Fantasy Baseball: TRAX Best Score Leagues
In addition to Fantrax’s never-ending array of fully customizable draft leagues, as well as our awesome Salary Cap Challenge games, there is a new addition to the Fantrax stable – TRAX Best Score! These best ball leagues provide fantasy players with yet another unique way to enjoy playing fantasy baseball at Fantrax.
Best Score leagues are 12-team leagues in which teams participate in a 40-round serpentine draft. One of the reasons I am looking forward to this format is that it puts a tremendous emphasis on preseason research and analysis. Once the draft ends, there are no roster changes of any kind. No waiver wire claims, no Free Agent Acquisition Budget (FAAB), and no trades. The 40 players picked during the draft will remain on your team throughout the season.
TRAX Best Score is a weekly league, with periods running from Monday through Sunday. The two exceptions to this are during the first week of the season and during the All-Star break, in which periods will begin on Thursday. At the end of each week, Fantrax will automatically calculate your best starting lineup consisting of 22 of your 40 players. Your starting lineup will consist of one player at each infield position, including catcher, five outfielders, three utility hitters, and any nine pitchers. You do not need to select a minimum of starting pitchers or relievers. The nine pitchers who accumulate the most points each week will be considered “starters,” regardless of whether they are starting pitchers or relief pitchers.
The scoring system in TRAX Best Score leagues is unique for a couple of different reasons. First, all hitters will receive one point per hit with no distinction between singles, doubles, and triples. Hitters will also receive one point for every run, RBI, and base on balls (walk). Each player also receives three points per home run and three points per stolen base. There are no negative points for events such as strikeouts or caught stealing attempts. Pitchers, on the other hand, do receive negative points for earned runs allowed (-1.5 points each) as well as hits and walks allowed (-0.5 points each). All pitchers will receive 1.5 points per inning pitched and per strikeout. In addition, they will receive three points per win and quality start. Six points are earned for each save. Here are some things I would recommend TRAX Best Score participants consider prior to roster construction.
BACK IT UP
In TRAX Best Score, you will start 14 hitters each week. Positions are fixed and predetermined heading into the draft. This is very important because hitters do not have positional flexibility. A super-utility type like Marwin Gonzalez is less valuable in TRAX Best Score leagues because he will be available at only one position for the entire season. Therefore, backups at each position are an absolute must. Roster configuration is not an exact science, but you should have at least two hitters at each infield position, and at least seven or eight outfielders. Keep in mind that each team will start three utility hitters every single week. You could theoretically end up starting as many as four first basemen or eight outfielders in any week. I would suggest having two backups at each position, if possible. There are so many injuries suffered during the season that having just a single backup at each position may not guarantee production in a given weekly period. There are no sure things regardless of the number of backups you may have, but a little extra cushion will likely prove beneficial over the course of a six-month season.
When I studied the unique scoring system TRAX Best Score leagues employ, I was curious to see what impact the reward of three points per stolen base had, if any, versus that of a more typical points league. Interestingly enough, players who stole a modest number of bases were not really affected much. However, top-50 players who stole very few bases were impacted greatly. Jose Abreu stole three bases in 2017. He finished 18th under the old league’s scoring system but just 26th under TRAX Best Score scoring. Anthony Rendon (7 SB in 2017) went from 27th to 37th, Justin Smoak (zero SB) went from 31st to 39th, and Carlos Santana (5 SB) dropped from 39th to 47th. Side note – how in the world did Carlos Santana steal five bases last year? Anyway, an even bigger impact was created among high-end players who did steal a lot of bases. Billy Hamilton’s 59 steals in 2017 propelled his final 2017 rank from 68th in standard points leagues to 43rd in TRAX Best Score. Dee Gordon (60 SB) went from 36th overall to 17th overall among hitters. Gordon finished four points ahead of Daniel Murphy in the other scoring system but 73 points ahead of under the TRAX Best Score format. That’s a significant difference. Do not underestimate the impact speed will have in TRAX Best Score leagues.
Without the ability to set lineups each week, many fantasy owners may be inclined to select players who are consistent and do not have significant splits. I do not agree with this sentiment at all. In best ball formats such as these, you want the potential for upside, especially if you have the buffer of backups at each position. Let’s look at two of last year’s top hitters – Aaron Judge (first overall in total points in 2017) and Charlie Blackmon (third). In 338 road plate appearances last season, Judge scored 305 points (0.90 points per PA). At home, Judge scored a whopping 401 points in 331 plate appearances (1.21 points/PA). Blackmon’s home/road splits were even more profound. Blackmon scored 280 points in 366 plate appearances away from Coors Field, good for an average of 0.77 points per plate appearance. At home, he averaged 1.14 points per plate appearance, an increase of over 48 percent. Owners of Judge and Blackmon will likely have a massive edge over the competition during any home weeks. If they falter slightly on the road, other players on the roster will hopefully pick up the slack. The same holds true for players such as Logan Morrison, who had extreme splits in the opposite direction. Morrison is a potential steal depending on where he lands in 2018. Players with extreme splits or who are prone to extended hot streaks are worth reaching a bit for in TRAX Best Score leagues.
PITCHERS AT A PREMIUM
By and large, hitters will score more points than pitchers. Last season, hitters who scored at least 500 total points outnumbered pitchers by a near 4:1 margin (43-11). The same held true for the 400-point threshold as well (112-28). This obviously does not mean you should draft 30 hitters among your 40 picks. Quite the opposite, in fact, especially when considering this is a weekly league. Pitchers who make two starts in a week will receive an enormous boost in value. Corey Kluber led all starters in 2017 with an average of 22.67 points per start using the TRAX Best Score scoring system. Having a pitcher of his ilk making two starts will obviously catapult his owners in that week. However, even so-so pitchers are automatic starts every third or fourth week. Kenley Jansen led all relievers by averaging 18.70 weekly points in the TRAX Best Score format. Ivan Nova, who was not even a top-50 starting pitcher in 2017, averaged just over 10 points per start. This means that on weeks in which Nova pitched twice, he was essentially more valuable than the game’s best reliever. Since there are no weekly transactions and thus no way to line up starters prior to each scoring period, I would suggest trying to grab as many starting pitchers as possible. I plan to draft a minimum of 12 starting pitchers in TRAX Best Score leagues, and that number may even exceed 15 once all is said and done. When selecting pitchers, the focus should be on innings and strikeouts per start. Even though pitchers receive negative points, I would not focus too much on that. The positives will outweigh the negatives with a high-volume pitcher. Take Chris Archer, for instance. In 2017, Archer won just 10 of 34 starts and finished the year with a 4.07 ERA and a 1.26 WHIP. Needless to say, he did not help many win Roto leagues. However, Archer would have finished 11th among all pitchers in the TRAX Best Score scoring format by virtue of his 201 innings, 249 punchouts, and 20 quality starts.
In trying to figure out the best way to maximize value in Best Score, it is my belief that relief pitcher is a position that you do not want to speculate on. In standard drafts, many fantasy owners try to pick a couple of fliers that can turn into “closers in waiting.” I do not think this is a good idea in TRAX Best Score drafts because the scoring system does not do relievers any favors even in the most ideal of situations. Of the 11 pitchers who reached 500 total points last season, none of them were relievers, and only four of the 28 pitchers who scored at least 400 points came out of the bullpen. For reference, 400 points over the course of the season equates to a little more than 15 points per week, or roughly what Aaron Nola and James Paxton provided on a per-start basis. Given the small number of surefire safe closers, I would be hard-pressed to advocate for selecting more than three or four relievers in TRAX Best Score drafts. I think the best strategy may be to grab a stud closer relatively early and then take one or two more mid-tier closers and be done with it. Having depth at starting pitcher is, in my opinion, of paramount importance in TRAX Best Score leagues.
Now that you have read the rules and have a feel for the format, come and join a league now! Who knows – you may even have a chance to use some of my (hopefully) helpful hints against me.