Sunday, February 22, 2009

H2H Fantasy Baseball Draft Strategy: The Pitching Heavy and the Average Challenged (PHAC)

If you had the 8th pick in a Yahoo 12-team daily H2H roto (not points) fantasy baseball draft, would you consider drafting a starting pitcher with your first pick? Perhaps? How about this: would you consider drafting a starting pitcher with your first four picks? I call this the Pitching-Heavy-AVG-Challenged (PHAC) strategy. So the question is, will PHAC frick up your team?

Nearly every reliable fantasy baseball source will tell you that this strategy will lead to disaster. ("Santana is a beast, but pitchers simply shouldn't be taken this early.") FB Junk, for example, makes a great case for pursuing hitters that have high home run totals and hit for high average. The PHAC strategy requires you to pick home run hitters that do not hit for high average, which is certainly cause for pause.

Still, I thought it might be interesting to do a quasi thought experiment and see if taking starting pitchers in the early rounds can work. To make this thought experiment more concrete, we'll pretend that the categories for this hypothetical league are a typical 5x5, with the exception of Quality Starts being substituted in for Wins. The pitcher categories are SP, SP, SP, RP, RP, P, and P, and the inning limit each week is 19 innings.

(Note: Razzball does make a case for snagging some pitchers in rounds 3 through 8, although FB Junk suggests that zigging while everyone else is zagging might not work as well as you might think. Also note that Fake Teams accidentally followed a version of the PHAC strategy in this draft.)

If you were to attempt the PHAC strategy madness, the challenge would be to see if you could assemble a decent group of hitters in the later rounds. One way to try to accomplish this would be to target players who project to have high home run totals but are available later in the draft because of low batting average concerns:

1.Pick #8 Johan Santana (ADP = 17)
2.Pick #17 Tim Lincecum (ADP = 25)
3.Pick #32 Cole Hamels (ADP = 41)
4.Pick #41 Roy Halladay (ADP = 46)
5.Pick #56 Adam Dunn (40 HR in 2008)
6.Pick #65 Dan Uggla (32)
7.Pick #80 Ryan Ludwick (37)
8.Pick #89 Carlos Pena (31)
9.Pick #104 Hardy (24)
10.Pick #113 Closer or Delgado (38)
11.Pick #128 Closer
12.Pick #137 Napoli (20)
13.Pick #152 Burrell (33) or SP
14.Pick #161 Ankiel (25) or Cantu (29)
15.Pick #176 Weeks (14) or SP
16.Pick #185 Chris B. Young (22)
17.Pick #200 Thome (34)
18.Pick #209 Swisher (24) or SP
19.Pick #224 Beltre (25)
20.Pick #233 Giambi (32) or SP
21.Pick #248 Closer or Cust (33)
22.Pick #257 Reynolds (28) or Mike Jacobs (32)

(Note: the players in the above team should be understood as placeholders of sorts, merely to give you a better idea of what this draft strategy might look like if it were to be carried out in the present fantasy baseball market. During your draft, you can always target other pitchers or home run hitters that you feel are more likely to be available in your league or more likely to perform at a high level during the 2009 season.)

In a roto league, it would be difficult (read: impossible) to win without at least a few steals and a decent batting average. Still, you might be able to pull this off in a H2H league, as you could reasonably hope to win HR and RBI, as well as three of the five pitching categories each week. It is also worth mentioning that this might be a decent strategy for owners who don’t have a lot of time to do research. All you need to do is take the top four pitchers off the board, and then target the highest home run threats in each round, regardless of batting average. I know that owners usually don't want low-average, home run hitters in H2H leagues because these players tend to be extremely streaky, but perhaps having an entire team filled with these low-average types will make it so that at least a few of your low-average players are on a hot streak during any given weekly H2H matchup.

Conclusion: while PHAC would be fun to do in a draft with friends (they will all think you are crazy), the strategy is ultimately fraught with risk as you are essentially giving two categories away each week (stolen bases and batting average), which is even risky to do in a H2H league as it makes it harder to make in-season adjustments if your initial strategy bombs. If your starting pitchers get injured or regress, for example, you will be hard pressed to assemble a team that can win a majority of the categories each week. To hedge your risk somewhat, you could consider using only three of your first four-to-six picks on starting pitchers, but this will probably result in a pitching staff with less depth.

Anyway. The strategy might work, especially if this is the year Johan Santana wins 30 games.

  • Interested in a SB, AVG, CL draft strategy (SAC)? Click here.

  • Want even more draft strategy? Click here for 1B, 2B, SS, 3B, OF, C, SP, and RP position primers.

  • If it helps, here is the cheatsheet I used in my actual draft.

    Hank Hulkum said...

    Everything you say seems to make sense, but my brain rebels at the thought of having Jack Cust on my fantasy baseball team. But perhaps he's not so bad when using this PHAC strategy in a daily league, as you can sneak him in when needed and not get caught by his semi-frequent DNPs.

    DrGravitee said...

    You touch upon a good point: this strategy forces you to rely on one dimensional, less talented hitters. Guys like this sometimes can completely crap out, get benched or demoted and give you nothing. (Burrell has a habit of pulling this move, and so does CBY and Weeks.) Then again, you aren't investing much, and during the season you might be able to grab the latest HR hitting, low average breakout players off the wire to replace the picks that don't pan out. Anyway, the PHAC strategy isn't for owners of all temperaments.