In the broadest of possible worldviews, there's not a whole lot of difference in how you begin to create your draft list for points leagues when compared to the process for standard rotisserie formats. Let's face it -- any scoring format worth its salt is going to see the likes of Mike Trout, Bryce Harper and Clayton Kershaw rise to the penthouse when the time comes to evaluate their stats. Great is great, and I'd question any form of scoring that didn't recognize this basic fact.
However, the key to creating a winning points league roster is to recognize that there is indeed divergence from rotisserie rankings. That's why this season, we're providing a separate top 300 that can be used as a cheat sheet of sorts in order to help you make your draft day calls, as well as during the season as a sounding board for when you have to decide whether or not the time has come to make some waiver wire moves or to pull the trigger on a trade.
While a top 300 can be a terrific shortcut to making decisions, it's still just a list of names. There's not a lot of room to explain why certain players are a lot higher or a lot lower in the pecking order than they are in rotisserie-based rankings. In order to help you get a feel for the rationale for some of the potentially head-scratching placements, let's take a closer look at a few of the reasons behind the rankings of players whose value seems to wander off in an unexpected direction when looked at under a points league microscope.
Pitchers and hitters, apples and oranges
Last season, Bryce Harper led all hitters with 554 points, but seven starting pitchers had more overall points than the Washington outfielder. Because of the way points are awarded in ESPN standard scoring, at the top of the leaderboard, pitchers will almost always take up most of the available spots -- but that doesn't mean your first two or three picks have to reside on the mound. Everybody has to start nine pitchers, so as long as you get a share of the exclusive group of elite arms, there's no need to obsess about it and ignore hitting altogether. That said, when there is a clear tier in SP, it makes sense to grab your ace a bit earlier than perhaps you would in a rotisserie format.
Max Scherzer, for example, is projected to earn 19.21 points per start in 2016. Josh Donaldson is projected to earn 3.07 per game. In weeks where Donaldson plays six times, that still leaves him short of Scherzer -- and if Scherzer has a two-start week, it's likely not to be close. That's why in points leagues, Scherzer maps out as a first-round option, perhaps as high as No. 5 overall. Other pitchers who may see a similar one-round bump due to the way the pitcher-batter shuffle works out include: David Price, Stephen Strasburg and Johnny Cueto.
Key stats to consider
Pitchers get extra points for strikeouts, but they lose points for walks, hits and earned runs. That's why the key stat for starters is always going to be K/BB rate. Anything fewer than 3.00 in that department and you're going to be anxiously counting strikeouts in an uphill climb to break even on a rather routine basis. That's why you'll see big drops for guys like Sonny Gray (2.73 K/BB), Garrett Richards (2.87) and Tyson Ross (2.59).
On the flip side, a low K/BB rate can drive a hitter's ranking up by a significant margin. Batting average is fairly irrelevant in points leagues -- unless of course, the outs you are making are of the swing-and-miss variety, since whiffs dock you a point. However, those batters who have demonstrated the ability to reach base just as often, if not more, via the walk, can completely eliminate the negative points brought about by failing to make contact with two strikes. That's why Joey Votto (0.94 K/BB), Jose Bautista (1.02) and Ben Zobrist (1.01) will typically see their stock rise compared to the likes of Jose Abreu (3.28), Starling Marte (4.35) and Evan Gattis (4.03).
Another place to turn for some added points-league value is those players who have an on-base percentage significantly higher than their batting average. In terms of ESPN standard scoring, a walk is truly as good as a hit, since both a single and a walk earn you a point. That why any player who has an OBP-BA of greater than .100 is probably worth grabbing several rounds sooner than in roto leagues. Examples for 2016, based on projections, include Curtis Granderson (.102), Carlos Santana (.124) and Lucas Duda (.106).
Specialized stats aren't required
When you're drafting in a category-based league, players who provide you with steals and saves end up being all the more valuable as the percentage of the overall talent pool who contribute significantly in these statistical areas ends up being quite small. However, in points leagues, there's no requirement as to where your points come from, just as long as they come.
As a result, one-category specialists simply aren't worth drafting as early on in the process in points leagues. Speedsters like Dee Gordon, Billy Hamilton and Ben Revere all see drops in value, since there's no particular need to fill a quota in stolen bases. But, at the same time, when you consider that 30 steals and 70 RBI is the same value as no steals and 100 RBI, you're actually going to see a boost for players like Billy Burns, Elvis Andrus and Ender Inciarte.
Now, let's consider closers and the five points they'll earn you for each save. If the elite ninth-inning go-to guys are going to get three-to-four appearances per week, with presumably the majority of those outings coming in save situations, then you're looking at weekly numbers that could rival that of Clayton Kershaw when they're successful. Additionally, because the runs that closers give up are frequently either of the inherited variety (and thus not counted against them) or limited to just a single blemish (given the situational use of when closers get summoned), you don't have to fear that a reliever is going to have a soul-crushing Felix Hernandez-esque outing.
That said, unless you're going to strategically go with a "one ace and all closers" pitching strategy, there's really no need to chase after relievers in points leagues -- especially given the current uncertainty surrounding many teams' late-inning bullpen plans. As a result, expect to see the majority of RP lingering far longer on draft boards in points leagues.
Figuring out the exact moment to draft a player is more of an art form than science. You also have to take into account injury risk, which takes on added importance in head-to-head points leagues, because you can't be a "compiler" to be worth your draft value. You need to be in the lineup on a weekly basis to earn your keep. That's why players like Brian McCann, Devin Mesoraco and Hisashi Iwakuma lose a little bit of luster.
Another "X factor" when drafting early is trying to accurately predict what roles certain players will ultimately end up having when Opening Day rolls around. It's hard to know exactly where to place the Dexter Fowler-types of the world when we don't know what uniform they'll wear. Additionally, you have guys like Michael Conforto and Maikel Franco who may or may not be ready for full-time duties for an entire season.
Pitcher Chris Bassitt is also quite the unique enigma, as he could end up in the Oakland rotation and earn double-digit victories, or he could start the year in Triple-A, or -- should the team's veteran bullpen fail to take shape in the spring -- end up as a late-inning option. He's Exhibit A as to why all fantasy baseball leagues should hold their draft as close to the start of the season as possible.
In any event, it's always the wisest course of action to use player rankings as merely a jumping off point for your own research and personal preferences. That said, if you're on board with the projected numbers we've laid out for the top 300, then you're probably not going to want to stray too far from the points leagues rankings we've provided for you.