2018 MLB Draft Guide: Fantasy Baseball Points Leagues
Chris Bouvier takes a look at setting up the scoring for a fantasy baseball points league and strategies for how to compete and win.
Well, the fantasy football season has concluded and it’s time to start your fantasy baseball research to take down your leagues in 2018. You’ve already made the best decision possible to start things off by checking out the Fantasy Alarm Fantasy Baseball Draft Guide and we couldn’t be happier to have you be a part of FA Nation! Don’t forget to follow @rotobuzzguy and @JimBowdenGM as you get locked in to the 2018 fantasy baseball season. Now let’s get down to business!
Before we get to the specifics, let’s dig into why a points-league system is right for you. The points-league scoring system for fantasy baseball forces a very hands-on approach where you are tasked to maximize your scoring potential on a daily basis in order to rack up as many points as possible. Rotisserie and head-to-head style points leagues both require this approach, the difference in the two being standings structure. Rotisserie style is where the highest cumulative point total at the end of the season compared to the rest of the league takes home the title, as opposed to head to head style points leagues where each week you play one single opponent and end the week with a win or a loss. Points leagues are a great format for beginners and for the average baseball fan since the goal is to rack up points, no matter the source, as opposed to a categories format where it takes a more formidable effort to stay at the top of the standings in each stat category (average, steals, homeruns, etc.). Points leagues are very similar to daily fantasy sports in which both platforms you need to accumulate as many points as possible to defeat your opponent(s), simplifying the strategic efforts to building a winning roster.
Surely by now you get it, it’s a simple format, but why is this a simple format? If your teams’ points come from steals, hits, wins or saves, they are all boxed in together and comprise your total score. This brings us to a downside with the points league format and that is the variance in scoring systems, roster specifics and transaction limits compared to a categories format which is typically a standard selection of stat categories and settings. All this does is make it essential that you know your league’s specifics and use that to your advantage. Now lets dig into why knowing these specifics is such an integral part of your pre-draft research.
Know the scoring system
First of all, we need to find out what your league offers that differentiates it from others. The standard settings for an ESPN league awards five points for a win for a pitcher however a custom league could award ten. Does your league award points for holds by a reliever? Does a hitter lose points for a strikeout? You need to know what the scoring system is weighted for and against so you don’t pass on a Drew Pomeranz if walks don’t count against your total in your league. There is always one person in the league that drafts someone they shouldn’t way too early because they didn’t look at the scoring system, don’t be that person.
The ESPN Standard roster set up is as follows; C, 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, 5 OF, 2B/SS, 1B/3B, UTIL, 9 Pitchers and 3 Bench spots. Since you just want to pile up as many points as possible and they’re all the same no matter what position it comes from, your goal will be to draft as many top tiered players as possible and let the points roll in. Roster eligibility is a very important in-season advantage as players will have days off and you’ll need all of the flexibility you can get to maximize your point total each and every day. For example, having a great catcher on your team is all fine and dandy, however, the catching position is the most physically demanding position on the diamond and forces many more days off than other positions. This would mean that two or three days per week you are getting an unnecessary goose egg if you haven’t taken a proper approach to this issue. Having a player that has eligibility at C/OF or C/1B would allow you to fill in the catcher position while your starter is out and also allow you to put him at 1B or OF when your starting catcher is in the lineup. This goes for your other positions as well since the name of the game here is flexibility. You want to maximize your rosters’ scoring potential as well as construct a lineup everyday in the most efficient way possible. Don’t be forced into unwanted add/drop scenarios to fill a position for a day if you can help it. These multi-position eligible players are immensely valuable and should be considered when deciding who to select on draft day.
This might be the most important piece of the settings page for you to know. Some leagues have a weekly transaction limit and some don’t. This is the one piece of information that will decide if there’s a possibility to stream pitching or not. You need to know if there is a maximum start limit for pitchers to see if its worth streaming and loading up with bats or if there is a daily acquisition limit for hitters so you can properly value your multi-position eligible hitters as previously mentioned. If your league is weighted to give pitchers more points for wins and doesn’t have a transaction limit, or has a high number for a limit, you could potentially focus on your batters in the draft and stream pitching and work the matchups to gain your edge on your opponents. The bottom line is you have to know the settings in your league to be successful and if you don’t take that seriously, you’ll end up behind the person in your league who did.
Now that we know what to look for in terms of an outline to get ready for the draft, we need to look at the ins and outs of pitchers when it comes to drafting them. In this scoring format, pitchers are where the points are. In a categories format, pitching is typically secondary with the exception of the few “elite” guys going early in drafts. In points leagues they are drafted much higher and more often because of their ability for high point totals in a single outing. For example, in 2017 Max Scherzer averaged 28.2 points per game and Nolan Arenado averaged 6.1 points per game. If Arenado plays six games in a week he will have scored 36.6 points and if Max Scherzer makes two starts that week he will have scored 56.4 points, yet both ranked third in hitting and pitching respectively. This is actually a great reason to not over value pitching in points leagues. Needing TWO starts in a week to outscore a similarly valued hitter isn’t an ideal situation, not to say Mad Max isn’t worth the draft pick, just be weary of the volatility that comes with drafting pitching early and often. This especially rings true in head to head points leagues where if your pitcher has a blowup or an injury he’s likely not playing again that week to make up for it and thus, not scoring points.
The volatility that comes with starting pitching is something to really take note of. In 2017 alone, nineteen pitchers had Tommy John surgery! Adding to that, blisters, muscle injuries and other surgeries make pitching a scary investment come draft day. If you pick the right pitcher you are setting yourself up for a nice playoff run, if you pick the wrong one it is sure to be an uphill climb the rest of the season. As you’ve heard me say a million times, you need max daily production. If you put all or most of your value on pitching and don’t have expected production each and every week from them, you won’t have the hitters to pick you up out of that hole. Selecting pitchers early in the draft isn’t as treacherous if you draft with balance and get some highly productive bats as well.
When you do take the plunge on pitching there are certain areas to target here. The goal in a standard points league that takes points away for walks is to get guys with high strikeout/walk ratios, or K/BB. Obviously your “elite” tier of pitchers will have these attributes, however, in a more realistic scenario we want to find guys like Mike Leake and Aaron Nola who had a 3.51 and 3.76 K/BB ratio in 2017. These types of pitchers have more value in this format because they don’t hurt you with free passes and they have high strikeout upside to give you big games, which is the main goal for the position in points leagues. You could also find some serious value in pitchers who you project to show progression in the control department in 2018 as some of your league mates may shy away from them after seeing a poor walk rate in 2017. This is called recency bias and you don’t want to be on either end of this.
Players like Jose Berrios fit this description. Berrios had somewhat of a learning curve issue in the control department early on in his career with a 5.4 BB/9 in 2016 but followed that up with a 3.0 BB/9 in 2017. Last season he actually had a similar K/BB ratio to players like Jake Arrieta, Patrick Corbin and Jon Lester. The Twins hurler has shown elite K/BB ratios in Triple-A giving you confidence of sustainability and at the age of 23, providing extreme hope of a very high ceiling in 2018. Guys to shy away from would be the Julio Teheran’s and the Lance Lynn’s of the game that have K/BB ratios around 2. Utilize these telling numbers in points leagues because they will be the difference in your draft being successful or being a total train wreck. If you decide to take an ace or two and stream the position, make sure to pick starters each week that have two start weeks, high K/BB ratios, favorable ball park factors (check out Dan Malin’s piece on Ballpark Factors in the living draft guide) and are facing teams that strike out at a high rate.
The word of the day is volatility and this is where we talk about the closers. By definition, it is the liability to change rapidly and unpredictably, especially for the worse. Oh and look, there’s a picture of Santiago Casilla right underneath it grinning from ear to ear. There is no better definition of a word to describe the closer role year in and year out. DO NOT CHASE SAVES! Chase the high K/BB ratios, low WHIP numbers and high leverage chances. When a manager trusts a guy in the late stages of a game with it all on the line or is giving a reliever late inning work then he’s the guy to own. Aroldis Chapman, Zach Britton and Mark Melancon were all drafted early on last season and all failed to live up to their ADP, whether it be due to injury or lack of effectiveness. Guys like Chris Devenski and Mychal Givens, in most cases, weren’t even being drafted and ended up 16-6 with 188 strikeouts combined. This type of situation happens every year and without fail, someone takes a closer way too early in every draft. Don’t be that person FANation! We’re better than this, use that pick more wisely. Take upside starters or hitters and use your selections at the end of the draft to take set up guys with high upside and high strikeout rates. Wait for these relievers to get their inevitable shot behind closers who WILL struggle to keep their roles.
We’ve finally reached the easy part of drafting in points leagues , now take a deep breath, its not scary anymore. While the goal here is to get high point totals, don’t make the mistake of simply drafting the highest gross projected players ONLY, you want to draft the highest NET projected scoring players over their peers. 800 points from Bryce Harper is worth the same amount to your lineup as 800 points from Freddie Freeman. When drafting however, you should take players with a higher discrepancy in points than the worst player at the position. If Harper is outscoring outfielders at a higher number than Freeman is outscoring his fellow first baseman then Harper is the more “valuable” draft target. Considering positional depth isn’t something you should live by but is definitely something to consider in your selection process. If you have a third baseman that scores you 40 points in a week and you have an outfielder that scores you 40 points in that same week, then they are equally valuable to your roster during that time. Your value will come from having players that score more than their peers in the same positional grouping.
Positional scarcity should also be considered when surveying the free agent pool. Let’s say you have an abundance of outfielders and lack a quality third baseman, there’s no reason to trade an outfielder who’s averaging six points per game for a third baseman who’s scoring six points per game as your team is still only getting six points from that player. This is only successful if there is a player available to add to replace the outfielder you traded that’s going to get you somewhere close to that six points per game back. In that case you will have added a better third baseman without losing the points given up from your outfielder. Creating a spreadsheet using YOUR leagues scoring system to make your own projections for players and using a tier system to understand which players are projected to have the highest net points at their position is a great way to make sure you draft the right guys for your specific league.
As with pitchers and walks, hitters also have detractors from their “bottom line” and that is the strikeout. In a game that has seen a staggeringly high increase in strikeouts, its become increasingly more important to find players that don’t kill you in points leagues with some strikeout totals approaching 200 in a season. Let’s start by focusing on players you should probably steer clear from in upcoming drafts due their propensity to strikeout. Chris Davis, Trevor Story and Javier Baez are players that have an atrocious strikeout percentage, bad on-base percentages and low ISO numbers (slugging minus batting average), all things to look for when drafting your players in this format. There are certain types of players with high strikeout rates that can absolutely be drafted in points leagues so don’t let that scare you away without looking at the player’s peripherals.
Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger all have rough strikeout percentages at over 23-percent but who in their right minds would pass these guys up? Their ISO (all rank in Top 5 in MLB) and OBP (all above .350) numbers are well high enough to still produce elite points league numbers for your squad. Those three players are locks to be drafted early in all formats so here’s a few more guys that have a bit more value in points leagues than other formats; Matt Carpenter, Steven Souza Jr. and Jake Lamb. These are hitters who had sub-.250 batting averages in 2017 making them liabilities in categories leagues in that specific statistic. However, in points leagues, they are still extremely valuable based on their .350-plus on-base percentages and all have the ability to produce in multiple categories. These three players in particular also have high walk rates, reducing their negative impact on your point total by offsetting the strikeouts.
You want your hitters to get on base and rack up the extra base hits so its best to ignore batting average and hone in on which players do those things better than others. This is where you’ll find your value on draft day as some people will look at a Matt Carpenter and his .241 AVG. in 2017 and go another route when they should be looking at his eligibility at three positions and his ridiculous .384 OBP. Another type of player to stay away from is the one trick ponies. Billy Hamilton in Cincinnati is a perfect example. A speed demon who is ultra valuable in categories leagues that could almost single handedly lock up the steals category for your team. However, in points leagues he’s just a guy with a sub-.300 OBP and no power to accumulate any other counting stats.
Joey Gallo in Texas is another one trick pony that has astonishing power but not much else working in his favor to have value in this format unless he reduces his K%. He rattled off 41 home runs and 80 runs batted in for the Rangers in 2017 which looks great on paper but hitting .209 with a .333 OBP and a 36.9 K% kept him from breaking the top 20 at the third base position despite those insane power numbers. On the other end of the spectrum, Lorenzo Cain is a great example of a points league gem. A player finishing a season with 49 RBI’s doesn’t exactly make you jump out of your seat. What should incite this reaction is the fact that he did enough in each and every aspect of his game to finish 2017 as a top 20 outfielder in standard points leagues. Shin-Soo Choo is similar in value as he has a high OBP and a high BB/K rate making him an under the radar player since he’s often ignored in fantasy leagues. After finishing as a top 30 outfielder last season he was still less than 30-percent owned in ESPN fantasy leagues.
In general, you want to target a bunch of do-it-all type hitters and high strikeout/low walk pitchers. Do your best to refrain from chasing saves, batting averages and wins. Instead, do your research and find the guys with the peripheral numbers listed here in this piece and create your own rankings. Rank players with the intent of finding across the board production, flexibility and sustainability. Biting on hype and hope is dangerous, so trust said research and trust your instincts. Points leagues are a ton of fun and are easy to use and understand for any age or skill level. Be sure to read all of the Living Draft Guide articles led by Jim Bowden and Howard Bender here at Fantasy Alarm and follow all of the team on Twitter. Let’s get the research started and get on your way to winning some league titles, one article at a time!