While the World Baseball Classic rolls on and David Wright, perhaps, gets his only taste of what it is like playing for a winning team out of the way before the start of the 2013 regular season, the ESPN Fantasy staff once again decided to tackle the process of choosing up sides of our own. This time out, it's a head-to-head points-league format to which we turn our collective attention.
We used ESPN standard settings for such an enterprise, meaning a 10-team mixed league with a 25-man roster featuring the following positional breakdown: one catcher, one of each infield position, five outfielders, one 1B/3B, one 2B/SS, one utility player, nine pitchers and three bench spots.
Offensive points are given for each total base, run scored, RBI, stolen base or walk, but with a one-point deduction for any strikeout. Pitchers get a point per out, plus a bonus point for fanning a batter. Walks and hits cost them one point, while two points come off the board for each earned run. A win or a save is good for five points, but a loss will cost you five. Additionally, there is a 12-game limit per week on the number of starts a team can use.
The drafters, in first-round order, were as follows: me, Brian Gramling, Brendan Roberts, Tom Carpenter, Todd Zola, Eric Karabell, Pierre Becquey, Shawn Cwalinski, Dave Hunter and Tristan H. Cockcroft taking the turn into the reverse snake.
With that in mind, here are the results, along with a few highlights and insight into the thought process that went into a few of the more noteworthy selections:
Round 1 notes:
Kicking things off, I selected Miguel Cabrera. Now, I know I just wrote an article extolling the virtues of selecting Mike Trout as the No. 1 overall pick, but that was in a category-based scoring format. Points leagues don't care about where those points come from so long as they come, so Trout's value drops significantly in this format.
In fact, based on his ESPN projections, Trout ranks at No. 37 overall. So why did Gramling select him at No. 2? He simply thinks those projections are low. "Trout outperformed Ryan Braun on a per-game basis last year and I think he'll hit closer to .310 than .285," he said. "Plus, I also see his K/BB ratio improving greatly."
Because the best pitchers, as a rule, end up scoring more overall points than their hitting counterparts, it's not unusual to see aces like Justin Verlander and Clayton Kershaw go in the first round. At No. 9 Hunter grabbed Felix Hernandez and was not at all concerned about his potential for injury.
"It seems like every season we get the same concerns on Hernandez -- too many innings pitched, his velocity is down, his arm HAS to fall off soon. But I'm not concerned," Hunter said confidently. "He'll be a thoroughbred pitcher yet again this season and one I'm very happy to have as my team ace."
Round 2 notes:
As Cwalinski correctly points out, "Power bats and high OBP guys become more valuable in this format." So when you can get a guy like Jose Bautista, who can lead the league in both home runs and walks, you don't worry about how often he strikes out.
There is some concern with Stephen Strasburg perhaps still being treated with kid gloves a bit in Washington. Could the Nationals shut him down again late in the season, especially if for some reason the team finds itself out of the playoff picture? Maybe so. But Cockcroft says he'll take his chances and worry about dealing with the head-to-head dilemma when September comes around.
Reyes is a steal for Zola -- if his health can hold up with the move to artificial turf. "Players with the reputation of being stolen base specialists are usually not favored in points formats," Zola said. However, if Reyes has more than 300 total bases, his high contact rate will more than make up for any power shortage. He's not Juan Pierre.
Rounds 3-5 notes:
During this stretch of the draft, I selected Billy Butler. That's a move that could well give me the two top hitters in the league in terms of batting average. Plus, Butler has gone four seasons now with at least 158 games played. For a weekly league, that's a statistic that makes the process of lineup selection a lot less complicated. Set it and forget it.
Gramling had selected Starlin Castro the pick just before I grabbed Butler, and though he also coveted the Kansas City Royals first baseman, draft order played a role in the decision. "I admit Castro was a bit of a reach, but I thought he was the last of the second tier of shortstops and there was still more depth left at other unfilled positions in my lineup. I was torn between Butler and Adrian Gonzalez, so I decided to wait, knowing that Mass wouldn't take both of them."
As it turns out, I very nearly did take Gonzalez in the fifth round, but felt that CC Sabathia was the last remaining pitcher who I felt comfortable with as an anchor for my personal take on points league strategy -- more on that in the next portion of the draft -- so the gamble indeed paid off for Gramling.
Because of the points format's emphasis on pitchers, you will often find players like David Wright and Hanley Ramirez fall quite a bit in the draft as owners load up on starting pitching due to the fact there is no longer a four-category versus five-category handicap. That often leads to surprise bargains.
Rounds 6-10 notes:
Jonathan Papelbon, Jason Motte, Rafael Soriano and Jim Johnson. What does this quartet of closers have in common? They were all selected by yours truly in this portion of the draft. As Cockcroft lamented at one point in the draft, "Man, life in a points league with AJ Mass is rough. He steals all my closers."
I'm of the mind that the best strategy in points leagues, especially if you're the only one attempting to pull it off, is to draft one ace and eight closers for your nine pitching slots. The theory being that with wins and saves each worth five points and with the top closers getting 2-4 save chances per week, my staff is going to be far more successful on a per-week basis than a team that tries to fill its 12 weekly starts through a bunch of No. 4 and No. 5 starters.
Becquey, with whom I've played in points leagues before, takes the completely opposite world view: "I have absolutely no need for closers in this format. I'll stream starters and be just fine thank you."
Truly, it's all or nothing in my opinion. Either you go all-in with closers or you shun them completely. And the sneaky thing about being the only one pondering my strategy is that it oftentimes forces the hand of other players who end up reaching for the remaining closers to be sure that they get one, and in the process, pass up on solid hitters who can slip into my clutches later on. In other words, my offensive lineup doesn't suffer from spending so many picks on closers early on.
Case in point, look how close I came to getting David Ortiz at pick No. 100. Big Papi is a top-25 value in points leagues, but because of his DH-only status, people are typically afraid to grab him anywhere near where his true value lies. Roberts took him just before I was about to pounce. "Unless Ortiz misses time with an injury again or suddenly forgets how to hit, this was an incredible steal of a pick," he said. "With his high OPS, he's a points league beast." Hunter's pick of Paul Konerko was another example, perhaps, of how roto-bias allowed a solid points leaguer to slip through the cracks.
Other interesting picks included Chase Headley. "I wanted to get Martin Prado, but he went in Round 4, which shocked me. But even if Headley doesn't hit 30 home runs again, his walk totals and the resulting OBP [.374 and .376 the past two years] are what is truly appealing here," Cwalinski said.
Zola's Melky Cabrera pick was a bit of a head-scratcher, especially because he does believe that the batting average was a fluke. "I don't think it was anything more than lady luck, but while I anticipate some BABIP regression here, we're talking about a player who is likely to get a ton of plate appearances in a potent attack who doesn't strike out often. This profiles as a points league monster," he said.
Rounds 11-15 notes:
With only a three-man bench in this league, it's hard to take chances on players who might not be available on Opening Day. That's why it was a bit surprising to see Becquey take Curtis Granderson as early as Round 12. But this isn't a league where you add up all the totals at the end of the season to see who wins. It's a weekly head-to-head, and that makes all the difference. "I'll trust that if having Granderson costs me a game in April, he'll make up for it by getting me a few victories down the stretch and in the playoffs," Becquey said. "This isn't about total points. It's about points per game."
That said, I'm also surprised Cockcroft didn't grab Granderson first. After all, he used this part of the draft to go with Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira, as well as adding Kevin Youkilis with the second of his back-to-back picks in Rounds 15-16. I'm not sure the New York Yankees fan wouldn't have been happy to simply be assigned the Yankees en masse and call it a day. However, that deal would have meant that Karabell couldn't have grabbed Mariano Rivera in Round 14.
Karabell says that Rivera is a guy whose stats simply fit into this format. "He may not be a huge strikeout guy, but it's amazing how many points a reliever can accrue when he doesn't walk people or get lit up," he said.
I found it amusing that Hunter ended up with Hunter Pence, but resisted the urge to follow suit and left A.J. Burnett alone, though he was eventually grabbed by Becquey in Round 23. Pence, who accumulates a lot of counting stats without excelling in any one particular area, probably should be bumped up about five rounds in points leagues versus a category-based system. It's a good pick here.
I'm hoping to get about 300 points combined from my outfield duo of Josh Reddick and Norichika Aoki in terms of just their runs scored and RBIs. Throw in the power of Reddick and the speed of Aoki and that should be another 125 points easy, and that's assuming regression for both. It could be much better and for guys who are going to be my No. 4 and No. 5 outfielders, I'm very happy here, given how late I'm deciding to pick them.
Rounds 16-20 notes:
Carpenter's picks of Michael Bourn and Desmond Jennings at this late stage of the draft helps highlight the incredible valuation disconnect between rotisserie and points leagues. Both of these guys would be reasonable top-75 selections in a 5x5 league where stolen bases have unique value. Carpenter is absolutely correct when he says that "steals can cover up hitting issues and low batting averages." However, when a walk and a steal is exactly the same value as a double, there's nothing all that special about what either of these players has to offer a fantasy owner.
Roberts made another of those "April be damned" picks with Corey Hart but again reminds us all that he can "help just as much down the stretch as guys taken several rounds earlier." Gramling also gets a steal at No. 199, and one that might help him right from the get-go, in the form of David Freese, who is one of those rare players whose statistics seem to contribute to his fantasy team's value around the same in all formats.
Cwalinski happily grabs his catcher in Round 19. "You know what catcher has the most RBIs in the last two seasons? It's Miguel Montero. I also like the fact that his walk rate jumped to 12.7 percent last season," he said. Playing in Arizona, one can fully expect Montero to rack up some points, which is why he's ESPN's No. 8 catcher in points leagues.
It's not a fantasy draft until Karabell selects someone from the Philadelphia Phillies. In this case, it's Ryan Howard, and coming as late as it did makes a whole lot of sense. "Howard will make many outs and an unhealthy portion of them will come from swinging and missing, but I also expect power and many RBIs," he said. Sure, the K's cancel out the RBIs, but if Howard can get back up to the neighborhood of 75 walks, he might well slug enough to make it into the top 100.
Hunter was also high on his ability to grab David Murphy in Round 19, especially since he has a chance to get more than 525 at-bats for the first time in his career. "He's made huge strides facing lefties and that's a real push in his maturity as a hitter," he said. Besides, how can you not argue that a player who can get you six starts a week has much more upside than one who is stuck in a platoon that allows him only 2-3 starts. In a weekly head-to-head, it's all about volume.
Rounds 21-25 notes:
Most of this final portion of the draft was spent filling in the particular open lineup spots of each owner's roster along with the three bench spots. Strategically, because of the ability to shuttle pitchers in and out of your nine-man rotation, it's probably best to give yourself more wiggle room using those spots for arms rather than bats.
For me, I went with Tommy Milone, whom I can activate on days he's starting if I like the matchup, and Drew Storen, who may well get a few save chances of his own on days when Rafael Soriano needs a rest. My final pick was simply due to the fact Andy Dirks is my favorite current player. Never forget that fantasy is supposed to be fun and if you want to pick somebody simply because you want to be able to root for them, don't be afraid to do so. Just be sure to do it in Round 25 and not Round 2.
Other "lottery ticket" picks could well pay huge dividends. Hunter took former first-round favorite Carl Crawford on the premise that "even with conservative estimates of his production, he could earn 320 points this season" although it all comes down to that elbow not flaring up again. Still, in Round 23? There's no risk.
Cockcroft took Yonder Alonso, another intriguing name. Not only could the reconfiguration of Petco Park lead to better power numbers for Alonso, but "he's a better walker and contact hitter than he gets credit for, which makes for a good points-based combination of skills."
Other hitter picks that probably shouldn't have lasted this long were Alcides Escobar, whom Roberts believes is still in his growth phase and can easily be a starting shortstop in a 10-team league, and Logan Morrison, who not only has a decent amount of pop in his bat, but also gives Gramling a little positional flexibility (1B/OF) which is crucial given the short bench and only one DL spot.
So there you have it, points leaguers: a mock just for you. Remember that it's all about the total points and not how you get them, so don't focus so much on whether or not a player can get help you a little bit in several different categories or a whole lot in only one. This isn't rotisserie. Players either help you or they don't.
It's different, but unless you give it a try, you'll never truly learn if this type of scoring system is right for you. So what are you waiting for? Start a league and get to playing. And lastly, remember to have fun, because at the end of the day, that's the whole point.