Player Valuations: Points vs. Roto (2019 Fantasy Baseball)
Over the next two months, we’ll be poring over countless news items, advanced stats, and data points to try to identify this year’s biggest breakouts and busts, and everything in between. That’s certainly an important thing to do if you want to win at fantasy baseball, but it will only get you so far if you haven’t mastered some of the game’s finer strategic elements. First among those is knowing your league rules, starting with the scoring format.
Sure, it sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how few people fully appreciate the impact a scoring system has on player values. It’s not something that gets talked about as much in fantasy baseball as it does in fantasy football, where the difference between PPR and non-PPR formats is based on a single metric, and hence much more intuitive and straight-forward.
In competitive leagues, you need to exploit every edge if you want to win, and this is a big one. Some of the players listed below are only useful in certain scoring formats. If you use them in the wrong format, they could actively hurt you. The difference is less extreme for other players—this is just one of many factors to consider when ranking—but at the very least you should consider this information as a potential tiebreaker when assessing two players that you have ranked in the same tier.
For the purposes of this article, we’ll look at some players whose valuations differ greatly depending on whether you play in a points league or categories-based league (whether it’s head-to-head categories or roto). We’ll do so by comparing how players have performed in CBS Points Leagues vs. their value in standard 5×5 rotisserie leagues, as calculated by Baseball Monster.
What makes a player more valuable in one format than the other? A good rule of thumb for hitters is that players who walk more are better in points leagues, unless your roto/categories league uses on-base percentage instead of batting average. Players who rarely strike out also tend to be more valuable in points leagues, as are players who hit more doubles than home runs. Stolen base threats are usually much better in roto/categories leagues, as are all-or-nothing sluggers who either homer or strike out.
On the pitching side of the equation, innings-eaters who accumulate a lot of wins, quality starts, and strikeouts are particularly valuable in points leagues, whereas elite per-inning ratios (K/9, ERA, and WHIP) are more valuable in roto/categories leagues, even if they occur over fewer total innings.
The default rankings of most league providers are presumably based on the combined rankings of their staff writers, who may or may not have a particular scoring system in mind. So this list will hopefully present you with some good buying opportunities. Generally speaking, you’ll want to reach a bit in drafts for players who have more value in your particular scoring system, and you’ll want to pass on players who have less value unless they fall quite a bit further than expected.
Hitters Who Are Better In Points Leagues, Worse In Roto/Categories Leagues
Carlos Santana (1B/3B – CLE)
Santana is the poster child for a player who is a very valuable asset in points leagues but just a fringe option in roto/categories leagues. Thanks to possessing the fourth-highest walk rate and 20th-lowest strikeout rate among qualified hitters, Santana ranked fifth among first basemen in CBS points leagues last year, but he barely squeaked into the position’s top-12 in roto/categories formats.
Alex Bregman (3B/SS – HOU)
Bregman had a major power breakthrough in 2018, propelling him to a high-end stud in all formats, but other aspects of his game made him particularly useful in points leagues. While Bregman didn’t post an elite batting average (.286) or stolen base total (10), which are key to roto/categories value, he boosted his points-league worth by walking more than he struck out and hitting a league-leading 51 doubles. As a result, Bregman was quite a bit more valuable than Nolan Arenado and Manny Machado in CBS points leagues, whereas the reverse was true in roto/categories formats.
Joey Votto (1B – CIN)
Votto’s production fell off a clip in 2018, rendering him virtually unusable in standard roto/categories league. But he remained a top-12 first baseman in CBS points leagues thanks to his elite plate discipline, joining Santana and Jose Ramirez as the only players with a walk rate above 15 percent and a strikeout rate below 20 percent. It is unclear if Votto is capable of a bounce-back season at age 35, but it is much more reasonable to gamble on him in points leagues than in roto/categories formats.
Markakis is the definition of a boring fantasy pick, but he quietly finished as a top-12 outfielder in CBS points leagues last season despite finishing outside the top-20 outfielders in standard 5×5 roto leagues. The reason? He is an elite doubles hitter who walks quite a bit and rarely strikes out. Markakis is likely to regress this season, and with little home run power or stolen base prowess to speak of, he is just a fringe player to own in roto/categories leagues. But his doubles-heavy, high-contact approach and regular playing time should keep him relevant in points leagues, even with some built-in regression.
Hitters Who Are Better In Roto/Categories Leagues, Worse In Points Leagues
Javier Baez (2B/SS – CHC)
Baez was a bonafide five-category stud in standard 5×5 leagues last season, producing 34 homers and 21 steals, batting .290, and topping the century mark in both runs (101) and RBIs (111). Those numbers will certainly play in points leagues as well, but with MLB’s 10th-lowest walk rate and 14th-highest strikeout rate, he wasn’t quite as valuable in those formats. Whether it is worth drafting him over a player like Bregman really boils down to the league format.
Adalberto Mondesi (2B/SS – KC)
Mondesi is one of the most hotly debated players heading into 2019, but whether you should believe in him may actually come down to your league format. We don’t have a full season’s worth of data to go on here, but based on what Mondesi did in 291 plate appearances last season, he looks like the quintessential player who will contribute more in roto/categories than points. He checks all the boxes: a low walk rate, a high strikeout rate, a very high stolen base total, and for last season at least, more home runs than doubles. Most projection systems expect Mondesi’s batting average to regress from .276 into the .250 range, and some of his home runs could turn into doubles this year, each of which could bring his roto value a bit closer to his points value. But the elite steals alone should ensure his value in roto/categories leagues.
Tim Anderson (SS – CHW)
Anderson is yet another middle infielder with solid power, good speed, and poor plate discipline. He won’t hit as many homers or for as high an average as Baez, and he won’t steal as many bases as Mondesi. Yet he won’t cost as much either. The 20-26 season he posted in 2018 made him the 10th-most valuable shortstop in standard 5×5 leagues, while he ranked just 17th at the position in CBS points leagues. Your scoring format will determine whether Anderson is a reasonable starting option or mere bench fodder.
Starling Marte (OF – PIT)
I nearly put Jonathan Villar here but figured there should be at least one guy who isn’t a middle infielder. Marte typically combines a solid batting average and large stolen base total with a low walk rate and fairly high strikeout rate, making him a much more appealing player in standard roto/categories leagues than in points formats. Last season, he was the eighth-most valuable outfielder in 5×5 leagues while finishing just 15th in CBS points leagues. Marte missed half the 2017 season due to a PED suspension, but the gap was even greater before that. He finished as the 12th-ranked outfielder in 5×5 leagues in 2016, but just the 30th-ranked outfielder in CBS points leagues that year.
Pitchers Who Are Better In Points Leagues, Worse In Roto/Categories Leagues
Dallas Keuchel (SP – HOU)
Even when at his best from 2014-2017, Keuchel was better suited to points leagues thanks to his anemic strikeout totals and middling WHIP. But that discrepancy grew larger last season, as he devolved into little more than a pure innings-eater. Keuchal finished 31st among starters in CBS points leagues in 2018, but he fell outside the top-120 starting pitchers in standard 5×5 roto leagues, meaning he severely hurt anyone who used him in that format. Keuchel is projected to produce similar numbers to last year, so while there’s room for him in a points-league rotation, he is strictly hands-off elsewhere.
German Marquez (SP – COL)
I thought about putting Marquez’s teammate Kyle Freeland here, but considering Freeland is highly unlikely to come close to repeating his unsustainable 2.85 ERA, Marquez seems like the more instructive case. With a much healthier strikeout-to-walk ratio than Freeland, Marquez is due for much less regression in 2019. Yet he is still quite unlikely to improve on last year’s 1.20 WHIP while playing his home games at Coors Field, which will take a much greater toll on his value in roto/categories leagues than in points leagues. Just look at last season, when Marquez finished as the 18th-best starting pitcher in CBS points leagues but just the 35th-best starter in standard 5×5 leagues. That’s the difference between a mid-range second starter and a low-end third.
Rick Porcello (SP – BOS)
Porcello has been a staple of points-league rotations thanks to his consistently high innings totals, which also helps him collect ample wins and quality starts. Those innings, however, typically come with an ERA over 4.00, a bloated WHIP, and less than a strikeout per inning, putting his roto/categories league owners behind the eight ball. That helps explain why Porcello was the 21st-most valuable starting pitcher in CBS points leagues last year, but just the 44th-most valuable starter in standard 5×5 roto leagues.
Jon Lester (SP – CHC)
As recently as 2016, Lester was an elite pitcher in any format. While he remains a lock for 180+ innings and a correspondingly high win total, his walk rate and WHIP have ballooned while his strikeout rate declines in the tail end of his career. That profile has allowed him to remain a decent asset in CBS points leagues, where he ranked 26th among starters last season, but it has caused his roto value to plummet-he was just the 41st-best starter in standard 5×5 leagues last season.
Pitchers Who Are Better In Roto/Categories Leagues, Worse In Points Leagues
Clayton Kershaw (SP – LAD)
Nagging injuries have ensured that Kershaw is no longer the workhorse he once was—he hasn’t topped 200 innings since 2015—but we are still talking about a pitcher with 10 straight seasons of a sub-3.00 ERA and eight straight with a WHIP below 1.05. In 2016 and 2017, Kershaw proved capable of posting elite enough ratios to be a top-five rotisserie starter in just 150-175 innings, but the workload drop hurt him more in points leagues. That is epitomized by 2016 when he threw 149 innings and finished as the best starter in standard 5×5 leagues, but just the 16th-most valuable starter in CBS points leagues. Not nearly as dominant last season, he still finished as the 17th-best starter in roto/categories leagues as opposed to the 29th-best in CBS points leagues.
Blake Snell (SP – TB)
Pitchers like Snell, who strike out and walk a lot of batters, tend to run up high pitch counts and therefore throw fewer innings, which is more of an issue in points leagues. Snell threw just 180.2 innings last year, which explains why he finished behind guys like Corey Kluber and Aaron Nola in CBS points leagues but ahead of them in standard 5×5 leagues. Snell has become a high-end starter regardless of format, and he may be able to improve his efficiency as he continues to evolve as a pitcher. But if he continues to give up a disproportionate portion of his baserunners via the walk rather than the base hit, it will likely result in him remaining slightly more valuable in roto/categories leagues than points leagues.
Blake Treinen (RP – OAK)
You certainly have to account for volatility at the position, but top closers tend to be more valuable in roto/categories leagues than points. Last year, Treinen finished higher than all but six starting pitchers in 5×5 leagues. In CBS points leagues, nine starters out-scored him. The difference in value between starters and relievers may be shrinking in points leagues as fewer starters serve as true workhorses, but it still holds true that if you’re going to pay for saves, it makes a lot more sense to do it in a 5×5 format where they count for 20 percent of pitching performance. Elite per-inning ratios also make an outsized impact, and innings volume isn’t the be-all, end-all.
Josh Hader (RP – MIL)
It isn’t just the closers who are more valuable in roto/categories leagues. Hader serves as a stand-in here for any dominant middle reliever or setup man who doesn’t get the majority of his team’s save chances (teammate Jeremy Jeffress also qualifies). Roto leagues tend to have easily reachable innings limits, so guys like Hader who put up elite ratios (K/9, ERA, and WHIP) can make a huge difference in those formats. When they also chip in some wins and/or saves, it’s just gravy. Hader was the 13th-most valuable pitcher (starter or reliever) in 5×5 leagues last year, ahead of aces like Patrick Corbin, Zack Greinke, and Carlos Carrasco. Those three were all far more valuable than Hader in CBS points leagues.