops to Roberts in Round 19. This draft clearly has taken many of us out of our comfort zone.

Becquey's picks of Carlos Beltran and Stephen Strasburg make a lot of sense in a weekly head-to-head league. Taking a chance on injured players or minor leaguers who likely won't see the light of day until late in the season won't help you win a rotisserie league, in which stats are cumulative. However, with each week being its own miniseason of sorts, once the players make it into uniform for 2010, they can be slotted right into your starting lineup and immediately make your team exponentially better. Berry will make a similar selection with Erik Bedard in Round 24.

At this point, we're essentially doing what you would do in any other draft: filling required lineup spots, be it a catcher (Yadier Molina, A.J. Pierzynski), middle infielder (Alcides Escobar/Marco Scutaro) or that ninth pitching spot (Kevin Correia, Trevor Cahill), then grabbing depth at positions we feel we might have missed the mark with earlier. If we haven't figured out the quirks of this scoring system by now, we're not likely to make or break our season in Round 25.

There you have it, our debut H2H points league draft. We're going to be playing this one out, so we all can learn from our mistakes and get a better feel for the strategies that work best during the course of the season. Surely, some of us will look back on this draft and cringe at our choices, while others will be able to give themselves a big pat on the back for a job well done. You can see the complete rosters and follow the league action by clicking here.

But when we do it again next year … as the old saying goes, "Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me!" Go ahead and give it a try yourself if you never have. After all, if fantasy baseball begat fantasy football, why can't fantasy football give back the best of itself to fantasy baseball? Head-to-head drafts points and auctions are happening right now in our live draft lobby.

AJ Mass is a fantasy baseball, football and college basketball analyst for ESPN.com. You can follow AJ on Twitter or e-mail him here.