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ESPN H2H Fantasy Baseball Points League Primer: Bargains and Busts

Jarren Duran - Fantasy Baseball Rankings, Draft Sleepers, MLB Prospects News

Many different kinds of fantasy baseball leagues are calling to the wide variety of fantasy baseball players in the world. Analysis is done frequently for those playing in high-stakes leagues, and not for those playing in smaller, perhaps less competitive, leagues.

While many fantasy players flock to snake drafts, many folks still play in points leagues. The largest difference between standard rotisserie and standard points leagues is that a player's value comes down to single numbers instead of category statistics. Some people disparage playing in points leagues. But here's the thing: we need to grow the sport. The more people that love fantasy baseball will also love the actual game of baseball, and that grows the sport. Playing in points leagues can lead to people developing an interest in playing in more leagues and then perhaps into playing deeper roto leagues. A few weeks ago, the brilliant Todd Zola stated that 75% of fantasy players play in 10-team Yahoo points leagues. If doing that leads to those players getting into 15-team roto leagues and even deeper, then mission accomplished. But if your love of the game is points leagues, that is great, too. Don't let anyone talk you out of doing what you love.

Let's take a deeper dive into this format and see if we can identify some strategy points and players to target and avoid here. The choices made here might give you pause and may cause you to question my sanity, which you would be correct to do most days. But stick with me to the end and hear my testimony.

Be sure to check all of our fantasy baseball waiver wire pickups and weekly lineup resources:

 

ESPN H2H Points Standard League Overview

A quick scan of the tables below will show you that you get points for positive happenings, while you lose points for negative happenings. These two charts show the historical scoring compared to the new scoring system unveiled in 2023. See below.

ESPN HISTORICAL SCORING:

Hitter Event Points Pitcher Event Points
1B 1 IP 3
2B 2 Win 5
3B 3 SV 5
HR 4 Loss -5
Run 1 K 1
RBI 1 ER -2
SB 1 Hit -1
BB 1 BB -1
K -1

ESPN CURRENT STANDARD SCORING:

Hitter Event Points Pitcher Event Points
TB 1 IP 3
2B 0 Win 2
3B 0 Save 5
HR 0 Hold 2
Run 1 K 1
RBI 1 Loss -2
SB 1 ER -2
BB 1 Hit -1
K -1 BB -1

A word of caution: the values listed in the chart above are the default scoring system at ESPN. Your league commissioner might change or add to the scoring system. Never assume that the scoring system is the standard even if someone in the league tells you that it is. Always check, because knowledge is power. First things first in any article like this one: know your settings!

 

Hitting Strategy for ESPN H2H Points Leagues

The revised scoring system makes it easier to evaluate and rank players. It can't be said enough; a hitter's point-scoring profile is more important than his actual talent.

In head-to-head points leagues, you don't have to worry about certain aspects of a batter's performance. For example, you can roster Ian Happ far more easily because you can stomach the suboptimal batting average, as it is not a category in points leagues. Your focus needs to be on those who create runs. Happ scores runs, walks, hits some home runs, and steals a few bases. He might not be as popular in other formats but is a great points league player.

You will want to study a hitter's walk and strikeout rates. Hitters with low strikeout rates and high walk rates will be more valuable here than in a standard rotisserie league. A guy like Cleveland's Steven Kwan has more value in this format than others.

This may be sacrilege to point out here but a player like Elly De La Cruz, tantalizing as his talent is in real life, is a potential drain here, with a walk rate of less than 10% and a strikeout rate higher than 30%. His potential power limitations amount to 12-15 home runs while stealing 30+ bases. Let the buyer beware. It might seem counterintuitive, but the points do not lie.

It's all about hunting bargains by taking advantage of the competition that is improperly valuing players due to the strikeout penalty and relatively lower stolen base scoring. These per-PA advantages can be found in any scoring system but the weight the aforementioned qualities place on overall value can take these swings to an extreme, compared to what a player's value is generally thought to be.

Do not be conservative in getting the biggest bats. Draft as many as you can. Go for a high ceiling whenever possible. A mistake that many players make is rostering the ho-hum, boring veterans as opposed to the guys with upside. The waiver wire is full of replacement hitters. Take a chance on Henry Davis, for example, who has ample opportunity in Pittsburgh and is being underdrafted right now. Take chances.

Then, balance that with the "known" commodities. Draft huge bats and as many of them as you can first. In the first 8-10 rounds of your draft, I would suggest all but one or two be hitters. You are looking for hitters at the top of their game with upside. This can separate you from your drafting peers. While they overbid in auction leagues on guys like Nico Hoerner, you are happy to get the surging Thairo Estrada or Bryson Stott.

Draft a "do no harm" catcher. The catcher position can be a sinkhole in points leagues. For years, I was always happy to roster Yadier Molina. I had a pretty good idea of what he would do annually. My point is, he wasn't going to hit 30 home runs, but on the flip side, he wasn't going to cost me points because of 175 strikeouts. This is one position I churn during the season.

Stolen bases are devalued, so do not waste your time on a guy like Esteury Ruiz since he doesn't do anything else other than steal bases.

 

Pitching Strategy for ESPN H2H Points Leagues

The best pitchers matter more because they can register the highest point totals. After those aces are off the board, you can wait longer on pitching and spend far more draft capital (whether that be auction dollars or snake draft spots) on difference-making hitters.

With pitchers, high strikeouts and innings volumes will be your best friends. That seems to go without saying. Getting a solid ace or two will give you a jump on several areas like innings volume and strikeouts. Wins are finicky and dependent on so many factors, which is why many in the industry will suggest you draft “skills” and not statistics.

An underutilized weapon in points leagues is the No. 3 or No. 4 starter that eats innings. We used to try and target pitchers who would give us mostly worry-free innings and try to grab those pitchers who would throw 200 innings. Only eight starting pitchers hit the 200-inning mark in 2022. Those days are gone for most pitchers.

As the game has changed in recent years, so has our attitude toward what constitutes an “innings eater.” Not only will you get the points offered for innings, but you also stand a better chance at grabbing the ever-elusive win and maybe a few more strikeouts.

I think targeting pitchers in the 150-160 innings range could yield good results for you. Realistically, you may only get one or two of the 200-inning pitchers and will need to fill in behind that. Innings eaters are huge here. While you might feel like taking a more sexy and stylish pitcher who has upside, the better play might be taking a guy who characteristically pitches deeper into games. Logan Webb, Chris Bassitt, and Framber Valdez are great examples here.

But wait, there is more. If you base it on projections, not the eye test, a veteran like Charlie Morton projects to outscore the new shiny toy, Bobby Miller. The name of the game is points. If you get that with a boring guy, then so be it.

Target pitchers from winning teams. Wins are such an arbitrary statistic, and hard to find and prognosticate. When deciding between starters on teams, consider giving more weight to the guy who is on the better team. For example, the fifth starter for the Philadelphia Phillies could get more wins than the third starter for the Oakland Athletics. This is intuitive if you let it be, but a point to make here nonetheless.

Drafting closers in this format is a question. Because they throw fewer innings than starters, their value is somewhat limited compared to a standard roto league. Some players will punt on closers. Some will target having an ace closer or two, and some will use the waiver wire to be able to add what they need as they go.

It depends on what the roster spots force you to take; adapt as needed. For me, take it or leave it, I always try to have a saves anchor in most leagues; someone who can get 30+ saves with sparking ratios and great K rates. I'll add a speculative closer later in the draft or via the waiver wire.

For example, last year I rostered Devin Williams and then paired him later with Tanner Scott and a waiver wire pickup of Matt Brash. That worked quite well, especially in the second half of the year. But I had to fill RP slots and was limited to nine starts per week.

Some fantasy players will fill their roster with closers rather than speculate on starters. Some will take 3-5 excellent starters and then backfill with relief pitchers. It's a risky strategy but it can work. An ace reliever is worth more potentially than an average starter. Use these Houston teammates as an example in a head-to-head points league: Bryan Abreu will likely outscore Cristian Javier.

You do not need to roster top starters throughout the draft. I would suggest it is a waste. Get a top-tier guy and build around him with mid-tier arms. One thing we know for sure: pitchers do not often return their draft value. Why waste picks or dollars on top guys when you can get three or four middle-round values later?

Find relief pitchers that can help with ratios and strikeouts but are not closing; think of Bryan Abreu or a healthy Matt Brash-type. Stream pitchers and churn the bottom of your roster with streamers if you feel confident in doing so.

Hitter Bargains and Busts for ESPN H2H Points Leagues

Let's take a look at some bargains and busts for this format.

Bargains

Steven Kwan: Many fantasy players look at Kwan and see a spare outfielder, but points leagues players see fantasy gold.  Why? Well, Kwan had a bit of a down year in 2023, yet posted a 10.4% K% to go with his 9.7% BB%. He hit .268 but his xBA was .282. He hit .298 in 2022, and he's a good bet for 20+ stolen bases and close to 100 runs batting atop an improving batting order. Kwan will play every day and had a whopping 718 plate appearances last year. He's an underrated stats stuffer in this format, helping across multiple categories. Do not sleep on him.

Josh Naylor: Similar to his teammate Kwan, Naylor doesn't strike out much (13.7%) and has a decent walk rate (6.7%) that he has said he wants to improve upon in 2023. Naylor has more power than Kwan, hitting 17 homers in 2023 and 20 in 2022. Naylor hit .308, had 97 RBI, and chipped in 10 steals. At 26, he could be a burgeoning star, and he's going cheaper than he should be in many drafts. Naylor is a great fit in an ESPN points league.

Jarren Duran: It seems like fantasy players have been waiting on Duran for years. Duran was on his way to his best season ever in 2023 when a toe injury requiring surgery ended his season in August. Duran was hitting .295, and had eight home runs and 24 stolen bases at that time. While many analysts are calling for a bust for Duran this year, he has continued hitting this spring in a small sample size. Look for 10-15 home runs, 25-30 stolen bases, and a steady batting average above .270, all of which help in this format.

Busts

Elly De La Cruz: Yes, the talent tantalizes. The exit velocity and base-running speed make us all turn our heads to the replays to see what Elly did. But, talent doesn't win you a points league. Points do. And there are a dozen shortstops I would rather have in this format where their risk isn't as high. Even if he hits 20 home runs, which seems a bridge too far, and steals 30+ bases, the potential for a 200-strikeout season and a .220 batting average is very possible. In a points league, his value is limited. Let someone else overpay for him. They will.

Esteury Ruiz: Drafting a player who does only one thing well in this format makes no sense to me. Yes, he may steal 60 bases. But where else does a guy who can't hit help you? Should Ruiz fix that problem, we will talk again next season.

 

Pitcher Bargains and Busts for ESPN H2H Points Leagues

Bargains

Nick Pivetta: Raise your hand if you know that Pivetta has had at least 175 strikeouts in the last three seasons. Keep that hand raised if you are aware that he had over six strikeouts in 15 of his 31 outings in 2023. The 4.04 ERA and 1.12 WHIP were helpful as well. Pivetta is likely underdrafted in most leagues and you should earmark him for your team as a mid-rotation piece. Compare his first half to his second half:

Hunter Greene: Greene has been a target for me in several leagues, but his stats jump out at you in a points league, as you don't have to worry about ratios. Greene looks primed to have higher volumes of innings this season, and with that will come a proliferation of strikeouts. Should he get to 150 innings, 200 punchouts would be in reach. He averaged 12.21 strikeouts per nine innings last season. News this spring was that he has added a curveball and a splitter during the offseason. While some players are warned off by the potential ratio damage, you see an opportunity in a points league. Wins should come if he pitches decently with a good offense behind him in Cincinnati.

Mitch Keller: Keller turned in a quality body of work in 2023. He was 13-9 with a 4.21 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, and 210 strikeouts in 194 innings. Expect a similar workload and similar results in 2024.

Busts

Zac Gallen: Gallen is a great example of a pitcher whose value takes a hit in a points format. Take a look at the Statcast data below. The strikeout rate is middling at 26%, and the exit velocity and the hard-hit% are in the bottom percentages of MLB. The xERA, while an imperfect stat, shows us that he outpitched that peripheral. The point is, he's an innings volume pitcher who is being drafted as an ace. In points leagues, that may not work.

Tyler Glasnow: This is a great example of what I tried to say in this piece. Glasnow is one of the most talented pitchers on the planet, but the point-scoring profile doesn't hit me as one to target in this type of league. Glasnow has never thrown more than 120 innings in his major league career.

Yes, he did strike out a whopping 162 batters in 2023. But, with the Los Angeles Dodgers looking to use a six-man rotation to keep starters fresh, this cuts innings from his resume. The goal is to keep him fresh and healthy for a deep playoff run. So while Glasnow goes in the top 30-40 of all players in points formats, my unhappy suggestion is to pass on this incredible talent.

Good luck with finishing up your drafts, thus ending the best season of the year.



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The fantasy football grind is year-round at RotoBaller! As early best ball drafts are already getting underway, we're putting together our early rankings for 2024 fantasy football. RotoBaller's David Rispoli digs into our latest Tight End rankings for 2024. Is it time for a changing of the guard at the TE positon? Our 2024 rankings... Read More


Michael Florio's Football Show - Podcast RotoBaller Network

Florio's Football Show: Late Round Targets!

Michael F. Florio is back and so is best ball season! If you are drafting in best ball, you need some targets for the later rounds. Florio gives you his favorites at each position! Plus, he talks why it is smart to wait on RBs even if you grab one in the early rounds. Get... Read More