When you are asked to take part in a fantasy baseball league draft, you always have to take a close look at the rules. It sometimes seems that every league out there fiddles with the format, trying to invent their own unique scoring system - and in the process, you end up with an endless amount of variants. There's simply no way, however, to stage a mock draft based on every imaginable Puppymonkeybaby hybrid out there, but we did want to attempt to tackle one of the more popular formats other than rotisserie: The head-to-head points league.
First, some ground rules under which we operated for this particular mock draft. We used the standard ESPN settings for this format, meaning a 10-team mixed league with a 25-man roster featuring the following positional breakdown: one of each infield position, five outfielders, one 1B/3B, one 2B/SS, one utility player, nine pitchers (no designations for starters or relievers) and three bench spots.
The drafters this time around, in a randomly selected first-round order, were as follows: Joe Kaiser, me, Leo Howell, Tristan H. Cockcroft, Eric Karabell, Todd Zola, David Schoenfield, Dan Mullen, Derek Carty and Dan Szymborski taking the turn into the reverse snake.
This particular draft took place on Thursday, February 25, just as the news of Dexter Fowler rejoining the Chicago Cubs was landing. Nobody was more impacted by this than Mullen who explains, "When you are the editor for a Cubs reporter and (this happens) minutes before your mock draft, the time spent between picks is spent plotting how to react to the news instead of when to grab the on-base machine on your draft board." Where did Fowler end up getting selected? For that answer, read on!
Because we're using points and not categories, it behooves the fantasy player to evaluate the talent pool differently. Batters get one point for each total base, run scored, stolen base, walk and RBI and lose a point for each strikeout. Pitchers, on the other hand, get a point for each out they record, an extra point for a strikeout, and five points for either a win or a save. A point is deducted for each walk they allow, two points for each earned run that crosses the plate on their watch, and they lose five points for a loss.
Elite pitchers are typically a hot commodity early on in points leagues. After all, if Clayton Kershaw is projected to average about 22 points per start, that will equal Mike Trout's expected output for a seven-game week. Of course, if Kershaw has a two-start week and both outings go well, he'll leave all other players in the dust - hence the value of starting pitchers relative to hitters. It made selecting him with pick No. 2 a no-brainer.
Cockcroft was still a bit surprised that only three SPs went in the first round. "Scherzer, in retrospect, looks like I picked him too early, but without a doubt the scoring system backs it."
Mullen's slugger strategy begins to reveal itself after he follows up his Giancarlo Stanton pick in Round 1 with Nolan Arenado. He explains, "In a format when one player can give me six points with one swing of the bat, starting with the guy who is likely to do that more often than anyone else in baseball is a pretty good place to start. We all know Giancarlo Stanton has 50-homer power in his bat, he also has moved in fences (not that he had trouble clearing the old ones) and Barry Bonds helping him out this season - that's a really big deal... I debated Nolan Arenado with my first-round pick and snagged him on the way back with my No. 2 selection and gladly welcomed a lot more power to my team. A Rockies slugger who can hold his own on the road - and Arenado did slug more home runs at sea level than he did at Coors Field last year - is a big advantage in any head-to-head format."
Since strikeouts cost you a point, and walks add one, it pays to check a player's K/BB rate. The lower it is, the more valuable a hitter will be in this format. Jose Bautista's is projected to be 1.03. That's why Zola proclaims that "if healthy, Joey Bats is the pick of the draft - since his power, patience and decent contact feed into this scoring system perfectly."
The latter part of Round 2 saw a first baseman run where Cockcroft, who was torn between the taken trio, opted for Anthony Rizzo. I personally was eyeballing Joey Votto and his 0.94 K/BB, but Howell snatched him from my clutches, leaving me to "settle" for the 40-home run potential of Edwin Encarnacion.
Players are judged by a single number in points leagues, and it doesn't matter how it is generated. In standard leagues, home runs are more valuable than doubles, because they are a category unto themselves. Not so in points leagues, where two doubles are essentially just as valuable as a round-tripper. That's why A.J. Pollock and his potential 40 doubles make him a strong third-round selection. Similarly, a single or a walk teamed up with a steal is worth the same as a double, which is why I chose Dee Gordon here, projected to advance to second one out of every three times he gets to first base.
Schoenfield was quite satisfied with his roster by the time this round came to an end with his picks of Carlos Correa, Miguel Cabrera and Buster Posey. "I drafted Correa and Posey a few spots above their rankings but I feel like I ended up with the clear best shortstop and catcher, two positions where it's difficult to find offense. As for Cabrera, it's like we forgot he won his fourth batting title in five seasons last year. He's still a force and should play more than 119 games this year."
Take note the average draft position of Jose Abreu (ADP of 20) and J.D. Martinez (29) in an ESPN standard rotisserie format. Yet, in a points league, we see both going off the board around dozen picks later. In a points format, a walk is truly as good as a hit, so when a player is adding only a handful of free passes to the mix while striking out, on average, once per game, that's putting his points league value in a huge hole.
I went with Miguel Sano, even though the move effectively locks up my utility spot. However, this shouldn't be a David Ortiz situation where you have to wait out the entire season in the hope that he'll add some other positional eligibility to his resume. Sano is expected to be Minnesota's everyday right fielder, so even if it takes 20 games to qualify at a position in your league, that should happen by May - and well sooner, if you only need five or ten.
Mullen was thrilled to get Carlos Carrasco at this stage of the game. "There were four pitchers in ALL of baseball last season with a K/BB better than 5.00 and a K/9 above 10.00. Their names: Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Chris Sale and Carlos Carrasco. Those ratios are so important in this format that the other three went in the FIRST round of this draft... Make no mistake about it, this is a steal."
Carty, after grabbing Sale in Round 1, continues his run of hitters with Ian Kinsler. This was by design: "If there's one thing my DFS success has taught me, it's that great pitchers are almost always usable, but a mediocre pitcher in a great matchup is more valuable than a good pitcher in a decent (or even a good) matchup. In a 10-team league, there will be plenty of mediocre pitchers on the waiver wire that I can stream using my DFS projection system to reach the 12-start cap (and go over on Sundays)...The additional benefit of this strategy was the ability to load up on hitters early. This certainly isn't the sexiest-looking team, particularly for those accustomed to roto scoring, but it's one that I think can be a monster in this scoring format."
Schoenfield "absolutely believes" that Dallas Keuchel might well be headed towards that category of great hinted at by Carty, adding that "there's nothing in his numbers that suggest last season was a fluke. He throws strikes, he gets ground balls and actually had a pretty high strikeout rate."
Karabell snagged Robinson Cano with pick No. 45, and didn't understand why he was able to do so. "I was a little surprised to see middle infielders Cano and Troy Tulowitzki fall to Rounds 5 and 7, respectively. Surely there's risk with 30-something middle infielders in some degree of regression statistically, but there's enticing power potential and neither are 150-strikeout guys."
If not for the catcher eligibility, I don't think Kyle Schwarber, taken at the bookend pick along with Corey Seager by Szymborski, would be grabbed anywhere near this portion of the proceedings. But he can indeed play there for you in 2016. After this selection, we only see one more backstop come off the board prior to pick No. 124. I'm not saying you shouldn't take the promising Cubs slugger at all, but if you end up missing out on him, you might as well wait until the latter stages of the draft to take care of your catching needs.
One stat I harp on in points league formats for SP is K/BB, and I try to steer way clear of anyone who isn't at 3.5 or higher. Sonny Gray sits at 2.73, which is likely why Cockcroft says he is "lukewarm" about that pick at the tail end of a sixth-round pitching run.
K/BB runs in reverse for hitters, with above 3.5 being a big red flag. Kaiser goes with Yoenis Cespedes (3.94) to end Round 6 and Szymborski selects Adam Jones (4.81) to close out Round 7. Again, these are two outfielders who would likely be taken off the board a lot sooner in rotisserie leagues or any format where the manner of out doesn't matter to the results. Here, strikeouts count and these guys provide far too many of them.
With pick No. 59, I went with Kenley Jansen, who I hoped would be the first of many closers to come. I often will use a strategy in points leagues wherein I fill as many of my pitching spots as I can -- as well as my three bench spots -- with closers, and then rotate them in and out of my starting lineup to maximize my save opportunities. It's a lot easier than hoping to get wins out of your starters.
I actually will typically start taking closers as early as Round 3, if I have a middle draft pick. But from the No. 2 spot in the snake, and getting Kershaw as my "anchor" to kick things off, I felt it best to wait a few extra rounds to pounce. When three other relievers went off the board in Round 7, I started to sweat a bit. If too many people are angling to use this strategy, it's doomed to failure.
Mullen gets himself a self-proclaimed steal in Lorenzo Cain at No. 73. "Cain hits .300. Cain steals 28 bases (he's done it two straight seasons). Cain doesn't strike out much - he is a Royal after all. And Cain scores and drives in runs now that he's hitting in the middle of his team's order. He also hit a career-high 16 home runs, 34 doubles and six triples last year - another player who gets a boost from total bases when many owners fail to look past that ho-hum home run total."
In a ten-team league, you don't want to miss out on getting top-ten first basemen, and generally speaking, this is going to be the last chance to do so before the bottom falls out at the position. That's why is not surprising to see Albert Pujols, Freddie Freeman and Eric Hosmer all get selected at this stage of the draft.
While not an exact science, when pressed for time to make a choice between two players, if expected playing time is generally equal, subtract each candidate's batting average from his OBP. It's certainly not the only factor, but generally speaking, the higher that number, the better value he is likely to have for points leagues. For this trio of first basemen, Freeman's OBP-BA differential was the highest at .094, which is why I was actually going to take him to fill my corner spot when Cockcroft stole him two picks ahead of me.
Sometimes you have to change plans on the fly. Because Howell and I were selecting back-to-back, he realized quickly that I was going to match him closer for closer. "After I grabbed Mark Melancon, I would have snagged Trevor Rosenthal, too... but then you took him. So I went with Christian Yelich instead to give myself time to reassess my pitching situation. I settled on getting a few starters instead of trying to navigate the bullpen situations this far down the board."
Cockcroft was pleasantly surprised to see Shin-Soo Choo sticking around to pick No. 117, since he's better in points leagues than in roto, where his ADP currently sees him going a good 14 spots later than that. This three-round stretch saw no fewer than ten outfielders go in just 15 non-pitcher picks.
Four of the remaining five selections were at second base, and as Cockcroft also noted, "Middle infield totally stinks after about the 12th round." That's why he grabbed Anthony Rendon at No. 97, just a few spots behind Schoenfield's Rougned Odor pick. Mullen was giddy that he could end up with Ben Zobrist in Round 11, as he's the points league poster child: "If someone doesn't understand points league scoring, just call it a Ben Zobrist league and they should get it. I'm not sure I would take Zobrist within five rounds of this in a standard-scoring format, but here it's always smart to take the guy who walks more than he strikes out while doing a little bit of everything else."
I also love Howell's pick of Jordan Zimmermann here. Even though he eventually abandoned his "anchor and all closers" plan of attack in the wake of my doing the same, Zimmermann is one of the few candidates for the role of staff linchpin. You want a pitcher who will give you 200-plus innings with a K/BB rate of at least 3.7 and a BB/9 rate of under 1.8. Zimmermann fits that bill - and all of the others who do were off the board by the end of Round 3. The closest candidates to those milestones after Zimm? Bartolo Colon and Phil Hughes.
For those owners not embracing my RP tactics, this was the time of the draft where the lure of a potential 40-save season proved too hard to resist. Perhaps it's just a residual urge from rotisserie leagues where you feel you "have to" have a closer and this is the time to do so, but in any event, seven relievers end up getting selected here.
One of the hardest things to do in any draft is to avoid selecting a player as a result of the influence of what other owners have picked. And yet, human nature is a hard albatross to shake and we see a pair of mini-runs, perhaps as a result of owners seeing tiers evaporate before their eyes. We had a hot market on the hot corner with Evan Longoria, Maikel Franco and Mike Moustakas going like hotcakes between picks 121 and 127.
Then we had Brandon Belt and Byung Ho Park leave the first baseman ranks in the next three picks, paving the way for Lucas Duda's selection at No. 138. The next corner infielder didn't get taken until Joe Mauer, 23 picks later -- and no third baseman until Pablo Sandoval at No. 172 - so perhaps waiting may have ultimately paid off a bit more in the long run.
Karabell really felt good about the Kendrys Morales pick in round 13. "Nothing in his 2015 season screams fluke and for this format he deserved to go several rounds better. He had 65 extra-base hits and like others I choose he's not likely to pile on the strikeouts."
If you've undertaken a more mainstream strategy in terms of your pitching selection, there are still plenty of bargains to be had at this stage of the game. In this format, Hisashi Iwakuma, Mike Fiers, Shelby Miller and Collin McHugh are all projected to be in the top 50 in terms of season-long points totals for SP. Taijuan Walker falls just short of that cutoff, but Schoenfield believes the Mariners pitcher " is one of leading breakout candidates for 2016 after a pretty good second half."
Carty says that by the time he decided to dive in on Jose Reyes "there were no more adequate shortstops left (though plenty of starting ones). Reyes is likely to miss some time, but when you factor in the high replacement value I was likely to get while he's sitting out, he was easily worth the pick here. Later, I wound up with a starting, kind-of-decent fill-in with Andrelton Simmons, accomplishing the plan."
Howell selected Kevin Kiermaier at No. 178 "for a ton of plate appearances and some speed, as he's going to stay in the lineup thanks to defense and will run enough to kickstart an offense lacking in consistency." Traditionally, this is stage of points league drafts where you'll see a lot of the potential stolen base leaders reside. In this particular draft, Kiermaier (projected 20 steals) actually got claimed just before the Round 19 run of Ben Revere, Dexter Fowler and Billy Hamilton. When you have players with unremarkable power numbers combined with triple-digit whiff counts, it's going to take a lot to get their points league value any higher than this part of the draft.
Rounding out your starting lineup with upside potential is something you want to strive for in any format. Team needs -- in terms of what positions everyone has neglected up until the last minute -- are going to dictate more than any other factor which players go off the board at this stage of the draft. For me, with the need to grab two middle infielders and an outfielder, I went with DJ LeMahieu, Michael Conforto and Brad Miller. Your mileage may vary, but for me, these were the best options remaining on the board when the little musical sting alerting me to make my selection jingled in my ear.
The final rounds are always a hodgepodge. From aging veterans who we hope have one more good season in them (David Wright, Alex Gordon, Adam Lind) to youngsters potentially on the cusp of a breakout campaign (J.P. Crawford, Ketel Marte, Trevor Story) to closers-in-waiting who may or may not get a chance to shine at some point in 2016 (J.J. Hoover, Andrew Miller). You might as well roll the dice, because if you're wrong, there are plenty of options waiting for you on the waiver wire.
So there you have it. Our points league mock draft is in the books. Who do you think did the best job of constructing his team? Who completely missed the point of the proceedings? Feel free to point things out to us in the conversation below, and don't forget that there's still plenty of time left before Opening Day. Don't just sit there mocking our mock ... get a group of friends together and start a league of your own today! And most importantly, have fun in the process, because at the end of the day, isn't that the whole point?