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Fantasy Baseball Points League Draft Primer (2024)

Fantasy Baseball Points League Draft Primer (2024)

I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t more excited about writing this article than I have been in quite some time. While I partake in all fantasy baseball formats, points leagues have always been and always will be my baby. Not that I find them necessarily easier to play or understand, but because I’ve been playing them for so long.

While there are specific strategies to the other league types, points leagues can have some of the smallest differentiators when it comes to a successful player as opposed to an average one. If you want to take your points league skill set to another level, buckle up.

Points League Drafting Primer (2024 Fantasy Baseball)

First, let’s talk about the appeal. We can all acknowledge that all fantasy sports pale in comparison to fantasy football. While you may struggle to find enough friends to throw together a 10-man fantasy baseball team, everyone and their mother has at least one fantasy team. Hell, even I had six this past season.

The thing that makes fantasy football so appealing is the easy-to-understand points format. Yes, also the fact that football is top dawg, but the fact that the points format is very simple to grasp is a driving factor.

The same goes for points leagues in fantasy baseball. You have a more streamlined approach when it comes to analysis. Now it just comes down to what you do with that analysis and how far you’ll let it take you. Especially if you’re a beginner to the fantasy baseball world. Points leagues tend to be a great entry point into the wonderful world of a sport where the teams play 162 games a year, not just 17.

Your typical points league operates under a fairly simple scoring system. Both hitters and pitchers are scored differently.

Hitters Total Bases Walks Runs RBI Stolen Bases Strikeouts
Points Per +1 +1 +1 +1 +1 -1
Pitchers Innings ER W L Saves Strikeouts Hits Allowed Walks Holds
Points Per +1 -2 +2 -2 +5 +1 -1 -1 +2

Some leagues will award points for holds, some leagues just forego them altogether. Regardless, most basic points leagues will have similar scoring formats. Your team will then accumulate points throughout the entire week and whoever has scored the most once Sunday Night Baseball ends, is the winner of that week.

Unlike fantasy football where games are played only a couple times a week, baseball typically has games every single day. So it tends to be a fairly fast-paced, fun-to-keep-up-with format. With that being said, let’s dive into the ins and outs of what it takes to be a successful fantasy baseball manager.

Understanding Strikeout Rates Is Important

Whether it’s hitters or pitchers, understanding strikeout rates is important. You need to be less worried about the K/9 number everyone likes to throw around and be more worried about K% and K-BB%. When it comes to hitters, the only real way you lose points is by strikeouts. Sometimes getting caught stealing can come back to bite you, but strikeouts are the real issue.

For example, in a category or rotisserie league, someone like Kyle Schwarber can be highly sought after. He puts up prolific home run numbers year after year, which is something that can only be said about a few players. The issue comes from the fact he doesn’t do much else.

He had a career-best 47 HR in 2023 to go with 100+ RBI & Runs scored. Great numbers on the surface. Dig a bit deeper and you’ll see he also had a 30% strikeout rate and combined 415 strikeouts in the past two seasons. The most in baseball over that span. Something that can be very detrimental to a player’s overall score and needs to be paid attention to while drafting and managing your team.

Ideally, you want someone who strikes out as little as possible. As obvious as that may seem, players who limit strikeouts become infinitely more valuable in a points format. Someone like Luis Arraez goes from just a solid batting average guy to the fifth-best second baseman in ESPN points leagues in 2023.

The sweet spot for K% is anything less than 20%. The lower you get from there, the better. But anything at or below that 20% number becomes a very manageable strikeout number when looking for who you want to roster. There are certainly exceptions. Guys like Julio Rodriguez, Shohei Ohtani and Austin Riley usually sit around the 24-25% range but are still elite points league options because they excel in many other statistical categories.

K% is something that becomes particularly important later in drafts and on the waiver wire throughout the year. When the options get more limited, start leaning on those guys with low strikeout rates and good contact to help get the advantage.

Pitchers, on the other hand, need to focus more on K-BB%. It stands for “Strikeout minus walk rate” and it’s great for separating the elite guys from the rest of the pack. In a format where strikeouts are good and walks are bad, finding guys with the bigger K-BB% can be essential.

Your top-tier guys are going to be sitting north of 20%. That’s where you find guys like Spencer Strider, Gerrit Cole, Kevin Gausman and Luis Castillo. When drafting, this is the area you want to live in when choosing your top (at least) two starters. From there you can expand.

Overall, any pitcher with a K-BB% of 17% or better is going to be a great fantasy option. Or at least a usable one. These guys are going to consistently put up great strikeout numbers and do well at limiting walks consistently. If you pay attention to this, you’re off to a great start.

Total Bases Matter A Lot

In category and Rotisserie league it can be very “Live by the home run, die by the home run” in a lot of leagues. Doubles and triples are cool when it comes to elevating your batting average and potential run and RBI numbers, but they have no real tangible advantage. In points leagues, they do.

With total bases being a stat, each base a player gets now becomes worth a point.

Single Double Triple Home Run
+1 +2 +3 +4

Although a 2-4 game with two doubles is a nice boost to batting average in a category league, it becomes an even better day in a points league. Those doubles come in handy when putting up numbers in bunches, especially when you have a guy like Jarren Duran who may struggle in the home run department but is going to hit you a healthy amount of doubles throughout the season.

While total bases are an easy stat to track on their own, slugging % can be a great indicator. Guys who slug .470+ tend to find their way farther up the total base charts than most. Surprisingly, sprint speed tends to have very little correlation between it and high total base numbers. So using that to gain an edge won’t do you much good.

Contact Kills

The first thing we talked about was strikeout rates and understanding how to use them to your advantage. The next step in that progression is understanding how contact rates go hand in hand with it. Not just any contact, specifically zone contact. If you take a player’s overall contact numbers you get a bunch of bad, outside-the-zone contact where players chased pitches and the outcome didn’t go well. How well a player can hit balls in the zone consistently, matters most.

The in-zone contact % leaders almost always tend to be in the fantasy-relevant mix by year’s end. 2023 did have a few outliers in the top 30. Jake Cronenworth, Myles Straw and Jurickson Profar certainly weren’t names you’re bragging about rostering, but they still tended to be much more fantasy-relevant in points leagues.

Another great stat to use is Ideal Plate Appearance Percentage. This is one you can find over at Pitcher List. It measures the amount of quality contact a player makes (barrels, solid contact, flares & burners) and divides it by the number of plate appearances. Finding the guys who do these things consistently well is what it takes to not only nail the late rounds of your draft but to find those hidden waiver wire gems as well.

SP/RP Eligibility Can Be Your Best Friend

Many leagues are trending towards not differentiating between pitcher categories and going with the single “pitcher” eligibility. For those that aren’t, SP/RP guys become essential for those RP spots. Flat out, saves are a dead stat in points leagues.

While they do tend to be worth a couple more points than a win, their inconsistency makes them not worth chasing. Outside of maybe the top-two or top-three closers, you’re better off rostering an extra starter with RP eligibility with an advantageous matchup.

Innings count as points. Strikeouts count as points. Wins count as points. Limiting yourself to a closer who’ll likely get you one inning and two strikeouts on a good day is far worse than what even an average starter can get you. An outing like that plus a save nets you eight points. A starter who throws six innings and gets you a win is likely to get you 12+ points. Closer points per outing are limited, starter points have a much higher ceiling.

Overall Production > Single Category Excellence

In category and rotisserie leagues, it becomes important later in drafts to focus on guys who can help in specific categories. If you end up being light on home runs or stolen bases you can grab a guy likely to steal 30 bases despite the fact he may struggle elsewhere. You can grab that extra 28 home run guy from a weak lineup that’ll struggle with runs and RBI because over time that’ll make a difference.

In a points league, that’s no longer a worry of yours. You can focus on overall production. Steven Kwan is a great example of this. He’s a guy who’s going to limit strikeouts, flirts with 10 home runs, scores around 100 runs, drives in 70, and hit .280.

In a category league, that’s OK production. In a points league, that put him in line with guys like Christian Yelich, Trea Turner, Adolis Garcia and Fernando Tatis Jr. in terms of total points scored in 2023. All guys who are being drafted much earlier and typically regarded much higher.

Go for the total production. Find those high contact, low strikeout, high total base gems later in drafts that will carry you to the promised land. Pass on those closers no matter how appealing they may seem. Stop convincing yourself Esteury Ruiz can find a way to have value in points leagues (he will only contribute stolen bases and nothing else, stop it).

There’s a ton of different ways to enjoy fantasy baseball. Points leagues are quickly climbing the list of ways to do so. Whether you’re a seasoned vet looking to branch out, or someone looking to dip your toes in the proverbial waters, points leagues are well worth your time.

Like Shia LaBeouf said, “Do It.”

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