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4 Starting Pitcher Sleepers: Fantasy Baseball Points Leagues

Spring training games and fantasy baseball drafts are underway, which means it is officially baseball season! It may sound obvious, but it is important to prepare specifically for your league's rules, as players will hold different values accordingly.

The pitching fantasy landscape was tough to navigate last season, maybe a bit less so in points league compared to roto. Generally, starters have more opportunities to earn value in points league because they can still accumulate points from middling starts by pitching deeper into games, earning wins, and pitching quality starts in some leagues.

In this article, I will identify a few starting pitchers to target in points leagues. This does not mean these pitchers won't also be valuable in roto leagues, but their skill sets stand out within the rules of points leagues relative to roto leagues.

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Fantasy Baseball Starters to Target in Points Leagues

Chris Bassitt, Toronto Blue Jays

Fantasy Baseball ADP: 124

Chris Bassitt delivered a solid first season with the Blue Jays in 2023, going 16-8 with a 3.60 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, and 22.5% strikeout rate in 33 starts and 200 innings pitched. Despite not being an overpowering pitcher, he was able to navigate the American League East and pitch deep into games. How does his skill set favor points leagues?

First, Bassitt can eat innings. His 200 IP in 2023 was a career high, but he pitched 181 2/3 innings in 2022 as well. Points leagues value pitchers who get more outs, as they directly earn points. Further, pitching deeper into games allows for more opportunities to earn wins and quality starts (which are sometimes both granted points). Twenty-one of Bassitt’s 33 starts were quality starts, giving him an impressive 64% QS rate.

Bassitt is also able to truly turn in quality innings beyond the technical QS definition. He has done a good job limiting hard contact throughout his career and had an average exit velocity and hard-hit rate in the 80th and 76th percentiles of baseball in 2023, respectively.

He also avoided putting runners on for free (which cost points) with a 7.1% walk rate. His strikeout skills may not be high-end, but his ability to rack up innings gives him the chance to accumulate decent strikeout totals.

Overall, Bassitt is more or less a second-hand version of Logan Webb, who embodies the tenets of a points-league starter. I didn't explicitly mention Webb in this article because he stands out as the obvious quintessential points-league pitcher.

Like Webb, Bassitt can pitch deep into games, delivers strong outcomes, avoids damaging contact and walks, and can still post respectable strikeout counts. His ADP is currently over twice that of Webb’s, making him a draft standout.

 

Merrill Kelly, Arizona Diamondbacks

Fantasy Baseball ADP: 136

At 35 years old, Merrill Kelly has emerged as a late points-league bloomer over the past several seasons. He went 12-8 with a 3.29 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, and 25.9% strikeout rate in 30 starts and 177 2/3 IP in 2023. Peripherally, Kelly profiles similarly to Bassitt, hence why he is a pitcher worth targeting in points leagues.

Starting with similarities, Kelly was a reliable innings arm from 2022-23, accumulating 278 innings. He turned in 18 QS, so his win total and QS rate weren’t quite as good as Bassitt’s but were still high-end.

Turning to differences, Kelly offers more strikeout upside than Bassitt. He does rely on different fastballs like Bassitt, but he also has an excellent changeup, which he threw 23.1% of the time with an 18.2% swinging strike rate. Another difference is their batted-ball profiles. Kelly gave up harder-than-average contact in 2023 but did a good job keeping the ball on the ground with a 45.7% GB rate.

Kelly does enough things well and pitches deep into games, making him especially valuable in points leagues. His current ADP is close to Bassitt’s, which makes sense given their overall profiles. Both Bassitt and Kelly would make solid middle-rotation pieces for fantasy managers’ rotations.

 

Nick Pivetta, Boston Red Sox

Fantasy Baseball ADP: 185

Unlike the first two pitchers, Nick Pivetta offers points-league value in fundamentally different ways. The 31-year-old only made 16 starts last season, but he made 38 appearances overall and pitched 142 2/3 innings. Switching between starting and long-relieving, Pivetta went 10-9 with a 4.04 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, and 31.2% strikeout rate. Why should fantasy managers target him in points leagues despite profiling so differently?

Pivetta has the benefit of being both SP and RP eligible. This gives him a distinct advantage in points leagues, as fantasy managers can swap him into their lineups as an RP when he is scheduled to start. Likewise, he can be left in an SP spot, but accumulate points from relief appearances without having to sit a closer. He will likely start the season in the team’s rotation, but being dual-eligible gives him an advantage.

While Pivetta may not have quite the finesse that Bassitt or Kelly has, he can more than make up for it with his high strikeout numbers. Pivetta saw a career-high strikeout rate last season, thanks to a solid trio of four-seam fastball, curveball, and slider. Pivetta saw a considerable velocity boost across the board from 2022 to 2023, so it stands to reason that he can maintain those strikeout gains if he maintains his velocity uptick.

Pivetta does present more variability than Bassitt and Kelly, both in terms of his role and his overall performance. However, he offers unique flexibility in points leagues with his SP/RP eligibility and ended last season strong while generating strikeouts throughout the season. I think he offers a high ceiling with the ability to keep his floor from bottoming out in points leagues.

 

Kyle Gibson, St. Louis Cardinals

Fantasy Baseball ADP: 343.5

I’d like to add a shoutout to a pitcher who may not be on fantasy managers’ radars, but who has been a surprisingly useful end-of-draft fantasy pick in points leagues. Kyle Gibson’s overall numbers may not have been impressive in 2023, as he went 15-9 with a 4.73 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, and 19.5% strikeout rate in 33 starts and 192 IP with the Orioles. Let me explain how the 36-year-old can be a sneaky last pick in points leagues.

Streaming pitchers is more prevalent in points leagues than roto leagues, as blowup starts are not quite as costly and two-start pitchers can be more valuable in a week.

As such, it is not uncommon for the last couple of roster spots on a points-league team to be used to chase the next “it” starter or a starter who appears convenient for one week. While this is an option, a safer one is to have a well-established pitcher whom you can pick and choose your matchups with.

At this point in his career, Gibson typically serves as a veteran innings-eater for rotations. He knows how to pitch deep into games and weather outings when he doesn’t have his best stuff. This means that even though he doesn’t have strikeout stuff and gives up a lot of hits overall, he can still pitch well and take advantage of more favorable matchups. This is clear by the fact that he turned in 17 QS last season despite his peripherals.

To be clear, I don’t think that fantasy managers should draft Gibson any earlier than their last pick and can ignore him in shallower leagues, and they should not start him in all matchups. However, his benefit is that he now has an established role within rotations that plays to points leagues.

His goal is to go out every fifth day and save the bullpen. When he faces favorable matchups, this can result in a QS and a W for fantasy managers. These outcomes from Gibson in those matchups are more guaranteed than hitting on a majority of streamed starts throughout a season.



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