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Points League Primer - Fantasy Baseball Draft Strategy

When discussing fantasy baseball, an often neglected but entertaining format is the points league. These exist in both season-long cumulative and weekly head-to-head leagues.

While existential debates about scoring categories and their true depiction of player worth are endless, points leagues arguably get closest to the objective of sabermetrics. Points leagues attempt to define a player's contribution (or detraction) in greater depth. For example, we know a triple is more valuable than a single and these leagues acknowledge that.

The fundamentals are the same, but there are some unique strategies associated with points leagues that you may want to be acquainted with before you draft. Without further ado, here is your 2018 Points League Primer for fantasy baseball.

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How to Win Your Points League

There is a high degree of overlap with standard leagues, but the below table illustrates an overview of this scoring system. We'll discuss four primary difference that could alter a manager's strategy on draft day and during the season.

Note weights and categories differ by league. Some leagues overweight wins or underemphasize saves. Others might have additional categories like quality starts or HRs allowed. Since this is a basic outline, we'll operate under our assumptions but remember to check the settings of your particular league.


1) Strikeouts and Walks Matter

Hitting-wise, in common leagues, a strikeout is a non-event and a hitter only receives indirect credit for a walk if he tallies an RBI or eventually scores. Points leagues instantly gratify hitters for getting on base, which is the essence of offense. Likewise, since a hitter is wholly responsible for striking out, he is punished.

A key unique metric in points leagues is BB/K. Out of 144 qualified hitters in 2017, the median BB/K was 0.48. Joey Votto was an elite outlier at 1.61 and the poorest was Tim Anderson at 0.08. Even though Matt Carpenter struck out at a 20.1% clip last season, his 17.5% walk rate gave him the ninth best 0.87 BB/K. On the flipside, although Rougned Odor was considered a bust in standard leagues, in points leagues he suffered massive value destruction with 162 strikeouts and only 32 walks. Despite 30 HR, the feeble BB/K just wasn't worth the trade-off.

Earning walks skews a player's value positively, Votto was a top-five player in points leagues but finished lower in standard leagues. Carpenter, Kris Bryant, and Shin-Soo Choo were walk-friendly players that saw better year-end ranks in points leagues relative to standard formats. Owners targeting players around 0.50 BB/K or better will enjoy a positive benefit from drafting patient hitters.

Since there is a positive relationship between strikeouts and slugging, managers should also analyze the strikeout in exchange for earning points via power.


2) Slugging is More Important than Average

An important consideration in points leagues is a player's slugging ability. Instead of treating all hits equally as AVG does, netting points for total bases rewards hitting for power.

Jose Ramirez hit 56 doubles and six triples in 2017. These contributions went ignored in standard leagues. Because of his high average and HR production, Ramirez' value in points leagues just barely surpassed his rank in standard ones. Meanwhile, Francisco Lindor (.273 AVG, 48 doubles+triples), Nicholas Castellanos (.272, 46) and Xander Bogaerts (.273, 38) were all significantly more valuable from a total bases standpoint. Even replacement-level guys like Cesar Hernandez and Denard Span received large bumps in relevance from their non-HR slugging.

Incorporating walks, slugging and BB/K complements AVG and HR, painting a better picture of a player's true worth. Since wOBA isn't a fantasy stat (yet), points leagues get us close to that representation.


3) Pitching Stamina Helps, Losses Hurt

Pitcher durability is a key ingredient to strikeouts, ERA and WHIP. More innings pitched means increased chances to rack up Ks and achieve a steady state in ratios. In points leagues, rate stats are converted into counting stats by penalizing earned runs and walks. Pitchers also receive points for each inning recorded. It's vital to consider IP alongside standard measurements like K/9, especially when innings limits are concerned

Despite a disappointing 3.64 ERA and 1.22 WHIP for Carlos Martinez in 2017, his fifth best 205.0 IP buoyed his value in points leagues. The theme rings true for Gerrit Cole and Chris Archer. These three players had disappointing ERA and WHIP, but their strikeout prowess was greatly complemented by piling on innings. Conversely, while Julio Teheran and Ivan Nova are not strikeout artists, their durability made them relatively more relevant in points leagues. Even Clayton Richard with his ugly 4.79 ERA and 1.52 WHIP held some worth simply due to his 197.1 IP.

Losses are also significantly detrimental. In standard leagues, you either win or you don't. In points leagues, a pitcher's team is critical even while evaluating his individual ability. Players like Jeff Samardzija and Mike Foltynewicz suffered from playing on bad teams despite serviceable seasons last year. Getting tagged with losses can negate otherwise strong starts by pitchers and is a much more meaningful swing factor than just wins.


4) Scoring is Category-Agnostic

All fantasy managers are trained to draft a balanced team to address our 5x5 needs. In points leagues, that is irrelevant. A double is worth as much as a steal, and five strikeouts count the same as a win. Buck the traditional mentality, take stats where you can find them.

Points leagues have the unique characteristic of allowing managers to evaluate players on their overall body of work as opposed to select niche areas. A simple comparison covers doubles and stolen bases. In 2017, there were 8,397 doubles hit and 2,527 steals in the majors. For steals, standard leagues owners are fighting for share in a commodity that is getting scarcer. In points leagues, the argument is to just ignore steals and accumulate stats where there is excess supply like doubles and homers. There's no harm in rostering a squad of sloths.



Points leagues show considerable overlap with standard leagues. It's still just baseball. But, they better-represent the evolving appreciation of advanced statistics. It creates depth in a player's profile (i.e. walks, triples, innings pitched) and more closely embodies the real value of that player on the diamond. Customization is another perk of points leagues. Categories and their corresponding weights are discretionary, so it gives leagues more flexibility in determining which stats they value.

In my experience, points leagues are more challenging and require extra strategy, but hopefully that's why we all play the game in the first place!


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