Fantasy Baseball Strategy: Points Leagues

Points leagues can be an easy way to get into fantasy baseball, being that
they’re the most similar to the most popular fantasy league, fantasy
football. We touched on it briefly in our last blog, but points leagues
involve weekly head to head matchups between league members, with the
team that scores the most points winning that week (and some great
bragging rights).

The standard scoring system for points leagues is pretty easy to grasp, as it
ties in with real-life performance. For hitters, a single or walk is worth 1
point, a double 2, a triple 3, and a home run 4. A strikeout will give you -1
points, but runs scored and runs batted in are each worth 1 point apiece.

On the pitching side, you get 1 point per out recorded and 1 additional
point if it’s a strikeout. You then lose a point for giving up walks and hits,
and lose 2 for each earned run. Then you usually get 5 points for a win or
save, and lose 5 for a loss. All of this can be tweaked, but it will give you the
basic understanding you need for scoring in points leagues.

With this in mind, it seems fairly obvious that the way to win in a points
league is to put together the best possible team, one that maximizes your
team’s total points throughout the season. But this can be easier said than
done, and we want to get into some tips on how you should be thinking
about roster construction.


Volume Matters:
In points leagues, the best ability is availability, and that goes for both
hitters and pitchers. Obviously quality is what separates the elite from the
good, but quantity is what establishes a good floor for players. For hitters,
this comes in the form of plate appearances. Put simply, the more times a
guy can get at-bats, the more opportunities he’ll have to accrue the
counting stats of getting on-base, batting runs in, scoring runs, etc. More
opportunity equals more fantasy points.

If you look back from 2016 through 2019 and compare just plate
appearances against total points scored (per CBS leagues), you can say that
plate appearances explain 52% of total points scored, as we found that the
two have an R-Squared of 0.5219. For example, a guy like Whit Merrifield
doesn’t wow you with his pop or strong skills, however since he’s good for
usually at least 700 plate appearances per season, he typically ranks
around a top 30 fantasy player.

The next piece to understand from a hitter construction perspective is that
getting on-base matters. Therefore guys who walk a lot tend to perform
better in points leagues than Roto leagues, as this format awards a walk the
same amount as a single. Power also plays into the equation, as if a guy hits
a 2-run home run that is 6 points in a single play, which can really swing a
guy’s week. For reference, if a hitter can put up 20 fantasy points in one
week that would be viewed as a pretty solid performance.

So with this in mind the best all-encompassing stat to keep in mind is
OPS, which is on-base percentage plus slugging percentage. We like guys
who project to have high OPS as this means they get on base (in any
manner possible), and they can hit for extra bases. There are tons of other
great stats you can use to evaluate both hitters and pitchers, which you can
read about here.


When it comes to roster construction on the pitching side, it is very
important to understand your specific league’s rules as they relate to pitching roster spots. Some leagues require you to roster and play both
starting pitchers and relief pitchers, while some just require the “P”, which
allows you to start any type of pitcher.

Leagues may also have an innings maximum, innings minimum, or any other type of pitching requirement.

If your league does not require you to start relief pitchers and does not
have an innings maximum, then I highly recommend you ignore relief
pitchers completely and just focus on starting pitchers. The reason for this
is twofold – for one the relief pitcher position is highly volatile from year to
year as inherently their sample sizes are pretty small, as a relief pitcher
might only throw 60 innings over which they may have a particularly good
or bad stretch. The second reason is that the closers’ role is thought about
much differently in today’s game, as there just aren’t that many true
closers. This means you may waste valuable draft capital for someone you
think has a firm grasp on their position, only to lose the job to a teammate
or be traded.

It’s worth mentioning as well that with pitching in points leagues, volume
still matters a lot, although just a tad less than for hitters. Owning a starter
who is going to pitch nearly every five days and throw five innings has the
potential to score you way more points than a relief pitcher who is only
going to pitch sparingly and you have to hope that it’s in a save situation
and that they don’t blow it. While volume matters for pitching, quality
tends to matter a bit more.

Another theme in today’s game is that starting pitchers are not going as
deep into games or as deep into the season as they have in the past. Since
you get points for innings pitched, this separates the elite guys from the rest of the pack when it comes to starting pitchers. It’s for that reason that
in points leagues we usually like to hammer starting pitching early and
often, as the scarcity of the position is perhaps the highest of any position
out there. The difference between a top starting pitcher versus a guy on the
waiver wire is severely more than the difference between a top outfielder
and a guy on waivers. A good rule of thumb for drafts is to try to grab a
starting pitcher on average every other pick.

A good all-encompassing stat to pay attention to for pitchers, similar to how
we mentioned OPS for hitters, is WAR, or Wins Above Replacement. You can find this stat on Fangraphs (where it can also be referred to as fWAR).
Simply, the higher the WAR the better the pitcher, and thus, the more
fantasy points they’ll tend to score. We have found that WAR for starting
pitchers and total points is about 70% correlated, with an R-Squared of
0.6979. That means if you aim to maximise your rotation’s projected WAR,
you’ll probably have a pretty good fantasy rotation.

Photos by Matt Thomas/Sarah Stier/Rob Leiter

Fantasy expert, Adam Gruttadaro, is a guest contributor for Bat Flips and Nerds. Check out his website for more fantasy tips and follow him on Twitter.

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