As we prepare for draft season, finding areas to gain an edge over our opponents is always key to a successful season. The most common league type is categories, but I am going to go back to my roots for this article. I first got into fantasy baseball through a points league. Although not as common, points leagues are still used throughout the industry and require a different strategy than a typical league. This is especially true when it comes to drafting pitchers. This article discusses the strategy behind drafting pitchers for a points league and identifies three potential values for you in drafts!
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How Drafting Differs
When you are drafting for points leagues, it is important to remember what the goal of this format is. The goal is not to draft players that are going to put up the best ratios. Sure, drafting a pitcher with 200 strikeouts is always going to be nice, but this format is about quantity over quality. Throughout the season, you want to accumulate as many points as possible. The points do not have to be pretty; they just have to count. There is a great article on RotoBaller from last year that discusses playing in a points league in a little bit more detail!
This article focuses on pitching. The key to winning your points league is having pitchers who average a high innings per start. As an asset, a pitcher is only as useful in points leagues as the number of innings he throws. Take Tony Gonsolin for example; he was great in category leagues posting 2.14 ERA and 0.87 WHIP, but he finished outside the top 30 in points leagues. Why? The answer is simple; Gonsolin only threw 130 innings. If you do not draft pitchers who are going to accumulate innings, your fantasy team is going to be in trouble in points leagues. Below I list three pitchers who fit the criteria of “innings monsters” and could be undervalued in points leagues!
Three Pitchers to Draft in Points Leagues
Framber Valdez, SP Houston Astros
I decided to break this into three different sections of the draft; early-round value, mid-round value, and late-round value. The early round value is easily Framber Valdez. In 2022, the Astros seemed to finally drop Valdez’s proverbial leash and let him pitch. He topped 200 innings for the first time and was dominant. Now, in the early stages of free agency, the Astros have already watched Justin Verlander depart to New York leaving no doubt about who their new ace is. With Lance McCullers the only other veteran presence on that staff (and he has plenty of injury concerns), the Astros are going to lean on Valdez to eat up close to 200 innings again in 2023. According to CBS Sports, Valdez ranked 5th in total points amongst SP in 2022 and he is likely to repeat his success in 2023!
Valdez might not be the flashiest pitcher in baseball, but it is hard to argue with his success. While many analysts in the industry were calling for regression heading into 2022, Valdez solidified himself as a top-tier option. Since being given an opportunity to start full-time, Valdez has posted a 3.05 ERA across over 405 innings. This includes a sparkling 2.82 ERA in 2022. What has been most impressive is that Valdez has averaged over 6.4IP/GS during that span. The only other pitchers with 400 innings and an ERA below 3.10 since 2020 are:
- Corbin Burnes, Julio Urias, Max Fried, Sandy Alcantara, Zack Wheeler, and Brandon Woodruff.
All six of those pitchers are considered fantasy aces and Valdez deserves to be considered in the same tier. The only one of those six to average a higher IP/GS than Valdez is Sandy Alcantara… This is extremely valuable in points leagues and Valdez needs to start gaining more respect.
Early ADP data from NFC suggests that Framber Valdez is going as SP25 in drafts. Now, before you all yell at me through the screen… YES, I know that most of these leagues the data is pulled from are category leagues. That being said, my point still stands. Valdez could be an extreme value because he is not flashy, and he does not generate the same number of strikeouts as other pitchers. SP25 is way too late in drafts for category leagues let alone points leagues. Valdez is on a team that is going to win a lot of games, has proven to be reliable in ERA, and eats up TONS of innings. Valdez is a pitcher that you need to target in drafts, especially if you are in a points league!
Miles Mikolas, SP St. Louis Cardinals
Next up, we shift our focus to the middle rounds. Mikolas was excellent for the Cardinals in 2022 and it seems as if nobody even noticed. After battling injuries in 2020 and 2021, Mikolas bounced back and pitched over 200 innings. This marks the third time since returning to the USA that Mikolas has exceeded over 180 innings pitched. The age may look concerning, but Mikolas has fewer professional innings on his arm than most pitchers do at 34 years old. Also, in 2021, Adam Wainwright threw over 200 innings at 38 years old. As I am sure you know, Wainwright pitches for the same team as Mikolas. Why can’t we expect the same from Mikolas at four years younger?
If we considered Framber Valdez to not be flashy, then Mikolas is really dull (Outside of his phenomenal mustache of course). Over the course of his MLB career, Mikolas has only struck out more than seven batters per nine innings once. He is averaging a K/9 rate of 6.75 since returning to the league in 2018. This instantly lowers his fantasy value in category leagues. Adding onto that, Mikolas seems to be a true 4 ERA pitcher. He was phenomenal this season with a 3.29, but most of his true indicators reflect a pitcher who got relatively lucky.
Where Mikolas excels is with his command. Mikolas posted a walk rate below five percent last season. In fact, he has never posted a walk rate above 5.9% since returning to the USA. Why is this important? Outside of the fact that it helps keep Mikolas’ WHIP lower, it limits the number of pitches he throws. Fewer pitches mean more innings which equal more points for your fantasy team. Mikolas can work deep into games by attacking batters and throwing more first-pitch strikes.
The best part about Mikolas is how late you can get him in drafts. As stated before this might differ slightly for points leagues, but Mikolas is currently going as the 68th starting pitcher off the board. This value is incredible for somebody that has a high likelihood of topping 180 innings. There is always so much focus on finding the next superstar, that veteran values like Mikolas are often overlooked. I am all in on drafting Mikolas to be a key contributor to my team in points leagues!
Cal Quantrill, SP Cleveland Guardians
Cal Quantrill is the third pitcher to make this list, and one that I think even offers some upside. Quantrill was a top prospect for San Diego a few years ago before being traded to Cleveland. Since being traded, Quantrill has been nothing short of excellent for the Guardians. By the way people talk about him you would assume he is a fringe rotation kind of player, but in actuality, he has been the most reliable pitcher in Cleveland’s rotation. Across 57 starts and 90 appearances since 2020, Quantrill has posted a 3.08 ERA to pair with an 11.8 K-BB%. Quantrill cleared 186 innings in his first full season of starting. He averaged almost six innings a start and could continue taking steps forward in 2023!
After getting a chance to work with Cleveland’s renowned pitching staff, Quantrill added a cutter to his arsenal. He threw the pitch about 26% of the time in 2021 and upped the usage to 36% in 2022. He has essentially phased out his four-seam fastball in favor of this pitch and the results have ben fantastic. This pitch generates more whiffs and chases than the four-seamer. In addition, it pairs with his sinker nicely. Quantrill has also ditched his slider in favor of a curveball. Although the usage was still not high, he did throw the pitch more as the season went on. In conjunction, he saw a slight uptick in strikeouts as the season progressed. The lack of a true breaking ball is what has hurt Quantrill in the strikeout category throughout his career. Maybe another offseason with Cleveland will help Quantrill continue developing that pitch!
The lack of strikeouts is what keeps Quantrill’s fantasy value down. Analysts point to his ERA indicators, but he has outperformed those in three straight seasons. By limiting the free passes, Quantrill can keep his pitch count down while earning more quality starts and wins. Quantrill is going as SP88 in fantasy drafts right now. He is going around pitchers like Justin Steele, Drey Jameson, and Tylor Megill. A rotation spot is far from a guarantee for all three of these pitchers. Meanwhile, Quantrill has posted a 3.08 ERA over the past three seasons and won 15 games for Cleveland. Take a shot on Quantrill in drafts, especially in points leagues!
Other Pitchers to Consider Drafting:
Here are five other pitchers that I considered writing about in this article:
Chris Bassitt, Triston McKenzie, Logan Webb, Merrill Kelly, Cole Irvin