Why head-to-head?

A belated Happy New Year, folks. I was off last week fulfilling my New Year’s resolution to miss more article deadlines. Let’s start 2011 with something nice and potentially incendiary.

I’m just going to come out and say it – I don’t fully understand why most high stakes, competitive, and expert leagues are conducted in the head-to-head (H2H) format. There, I said it. I’m not trying to be a contrarian or an iconoclast; I just don’t see any fundamental superiority of the H2H set-up compared to the rotisserie (roto). To be fair, I understand how some of the H2H dynamics are entertaining and motivating, but, frankly, I think it’s plainly obvious that such a system is inferior for determining a league winner.

The most important thing to understand about the H2H and roto set-ups is that there is no fundamental difference between the two in terms of measuring player production. The head-to-head dynamic of a H2H league is artificial and contrived. There is no meaningful, direct, competition between two teams who are matched up with one another in any dueling sense. The competition aspect exists solely as a contrived binary, and is achieved by limiting the more fundamental and omnipresent rotisserie scoring dynamic. That is to say, the H2H format is is a roto league divided into several incomplete competitive universes and time periods, that’s all. You are still playing a roto league, but only competing with a sliver of the league. From such limited comparisons, the system then extrapolates and awards wins. It turns raw production into victories and ensures that there will always be the same number of wins and losses to go around, and necessitates they get distributed in a certain way.

Essentially, all the H2H format is doing to the game is increasing the likelihood of “bad beats” and decreasing the likelihood that the best owner with the best team emerges victorious. This is done both by forcing teams to compete only against a single team at a time and by slicing the season randomly into chunks of small sample sizes, increasing the likelihood of random variation.

In fantasy football, the frustration of outscoring most of the teams in your league in a given week only to have lost to the best performing team in the league is well known. Given the general nature and schedule of fantasy football, it seems inevitable that the game overwhelmingly embrace this league structure dynamic almost as a necessary evil. But, it doesn’t seem as logical for fantasy baseball—the stats geeky fantasy underbelly of the already stats-obsessed real sport—to embrace such a probabilistically-flawed model. Why are the same folks who read in-depth articles about the mathematical chops behind xFIP voluntarily injecting additional randomness into their fantasy experience?

Some folks claim to like the H2H scoring style because it mimics the one-team-versus-another aspect of actual baseball games. But I don’t think it embraces much of the mano-y-mano aspect real sports do at all. Granted, one can argue the outcomes of actual games aren’t always reflective of which team is actually superior, any more than a weekly fantasy match-up does, but the dynamic of a real game consists of physical players reacting to the actions of those on the other team. There’s a seamless back-and-forth, a cause and effect, a chess match. In what ways does H2H fantasy baseball allow a manager to square off against a competing manager in ways that don’t exist in roto-style fantasy baseball? I guess you can play the two-start pitchers over stronger one-start pitchers, but just about every other strategic decision exists in roto leagues as well. Yes, H2H makes more of the nuanced microtrend—pick up waiver wire hitter on Colorado road trip, add lopsided handedness split player in your line-up when the match-up is in his favor. But such strategies are there for the taking in roto leagues as well, and within the H2H paradigm, their outcome is just that much more prone to randomness that doesn’t jibe with a larger statistically-significant truth. It seems that anything that can be done on a strategic level in H2H can be done on a macro scale in roto.

Why create worthless production and preclude the stockpiling of value? The second homer beyond your opponent’s total, and all subsequent homers in a scoring period, are valueless in a H2H league.

Why submit to a playoff system that lets 20 weeks of dominance ride at full value over 5% of the trial length?

Why take the care to select wise, sensible, and balanced categories only to see that punting one or more of them is a viable strategy? Punting categories in H2H leagues can work, while winning roto league with a “1” in any category is a tall order.

I’m not trying to be overly judgmental here; I truly don’t understand why one would prefer H2H to roto in any high stakes, highly competitive, or expert league. The H2H structure is an equalizer of opportunity that forces sharps to give away a considerable portion of their edge.

As I mentioned earlier, I understand the non-structural appeal of the H2H league. Roto leagues may lead to more deadbeating, as deficits can become insurmountable, or at least seemingly so, early on. I understand that the trash-talking dynamic of a league may be enhanced by the H2H format. But, these points underscore the reason I distinguish expert, highly competitive, and high stakes leagues throughout this article. Such leagues shouldn’t require what is essentially a gimmick to artificially restrain competition and embroil passions and attentiveness.

As previously mentioned, some will defend H2H on the basis that it more accurately mimics a sport. But, fantasy baseball is not the simulation of a sport. Round-robin H2H is a perfectly logical to organize a baseball simulation game, like Strat-o-matic. Fantasy baseball, however, is a puzzle-solving challenge that plays out in real-time based on real-life events. The most just way to determine who is best at it is to allow players to set themselves up into different universes of competition and to compete openly, completely against all others in the universes they construct.

The issues of true skill versus performance and the maddening and mysterious cloud of sample size never sets; such is the fascinating, yet infuriating cellular level of the most beautiful pastime of all. Amid the ever-frustrating, perpetual motion machine that is uncertainty of baseball and our never-ending quest for the game’s Rosetta Stone, why willfully infuse external variables into the experience if you don’t need to do so a motivational tactic? Simply, what is to gain?

Obviously, I was being facetious about my resolution up-top. But, I did slip a bit toward the end of 2010 in keeping up with comments, so I will try to be better at that in 2011. I have a feeling the article should generate its share and I’m truly curious as to everybody’s opinion on this matter.

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Donald Trump
13 years ago

You are right, a roto league will crown as champion the best team 100% of the time, and a h2h league will not do the same.

So why use the h2h format for a high stakes league?  Fun. A h2h league is more fun throughout the season. 

Every Sunday I have players to root for.  Sure in Roto you can root for your guys every day, but in h2h, Sunday has a much larger importance.  If pitching categories are tied up and you have a starter Sunday night, that game carries MORE importance than it would in a roto setting.  This happens every week of the season.  Individual games late in the week are more important, more exciting, more fun. That is huge. The excitement of any one game is like roto on steroids.  The season is a long one.  Making it more exciting throughout, increasing the importance of games, is huge. 

Further, in a h2h format, you care about, and know, the other teams.  This expands the universe of players you are now interested in.  Last year I did not have Lincecum, but there were two weeks in which I was highly interested in what he did.  Same goes for C.C., Halladay, etc.  Expanding the universe of players I am highly interested in is fun.

This applies doubly to the playoffs.  So many games become hugely important, and thus hugely exciting to watch.  In roto, it is common to no longer worry about (or root for) certain categories that are all locked up.  In h2h, you care about every single category in the playoffs.  This increases the excitement and fun.

I find that in h2h, the best teams almost always find a way to make it to the playoffs.  From there, yes, there is a large degree of luck involved.  And I know, sometimes the guy with the dominant team all year loses in the semi finals because scrubs on his opponents team had a miracle week.  But that is how every major sport is as well.  We all remember when the Giants beat Brady in the super bowl, when the Patriots were clearly the best team in the league that year.  Sure, in h2h your players are not really playing against the other teams, but you are playing against them in a fantasy way, and it makes the game more exciting.

Lastly, September is hugely exciting for half of the league in a h2h format, while in roto, September is often only exciting for 2 or 3 teams. We all play this game for three reasons: to show our innate dominance, to have fun, and to win cash.  The having fun part is much greater in h2h format, so much so that it is worth the sacrifice of adding more luck into the game.

13 years ago

How does one get into an expert league?

13 years ago

Donald Trump said it to perfection.

13 years ago


I couldn’t disagree more. In fact, as much of the baseball community begins to float closer and closer toward understanding and appreciating the metrics side of the game, I fail to understand why Roto isn’t on a respirator clinging to life.

There is nothing that is more realistic about roto. In fact, it is about as manufactured a game as it gets and boggles my mind why anyone that is truly a fan and student of the game would want to participate in such a mockery of the sport.

There isn’t anything sexy or quirky about H2H. It simply comes down to analyzing the pool of players and making a determining about who is going to maximize your production in any given week. Whether you’re a power hitter or a speedster, it matters not. If you have the best chance of performing at a high level, you are slotted into the lineup. Which, amazingly enough, is exactly how Major League Baseball is played.

Roto is horrid in that it asks an owner to sacrifice particular areas of production on any given day simply to satisfy the need in another. Are you the league leader in HRs? Great! Let’s Adam Dunn in favor of someone who might get us a stolen base or two.

Just think about the ridiculousness that is Roto for a second. You have one of your players up at bat in the final day of the season. You need a SB to claim the crown. Your player is up there and jacks a homerun—and you’re disappointed in that result? That isn’t baseball, that’s as far from reality as it gets.

Yes, it is all labeled ‘Fantasy’ Baseball, but Roto takes that term and puts it on an entirely different level (only one fantasy step away from Purple Unicorns and a world where the Pirates have a winning record). H2H manages to make the game of baseball as realistic on the computer screen as it is in real life, and for that I’ll take H2H every single time and continue to shun the comical game that is Roto.

13 years ago

roto is awful.

13 years ago

I agree 100% with this opinion. Baseball is a marathon and to divide it up into a series of sprints and pretend that captures the game in any way is something that has been foisted on the fantasy community by football fans who want something to do in the summer.

I understand the concept of fun. I play fantasy baseball for fun as well, but it’s actually less fun for me when I have assembled a quality team with good depth and I run into a bunch of guys having their best weeks of the season a couple times a month. As such, I avoid H2H leagues. There are plenty of leagues out there so in the end, everyone can do what they want.

As for needing a H2H league to enhance your interest in the games or players, I think that reinforces my point of the football mentality. I am a baseball fan, first and foremost. As such, I am interested in EVERY Lincecum start, every CC start, every Pujols AB. I am also interested in every Zach Duke start and every Adam Kennedy AB. I want to see what all of the players are doing. I love the game.

In roto, if I’m out of it in September, that becomes a time for me to try to find a free agent who might help me next season. Or I’ll watch games to see which call-ups seem to have a good approach.

In the end, I think the bottom line in this debate is that those people who prefer roto are primarily baseball fans who use their interest in and knowledge of the game to compete while those who prefer H2H are primarily fantasy players who follow the game mostly just as it relates to their fantasy interests. Neither approach is wrong and there are enough fantasy options out there to satisfy both groups.

13 years ago

Hey Derek,

I think it’s just about fun and the trash-talking between friends that comes about from head-to-head leagues.  It puts in an extra dynamic for roster moves and things of that sort.  With that said, I have been in leagues plenty of times where I got the shaft.

However, I think I disagree on one point above:

“The most important thing to understand about the H2H and roto set-ups is that there is no fundamental difference between the two in terms of measuring player production.”

Using simple expected values to player valuation may not work exactly the same for weekly leagues as it does for roto leagues.  In addition, depending on how your league is set up, ‘punting’ categories could be a useful strategy.  For example, if for each match-up you get a single win or loss, then you would only have to make sure that you dominate in just over half the categories.  That’s quite a different production function than Roto, and gives us a different problem to solve.  Why not have varying problem solving exercises?  You state:

“Why create worthless production and preclude the stockpiling of value? The second homer beyond your opponent’s total, and all subsequent homers in a scoring period, are valueless in a H2H league.”

Exactly!  This is what makes that balance so much more difficult.  Even in leagues where you get a “win” for each category win in each match-up, I think there is a bit of difference in the production function that is strongly related to the variability of the categories…in which case you not only want to have the highest expected value, but there may also be an interest in minimizing variability.  Whether or not you can effectively do that is another question, and certainly randomness plays a role.

You pose the question:

“In what ways does H2H fantasy baseball allow a manager to square off against a competing manager in ways that don’t exist in roto-style fantasy baseball?”

Well, in weekly leagues you feel pretty helpless.  However, I’ve had a LOT of fun in daily lineup H2H leagues where you tweak your lineup each day, or save your weekly start limit through the last day to know which categories to go after.  That game theory portion actually does put in another fun element of the game (we play 2-week sessions, rather than 1).

Now, the playoff system is something I do have an issue with.  But we all know the implications of this before joining a league.


I could pose a similar question about any fantasy league:

Why do we bother to participate in fantasy sports?  Everyone has all the information and the same resources to win.  So what’s the point?  In the end, if everyone is using almost identical valuation systems, then the actual variation in performance is simply due to luck.

To which you may say, “Well, my valuation system is better and I know more about the players.”  Which is an egotistical answer…a response that about 99.9% of the people out there would respond with (including myself in many instances).  But when it comes down to it, even Roto in the days of the internet and free information is a product of three factors.  This happens to be the subject of my next fantasy article elsewhere.

13 years ago

Brilliant article. 

For me, H2H absolutely sucks as a format which is why fantasy football is a worthless, maddening roll of the dice every year.  There is absolutely no skill involved in fantasy football so I can’t imagine why anyone would want to bring that aspect into fantasy baseball.

I’ve heard the arguments put forth for H2H as outlined by Donald Trump and BTC and they just don’t hold any water for me.  H2H is rolling dice, not determining which owner is most skilled as it’s really no fun to lose on a dice roll.

If I have to hear another H2H-supporter cite a real life game where an upset occurred a la Trump with his Giants over the Pats, I might scream.  What does that have to do with H2H fantasy?? 

The Giants controlled their beating of the Pats.  In H2H fantasy sports, you have no ability to defend your opponent and actually impact their outcome.  Thus it’s not really H2H at all and has no relation to any real life game that has ever occurred on a field.  The author covered this matter perfectly in his column, as well. 

H2H proponents can support their inferior game all they want, but they have to stop citing real-life games if they want to be taken seriously. 

“We all play this game for three reasons: to show our innate dominance, to have fun, and to win cash.  The having fun part is much greater in h2h format, so much so that it is worth the sacrifice of adding more luck into the game.”

H2H routinely kills #1 which subsequently kills #2 and seriously impacts the chance at #3.  Long story short, H2H just sucks as a format.  It’s the lowest common denominator of fantasy sports which is why football uses it. 

BTW, the last line of the quote is purely an opinion that I disagree wholeheartedly with as do many others.  I realize some will agree with Trump that removing a great deal of the skill in addition for more of what they determine to be fun is worth it, but I couldn’t disagree more when my money is on the line. 

I think Derek did a great job addressing everything that H2H supporters generally throw back at opponents of the game and while that doesn’t mean you have to agree with him and disband your H2H league, it does a pretty good job of showing that the format is in no way superior in determining a winner and likely quite inferior on the whole.

13 years ago

Forgot the end:

1) Luck
2) Time spent on your lineup
3) Taking advantage of league structures & nuances

Since the ‘evaluation’ aspect is out the window and left to the likes of Last Player Picked, finding nuances in league structures seems to be the most readily apparent problem-solving exercise in fantasy these days.  To make this more difficult, we vary the league structure (obviously, not to your liking).

13 years ago

@scott lovely of you to join the conversation and make wild claims about the motivations of H2H players and roto players, and I’m sure that football-baseball-H2H connection has been thoroughly tested and researched(laugh). Head to head is actually how BASEBALL works. Teams play each other, and then they accumulate records, then the best teams at the end of the season play against each other in situations that are not equivalent to the regular season. Baseball has a playoffs (not sure if you knew that given all those Zach Duke starts you’ve been watching, consider your fandom “proven”). Roto isn’t any “truer” to baseball than H2H. The brass tax is that H2H has a playoff system, and maybe it grinds your gears that the better team doesn’t always win the league, but that is part of it, and that is part of baseball, and so it is part of fantasy baseball. Roto is an attempt by weak-minded baseball fans to stabilize fantasy baseball cause such weak-minded individuals can’t handle the swings.

Generalizations are easy. But by all means, continue to play that “purer” form of fantasy baseball, you know, the one where no one actually competes against one opponent at a time (like baseball) and the one that doesn’t have a playoff system (like baseball) and the one that tries oh so hard to keep that pesky randomness away from determining a championship (unlike real life, in which baseball is played). Oh yeah, and H2H allows for more frequent and specific trash talk between friends, which is why we are all fans in the first place.

Donald Trump
13 years ago

Scott said ” I am also interested in every Zach Duke start and every Adam Kennedy AB”.
Dude, you have big problems.

13 years ago

@ Millsy and @ Derek
to piggyback on this the question “In what ways does H2H fantasy baseball allow a manager to square off against a competing manager in ways that don’t exist in roto-style fantasy baseball?” seems really obvious to me. If I am playing my buddy in a week I get to go head to head with him, we play each other, that’s the difference, the all-important difference. We play each other for a week, then move on to another, instead of playing the whole league for a year, which is certainly not as personal as a H2H matchup. Every sunday in H2H you get the chance to see if your squad can either pull off a miracle or ward off a miracle, every sunday in roto is just another sunday in roto.

13 years ago


I agree with your characterization.  Like I said, the fun of the dynamics of the match-up and trash-talking make the league a lot of fun.  Especially when you win.  Knowing that there is a relatively large amount of luck involved, however, makes it all the more frustrating when you lose and your buddy starts trash talking.  But all of that is fun.

13 years ago

@paul “H2H proponents can support their inferior game all they want, but they have to stop citing real-life games if they want to be taken seriously.”

because the best team always wins in real-life? or because real-life doesn’t involve chance? or because real-life games have playoffs like H2H does?

Sounds like another weak mind that can’t handle the swings, the fun is in trying to be dominant within a system that involves randomness and chance. The fact that your season can be ended in a heartbeat because some guy you were playing picked up a bunch of spot starters and burned you on sunday is awesome, terrible, and hilarious.

I should mention, Im not a football fan nor do I play fantasy football.

13 years ago

LOL at kyle. 

“to piggyback on this the question ‘In what ways does H2H fantasy baseball allow a manager to square off against a competing manager in ways that don’t exist in roto-style fantasy baseball?’ seems really obvious to me. If I am playing my buddy in a week I get to go head to head with him, we play each other, that’s the difference, the all-important difference. “

What I think you’re failing to realize is that you don’t play each, not at all actually.  He plays his players against their scheduled opponents which may favor or hurt him and you play your players against their scheduled opponents which again may go for or against you. 

Yall have no capacity whatsoever to impact each other’s outcome as in real H2H games that occur on a field.  Thus, you’re not emulating real life baseball any more than Roto or any other format.  This is the weakest argument H2H players have for their format yet they throw it around as if it is their strongest. 

I don’t begrudge people preferring H2H if they want to add tons more risk to their money spent, but I do have a problem with them trying to tell me it’s a superior format for determining an owner’s skill at fantasy baseball (or football for that matter). 

You have to contend with your individual league’s schedule, the MLB schedule itself and injuries are much more difficult to overcome.  Plenty of factors to overcome in H2H, except of course an actual opponent, as nothing you do actually goes against them.  No matter how well your team plays in a given week, you are still at the mercy of how your opponent’s team does independent of yours completely.

13 years ago

Oh kyle, still toting that silly, worthless real-life argument, are you?  Until you understand that the aspects of fantasy H2H and real-life H2H aren’t similar at all, you’re going to continue to think that’s a viable argument.  I’d encourage you to stop calling others weak-minded as it’s coming off as a pot calling the kettle black type situation when you continue to use such a futile argument to support your opinion. 

I must be a weak mind because I don’t like putting my money up on a dice roll.  Good call there.  Way to move the discourse forward constructively. 

“The fact that your season can be ended in a heartbeat because some guy you were playing picked up a bunch of spot starters and burned you on sunday is awesome, terrible, and hilarious. “

It may be awesome, terrible and hilarious to you.  It’s just terrible to me which is why H2H sucks and I have no desire to play it.  The problem with your type, as I mentioned earlier, is that you’re forcing H2H down people’s throats as a better option.  It’s not.  You can like it all you want, but stop trying to make others like it and hurling insults at them when they don’t.

13 years ago

everyone on the roto boat is obsessed with the most “deserving” manager being given the championship. weak minds. if you need a championship to validate your fantasy skills or baseball fan prowess then I pity you. Losing in a dramatic fashion is way more fun and memorable than everything working out just as it should so no one who is undeserving beats anyone and all is right in the universe. wah wah wah.

13 years ago


This discussion has gone in an unfortunate direction.  The position of the article—a value judgment on fantasy types—I guess tends to push it that way. 

No, H2H does not make it more like real life.  Yes, it does infuse a bit more emotion on a regular basis.  The rest is a simple preference and is related to why you play fantasy in the first place.  Is that so hard to agree on?

13 years ago

No Millsy, it’s not hard to see that at all, but when some clown comes around calling everyone who doesn’t prefer his method “weak-minded”, it moves the discourse in the complete opposite direction.

13 years ago

Oh paul, so cute are your thoughts on roto and how you think it isnt a dice roll, as for the weak minds rhetoric, I am continuing that because of an earlier comment.

I shall maintain that H2H is a better way to do things. And I shall continue to throw insults in the face of roto-loving fools.

13 years ago

@paul the weak minds rhetoric came from this comment, which basically said that if you play H2H it’s likely that you are a fantasy fan first, and a baseball fan second. hopefully this should calm your concerns about my motivations paul.

13 years ago

Very mature of you, kyle.  I’m sure you get a lot of people to take you seriously with that approach not just here, but throughout your life.  You seem like a real treat to be around especially when someone disagrees with something you believe. 

You’ve really added a lot to the discussion and made it really pleasant to debate… I’m sure those on your side of the fence in support of H2H are loving that you’re out in front hurling insults like a child.

13 years ago

here’s the comment that should have been quoted in my previous post

“I think the bottom line in this debate is that those people who prefer roto are primarily baseball fans who use their interest in and knowledge of the game to compete while those who prefer H2H are primarily fantasy players who follow the game mostly just as it relates to their fantasy interests.”

13 years ago

Yeah, I’m gonna go with the H2H crowd here.

Roto is fun in theory.  The problem is that it’s just less fun by midway through the season, when some teams are clearly out of it, thus leading to deadbeat owners.  Might not be as much of a problem in expert leagues, but still.

Meanwhile H2H leagues are always fun, as everyone always feels involved, and even the teams far behind can get some nice revenge in playing the spoiler.  That spoiler-potential just simply doesn’t exist in a roto league.

13 years ago

thanks Paul, you’re a true southern gentleman

James Dickson
13 years ago

Roto is boring because it requires devoting more of your time/life to it to be good. That and your team can legitimately be dead and pointless 2 months into the season, if not sooner

I prefer playing with happy idiots who can nonetheless beat me due to stupid luck. Call me crazy but it’s true

13 years ago

why don’t we just add up run differentials and skip the world series?

Roto is no-go

13 years ago

Roto and H2H both have their merits…it really comes down to the actual league you are playing in.  In the league I play with my buddies for the last nine years, H2H is the way to go for many of the reasons cited by Donald Trump.  Even though we play for money, it wouldn’t be half as fun without the weekly matchups, the trash talk, the important weekend games. 

However, when I play in money leagues with strangers, I generally go for roto leagues because my goals are different.  Although I’ll toss in an H2H money league with strangers on occasion, I generally prefer roto because it penalizes people for making foolish moves and generally rewards a solid team and solid team management.  In H2H, you can gamble on waiver wire pickups for a week and if they bomb, they don’t destroy you for the year.  My ultimate goal in money leagues is to use whatever knowledge I have to make money, not to talk trash and not for bragging rights (although that’s nice).  It’s a little more business and a little less personal. 

However, if I had to choose one to play exclusively, I would pick H2H.  I personally find them much more enjoyable.

13 years ago

First of all, I’d like to question the concept of an “expert league”.

Sure, the managers in an “expert league” may know more about baseball than the average person, and may be able to project players’ performances better.

But the game of baseball has a lot of luck included.
What if you owned Pedroia, Youkilis & Kendry Morales last year? Sure, it’s fun to project players’ performances and find out the reasons why. But any given player can have a fluky good or bad year.

Fantasy baseball does require a certain degree of skill, but even a newbie could win an “experts’ league” one year given the circumstances.

Fantasy baseball should be fun before anything else. I don’t see the purpose of betting money playing fantasy baseball, except if you have money to spare.

Yes, the best team in the regular season can lose out in the playoffs, but that’s what makes it fun, and that’s how the San Francisco Giants won the WS last year.

Do I prefer to add a little fun to the whole experience or do I prefer not adding another 5% luck (not counting playoffs)?

13 years ago

It really doesn’t matter to me what any one person finds more enjoyable (nor should that matter to anyone else – it is simply a matter of preference). However, I do find it odd when someone states that Roto is somehow ‘more realistic’ than H2H. There is nothing realistic about Roto. It isn’t designed to benefit overall production, rather production in very specific categories that don’t reflect the way an MLB team operates in any fashion.

Further, Roto isn’t based upon what the game of baseball (and all sports) has as its most basic and ultimate goal – the win. In Roto, you don’t achieve ‘the win’ until the end of the season and the reality is that you are not competing against any other team as a whole team, but rather a distinct set of criteria that lead you in many cases to never actually put your ‘best’ team on the field (best being defined as your most productive players overall).

Let’s take this toward the metric end of things – Roto doesn’t play toward the idea of Wins Above Replacement numbers in any way while that is exactly (albeit not consciously) what H2H lends itself to—placing the absolute best, most productive players on the field regardless of what that means (50 HR guy? 70 SB guy? Doesn’t matter so long as they are the optimal producer on your roster).

Finally, the idea of avoiding ‘luck’ in Roto is simply a case where people don’t want to feel like they get screwed in the end. Does the best team always win in H2H? Absolutely not. Does the best team always win in ANY sport? Absolutely not. The Giants won the World Series last year – they were not the best team. They were the hottest, and again that is where H2H parallels itself to MLB much closer than Roto ever could.

My own perspective is that I play fantasy baseball in order to ‘play out’ my ‘fantasy’ of being a General Manager. Roto doesn’t achieve that because no manager would pull their premier slugger for a speedster simply in hopes of that player getting on base to steal the team a base. That’s the furthest thing from reality in MLB that you can find…and that is exactly what Roto is.

If you like Roto, great. I’m sure others have a tremendous time with it, but it isn’t for the person who wants to come as close as they can to being in the front office of an actual MLB franchise.

13 years ago

Under roto, the Cincinnati Reds would have been in the World Series.  They won the NL team triple crown.  We all know the best team in baseball doesn’t always win the World Series either. 

It’s the intangible aspect of the game that we like, the competition.  Bragging rights, crapping on someone’s playoff hopes, dominating a division over a period of years, etc.  Roto doesn’t offer that and we’re all willing to sacrifice “the best team” for it.

tony starks
13 years ago

Great idea for an article gents. As you probably expected it seems to be causing quite a stir here in the comments section. Just to be clear, is this article comparing rotisserie vs rotisserie H2H or is it comparing roto to the H2H pts based format? Because everyone is up in arms over this debate so I think it’s important that we know what we’re disputing. I consider roto and roto H2H to be very similar. You either like chasing stats or you don’t. Whereas the H2H pts based format is similar to fantasy football as you accrue pts over the course of the week to determine the outcome. You’re still chasing stats, just not categorically. You want the player(s) who will contribute the most overall points per the league’s scoring system.

Now while I do agree that both formats have their merits, I am primarily an advocate for the H2H pts based format. And I thought it would be worthwhile to share that there is a way to limit the “luck” factor in this format. This way is called Power Rankings. This is offered in CBS (and possibly others) and what it does is it counts your weekly H2H record as 1/3 of your standings, your total pts scored as another third, and your breakdown record as the final third. The breakdown is what your record would be if you were matched up against every other team, every week of the season. This way, if you were to put up the 2nd highest score each week, but by some horrible stroke of bad luck end up facing the top scoring team each week, even though your team’s H2H record would be abominable, you would still get credit for this by way of total pts scored and the breakdown record. And this format does, in a way, employ the rotisserie system. If there are 12 teams in your league, each of the three power ranking components are scored 1-12. So if your team had the top H2H record, most points scored, and the best breakdown record, your team would get 36 pts (12+12+12) in the power rankings standings.

Hope this helps clear up any misconceptions.


John K
13 years ago

man, i did not expect this issue to be so divisive.  I think this (the comments) is the first place I’ve seen some good arguments for H2H, but some are mitigating by structuring a league differently (using keepers) or are moot if the people in your league actually like baseball per se.

I now SORT OF understand why people set up H2H leagues, but for me it’s go roto or go home.  Hate the H2H format.

13 years ago


Where we diverge greatly is that I think H2H adds a heckuva lot more than 5% more luck even before playoffs.  Also, I hold a different opinion than you on the fun that is added by going to H2H.  I think the H2H camp is stating that H2H is more fun as a fact as opposed to their opinion. 

At any rate, well put together post on the whole.  Good to see people veering away from the kyle method of discourse.

13 years ago

Wow… lots of comments.

I see the difference as Roto being who has the best, well rounded team.  I play more roto leagues now that I’m older and don’t have as much time to research.

H2H is who creates a team better than each other individual team. More like an actual baseball season. You have playoffs. You don’t just give the title to whoever was the best record. You could dominate all season, but if your guys falter in the final well, you come in 2nd.

If real life were played like roto, the Mariners would have had a WS championship in 2001.

13 years ago


I haven’t really seen anyone suggest Roto is closer to MLB.  Actually it’s been the opposite where the H2H camp is promoting its likeness to MLB which is dead-wrong, but something that camp often likes to pump up. 

BTW, your example of pulling the slugger for speedster is FAR more prevalent in H2H than it is Roto especially since it’s likely to happen every single week whereas it may only happen in September for a Roto team coming down the stretch.  And that’s only if circumstances break just right. 

I find it interesting that a lot of your roto critiques are often applied to H2H.  It’s almost like you took someone’s post against H2H and just replaced “H2H” with “Roto”.  Especially this point:

“Let’s take this toward the metric end of things – Roto doesn’t play toward the idea of Wins Above Replacement numbers in any way while that is exactly (albeit not consciously) what H2H lends itself to—placing the absolute best, most productive players on the field regardless of what that means (50 HR guy? 70 SB guy? Doesn’t matter so long as they are the optimal producer on your roster).”

You really couldn’t be more wrong here.  H2H is ALL about specialization whereby you can eschew entire categories and still win regularly.  Roto is far more encompassing and the top WAR guys at the end of the season are likely much more useful in Roto than H2H depending on team construction. 

Same goes for your MLB GM emulation bit.  While I don’t think being a Roto GM is a true copy of being an MLB GM, being an H2H GM is even less true. 

After reading your post, I think you may have the two structures confused.  smile 

Oh and as for the 52,498th citing of the Giants winning, I’ll only say again in hopes that yall begin to understand that that doesn’t automatically support H2H as the Giants defeated their opponents en route to their title. 

They were in control of their destiny.  Throughout an H2H season and ESPECIALLY in the playoffs, you have no control over how your opponent plays thus it wouldn’t matter if you were as hot as the Giants if someone was hotter, you’d lose through no fault of your own.

13 years ago

Last year I played two roto leagues and two H to H leagues.  During the season I spent more time on one of my roto teams than on any other.  However, I had more pure fun competing in the two H to H leagues. Near the end of the season I spent much less time on my 1st and 3rd place roto teams as they were locks to hold their places, and really got involved with the two H to H teams. One of these was the obvious second best in the league, with only one loss and one tie, both to the only undefeated team.  You can well imagine where my attention was directed during the playoffs.  In the finals my team blew out the undefeated team for a first place win and the only loss for that team. It gets no better than that!  The second of my H to H teams was no less interesting, however.  While it too was a top two team, it did poorly in the playoffs, and a mid-rank team took home the bacon.  The agony of defeat.

So in a nutshell from the perspective of a newcomer to the pastime of fantasy baseball, while I find this argument quite interesting, I love both styles of play, and will be fielding four teams again this year, plus maybe a keeper league.

13 years ago


Just a word of advice – stating “You’re wrong” over and over again without any real content or logical discussion behind it doesn’t make you correct.

You clearly have an extreme bias against H2H for some odd reason, which is evident by your very first sentence in your first comment. You must have had a really bad beat years ago and have yet to get over it.

What many commenters forget is that the person who simply yells the loudest isn’t necessarily the correct one. By simply saying, ‘That sucks!’ well, it doesn’t mean it actually sucks…you just think it does and that is fine, but you really aren’t adding anything positive to the discussion.

So…try again perhaps? hmmm

13 years ago


What on earth are you talking about, chief?  I’d encourage you to actually read my posts before spouting off like this and if you have read them and that’s still what you came up with well then I can’t help you. 

No, I don’t like H2H, I made that clear, but I’ve stayed on point throughout the discussion including dismantling your latest post above.  I guess you didn’t have any real answer for that so you went with this drek about shouting “you’re wrong” and bias against H2H. 

So… try again perhaps?

13 years ago


You said:

“H2H is ALL about specialization whereby you can eschew entire categories and still win regularly.  Roto is far more encompassing and the top WAR guys at the end of the season are likely much more useful in Roto than H2H depending on team construction.”

How so? What exactly is H2H specializing in other than optimal overall production and not dicing a roster up into specific categories? This statement you made makes absolutely zero sense. There is no specialization whatsoever, that is the beauty of it! There is only one goal—put forth the most productive roster you can. Roto does not have that goal. Roto’s goal is to put forth the most well rounded roster that you can. This take you have on H2H isn’t even remotely close to what occurs.

I fail to see how the ‘top WAR guys’ would be found at a greater quantity on Roto teams than H2H teams. Stripping defense aside, because neither format gives a crap about it, Roto will bank on contributors in one specific category whereras H2H cares not where that production is so long as it is production.

There is nothing ‘realistic’ about Roto, despite you claiming it is more so than H2H, as you state here:

“the H2H camp is promoting its likeness to MLB which is dead-wrong”

There is no evidence you can give that would show Roto is MORE like MLB than H2H is, whereas I’ve given you many examples.

You also said:

“your example of pulling the slugger for speedster is FAR more prevalent in H2H than it is Roto especially since it’s likely to happen every single week whereas it may only happen in September for a Roto team coming down the stretch.”

Really? It is far more prevalent for a H2H team to pull a slugger for a speedster solely for the sake of getting a few SBs than would a team in a Roto league? Talk about not knowing the structures of the two formats in question. While each may occur in their respective leagues, they are done so with completely different intentions. A Roto league would do such in hopes that the speedster only succeeds (or, primarily succeeds) by way of using such talents and stealing basis so they could increase their total in that particular category. In significant contrast, while the H2H team may opt for the same exact swap, the H2H team does not care HOW that production comes around so long as the player happens to be productive.

If the speedster is inserted into the lineup in both leagues in favor of a slugger, let’s say the speedster happens to hit 4 HRs that week and steals zero bases.

In that scenario, the Roto owner is crushed by the result of the move because that player did not contribute to the specific category that he was placed in a lineup for. Whereas the H2H owner is ecstatic because it doesn’t matter whether 4 HRs are hit or 7 bases are swiped, the production is all the counts.

Which, finally, falsifies your next statement:

“it may only happen in September for a Roto team coming down the stretch.”

That is so far off base from reality. When that very same speedster player is drafted, he’s drafted under the projection that he will provide X amount of stats in particular counting categories. That means EVERY WEEK he is expected to produce toward the skill sets that he was drafted for. Again, in significant contrast, the H2H owner does indeed draft a player with specific skill sets in mind, but that owner does not care what the end result of the players stats are so long as they are deemed productive and are able to contribute to the benefit of the team as a whole.

Nothing you stated above holds any water, so I don’t know what you are getting at when you make these statements. I’ll cite one final line of yours, since it so appropriately fits my rebuttal:

“It’s almost like you took someone’s post against ROTO and just replaced “ROTO” with “H2H”.”

13 years ago

BTC, it sounds as though you are talking about a H2H points league, in which, to use your example, 4 HRs or 7 SBs are both valuable towards your team point score for the week, which is all that determines a win or loss.

Most of the other discussion, I believe, is aimed at a H2H categories league, where you get separate wins by beating your opponent in HR or in SB.

If I have that speedster in my lineup who has 4 HRs and 0 SBs in a week, and I end up winning HR 20-12 and losing SB 8-9, I most certainly won’t be “ecstatic” that he gave me 4 meaningless HRs when 1 SB would’ve gotten me a tie, and 2 a win.

In roto, by contrast, I’d be pretty happy about the 4 HR, knowing I have more time to adjust my strategy.

As Tony Starks said, it needs to be clarified whether you’re arguing about a categories or points-based H2H format.  At least understand what you’re arguing about before you belittle the other guy’s opinion.

King Rat
13 years ago

Interesting article and posts….I’m glad I play in a league that utilizes both H2H and Roto so that we can take the best from both worlds.  I’m not sure I would be as motivated to play fantasy baseball if I had to choose one format over the other for many of the reasons that have been pointed out previously.

Our league uses H2H so that one’s team has an opportunity to beat it’s opponent on any given week.  Whether or not the “W”, “L”, or “T” you achieve each week is determined because your roster is better than your opponent’s (or vice-versa), critical injuries to either team, a few players catching fire at just the right time, top players’ performances dropping off a bit that week, or any of a bunch of other factors makes things more fun and exciting on a weekly basis.  H2H means you have a new opportunity every 7 days to keep you engaged.  H2H also rewards an owner who makes appropriate line up changes from week to week.  Is there some luck involved?  Of course, but not enough to override the fun factor.

At the same time our league also tracks overall season roto stats/categories as well so that teams that perform well “in the long haul” can also be rewarded.  We use the final season-long roto categories standings to break H2H ties and award prizes to teams that finish highest in each category but don’t finish in the top 3 in the H2H standings.  The top three in our final H2H standings receive separate awards for those achievements.  This way, even if your team falls out of the running for the top 3 H2H spots you can still make roster changes that will allow you to attempt to win category prizes.  If this means trading Adam Dunn for Juan Pierre so that you can lock up the SB category, so be it.

In an attempt to hinder, but not eliminate, team owners from making trades similar to the one I just mentioned, we are also a keeper league, which when thrown into the mix of H2H and Roto makes for a lot of interesting trades and roster decisions for all team owners.

So, instead of making a case for one way of playing being better than the other, I suggest leagues consider at “hy-brid” scoring system that maximizes the best of both.  You may find that more/all teams remain engaged throughout the entire season on a regular basis.

My two cents.

13 years ago

Really the problem is with both roto scoring. Whether or not you are judged at the end of the year or each week is immaterial. Fantasy baseball as most people play it, is about gather commodities, and is silly.

Fantasy baseball should be played in a points-based setting, where each event is given a fair point value based on its relative value to helping a team win. In any type of roto-scoring, a SB is more valuable than a HR. Need I say more?

13 years ago

Paul, aren’t you overlooking the fact that h2h leagues use a playoff system to determine the winner? Seems like a lot of the “realism” of h2h stems from the way it ends and not so much in the week to week matchups. This, to me, is where the realism debate kind of ends. If you want to play the style that MLB does, you would need to have a playoffs. The ability to affect the outcome of your h2h matchup isn’t really at issue. H2h people all know that they are just setting up lineups and hoping for the best. That said, there are situations in h2h where you can make moves in an attempt to guarantee category wins for such categories as IP and K’s. However, like I said before, I think the reason most h2h people, including myself, think that their system is more like the MLB because of the existence of a playoff system.

I’ve often wondered why ESPN Yahoo and the like have not set up a league style that offers a Roto regular season and a h2h playoffs. Seems like that system might reflect the MLB style the best. Yet I haven’t seen this fantasy option pop up.

What would your thoughts on the Roto-reg and the h2h-playoffs system be?

Either way, if the Roto style lacks a playoffs and the h2h style doesn’t, seems like h2h is almost by default more like real baseball than Roto.

This discussion is really about WHY people play fantasy baseball. Not that one way of playing is inherently better.

Josh Shepardson
13 years ago

Very enjoyable read Derek.  The comments have been fascinating as well (though I do need to finish reading a handful).  I have played in both league types over the years, and really like both.  There are aspects of both games that I like and dislike, and thus, playing in a mix is the way to go for me.  I do agree with the idea that if you are playing for high stakes, roto is the best way to go, as it take a great deal of luck out of the equation (though as long as the game is played by humans who are capable of getting injured, or simply struggling due to personal/life problems luck will be involved to some degree).  However, I think H-2-H leagues have their place as well.  My two longest standing leagues with differing friend groups are H-2-H. 

My biggest argument against roto, though as I’ve stated, I do enjoy roto, is the over emphasis on a need for “balance.”  Unfortunately, that over emphasis occasionally leads to inflated values for less balanced players (i.e. I need speed, better nab Rajai Davis, Juan Pierre, etc.) who simply fill one stat.  I enjoy being able to, “punt,” or at least underperform in a certain category in H-2-H leagues, as it allows the ability to take advantage of market inefficiencies more so I believe.  By that, I mean some owners will always bypass speed and, “punt,“stolen bases while loading up on power bats, and as a H-2-H owner you have an opportunity to take advantage of that by drafting just enough speed, namely later in the draft, to win stolen bases.  As has been pointed out, both leagues allow taking advantage of long home stretches for a player with significant home/road splits, or utilizing a player with lefty/righty splits, so that’s a wash. 

Once again, I’ll say fun read, and enjoy the commentary, but please everyone, be respectful of others opinions, no need for name calling and whatnot.

13 years ago


I’m definitely speaking of H2H points v. Traditional Roto. While I didn’t catch any area that the article inferred (or explicitly stated) that is what was being compared, I simply assumed such as debating Traditional Roto v. H2H Roto would just be pointless in my mind. That is simply a difference of opinion of how two different forms of the same game play out.

Traditional Roto v. H2H Points is a much more valid and interesting argument…I hope that is what Derek meant by this post, but perhaps not. If not, then I apologize for even posting any comments in the first place as I don’t see that being an interesting discussion in the least.

13 years ago

H2H = doubleplusungood
There is already sufficient luck and randomness in roto to make it fun.  H2H increases the role of luck to the point where the fun diminishes.  If I put together a strong, balanced team, I will still have weeks where they collectively play like garbage.  If I put together a crummy team, I will still probably get one or two weekly wins.  If those outlier weeks happen in September, the value of a great or awful team is irrelevant.

Derek Ambrosino
13 years ago

Wow! I didn’t think I’d generate all this buzz.

Let me address a number of points, without calling out specific posters I’m responding to – after all, most points were made by more than one commenter anyway.

1. First and foremost, this comparison was based on H2H category leagues, not points leagues. I should have been more clear, but the comment about the same scoring system should have tipped everybody off. The pts system is something I find intriguing, but I have limited experience with. I’ve come close to joining a few of these leagues but ultimately had issues with how the scoring was weighted. The pts system is a different game, and I wouldn’t directly compare it to the classic roto model. All subsequent comments here refer to H2H category leagues.

2. My argument is not that roto is a truer representation of the sport of baseball than H2H is. Rather, the argument is that roto is truer to the core principles of the endeavor that is fantasy baseball. It’s a form that requires a truer possession of the skills needed to excel at the activity.

3. That said, H2H does not mimic the actual sport of baseball any better than roto. Neither of them do – that’s not what either are designed to do. If that’s your goal, you should probably be playing less fantasy baseball and more Strat-o-matic; I know several people who a Strato junkies and cheesecake fantasy players.

In an actual baseball game, the players on one team compete *directly* against the other players. In H2H, my pitchers aren’t trying to keep your offense from scoring runs. They’re accumulating production in a roto fashion and some random match-up generator has dictated that for X days your totals, which are earned irrespective of mine, and compared to my totals, which are earned irrespective of yours. You and I are not in a relationship.

4. It’s not about validating my opinion of myself as a player by winning a championship. We don’t play for trophies or honor, we play for cash. And, this is why I mentioned high stakes, expert, or highly-competitive leagues, and then went out of my way to reiterate and explain the distinction. I understand the added fun part, the motivation, and the trash talking, but in leagues of these natures no additional motivation is needed. Some my home leagues have pots equivalent to some of the participants monthly income. I’m trying to brag, or insinuate that I’m ballin’. I’m not. But, nobody should need to motivated by a message board taunt, when you can not win the league and still take home four figures. Experts play for pride, for professional rep, and some these leagues are public. So, again, my point is general, but it applies especially to leagues where external motivation is not needed – and that’s why I acknowledged some of the added fun of H2H, but dismissed it in favor of judging the formats by a structurally meritocratic standard.

5. Finally, I’m all for all kinds of novel formats of fantasy baseball. I think that when you fundamentally change the way the game works and create new dynamics and relative valuations, open the door to different strategies, etc. that’s wonderful. You are creating totally new games – new puzzles, new challenges to solve. However, my opinion is that H2H category style fantasy baseball does not fit that criteria, but is rather an inferior derivative of the traditional game. That doesn’t mean it’s less fun, or that you shouldn’t enjoy playing it. I play in H2H leagues – a few months ago, I wrote a long column about a super exciting final day of the season in one those leagues. But, my point is that traditional roto and H2H category is not five card draw vs. Texas Hold ‘Em, but rather five card draw vs. five card draw with deuces, jacks, and sevens wild – a less pure derivative of the original.

Oh, and a big thanks to all you guys for reading and reacting.

13 years ago


Thanks for the post and clarification. My sincere apologies in carrying on a line of conversation comparing H2H points leagues and traditional roto as opposed to what you were actually referring to.

And my apologies if my own postings were confusing to anyone since many of us seemed to be commenting and ‘defending’ different fantasy structures.

13 years ago

Derek –
H2H is just more exciting. I’ve played both (my keeper league shifted from roto to H2H two years ago.) I do have a response to one of your criticisms: Most people who play H2H use cumulative points and a broader range of statistics than the 5X5 categories familiar to rotisserie players. My league has over 30 point producing categories, and the highest total score at the end of the week wins. That way, the manager whose team hits 3 more HR over the other manager’s team absolutely is credited and benefited for the extra homers.