They say the hardest thing to do in sports is to hit a round ball with a round bat squarely. But there are all sorts of ways hitters go about doing that. Some overpower the ball by extending their arms and flicking their quick wrists. Most try to pull the ball with a high launch angle to hit a home run or strikeout—some slap at the ball by choking up to survive a major league pitch. Most try to use the whole field and hit the ball the other way to put the ball in play and get on base. Some use their speed to disrupt the pitcher’s timing and aggressively run the bases. There are all sorts of pitchers too. Some want to overpower every batter with the velocity at the expense of location. Some rely on fooling the batter with late-breaking pitches located at precise spots. But fantasy baseball managers are only concerned with two types of baseball players…those who are roto players or head-to-head players.
I’m not talking about whether you think drafting a team in a roto league is harder than drafting a head-to-head league team. We’ll save that discussion for another time. I’m talking about identifying those major leaguers or prospects who are best suited to be drafted in a roto league versus those who are best suited to be drafted in a head-to-head league. What statistics and analytics can be used to determine this identification?
A few well-known principles should be mentioned first. Generally speaking, hitters who hit for a high batting average and/or a high on-base percentage are best suited for roto leagues since those are common categories. If singles predominantly sustain that high batting average, that doesn’t get you many points in head-to-head. Likewise, walks will increase your on-base percentage and batting average but won’t get you many head-to-head points. If you’re deciding whether or not to draft a hitter in a roto league because of how often he strikes out, don’t bother. Strikeouts are like any other out in roto leagues while they deduct from your point total in head-to-head. But while you want to avoid strikeouts in head-to-head hitters, unfortunately, those are the kind of hitters who usually hit the most home runs and doubles. Total bases and slugging percentage are your friends in head-to-head. So if you find those hitters who combine a high slugging percentage with a low strikeout total, put them at the top of your head-to-head draft queue.
Similar to the hitting average/percentage categories, pitchers who are among the ERA and WHIP leaders may not necessarily be good in head-to-head leagues if they don’t have a lot of wins to along with that low ERA or WHIP. Wins are your friend in head-to-head leagues. So if you find those pitchers who pitch for a good team and usually pitch past the 5th inning (translating to wins), put them at the top of your head-to-head draft queue. However, in DSE roto leagues where Wins is not a category, you can ignore them completely. Instead, look for those starters who do well in ERA and WHIP and usually pitch past the 6th inning for Quality Starts. Examine a starter’s average innings pitched per game carefully. A starter whose average innings pitched per game is 5.0 to 5.9 should only be considered highly in head-to-head leagues, not in roto leagues. You only want starters who average at least 6.0 innings pitched per game on your roto staff.
Now let’s get into some specific players. Given the 2020 season anomalies, I will use statistics from the 2019 season for this analysis. If we look at the top 20 rated players in roto, we find five players who are not in the top 20 point totals in head-to-head leagues. They are:
If we look at the top 20 point totals in head-to-head leagues, we find five players who are not in the top 20 rated roto players. They are:
The fact that there are 15 common players on both lists is simply a testament to the fact that the elite can be drafted in either format. No analysis or comparison needs to be made. And while Mike Trout was not in the top 20 rated roto players in 2019, I’m certainly not going to tell you not to draft him in your roto league. Although, if you’re trying to decide between Trout and Acuna as to who you should draft #1 in your roto league, you might want to go with Acuna since he was rated #1 in 2019.
If we take a look at the K% of the 3 hitters ranked in roto who were not ranked in head-to-head, we find support for the idea that hitters who strike out a lot can still do well in roto but not in head-to-head:
Trevor Story (26.5%)
Juan Soto (20%)
Jonathan Villar (24.6%)
All had a K% of 20%, or over, while the 5 hitters ranked in head-to-head who were not ranked in roto all had a K% of 20% or under:
Mike Trout (20%)
Marcus Semien (13.7%)
Nolan Arenado (14%)
Starling Marte (16%)
Ozzie Albies (16%)
In Jonathan Villar, we find that it’s entirely possible to have a top roto performer who does not hit well for power. Villar was ranked as the #10 hitter in roto yet compiled an unimpressive .179 ISO or Isolated Power, which measures how often a batter hits for extra bases. Villar’s .179 ISO was the lowest of any hitter ranked in the top 20 of either roto or head-to-head. Furthermore, his .335 wOBA or Weighted On-Base Percentage and his 107 wRC+ or Weighted Runs Created were the lowest such figures of any top 20 hitters. Weighted Runs Created measures the runs created by a hitter per plate appearance where 100 is the league average and is park-adjusted. And the league average Weighted On-Base Percentage was .320. So Villar barely made it above the league average in both. By all appearances then, Villar was not an elite hitter. But he was 10th in major league baseball in runs scored (111), 3rd in stolen bases (40), and 4th in wSB or Weighted Stolen Bases (3.7). Weighted Stolen Bases estimates the number of runs a batter contributes to his team by stealing bases. So Villar was elite in those three statistical categories, which was enough to offset his poor wOBA, wRC+, and ISO to the tune of a top 10 roto hitter. Don’t look at wSB as an indicator of a good head-to-head hitter, however. Two of the five hitters ranked in the top 20 in head-to-head who were not ranked in roto actually had negative wSB figures…Marcus Semien (-1.9) and Nolan Arenado (-0.6).
Next, let’s take a look at relievers. Predicting how closers and set-up relievers will do can be exasperating in fantasy baseball because of the position’s volatility. So let’s see what were the trends in 2019 to make this arduous process more palatable. Of the top 20 relief pitchers ranked in roto, 12 were set-up men, including 8 of the top 13. That speaks volumes for your roto draft. Unless you want to draft one of the few elite closers like Hader, Hendriks, or Yates (the 3 top-rated roto relievers in 2019) who you know will perform and not lose their jobs, you don’t have to race to use early-round draft picks on relievers. Set-up men will invariably last until the late rounds, and still, plenty more will become available during the year as free agents as set roles begin to develop for certain teams. Contrastingly, only 6 of the top 20 relievers in head-to-head were set-up men, including none in the top 10. This makes sense since you get more points for saves than holds in points leagues while saves and holds are equal categories in roto. The takeaway is that closers are at a higher premium in head-to-head leagues, so they must be targeted earlier than in roto.
You would think any closer would be good to draft in a roto league. But there were 7 closers in 2019 who were not rated in the top 20 relievers in roto but were among the top 20 relievers in head-to-head leagues:
What was it that prevented these closers from being among the elite in roto? Three of them (Romo, Robles, and Colome) had a K/9 figure of under 10. Two of those three (Romo and Colome) also had poor FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) and FIP- (Fielding Independent Pitching adjusted for the park) figures. It’s beneficial to put stock in park-adjusted statistics like wRC+ and FIP- because baseball is the only team sport where the playing field is different depending on where you play. It seems like a big factor to take into consideration when you’re evaluating player performance. An average FIP- is 100, where the lower the figure, the better. Romo’s FIP- was 83, and Colome’s was 88. Kenley Jansen, also on this list, was at 80. By way of comparison, the 3 top-rated roto relievers (Hader, Hendriks, and Yates) were well below those figures in FIP- (69, 42, and 29 respectively). Also, Hader (16.4) and Yates (15) had absolutely elite K/9. So why did these same 7 closers place in the top 20 point totals for relievers in head-to-head? Clearly, they all racked up points with wins, saves, and holds. Hand had 6 wins; Jansen and Robles both had 5; Colome had 4. Chapman, Hand, Jansen, Kennedy, and Colome all had 30 or more saves, and Romo had 20 saves plus 17 holds. But it’s virtually impossible to predict wins for relievers. So stick to what you can predict…in roto, stay away from closers with a high FIP- and a low K/9.
|Elite in Roto||K/9||FIP-||Not Elite in Roto||K/9||FIP-|
Finally, please look at the players who had some of the biggest gaps between their roto ranking and their points league ranking from 2019. Adjust your draft queue accordingly!
Jose Altuve :: 81st in points; 180th in roto
Matthew Boyd :: 57th in roto; 133rd in points
Nelson Cruz :: 39th in points; 93rd in roto
Masahiro Tanaka :: 86th in roto; 144th in points
Anthony Rizzo :: 51st in points; 117th in roto
Max Kepler :: 58th in points; 138th in roto
George Springer :: 41st in points; 99th in roto
Noah Syndergaard :: 46th in roto; 88th in points
Feel free to reach out to me via Twitter @BrianDaring1.