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Fantasy Baseball Draft Strategy: Punting Categories (2024)

Fantasy Baseball Draft Strategy: Punting Categories (2024)

The word “punting” tends to have a negative connotation. Merriam-Webster provides three main definitions for the word. The first definition is “To kick with the top of the foot before the ball which is dropped from the hands hits the ground.” It’s understandable why that version has a negative connotation. Most notably, that would be the definition after a team has failed to pick up a first down in football.

The second definition that Merriam-Webster provides is “to pass (something, such as a problem) to someone else.” Notice that we’re not passing something enjoyable to someone else. It could have just as easily said to pass an idea. But no, because punting is a negative word, the definition had to go with a problem as the choice.

The third definition is “to defer (something) indefinitely.” The sentence that goes along with that definition refers to a school board punting on the issue of high school sports. Of course, the example had to go with something negative to keep up the theme.

It’s the third definition that we’re talking about when discussing fantasy strategies. Don’t think of punting in a negative light, though. Rather, it’s a way to maximize some players’ strengths while mitigating their weaknesses. If done correctly, certain players’ values change significantly, giving you an advantage on draft day. While others are looking at ADP data to build their draft list, you’ll know which players to take earlier to fit your build.

Fantasy Baseball Punting Categories Strategy (2024)

What Format of League Play Does Punting Work With?

If you haven’t already, a good starting point for a punting discussion is to ensure you understand your league format. FantasyPros offers articles to help understand rotisserie leagues, points leagues and head-to-head categories leagues.

Rotisserie Leagues

Punting can be attempted in a rotisserie format. It makes it very difficult, though, to win in a traditional 5 x 5 format. If you play in a league that adds categories, punting becomes more viable for every added category. For the sake of this discussion, we will focus on the traditional 5 x 5 format.

The target total to win in a 12-team rotisserie league is typically around 96. The target number rises to roughly 120 in a 15-team league. Reaching those thresholds would mean that you scored 80% of the available points. By punting a category, the margin of error becomes razor-thin to reach those thresholds. It can be illustrated with some math.

Assume you’re playing in your league and have decided to punt one category. In doing so, you scored only one point in that category. Now, instead of scoring 80% of the available points to win, you have to accumulate 88% of the available points to reach the winning threshold.

Points Leagues

Punting in a points league isn’t even a consideration. You’re not looking at individual categories but rather whoever can score the most points.

Head-to-Head Categories Leagues

Head-to-head category leagues are the league format where punting is most beneficial. Being competitive in every category each week would be great, but that’s not feasible in a sport with the variability of baseball. Instead, it makes sense to be as strong as possible in at least six of the 10 rotisserie categories each week.

The idea behind punting is to ensure victories in the categories that you are targeting while ignoring other categories. At times, people take punting too far and pass up better players because they also help in the category they are punting. Just because you are prioritizing one category over another doesn’t mean having to take a zero in the punted categories every week.

For example, let’s say that you are punting stolen bases. You’ve built a good base in the first few rounds around the other offensive categories. In your draft plan, you had schemed to take Mike Trout here, as he fits your build perfectly. However, for some reason, Francisco Lindor has fallen later than he should have. You had projected Lindor for two more home runs than Trout, but he will also steal bases. Doesn’t that mean that Trout is the pick because Lindor doesn’t fit the build?

No, just because a player steals bases doesn’t mean that you eliminate him from your ranks entirely. Punting stolen bases doesn’t mean that you have to score zero every week or you failed the punt. If a player who steals bases is still more likely to contribute in the targeted categories, you want them on your team.

What Categories Make Sense To Punt?

Not all categories are created equal when it comes to punting. Punting home runs is almost unheard of. Why? In doing so, you would also adversely affect your runs and RBI.

When evaluating which categories to punt, look for categories that don’t directly affect other categories. For example, batters stealing bases may lead to more runs scored because you’ll be in scoring position more often, but that still relies on someone else to drive you in.

For pitchers, predicting wins is always a fool’s errand because it depends entirely on the offense you have backing you. Kyle Gibson won 15 games last season with an ERA of 4.73. Meanwhile, Sonny Gray only won eight games even though his ERA was almost two full runs less at 2.79. Wins as a category can also depend on the number of starts you have in a week from two-start pitchers. It’s a category that should always be considered a coin toss.

The categories that make the most sense to punt are listed below.

Stolen Bases

Punting stolen bases is an approach you see quite often in head-to-head categories leagues. It allows the manager to focus on building an offense around the power categories of runs, home runs and RBI, which are all directly correlated.

If you decide to punt stolen bases, who are the players that gain value? You can go to FantasyPros projections and sort by stolen bases to get a good indication of players to consider more valuable. Some early-round notables who gain value include Yordan Alvarez, Corey Seager and Matt Olson. Seager recently had hernia surgery, which puts the start of his season in doubt. Otherwise, any of those players could be a top-10 selection with a punt steals approach.

In the mid-rounds, if punting steals, focus on the sluggers. Names that would fit your build include Jake Burger, Marcell Ozuna, Jorge Soler, Isaac Paredes and J.D. Martinez. Add all those sluggers together, and you’ll likely be able to count their steals on one hand. The good news is that those five batters contributed 177 home runs last season, and all have ADPs outside the top-10 rounds.

Players to target in the latter rounds include Giancarlo Stanton, Brent Rooker, Brandon Drury and Wilmer Flores. Stanton has an extensive injury history but still has elite exit velocity, barrel %, and hard-hit %. Rooker, Drury and Flores are all middle-of-the-order bats for their respective MLB teams, which should offer the categories you’re targeting.

What about players who lose value if you are punting steals? The most obvious player is Esteury Ruiz. Eighty stolen bases are within his range of outcomes, but he will probably be a negative in the other four categories.

Other players who lose value include Nico Hoerner, Tommy Edman and Starling Marte.


Punting average is a strategy that can work well. It allows fantasy players to focus on players who are power-speed threats without having to worry about whether or not they will actively hurt you in the average category.

Most of the players in the early rounds of drafts offer at least a solid average, but a few would move up with a punt-average strategy. Elly De La Cruz is the most interesting name. A 40 home run, 40 stolen base season is within his range of outcomes as soon as this season. The difference between him and the top picks in a fantasy draft is that his average may be in the .220 range. In a punt-average build, though, you could justify taking him in the first round.

Other selections within the top-100 picks that gain value if you punt average include Jazz Chisholm Jr. and Oneil Cruz. Both players have the tools to have 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases, but it may come with an average below .240. They each have injury concerns, but if you are punting average, their current ADPs between picks 80-100 are values.

Mid-round picks who gain value in a punt-average build include Anthony Volpe, Byron Buxton, Christopher Morel and Daulton Varsho. Volpe is coming off of a rookie season where he hit 21 home runs and stole 24 bases. He did that with a paltry .209 average. If that average improves, it’s a bonus. Otherwise, you have a 20-20 player in one of the best ballparks to hit in what should be an improved lineup.

Four late outfielders to fill your roster if punting average include Jose Siri, Parker Meadows, Harrison Bader and Brenton Doyle. All of those players have current ADPs outside the top 360, making them reserve picks in even 15-team leagues. Each of those players is projected for double-digit home runs and stolen bases, with some of them being not far away from the coveted 20 home run/20 stolen base plateau.

The player who loses the most value if you are punting average is Luis Arraez. As we saw last season, a .350 average is doable for him. However, while getting on base at a near .400 pace, he still lagged in the other four rotisserie categories.

Other players who lose value if punting average include Masataka Yoshida, Jung Hoo Lee and Jeff McNeil.


If you choose to punt a pitching category, saves is the most logical choice. Saves are a fickle stat that relies on the MLB team winning games, but not by too many runs, or else it isn’t a save opportunity. Second, teams are churning their bullpen responsibilities more than ever. It leads to the position of closer, where players turnover more than any other.

If you choose to punt saves, you should leave your draft with enough starting pitchers to know you will win strikeouts every week. You should also plan to win wins most weeks. Yet, as noted, that can be difficult to predict.

Here is the kicker on punting saves:  It doesn’t mean avoiding relief pitchers entirely. Instead, the last three rounds of your draft should be used on high-upside relief pitchers who get strikeouts. Those may be needed if you have relief pitcher spots, but even if you don’t, they help to lower your ratio stats. And who knows, sometimes those relief pitchers become closers, and you end up with unexpected saves to compete in that category.

Late relievers to target at the draft table include Bryan Abreu, Matt Brash, Pierce Johnson and A.J. Minter. While each of those relief pitchers will probably get a few saves in their current situation, none of them are projected closers for their teams. However, each of them is likely to be a plus in ERA and WHIP while also providing over a strikeout per inning. Those are the reliever skills to target in a punt saves build.

Good luck with punting if you so choose to do it.

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