Hitters to Target for OBP + Points Leagues (2021 Fantasy Baseball)
There’s a great big world out there beyond the typical five-by-five fantasy baseball categories. Since the typical observer now values on-base percentage (OBP) more than batting average, it only makes sense to reflect that paradigm shift.
More leagues are making the swap from average to OBP. Others, meanwhile, aim to accurately gauge a player’s true worth in points leagues. These formats will usually award position players for walks, doubles, and triples while penalizing them for strikeouts.
The higher the OBP, the better a player looks in an OBP or points league. Just beware of treating the two as identical commodities. In a categories league that replaces batting average with OBP, drafters should push patient hitters up their rankings despite contact flaws. However, managers in points leagues must navigate the strikeout penalty and consider guys with a more refined approach.
Let’s dive into both archetypes for the walk machines and contact fiends worth targeting in OBP and points leagues.
Average Draft Position (ADP) referenced is FantasyPros consensus ADP.
These are the quintessential Moneyball players making a living by reaching base. In a minimum of 450 plate appearances in 2019 and 2020, they all posted a walk rate above 12.0% with an OBP of at least .350. In order to not oversaturate the table with too many studs, the following players all hit for a batting average below .270. This narrowly omitted Michael Conforto and Paul Goldschmidt, two excellent targets in any league.
Yasmani Grandal (C – CHW)
In a five-by-five league, Grandal is typically the fourth or fifth catcher drafted alongside Willson Contreras. When switching batting average to OBP, he’s at least the second-best choice. Grandal has never batted .250 or better since 2012’s 60-game rookie campaign, but he nevertheless boasts a .348 career OBP with a walk rate that has only once hovered below 13.0%. He also provides elite power and durability behind the plate, so there’s a legitimate case to taking him ahead of the injured J.T. Realmuto in OBP formats.
Brandon Nimmo (OF – NYM)
Nimmo has notched a .404 OBP in two of the last three seasons. He batted .221 while dealing with a neck injury throughout 2019, but still mustered a .375 OBP thanks to his keen batting eye.
With the universal DH seemingly dead for 2021, there’s some danger of Nimmo losing playing time to Kevin Pillar and Albert Almora Jr. (particularly against lefties) for a defensive upgrade in center field. But per MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo, Mets manager Luis Rojas said the ever-smiling lefty will likely keep hitting atop a stacked lineup due to his propensity to get on base. Nimmo may get the biggest OBP boost of anyone.
Mark Canha (1B/OF – OAK)
Often an afterthought in standard category leagues, Canha leads this group in both batting average and OBP. The average comes mostly from the career .249 hitter batting .273 in a breakout 2019 campaign. Although he fell back to earth with a .246 average last year, he maintained a sterling .387 OBP on the strength of a 15.2% walk rate and 10 hit-by-pitches.
He’s earned a full-time role for the franchise that made this skillset cool and could serve as Oakland’s leadoff man to start the season. Canha, who has a 253.2 consensus ADP, easily justifies a top-200 pick in OBP formats.
Aaron Hicks (OF – NYY)
Hicks’ health concerns may not be worth the hassle in a shallower five-by-five league, especially ones that only require three starting outfielders. A lot of that has to do with a career .235 hitter peaking at .266 (in just 361 plate appearances) in 2017.
When moving to OBP, the risk suddenly becomes tempting. Hicks has a 15.1% walk rate and .362 OBP since the start of 2017. Despite the average woes, he holds a solid 20.5% strikeout rate during that span.
Although he struggled early in last year’s return from Tommy John surgery, Hicks said he’s feeling “100 percent” and aiming for a 30-homer season. He reached 27 in 2018, the only full season of his career, so it’s possible if he somehow avoids the IL. Consider him multiple rounds before his 264.0 consensus ADP in an OBP league.
Andrew McCutchen (OF – PHI)
A five-category superstar in his prime, McCutchen has batted from .253-.256 in each of the last three seasons. A shortened 2020, however, marked the first time ever the 12-year pro drew a single-digit walk rate (9.1%).
Let’s trust the full body of work. McCutchen has tallied an OBP above .360 in 10 of 12 tries, and the Phillies should keep leveraging those skills in the leadoff role. Since joining the team, he’s plated 77 runs in just 116 games. He returned from a torn ACL in 2019 — the first significant injury of his career — to play all but three games on Philadelphia’s 2020 schedule.
Many of the above names also gain value in a points league, but those formats aren’t always a major boon for the three-true-outcome sluggers such as Joey Gallo. At the opposite end of the spectrum, plenty of contact savants typically targeted for batting average will also post a strong OBP or pile up the points.
Although batting average can fluctuate, the accompanying skills are not fluky. From 2019 to 2020, the following players (minimum 450 plate appearances) all maintained a strikeout rate of 16.0% or lower with a contact rate above 80.0% and an OBP of .350 or higher. They can offer just as much — if not more — in these formats than in a standard five-by-five game.
Alex Bregman (3B – HOU)
Bregman is tumbling into the third and fourth round of standard fantasy drafts after batting .242 with six homers and no steals last year. That’s probably too low regardless of the format. After all, those 42 rough games occurred after swatting 41 homers with 122 runs, 112 RBIs, and a .296/.423/.592 slash line in 2019.
The 2019 campaign almost certainly represents his power ceiling, and the vanishing speed is a legitimate cause for concern. In a points league, not so much. He joins Carlos Santana and Anthony Rendon as the only qualified hitters with more walks than strikeouts since the start of 2019. Even if the home runs dip, he’ll provide plenty of gap power to remain a top-shelf contributor.
Carlos Santana (1B – KC)
Speaking of Santana, did you expect to see him on this list too? Although most are aware of his lofty walk rates, his contact abilities get overlooked since he’s a career .248 hitter whose batting average has fluctuated drastically by season. Don’t read much into the veteran slipping just below the Mendoza Line (.199) last year. Kauffman Stadium is rough on power, but it’ll help him gain more hits. Either way, only Votto, Mike Trout, and Bryce Harper have gotten more walks in the last five seasons.
Tommy La Stella (1B/2B/3B – SF)
David Fletcher (2B/3B/SS/OF – LAA)
In a five-by-five categories league, drafters are justifiably worried about La Stella and Fletcher not offering enough power or speed. Home runs are in high supply, but that also means everyone needs a lot to compete in the category. That’s not an issue in points league.
These former Angels teammates have each flashed elite contact profiles over the past two seasons. Fletcher should continue to set the table for Trout and Rendon in Los Angeles while La Stella bats atop San Francisco’s lineup. They’re two of baseball’s best at avoiding strikeouts, which should offset the limited points accrued for home runs and steals.
Michael Brantley (OF – HOU)
As a 32-year-old with a scarred injury past and limited HR/SB juice, Brantley’s elite contact skills get overlooked in all leagues. He’s batted .300 or higher in each of the last three seasons. The year before, he fell all the way to .299. Even if he only manages 15 HRs and five SBs, as projected by ATC, Brantley should again hit around .300 with a .360 OBP and 30-40 doubles. While the upside is limited, you’ll get your money’s worth even if not directly rewarded for batting average.
Kolten Wong (2B – MIL)
In a strange season, particularly so for the St. Louis Cardinals, Wong mustered a putrid .061 ISO. However, he also improved his walk, strikeout, and contact rates from a breakout 2019 that saw the second baseman bat .285 with 24 stolen bases. Moving to Miller Park could help him snag a few more long balls. Milwaukee’s lineup also presents an opportunity for the 30-year-old to bat first or second ahead of Christian Yelich.
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