If you’ve ever found yourself saying, “I really wish my fantasy baseball league reflected reality more,” then you should join a points league. The great thing about the points system is that you can pick and choose which stats are the most valuable (in your mind) by assigning each of them different point values.
Another major difference in points leagues is that each player has an actual numeric value attached to his name. It’s like ESPN’s Player Rater or our PSR ratings, but these points actually go towards you winning your league.
We’ve already covered how roto and head-to-head leagues require different strategies and those don’t change when you’re in a points format. What I am going to cover in this article is how to figure out which types of players you should target to get you the most points.
Obviously points systems vary between leagues, but I will be using the one I think is most common.
For batters: Total Base = 1 point; R = 1 pt; RBI = 1 pt; BB = 1 pt; K= -1 pt; SB = 2 pts; CS = -1 pt
For pitchers: Win = 5 pts; L = -5 pts; SV = 5 pts; Out = 1 pt; ER = -2 pts; H = -1 pt; BB = -1 pt; K = 1 pt
(Note: Most scoring systems hand out bonus points for complete games, shutouts no-hitters, perfect games and hitting for the cycle, but because these aren’t very consistent in a player’s career I chose to ignore them for the purposes of this article.)
Pay attention to points, not stats
One of the biggest mistakes you can make when changing over to a points league is to keep thinking about drafting statistics. You don’t care how many home runs your team is going to hit or if you have enough players who steal 20 bases. You must abort this way of thinking in points leagues because the only thing that should matter to you is how many points a player scores for your team. It’s all about the points!
Who’s more valuable; hitters or pitchers?
Check out this matrix I created that tells us the breakdown of players and how many points they scored:
(Note: The minimums used were 400 PA for batters, 150 IP for starters and 55 IP for relievers)
What does this tell us? Well, there are hundreds of ways to present this data, but I’ll do my best to make it as meaningful for fantasy as possible.
You’ll noticed that a vast majority of the players score fewer than 400 points; in fact, 81.6% of the 1,228 qualified players in the last three years scored fewer than 400 points. Obviously you will want to fill your team with as many 400+ point scorers on your roster and out of the 225 players to do so, 61.3% of them were batters (34.2% were starting pitchers and 4.4% were relievers).
From 2010-2012 an average of 75 players scored 400+ points and, if we were to follow the breakdown trends, 46 of those would be batters, 26 would be starting pitchers and three would be relievers. You might think that 26 pitchers in the first 75 picks is ridiculous, but that just goes to show that pitchers gain a lot of value in points leagues. Some leagues even award 10 points for a win, which would not only make pitchers even more valuable, but Justin Verlander could be argued as the first overall pick in the draft.
The same caveats remain with drafting starting pitching (i.e. increased health risks, extreme depth, very luck-based players), but it’s not crazy to think the elite guys like Verlander or Clayton Kershaw are first-round talents.
Some fun with correlations
It’s time for another table. This one shows the correlation between a batter’s or pitcher’s stats and his total points for the season. Here’s an article to better understand how correlation works, but what it boils down to is the closer the value is to 1 or -1 the more it influences a player’s total fantasy points. For example, the correlation of total bases to fantasy points was 0.92 in 2012, which means the more total bases the more fantasy points a batter scored. With pitchers, it turned out that ERA was the most correlated variable at -0.86. The reason it is negative is because as the ERA gets lower the fantasy points go higher. Let’s take a look at some other variables.
Now it’s time to analyze!
Batter fantasy points driven by total bases
You’ll notice that when total fantasy points are compared with total bases we get a ridiculously high r value of 0.91-0.92. Because of this correlation it should be no surprise that 15 of the top 20 point scorers were also in the top 20 in total bases. Total bases lead to more runs and RBI and eventually more points. We aren’t doing rocket science here.
Strikeouts are point killers
Batters don’t have a lot of way to lose points in fantasy, but the strikeout is by far the most lethal to their value. Last year, Curtis Granderson (402 points) was outscored by 40 points by Martin Prado (442 points), which at first glance seems ridiculous if you’re used to playing in roto or H2H leagues. Granderson hit 43 HR, with 102 R and 106 RBI to go along with 10 SB which is a great season, but it’s not the whole story in a points league.
If you look deeper you’ll realize that Prado only had 23 fewer total bases than Granderson despite hitting only 10 HR (Prado had 42 doubles and 6 triples vs. Granderson’s 18 and 4). Prado made up the rest of the points by sporting a great eye at the plate (0.85 BB/K) while Granderson struck out a whopping 195 times last year. Luckily for Granderson, he also walked 79 times, but he still lost 116 points thanks to his strikeouts. Let’s say Granderson were able to manage a 1.00 BB/K ratio, which would make his net points from walks and strikeouts zero, he would have ranked 7th in total fantasy points instead of 40th.
BB:K ratio still matters
You’ll notice in the chart above that BB/K ratio doesn’t have a very high correlation to total fantasy points, but that doesn’t make it a useful stat. With strikeouts as the main way for a batter to lose points, it’s always helpful when you draft a guy who can counteract those negative point values with some walks.
Let’s take Joe Mauer vs. Adam Jones as an example. Mauer was just 12 points behind at the end of 2012 despite putting up very different numbers. Mauer had 84 fewer total bases, 22 fewer runs and five fewer net steals. However, Mauer had a 100 BB:88 K ratio (+12 points) while Jones sported a 34 BB:126 K ratio (-92 points). Would anyone consider Mauer to be a better fantasy option than Jones in a regular roto or H2H league? No, but in points leagues BB:K ratio can shift the value quite a bit.
For pitchers, strikeouts are king
In terms of points a strikeout is worth one, but because pitchers also get one point for each out they record a strikeout is technically worth two points. This means for each strikeout that a pitcher records they negate the -2 points for an earned run. A good way to find value in points leagues is to target high-strikeout pitchers who tend to struggle with ERA.
For example, Yu Darvish scored 418 points (23rd overall) despite a 3.90 ERA and 1.28 WHIP thanks to his 221 strikeouts. A.J. Burnett struck out 180 batters en route to 407 points (25th), but had a 3.51 ERA and 1.24 WHIP. Ian Kennedy scored 366 points (33rd) thanks to 187 strikeouts, but he had a 4.02 ERA and 1.30 WHIP. My last example is C.J. Wilson, who scored 349 points (37th) thanks to 173 strikeouts and despite his 3.83 ERA and 1.34 WHIP.
Unpredictable, but valuable
Unfortunately for pitchers, some of the highest correlated stats are the ones they have the least control over (i.e. wins and ERA). A good way to predict who might be due for some more wins is by looking at quality starts vs. wins to see who was unlucky. The general rule is that wins will come with quality starts, but try telling that to Cliff Lee who won just six games last year despite 21 quality starts.
The table above shows the 10-best quality start percentages (QS / GS) with their corresponding win percentages (W / QS). You’ll see that four pitchers (Kershaw, Jordan Zimmermann, Jonathon Niese and Jake Peavy) won fewer than 60% of their quality starts, which you could consider unlucky. If they pitch similarly in 2013 you’d expect them to tack on a couple of wins to their totals.