Fantasy Baseball Points League Primer: Five Rules to Remember

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The majority of fantasy baseball advice and analysis is tailored to standard head-to-head and rotisserie leagues. The rationale for this is twofold. First, those scoring formats are significantly more popular than points leagues, and writers naturally want to capture the broadest possible audience. To wit: I make a point of familiarizing myself with ADP data each year even though all of my leagues are auction drafts. Secondly, while H2H and roto can have plenty of variance in terms of scoring settings, points league by nature have significantly more permutations.

If you’ve never played in a points league before, the adjustment can be a difficult one. Here are a few simple rules to help you navigate the waters.

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Starting Pitching is More Valuable…

The vast majority of the time in H2H or roto, it makes sense to spend more on bats than on arms. Pitchers are an inherently more volatile asset. They’re more susceptible to bad circumstances or misfortune that impacts performance, and they break more often than hitters. In points leagues, however, they are also worth substantially more. In 2015, Bryce Harper’s transcendent MVP season scored his owners an impressive 554 points. However, seven starting pitchers tallied more points than Harper. Points leagues are the only format in which you’re not automatically drafting Mike Trout with the first pick.

 

…But You Need to Select the Right Guys

Head-to-head owners can stream or roster pitchers whose value is much more limited in rotisserie or points leagues. If the pitcher in question can get you a well-timed win or help shore up your ratios, you can overlook the fact that he doesn’t whiff many batters, or that he allows too many walks. Roto penalizes for low strikeout totals in standard leagues, but walks still don’t matter if they aren’t wrecking ratios.

In points leagues, however, pitchers are often directly penalized for walks. Unless they’re posting gaudy strikeout totals, you’ll have a tough time deploying guys with high walk rates. As a general rule of thumb, try to avoid relying on pitchers with a K/BB below 3.00.

 

High-Strikeout Hitters Hurt

It’s not just pitcher skill sets that need to be evaluated a bit differently in points leagues. Many will dock you points for whiffs from your hitters. In the infancy of analytics, debate raged as to whether strikeouts were worse than other, more “productive” outs. This old argument does hold water in points league, however. While a hitter can still be good despite high strikeout totals – and many of the best sluggers in the game fit that bill – this format takes a bigger chunk out of their value than H2H and roto leagues typically do.

Think of it like this: If you draft Chris Davis in a head-to-head or rotisserie league, you can grab a high-average hitter or two to mitigate the damage he’d do to your team’s batting average. In a points league, though, Davis is creating negative value for your team in nearly a third of his plate appearances! Conversely, guys like Mookie Betts, Nolan Arenado, and Jose Altuve are tremendously valuable in any format, but their combination of power and contact ability makes them that much more enticing in points leagues.

 

Rate Stats Matter More

Fantasy owners who have cut their teeth in standard H2H or roto leagues have been conditioned to think of power in terms of home run totals. But points leagues often reward hitters for doubles and triples as well. Points leagues also give credit for walks, which standard leagues in the other formats do not.

What this means is that you should be paying more attention to rate stats. On-base percentage, slugging percentage, and isolated power can all tell you a lot about how productive a hitter will be in points leagues.

 

Specialized Stats Matter Less

In a head-to-head or roto league, your best strategy for success is to build a team that is competitive in all facets of the game. Punting categories can work, but it’s difficult to pull off and should never be plan A – particularly in roto. If you’re playing in a points league, however, that goes out the window. It doesn’t matter where your points are coming from, as long as you’re accumulating them.

Accordingly, specialized stats like stolen bases and saves are less important. A guy like Billy Hamilton’s usefulness is severely capped, because he only does one thing well. Ditto for the handful of closers each year who compile saves despite lackluster strikeout rates and pedestrian ratios (looking your way, Jeanmar Gomez).

This also allows owners to be more creative in their approach to building a winning roster. Freed from the necessary evil of striving for balance, a points league owner might elect to load up on a specific type of player, or use trades to add to a strength rather than address a weakness.


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