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
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Donald Trump

Derek: 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… Read more »

kyle
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kyle

How does one get into an expert league?

John
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John

Donald Trump said it to perfection.

BTC
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BTC

Derek, 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… Read more »

kyle
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kyle

roto is awful.

scott
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scott

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… Read more »

Millsy
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Millsy

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… Read more »

Paul
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Paul

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… Read more »

Millsy
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Millsy

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).

kyle
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kyle

@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… Read more »

Donald Trump
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Donald Trump

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

kyle
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kyle

@ 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… Read more »

Millsy
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Millsy

Kyle,

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.

kyle
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kyle

@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… Read more »

Paul
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Paul

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… Read more »

Paul
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Paul

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… Read more »

kyle
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kyle

@Paul
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.

Millsy
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Millsy

Guys,

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?

Paul
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Paul

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.

kyle
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kyle

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.

Kyle
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Kyle

@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.

Paul
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Paul

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.

kyle
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kyle

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.”

garik16
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garik16

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.

kyle
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kyle

thanks Paul, you’re a true southern gentleman

James Dickson
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James Dickson

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

Ben
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Ben

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

Roto is no-go

Boomer
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Boomer

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… Read more »

Shauntell
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Shauntell

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… Read more »

BTC
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BTC

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.… Read more »

Steve
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Steve

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
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tony starks

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… Read more »

John K
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John K

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.

Paul
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Paul

@Shauntell

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.

Mikey
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Mikey

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… Read more »

Paul
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Paul

@BTC 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… Read more »

olebamadude
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olebamadude

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,… Read more »

BTC
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BTC

@Paul— 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… Read more »

Paul
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Paul

@BTC

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?

BTC
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BTC

@Paul 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.… Read more »

J.Ro
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J.Ro

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… Read more »

King Rat
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King Rat

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… Read more »

Kevin
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Kevin

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?

Sheffield
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Sheffield

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.… Read more »

Josh Shepardson
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Josh Shepardson

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… Read more »

BTC
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BTC

@J.Ro, 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… Read more »

varmintito
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varmintito

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
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Derek Ambrosino

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… Read more »

BTC
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BTC

@Derek,

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.

Eddie
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Eddie

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.