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Aces and Upside: The Winning Points League Strategy

This fantasy baseball draft prep season has been anything but boring. On top of all the usual prep that goes into getting ready for the season, there have been countless amounts of injuries. This is not unlike any previous Spring Training, but this year it seems like all the injuries are happening to important, early-round players, specifically to many pitchers. That is not to mention everything happening outside of the baseball world that will surely impact play on the diamond. I am not trying to turn a blind eye to the seriousness of COVID-19, but as we are in the dark with how or for how long it will all truly impact both MLB and fantasy baseball, I want to focus on what we can quantify. And the injuries will certainly have a huge effect on how you head into your drafts. So step away from the craziness on your timeline and let’s talk points league strategy.

My strategy in points leagues for years now has been to put an emphasis on starting pitching. That strategy has become more and more popular in recent years and now you can say it is the norm. Heading into this season I was considering zagging when everyone else is zigging into the taking a pitcher early strategy. However, I quickly realized that there was a reason I always emphasized aces: because they are a dying breed. The mainstream has caught up to that in recent years, but in points leagues, you should still put an emphasis on starting pitchers. The points league strategy that I have taken and had lots of success with is something I have dubbed Aces and Upside.

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Winning Points League Strategy for 2020

Implementing Aces and Upside

Despite putting such a heavy emphasis on starting pitching early on, in recent years my strategy has been to still nab a hitter in the first round. That has changed this season as I think both Jacob deGrom (my SP1) and Gerrit Cole (my SP2) should be in consideration to go with the first overall pick in points leagues. It would be a tough decision to take them over Mike Trout or Christian Yelich, but they are certainly in play. In fact, if I am in a points league and have a Top 5 pick, I am probably drafting one of those two pitchers. These two were already the elite of the elite and in a tier of their own but the latest injuries to Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer just further pushes those two aces up the board. If you miss out on the uber aces, it is fine to select a hitter in the first round. I wrote about hitters that are better in points leagues, as well as those who lose value.

For this strategy to work, you need to emphasize starting pitching in the early rounds. I will always have at least two, sometimes even three, pitchers in the first five rounds of the draft. The reason you need to emphasize those pitchers?  In 2019 there were only 33 pitchers who pitched 180-plus innings. Innings are super important in points because volume is king. Much like in Fantasy Football, you want the guys getting the ball the most. Not that all 180-plus inning throwers are created equal, but those who can give you a strikeout per inning and not allow a bunch of walks or runs are key. Of those 33 pitchers to go 180-plus innings in 2019, only 16 averaged a strikeout per inning. Of those 16, only 10 of them had an ERA of 3.40 or lower. These numbers were very similar in 2018, so you should not expect to see a jump. Due to that, pitchers I am targeting in the third and fourth rounds after the top arms are gone are Yu Darvish, Zack Greinke, Mike Clevinger, Patrick Corbin, Clayton Kershaw, Charlie Morton, Luis Castillo, and Lucas Giolito. Some fallback options are Noah Syndergaard, Aaron Nola, Chris Paddack, and Tyler Glasnow. My entire starting pitcher points league rankings can be found here.

Regardless of who you select, you now have the Aces part of my points league draft strategy complete. That is the most important part of this strategy. It allows you to have at least two workhorse aces that you can start every week, barring injury. That should give you an advantage on most of the owners in your league. Some others may select two starters, but I would be surprised if anyone took three. The majority likely would have one, and there will be those thinking they can select no starters early and load up in the middle and later rounds. That is an old school strategy that is better in Roto (and I still don’t like it there) where you can get by with elite per inning pitchers and not rely on volume as much. Do not be the guy who implements a Roto strategy in a points league.

On to the Upside

In the next few rounds, you will have other teams loading up on arms, as they play catch up there. That allows you to take the hitters you want here. While the rest of the league is zigging, you can zag. Also, it is easier to find value bats in points leagues than starters. You need to look for hitters that draw walks, limit strikeouts, hit doubles, and then total Runs/RBIs since each is a point in standard points leagues. Also, do not value stolen bases like you would in a Roto league. In Roto leagues they are one of five offensive categories, meanwhile, in a standard points league, they are worth two points. That means three stolen bases are equivalent to one solo home run. Points leagues treat stolen bases more like the MLB does, rather than Roto leagues.

While loading up on bats I will tell you this… never select a catcher early. They simply do not get enough volume to justify taking early. I attack the catcher position in one of two ways. The first is trying to get one of the upside catchers in the 8-12 round range, give or take. Those catchers are Will Smith, Carson Kelly, Omar Narvaez, Sean Murphy, and Danny Jansen. I also often end up waiting on catchers and streaming the position, much like tight ends in Fantasy Football.

While I do load up on bats between the fifth and 10th round or so, I do usually select one more pitcher. You can think of this pitcher as the bridge between the aces and the upside arms. Typically, I target a pitcher that I think has the upside to make that jump and potentially finish as a Top-20 pitcher. These are pitchers who I felt very confident would return SP3 value, but have upside for more. Some of those pitchers for me this year are Brandon Woodruff, Carlos Carrasco, Max Fried, Dinelson Lamet, Zac Gallen, Sonny Gray, and Zack Wheeler. I will target one of these pitchers in the sixth or seventh round, give or take. The rest of my picks are used on non-catcher hitters.

The Middle of the Draft

In the double-digit rounds is where you will want to start addressing more pitchers. The pitchers to target here need to check off one of two boxes: they either need to have breakout upside (Kenta Maeda, Mike Foltynewicz, Luke Weaver, etc.) or they need to be an underrated points league pitcher (pitchers that give innings and have a low WHIP like Kyle Hendricks). First, these pitchers with upside should show traits of dominance, with some warts in previous seasons. Whether they be control issues, an injury, a down season, whatever the case may be. If there is the upside to outlive the ADP, take the shot, as long as you believe in the upside.

The Later Rounds

The teen rounds of your draft should be a mix between hitters to fill out your starting lineup and plenty of pitchers. Typically, my bench in points leagues will be all upside starters. The reasoning is because it allows you to not only take as many upside shots as possible, increasing the chances that some hit, but it also allows you to stream each week. Doing this allows you to both stream matchups and gives you a better chance of having two-start pitchers on your team, which are hugely valuable in weekly points leagues. In this format your lineup typically locks on Monday, meaning you get however many starts you have in your lineup for the week. The more pitchers you have with two, the bigger the advantage. If you want a bench bat or two that’s fine, but the majority, if not all, should be upside arms.

In the later rounds is where you should look to add your catcher and relief pitchers. While closers are uber valuable in Roto, they are devalued in points. Typically, points leagues will have two RP spots that can be used by any player with RP eligibility, including starters with RP eligibility. Also, because each team can roster two closers there will be options to be had on the waiver wire. Even with the number of teams with an unknown closer or a committee, you should be able to wait and be okay. Normally, I identify a lower-end RP1 that I really like and will pull the trigger there, usually as the 10th or so team nabbing a closer. I then take a higher-end RP2, to mitigate the risk.

By employing this points league strategy it allows you to build a strong pitching staff with tons of upside. If a couple of those starting pitcher picks hit, you will have one of the best, if not the best rotation in your league. And the best part is, you did so without completely ignoring your hitting in the early rounds of the draft. This is a strategy that has worked very well for me in points leagues for years and I hope it now helps you this season!

Make sure to follow me on Twitter, @MichaelFFlorio.

What are the keys to your points league strategy? Share a few nuggets in the comments below.

For more great rankings, strategy, and analysis check out the 2020 FantraxHQ Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit. We’ll be adding more content from now right up until Opening Day!

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