Top tips for drafting in points leagues

ESPN Feb 24, 2020

AJ Mass

When fantasy baseball got started 40 years ago, the only format in town was what we know now as rotisserie baseball, in which imaginary teams made up of real MLB players were judged based on each individual athlete's performance in particular statistical categories. As we get ready for the 2020 season, roto-style leagues certainly still exist, but far more fantasy managers are taking part in points leagues.

The major difference between points leagues and traditional rotisserie formats is fairly obvious, as it's right there in the name. Instead of collecting individual stats like home runs, RBIs, stolen bases, ERA and WHIP and then comparing your totals to those of other rosters to determine a league champion, each player's performance is translated into a single number.

Positive outcomes, like hits and runs scored for batters and strikeouts and wins for pitchers, will earn you points. Negative results, like strikeouts for hitters or runs allowed for pitchers, will deduct from your score. Add up all of your lineup's points through Sunday night's action and if you have more points than your head-to-head opponent, you'll be declared the winner of that week's game.

Now, while it's easy to wrap your head around the who-wins-each-game part of the equation, when it comes to how you win, things get a little more difficult. Generally speaking, the elite players in baseball are going to be the ones to covet in all formats. Nobody is going to blink an eye if you take Ronald Acuna Jr. or Christian Yelich in the first-round. Gerrit Cole and Jacob deGrom are almost certainly going to be among the first pitchers off the board. After the cream of the crop is gone, though, there are particular stats you need to pay attention to in order to tweak your rankings and see whose value is slightly better or slightly worse in a points format.

For hitters, BB/K is a key factor to consider. Since you get points for walks and lose them for strikeouts, any batter who can essentially make that a wash by having a BB/K ratio as close to 1.00 as possible is going to see a value bump. Similarly, when that ratio approaches zero, it becomes an albatross to a player's points-league value.

Standouts in this statistic last season included Alex Bregman (1.43), Carlos Santana (1.00), Cody Bellinger (0.88) and David Fletcher (0.86) -- good for seventh-best among qualified hitters. While there are many other factors that may keep Fletcher from being drafted in roto formats, when it comes to points leagues, this one strong suit of the Angels utilityman makes him viable as a late-round flier.

At the other end of the spectrum, Javier Baez (0.18), Danny Santana (0.17) and Eloy Jimenez (0.22) were all in the bottom 10 of BB/K ratio in 2019. This is a big reason Jimenez, for example, is ranked in the overall top 50 of Tristan H. Cockcroft's category-based rankings but just outside the top 100 in my points-league ranks. Power without patience is not a virtue.

On the pitching side of things, you simply reverse this metric. In order for a starting pitcher to merit a spot in your fantasy rotation, he should have a minimum K/BB rate of 3.00 and ideally you don't want to take any hurler lower than around 3.50 in this stat until those top-tier guys are all gone. If you're in a roto league, where the collection of K's matters, Jose Berrios (3.82), Masahiro Tanaka (3.77) and Mike Soroka (3.46) are not likely going to excite you enough to make you want to call their names in the first seven rounds. In points leagues, injury concerns aside, you very well might.

As for pitching staff construction as a whole, because saves is not a category but merely something that can happen in a game to earn a reliever five points, you don't need to draft any closers at all if you don't want to. However, some people (myself included) like to go all-in on drafting one ace and then adding as many closers as possible to supplement your staff.

Why does this make sense? It's true that at the end of the season, the best starting pitchers tend to have the most overall points. On a weekly basis, though, if your ace is making only one start, a so-so outing may well earn you only around 8-12 points. There's a huge amount of variance, and one disastrous start can single-handedly cost you the week.

On the flipside, closers tend to get into games only when there are save opportunities. Additionally, the downside is limited, as inherited runners don't count against the reliever. Give up a bases-loaded single and the damage is not nearly as severe as that of a starter who goes three innings and gives up three runs. If you were to get 2-3 save chances from 7-8 closers in a week, there's the potential for far more points than you're likely to get from a bevy of streaming SPs, which is why this strategy can work.

One final note about roster construction. You're required to start a catcher, which means you will, in fact, have to draft one. However, if you take a look at my points league rankings, you will find only J.T. Realmuto in my top 250. Only six more currently sit in my top 300. Simply put, the position is atrocious for points leagues. Out of the 68 catchers who had at least 100 plate appearances last season, 29 of them had 25.0% K rates or worse. As for walks, 26 of these 68 backstops had walk rates lower than 7.0%. There's no reason to waste a roster spot on a second catcher, and quite frankly, until you're forced to do so (with the exception of Realmuto), you can wait on selecting any catcher at all.

In any event, the best advice I can give you is to take part in as many mock drafts as you can prior to your league's big day. This is true if this is your first time playing in a points league or if you're a grizzled veteran. By participating in mocks, you can get a better feel for when players are, in general, being taken during drafts. If you frequently see certain players you like getting taken by other managers just before you were about to grab them, you're going to want to move that player up your board a bit in order to get him. Similarly, if a sleeper you're considering is lasting well into Round 12, you're probably not going to have to reach for him with a pick in Round 8.


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