Over the last two weeks, my articles have focused on taking advantage of default rank lists. Most default rank lists are constructed and fantasy advice dispensed with 5×5 roto scoring in mind. The thing is, the average points league plays far different from a category league. Perhaps the biggest difference between points and category formats lies is in the value of starting pitching.
Every league is going to be a little bit different depending on the settings, but in most points leagues, pitchers are significantly more valuable than they are in category leagues. Whether or not the top pitchers score more points than top hitters (in most points formats they seem to), points league managers are advised to load up their benches with starting pitching depth.
Let’s use the following scoring system for the purpose of this discussion:
|1B = 1||IP = 3|
|2B = 2||K = .5|
|3B = 3||W = 7|
|HR = 4||L = (-5)|
|Run = 1||QS = 3|
|RBI = 1||SV = 7|
|SB = 2||BB Allowed = (-1)|
|BB = 1||H Allowed = (-1)|
|HBP = 1||HBP Allowed (-1)|
|K = (-.5)||ER Allowed (-1)|
|CS = (-1)|
Why your bench should be filled with pitchers: Daily Change Leagues
Whether your league uses daily changes or weekly changes, keeping hitters in those bench spots is essentially leaving points on the board. Consider the following example in a daily change points league:
Let’s say that Kolten Wong is your starting 2B, but you nabbed Howie Kendrick later on as a backup/insurance plan. I like Kendrick quite a bit this year, but unless he is in your active lineup, there is no need to roster both keystone options.
Maybe you like to play the daily matchups between the two, but most owners will simply roll with whomever they deem to be the superior player and slide the backup in when the regular starter has an off day.
How many points will that approach net you per week?
In standard points leagues, the average replacement level hitter is going to get you about 2.5 points a game. Say Kendrick is better than average and he gets you 3 points in his lone start. Does that help your team?
What if instead of Kendrick you used that spot on a pitcher like Brandon McCarthy. The top replacement level pitchers in this scoring system are usually projected to score around 400 points over the course of the season. That will net you an average of about 12.5 points per start. If you find a good matchup, you might get substantially more. Unlike with the hitters, since all your pitchers are not likely to throw on the same day, you will not have to choose between a guy like McCarthy and your other starters. In a daily change league, you can usually start them all for each and every start that they make, unless your league has rules limiting your pitching usage.
So, if the replacement level pitcher can be expected to average about 12.5 points per start, you can use him every time he pitches, and he will make two starts in a scoring period every few weeks, who in their right mind would forgo that opportunity to roster a bench hitter? Remember, that bench hitter will get you an average of about 3 points per start, and some weeks you won’t even be able to use him. Playing matchups effectively could net a few extra points, but you won’t gain anywhere what you would by simply using that extra spot on a pitcher.
Why your bench should be filled with pitchers: Weekly Change Leagues
What about in weekly change leagues you ask? The advantage gained here by playing hitter matchups really is not much different. Sure, you might start Kendrick over Wong in the week where Kendrick has 1 more game and he makes 4 starts at Coors Field, but how often will you make that choice? When you do, how many points will it give you?
Some weeks, Kendrick may outscore Wong by a significant margin, but will you pick the correct times to use him? If you simply make the decision based in on who has more games, you would be likely to net between 2 and 5 points per week on average. Is that worth it?
On the pitching side, you cannot start all of your pitchers for every turn, so matchups become even more important. If your SP5 were starting at Fenway and your SP6 had a home date against the Braves, that would make for a pretty easy call.
We said earlier that the average start from the top replacement level pitcher is worth about 12.5 points. That number is a raw average taken before factoring in any matchup data. I might expect my pitcher to get me 15 points at home against the Braves, but maybe only 5 against the Red Sox on the road.
Let’s take the example one step further. Say our imaginary fantasy team has Jesse Hahn as our SP5 and he is making one start at Fenway. I would roll the dice in a daily change points league, but we would have to be pretty hard up to use that matchup in a weekly league. If we also had Henderson Alvarez going twice against the Braves and the Phillies, that would make our decision even easier.
There could be a 25+ point gap between the pitchers given in the above example. Whether you believe is stashing a stable of SPs or in streaming weekly matchups (or both), the more hitters you have rotting on your bench, the less able you will be to take advantage of matchup opportunities like in the example above.
In fact, I would go so far to say that the only time points league owners should have a hitter on the bench is if it is an elite level performer currently on the shelf. Anthony Rendon and Kris Bryant should be stowed away on fantasy benches. Yasmany Tomas and Rusney Castillo can be safely dropped because despite their upside, the opportunity cost of holding them is likely worth more than their future production.
Why it is less important to fill your bench with starters in category leagues
While it is always possible for a starter in a points league to go negative, more often than not you want to have more starts than your opponent. A points league owner should be more willing to take risks on starting guys because at the end of the day, all that matters is the bottom line. If the pitcher nets you 10 points, it does not matter how pretty it was, just that he got the points. In category leagues, quality takes on much more importance.
Consider the following stat line:
5 IP, 5 ER, 3 K, 7H, 3 BB, W
Using our scoring system from above, this pitcher would have accumulated 10 points for his owner. Again, not pretty, but you would take it, right?
What about in a category league? Sure, the win is nice, but 3 Ks is not helping much and the damage done to the ERA and WHIP categories may hurt the overall bottom line more than the win will help. Owners need to be even more selective on who they start and when in category based formats. For that reason, I have found it to be less important to fill your bench with SPs in category based leagues. I still think streaming can be a very useful strategy, but the value of the roster spot is not quite as black and white as it is in a points league.
In fact, if you play in a league that caps innings, you are probably best served to use as many innings as you possibly can from relievers to further bolster those rate stats. Regularly using more than 6 or 7 starters could be setting yourself up for a mediocre team ERA and WHIP.
How to determine a player’s true value
The value of a replacement level player is very important to know, because the value of the replacement level player drives the value of the elite performers. The way to determine a player’s true value is to figure out exactly how much better they are than the best guy available on the free agent list. In points leagues, this is pretty easy.
For example, if Kershaw is expected to score 800 points and the top available free agent is expected to get 400, then Kershaw is worth the difference between the two (400 points). Similarly, if Trout gets 700 points and the top available free agent OFs can get you 450, then Trout is worth 250 points.
Starting requirements play a large role in these values. Clearly, Mike Trout has value anywhere, but he is worth a lot more in a league that starts 5 OFs than he will be in a league that only uses 3. In the league that starts 3, the quality of the replacement level player is going to be much higher than in the league with 5.
How does optimal bench usage effect player value?
Let’s assume for a second that everyone in your points league is well-informed and that 85-90% of the bench spots league wide are used on starting pitching with the following roster constraints:
If this is true, then teams would be expected to roster at least 9 SPs, and some teams could employ as many as 12 if they are using RP eligible starters. Even if we take the conservative side, that would still place about 9 SPs on each team.
In category leagues where SP quality is more important than SP quantity, most owners are going to be much less willing to roster those fringe SPs (correctly so). Owners in weekly change leagues might be expected to roster between 7 and 7.5 SPs per team. Owners in daily change leagues will likely only roster 6 – 6.5 SPs because more relief pitchers are worth rostering (and starting) in these formats.
Either way, there is a significant gap between the number of SPs rostered in category leagues and the optimal number for points leagues. Think about what that gap can do to player value. In those category leagues, guys like Josh Collmenter, Yovani Gallardo and Mike Leake could be the top available free agents. In a similarly sized points league, all of a sudden you are looking at guys like Jason Vargas and Dillon Gee as the best available free agents.
If the replacement level pitchers in the points league are worse on average, than this will drive up the value of every player ranked ahead of them.
CBS Default Settings
Let’s take this piece full circle and look specifically at the CBS default settings since they have some of the most popular points leagues. In standard CBS leagues, here are the starting requirements:
Whether it is a 10 team league or a 12 team league, just sit back and think about that for a second.
Teams are starting 9 hitters total and they are starting at least 5 SPs, possibly as many as 7 if they use RP eligible starters. If all owners are using optimal bench strategy (I know, this never actually happens) then teams would own 9 or 10 hitters and they would own between 9 and 12 SPs.
Again, let’s take a second for that to sink in.
Think about the quality of the replacement level hitters in a league like this. Now think about the pitchers. As awesome as Mike Trout is, his value is probably more comparable to a pitcher like Jordan Zimmermann than it would be to Kershaw because of the large gap between the value of a replacement level OF and a replacement level SP.
Anyhow, sorry for the tangent on CBS leagues, but if you play in a points league, do yourself a favor and drop those bench hitters!