Points League Primer (Fantasy Baseball)
The Super Bowl is upon us. Pitchers and catchers report in less than a month. It can only mean one thing: it is time to start transitioning into fantasy baseball mode.
Truth be told, even die-hard fantasy baseball managers will usually concede that fantasy football is generally a more enjoyable game. The vast majority of fantasy baseball leagues are rotisserie style – half your league is out of contention by August, and the other half spends six months straight grinding away to try to get to an in-the-money finish. Most fantasy baseball managers are relieved when they reach the end of the season, even if it’s been a great ride, just so they can have a bit of a break.
And that’s why the fantasy gods invented points leagues. If you’re looking for an easier way to play fantasy baseball or you’re thinking about dipping your toes into the fantasy baseball waters for the first time, you might want to consider starting with a head-to-head points league format.
For those of you who are relatively new to the game, well, you probably had no idea what I was talking about when I mentioned a “rotisserie” league. Sorry about that! Rotisserie (or “roto”) is the most common way to play fantasy baseball.
Teams are ranked from first to last in each statistical category. It’s typically a “5×5” league, which means you’re ranked in five hitting categories – usually runs, home runs, RBI, steals, and batting average – and five pitching categories – usually wins, saves, strikeouts, ERA, and WHIP, though you can easily add other categories into the mix.
Your total rankings are added up to determine the overall score, and the person with the highest overall score at the end of the season wins. Easy-peasy.
Fun fact: Did you know it’s called rotisserie because the name of the restaurant where the inventors of fantasy baseball came up with the idea was La Rôtisserie Française? I, too, name all my best ideas after the eatery in which I was dining when they came to me, which is why my daughter loves her “Olive Garden slandals” (half sandal, half slipper) and my son his “Buffalo Wild Wings sporkives” (one third fork, spoon, and knife). But I digress.
In a head-to-head points league, however, you’re involved in the equivalent of a fantasy football matchup each week, except you’re accumulating stats throughout the entire week, not just on Sundays (or Thursdays, or Mondays, or, this past year, every day of the week – man, there’s a lot of football). You draw a single opponent each week, and all you care about is accumulating more points than that particular opponent.
Pretty straightforward so far, right? Ok, so what are these alleged points we’re talking about? Well, in a points league, each statistical category is assigned a point value (think DFS – typically, a single is usually worth one point, a home run is worth four points, etc.), and that’s all you care about.
Unlike in a rotisserie league, where you get your stats does not matter in a points league. It’s just about accumulating points.
We’re not just talking the standard 5×5 categories either. Hitters get points for walks, pitchers get points for innings pitched, etc.
Players lose points too for things like caught-stealing or earned runs allowed. It’s a wild ride.
So, as in fantasy football, your record after one week might be 1-0, 0-1, or 0-0-1. And, like in fantasy football, winners are crowned after playoffs, meaning you’re always just one bad injury at the wrong time away from ending your season.
So, sure there are plenty of positives and negatives. But if you want your league to be more engaged, or if you’re just starting out with fantasy baseball, a points league is probably the way to go. And, for the most part, rankings aren’t all that dissimilar for points and rotisserie leagues, so you don’t need to be that worried about learning the nuances of the format.
With that said, however, certain key differences significantly affect player values in points leagues versus rotisserie or categories leagues. So let’s run through a few of the major things that you should be thinking about when preparing for your head-to-head points league.
Focus on things like K/BB rates for hitters
The primary difference between rotisserie and points league formats is that rotisserie looks at how a hitter produces in old-school statistical categories like RBI or runs scored. While those categories are also rewarded in points leagues, that format also take into account real-life value. In other words, a batter gets more points for a double than a single, but he also loses points for a caught-stealing, as we discussed.
Most importantly, batters earn points for walks and lose points for strikeouts. So, for the most part, hitters whose on-base percentage is much higher than their batting average are much more valuable in points leagues than rotisserie leagues. As an example, Joey Votto and Carlos Santana are players who are significantly more valuable in points leagues because of their high walk rates.
To be clear, K/BB rates for hitters is far from a be-all end-all metric for hitters in points leagues. But it’s just an easy way to identify some batters who are more valuable in the format.
Innings eaters are people too
Strikeouts are incredibly important in points leagues, so you may want to jump a little early on that ace starter or two . . . or three. But more importantly, as in real baseball, pitchers who can just give you innings make a huge difference. In points leagues, you get points for every inning or partial inning pitched.
With that being said, as long as you’re not going all Rick Porcello out there, those rare 200-innings guys might be the difference between making the playoffs and not. Plus, the more innings a pitcher throws, the more strikeouts he’ll have, and the better shot at a win he’ll get.
The possibilities for points with an innings-eater are endless! Or, you know, better. Either way works. So, especially this year where the most innings thrown by any pitcher in 2019 was 84, having starters who will get you plenty of innings will give you a huge leg up.
Closers aren’t sexy, but starting pitchers who qualify as relievers are
Closers are seriously devalued in weekly head-to-head formats. Kirby Yates can make a dent in your rotisserie league standings, but in a points league, his impact is hardly as substantial. Closers throw few innings and can go an entire week without a save or even without pitching a single inning.
But starting pitchers who qualify as relief pitchers? That’s the ticket.
Rather than sit there hoping your closer got into the game, owners of this commodity could relax, knowing they were guaranteed fairly significant points from at least one of their RP spots each week, particularly in a two-start week.
So when you’re in your points league draft, and you see an SP that qualifies as an RP, don’t be afraid to pull the trigger a little early this year. Because even if he gives you mediocre numbers again, they’ll make a difference coming from an RP slot.
It’s worth noting, however, that this year more than ever, starting pitchers who have relief pitcher eligibility are few and far between. So, this isn’t to say that you should rush to draft A.J. Puk in the middle rounds or anything. Just keep your eyes open to try to exploit the format.
Balanced roster, schmalanced roster
When you’re doing a rotisserie or H2H categories draft, you need to be constantly thinking about your projected strength in each category. Do you have enough steals? How are your home runs looking?
But in points leagues, none of that matters. It’s seriously just about accumulating as many points as you possibly can.
So those steal specialists? You don’t have to worry about them here.
Your team looks a little light on power? No big deal.
Just draft production, wherever you can find it. Trust me, it’s a liberating feeling!
And truth be told, plenty of points-league managers forget this maxim in the throes of their drafts. Fantasy managers who have spent their time playing mostly rotisserie or category formats are trained to look at their rosters during draft and focus on their team’s weakness. Avoid the temptation.
Consistency is key
In a rotisserie format, you don’t care much if hitters or pitchers go through lengthy slumps. Although it may be frustrating to watch at the time, all you care about is where a player’s numbers wind up at the end of the season.
But in points leagues, that’s just not the case. A batter going hitless for an entire week or a pitcher getting destroyed in an outing will doom your entire matchup. Boring and steady is always more preferable to boom or bust, because they’ll give you a better chance of winning weeks and making the playoffs.
That’s not to say that you should avoid streaky hitters. But certainly, when faced with a choice, always opt for the consistent option.
Think about the future
This is purely a tip for in-season management, but it’s critical if you hope to take down the championship belt. Particularly once you get to the playoffs, you need to be thinking about what your lineup may look like a week or two down the road.
As we discussed, innings and strikeouts matter significantly in a points league. So take a gander at who might be lined up as a two-start pitcher with decent matchups in two weeks and grab that player in advance. Like stashing a defense with an outstanding Week 15 matchup, thinking about your lineup a week or two in advance can be the difference between winning and losing your league.