Hitters to Target for Points Leagues
(Photo by John Cordes/Icon Sportswire)
While a large chunk of the content you’ll find here at PitcherList.com tends to revolve around the parameters of the popular and beloved 5×5 format, we’ll be paying plenty of attention toward what goes into succeeding at points-based play as well. I can’t think of a better way to kick that effort off than discussing some hitters that warrant higher—or even just different—consideration, come draft day. The points league aficionado in me is delighted to announce that PL doesn’t just stand for Pitcher List anymore!
As a bit of explanatory background, I truly enjoy participating in leagues dictated by a points format, particularly when it’s on a weekly H2H basis. It’s my favorite, truth be told. I love a fantasy baseball system that rewards the acquisition of extra-base hits while also incentivizing high on-base percentages and low strikeout rates. My reasoning is simple: I find that it more closely mimics what you’d be hoping the stars on your favorite MLB team could accomplish anytime you go watch a game. I appreciate the more cut-and-dry characterizations of a guy’s value in 5×5. But I also really dig finding the more numerous ways in which a player can end up contributing that would otherwise get glossed over, say, if his homer or RBI counts don’t wow you. I think the points format does a nice job of placing importance in many more of the nuances that make a successful and well-rounded baseball player. The 5×5 criteria sort of box you into viewing a high-average guy like Justin Turner as having had limited value last season because he only hit 21 homers and just snuck into the low 70s for runs and RBI. In points play, however, his 19 HBP (T-4th in the league), his sneaky good BB/K ratio of 1.05, and his 32 doubles were all difference makers that elevated him to stud status. So, with that context established, my hope is that these dedicated points-centric pieces can help you navigate and dominate a different realm in the fantasy landscape.
- These player blurbs have been written with a 12-teamer league in mind. I address formats which have season-long points accumulation and weekly H2H points matchups, as appropriate. I’m always open to questions specific to readers’ leagues, so feel free to comment if you need more advice or information.
- The Mike Trouts and the Jose Altuves of the world need not be discussed since they should unequivocally be the consensus top two picks regardless of format.
- Historically, Paul Goldschmidt could have a shot at being the third name on that list, but I’m advising slight caution with the implementation of the humidor in Phoenix. Don’t get too spooked: he’ll still be a monstrous points hog worthy of your first-round selection, but caution using a top-5 pick on him could be justifiable. It’s simply that we can’t yet fathom how drastically the change to the balls will affect Goldy’s mechanics, if at all. Worst-case scenario, I think it’s only early in the first half that an adjustment process makes itself apparent and he gets back to his old tricks by mid-May. His road splits from previous years would lead us to believe the humidor’s sorcery won’t present a lasting or significant challenge for him, but we have to guard ourselves against the unknown.
- I’m going to abstain from going in-depth into any one catcher for noteworthy points league viability in this piece, for two reasons. First of all, every fantasy-relevant catcher in the league right now is usually a better play and has higher value in rotisserie and categories leagues, so my driving theme of highlighting guys who are actually underrated PL plays dictates that none of them warrants a special mention here. Also, if I have the bench space to spare, I will sometimes apply the two-catcher streaming approach anyway to ensure I’m getting points from the position every day of the week. That said, some solid value is to be had in this format very inexpensively from second-tier catchers like Salvador Perez or T. Realmuto in the middle rounds of your draft if you don’t feel like taking an elite one like Gary Sanchez, Buster Posey, or Willson Contreras early on. My colleague Kyle Bishop cleverly noted that Evan Gattis could be very desirable with a ton of DH at-bats available to him, so keep an eye on where he falls to. That same logic of delaying to spend less applies to lower-level guys who will have the lion’s share of backstop work on their respective teams: Mike Zunino (SEA), Brian McCann (HOU), and Yadier Molina (STL) should all be serviceable picks later. Travis d’Arnaud (NYM) was really solid for me a couple of years ago in PL competition, but he’s struggled to stay 100% healthy. Finally, I like Robinson Chirinos (TEX), Tyler Flowers (ATL), Alex Avila (ARI), and Chris Iannetta (COL) to be largely available as decent undrafted free agents if you want to use your selections on deeper positions and stream at C.
Now, let’s talk about some recommended PL players who may not be getting as much love in the categories or roto worlds.
Joey Votto (1B, CIN) – OK, so while Votto’s hitting excellence is well established, he could legitimately fall to the second round of most 12-teamer drafts for 5×5 leagues. This should absolutely not happen in a points league. In my opinion, you could make a case for Votto being a top-5 PL pick. Specifically, he led MLB in OBP last season while also posting a sixth-best BA of .320. The guy drew a walk in nearly one of every five plate appearances (!), which is invaluable since BB can get you valued points even on the days when the base hits are hard to come by. He will already be drawing deserved acclaim for being part of the illustrious 35+ HR club, but Votto’s expanded worth in points formats cannot be overstated.
Charlie Blackmon (OF, COL) – Blackmon and Giancarlo Stanton were the only two players in Yahoo leagues to crack the 1,000-point mark throughout the course of 2017. The advantages Blackmon has are that he rarely grounds into double plays, he strikes out a lot less, he steals bags, and he is a usual suspect to lead the league in triples again. Stanton carries a lot of his fantasy clout in the power production he can provide, whereas Blackmon is an appealingly more diverse stat machine. For what it’s worth, Blackmon led my ESPN league in total points while tying Bryce Harper, Rhys Hoskins, and J.D. Martinez in average points per outing. The Colorado Caveman should be taken before or with the 7th or 8th overall picks.
Mookie Betts (OF, BOS) – A year ago, we were talking about Betts as someone who merited a top-5 pick. In a strange and slightly disappointing 2017 campaign that saw him turn in a .264 BA and a wRC+ of only 108, Betts frustrated many owners is 5×5. The high expectations he set for himself by hitting 30 bombs and stealing 26 bases during the 2016 season while averaging .318 led us to believe he could do that all over again. But Betts’ performance last year ultimately had the least adverse impact on points-league owners. In fact, in knocking 46 doubles, stealing 26 bases, lifting his BB/K rate from 0.61 to 0.97 by getting a career-high 77 walks and a career-low 79 strikeouts, he did all the right things to quietly become even more coveted as a PL stud while 5×5 owners were lamenting his down year. That is why I think it makes so much sense to mention him here. I’m here to defend him to those who used a first-round pick on him in 5×5 and experienced buyer’s remorse, relatively speaking. He got you seven fewer HRs (24 vs. 31 in 2016), 21 fewer runs, and 11 fewer RBI—even though he still broke 100 in the latter two, which the manifestation of a “first-world problem” in fantasy. Worrying is what we do as fantasy enthusiasts, so I get the apprehension if you felt slightly burned by Betts last year. You should have none, however, since he’ll be back as a beast in all leagues even though he never really left in points leagues. A BABIP of .268 last year says he’s due for some positive regression. He should bat even more frequently from leadoff this year, and the recent signing of J.D. Martinez’s powerful bat to what will probably be the 3-hole of the BoSox order should only help Betts’ cause to get back on track. You’re not off your rocker if you snag him anywhere in the first round, really. Betts could make you look like a loyal genius if you can take him sixth or seventh overall, but many could shy away from the phantom of relative risk that lingers from last year and ill-advisedly let him fall to low first-round range. He’s actually supposed to be more valuable for categories or roto usage, but I’m predicting that drafters in those leagues might be myopically wary of heeding his deserved ADP in the 3-to-8 zone. If you find yourself picking in the bottom half of a 12-team PL draft order, though, you cannot pass on an available Betts.
Jose Ramirez (2B/3B, CLE) – Another great producer across formats in 2017, J-Ram goes from excellent to elite when his XBH contributions weigh into the equation. It wouldn’t surprise me if he were to make a run to lead The Show in doubles all over again. He enjoyed a sterling strikeout rate of just 10.7% last year (career 10.9%, so it’s no fluke), all while putting up the 9th-highest slugging percentage. These data help to shine a little light on the exceptionally dangerous threat he can pose to your opponents in points leagues. In short, under no circumstances should Ramirez drop to the third round in any format. He’s a bona fide top-15 pick for our purposes, though, and I wouldn’t argue with anyone who were to take him 10th overall.
Jose Abreu (1B, CHW) – Abreu is an intriguing and polarizing case for me. He’s a high-risk, high-reward play in PL, as contrasted with his designation as a dependably balanced safe bet for four-category dreaminess in 5×5 roto. Because of this, his name popping up in this article is a bit of an aberration. I felt it necessary to address his high K and GIDP totals and the criticism that will come flooding in because of them. While the purist in me dislikes the costly 119 K and 21 GIDP he had last year, he does actually tend to make up for the damage he incurs for his points owners’ bottom lines. He does this by amassing both XBH and HBP in droves. It’s really quite remarkable: he’s gotten beamed exactly 15 times for three seasons straight, and he is a near-mortal lock for 40 doubles and 30 homers on top of that. Because of all this, he was the No. 12 points-getter in my ESPN league last year, a fact that will likely surprise a lot of people—even some roto and H2H folks. The good news with regard to the strikeouts is that his K% has been inching downward in four consecutive seasons. I’m loving the hard contact, but one thing I will be monitoring is his line drive percentage for a return to the low 20% range from the 18.7% where it languished last season. A late third- or early fourth-round pick seems about right for Abreu in points drafts.
Tommy Pham (OF, STL) – This is a tantalizing format-specific value gap to talk about. Pham burst onto the scene last year as a guy who will be in the majors to stay now, a fate largely sealed by a tasty .306/.411/.520 line and membership in the 20/20 club after appearing in 128 games. Even if his .368 BABIP slides back to reality and affects his average for the worse, and therefore his reputation in rotisserie or H2H category leagues, I think St. Louis is going to give him enough chances to produce counting and XBH stats that he’ll still be great in PL. Already slapping a disclaimer a potential sophomore slump is a big “what if?” to begin with, since 35.5% hard contact, high 80s in Z-Contact%, and an excellent SwStr% of 7.6 are not such outlandish numbers that Pham can’t reproduce them. His raw batted ball data last year spat out expected metrics that Pham managed to outpace in a number of instances, according to xStats. His actual AVG and wOBA exceeded his xAVG and xOBA, and he hit more doubles and homers than should have been expected from his angles and velocities. While his value hit rate (VH) of 6.6% was lower than I’d like, conversely I’m not mad about a poor hit rate (PH%) of 14.9%. For a little more reference on where these kinds of numbers stack up, please check out Dave Cherman’s article comparing Justin Smoak and Michael Conforto to the likes of Anthony Rizzo, Cody Bellinger, Andrew McCutchen, among others. Pham has a very good shot at being extremely relevant in points leagues, where I consider him to be a no-questions-asked snag in Round 4 of drafts. NFBC has him going 59th this year for roto, but the delicious cocktail of smart baserunning, plate discipline, XBH potential, and a BB/K ratio that hopefully stays close to 0.6 (I’m expecting closer to 0.5) will make drafting him well worth his PL price tag.
Lorenzo Cain (OF, MIL) – He was already a strong points play, and then the Brewers came along and nabbed him from Kansas City so that his talented glove and productive bat can now enjoy success at Miller Park. He’s not going to blow you away with power, but he’s had his hard contact percentage in the 30s for three seasons straight so expecting another 15-homer outing isn’t unreasonable. His BABIP has also managed to remain at seemingly unsustainable levels for those same three years, so that’s perhaps a little concerning. At the end of the day, though, you can’t help but love the 13:1 SB/CS ratio from last year that make Cain a no-brainer add in all leagues with NSB protocols set in place. Make sure to pay attention to the scoring system your commissioner sets, since that particular league awards 2 points for SB and docks you 2 points for CS. Cain’s intelligent baserunning made this a very significant metric last year. Mark me down for a floor of .285/.350/.425, 25 doubles, 14 homers, 25 steals, and 7 CS. I’m assuming some combination of Travis Shaw, Domingo Santana, and Ryan Braun will likely follow him in the lineup, so that’s potentially good for Cain’s run-scoring efforts if they can find consistency. Also, really rooting for Cain’s recently heightened swing and O-contact percentages to keep rising as he makes pitchers sweat by extending his at-bats with foul tips; ultimately, my hope is that it translates into more walks and a bump in BB/K to 0.6 or 0.65. Cain was No. 50 in total points accrued in ESPN leagues last year with 530.5, and I think that correlates roughly to where I like his ADP to be in 2018 for PL. For the context of a second opinion, ESPN’s AJ Mass has him at 47, as opposed to his significantly lower 97th ADP per NFBC for roto. Cain simply has to be owned by the end of the fifth round of 12-teamer PL drafts.
Matt Carpenter (1B/2B/3B, STL) – Even in what was a “down year” for his fantasy viability by his own high standards, I am relishing now how Carpenter’s OBP was so robust (.384) when his average was sputtering at .241. That (OBP – BA) approach to assessing a guy’s value beyond the parameters of what hits he’s getting is a good trick to finding points hogs in a roto-dominated world that focuses so closely on average. Carpenter’s .143 differential between the first two-thirds of his slash line was, by my research and assuming a minimum PA mark of 300, the league’s very best in 2017. Multiple position eligibility is super handy as always, and he got his BB/K rate up to a career-high 0.87 last season. I hope the Cards don’t try to re-invent the wheel, as Carpenter enjoys a lot of success when he occupies that leadoff spot; I have, however, seen comments from Mike Matheny that he’s slated for the 3-spot. I like Carpenter for 30 doubles easy with potential for 35, and I don’t think 25 homers is too lofty a goal for a guy that had 42.2% hard contact last season. A tiny bit of BABIP luck and exit angle adjustment and we have a possible top-50 fantasy player back on our hands in Carp. The 2018 NFBC has his ADP estimated at about 180 for roto, but Carpenter is an extremely strong points league play so I have him as a necessary selection no later than the end of the eighth round in that format. I don’t hate grabbing him in Round 7, truth be told.
Andrelton Simmons (SS, LAA) – Simmons brings some baserunning speed to the table, but what makes him a curiously salient option for PL is a solid doubles total and decent sacrifice fly production all punctuated by an appealingly low K rate. He’ll likely get written off as a shortstop who is not a starter in 5×5 leagues and who doesn’t need to be drafted before Pick No. 200. He’s definitely more of a backup in that instance, or even maybe a good UTIL play, but his profile as a low-risk guy whose contributions may not register on a basic box score makes him a clever points-league grab in perhaps the 12th round.
Adam Duvall (OF, CIN) – Duvall is a great example of a dude who gets his accomplishments mildly discounted in the roto and categories realms because of a batting average that doesn’t leap off the page. The .249 isn’t particularly inspiring, and the argument that you can get 30-plus homer power from elsewhere without giving up BA for rotisserie is not an invalid one, so I’m open-minded if people aren’t keen on Duvall when that stat matters and prefer taking a Jay Bruce type to shore that up a bit earlier. I guess it depends on your strategy, although Duvall is hardly a Joey Gallo-esque punting of average althogether. Even those who are digging deep and seeing Duvall’s 2017 wRC+ of 98 and avoiding him because of a gut feeling of expected mediocrity, I can understand your stance. In points play, though, sign me up for Duvall if I can get upwards of 30 doubles and 20+ combined sac flies and HBP for a bargain. The Reds OF looks like it’s going to be a little crowded, so that news bumps Duvall’s ADP down slightly but it doesn’t tank it. His Ks are a bit high, but the XBH generation from last year is difficult to discredit. A 20 HR/20 SB Andrew Benintendi’s season-long point total in Yahoo, for example, barely outdid Duvall’s; they bring different counting stat accumulation styles to the table, to be sure, but you would have enjoyed Duvall’s almost equivalent worth after getting him two rounds later than Benintendi in the draft. If we assume his BB/K ratio continues to hover around a middling 0.25 and that he keeps his hard contact percentage in the 30s, I like his value in the second half of PL drafts. He has enjoyed surprisingly good road splits, so even despite a timeshare in Cincy’s outfield, I think Duvall makes for a sneaky good pick as a streamable fourth OF in fantasy also. NFBC has his ADP at 171 for traditional formats, which I presume could drop soon given the outfield situation news; bumping him from about 140 or 150 to approximately that same 170 in PL now doesn’t seem unreasonable. Scoop him up anywhere between Rounds 14 through 16, and you suddenly have great bench depth for an affordable pick.
Todd Frazier (3B, NYM) – Across all the Batter’s Box and Hitter List articles I wrote last year, I hated the broad chasm that existed between the opportunities Frazier’s skill set affords him and his uninspiring 2017 season, particularly in H2H categories and roto. Just like the stock market though, pouncing to buy shares during a slump in order to have a shot on getting a moderate-to-good return on an inexpensive investment can be the name of the game. Frazier finished in my ESPN points league as the 18th-ranked guy in MLB with 3B as his primary position, after having had an ADP of 76.5 (to clarify, there were eight other players with 3B eligibility who scored more points than Frazier, but they play a different primary position more often, which is what goes into those player rankings). So, effectively, people taking him in the seventh round got roughly the performance of a 10th-rounder when you find he rank 109th by points scored across all batters. If you’re someone who was cursing Frazier’s name for a horrendous batting average in 5×5, the minus-3 “round differential” between drafted value and actual value in points leagues is not nearly as bad as you expected, right? He wasn’t abjectly bad at fantasy in the points world, per se, he just wasn’t very valuable for where he was taken. However, another excellent example of why you need to be hyper-aware of your league’s settings emerges here. For comparison’s sake, in that same ESPN league with the weighted steals Xander Bogaerts finished as the No. 9 SS and scored almost 50 more points than Frazier; in my season-long Yahoo points league, they finished within two points of each other. Bogaerts had 48 XBH to Frazier’s 47, but he tallied 55 more total hits and had 27 more total bases. My point is that you have to be aware of what suits your league incentives the best to really harvest each player’s value properly. That said, I think Frazier has a serviceable if not solid 2018 in front of him with the Mets. His BA was brutal last year, but so was his BABIP. He’s coming off a campaign in which he notched career highs in BB/K, OBP, and both O-contact% and Contact% all while posting career lows in O-swing%, Swing%, and whiff rate. The production suffered a bit, but he’s surprisingly growing into a more patient batter. He could go undrafted in most fantasy formats, but he retains late-round value as a cheap backup 3B/UTIL selection in PL.