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Introducing the RotoBaller Points League Ranker Tool

Its time to shine some love down on point league players and help you crush your leagues with easy to understand and easy to leverage information that will put you streets ahead of the average competition. That's right, you over there who was thrilled last year to draft Ronald Acuna Jr. in the first round of your ESPN league. We understand how sad and confused you must have been when Acuna's near 40/40 season only amounted to the 28th-highest scorer in standard leagues...that's why we're here to help!

Unlike in fantasy football, where H2H point leagues are the standard and players are catered to with all of the information they could ever want, fantasy baseball players who want to play points are faced with a number of hurdles and misconceptions. The scoring differences between platforms make it virtually impossible to compare player-values without doing the calculations and much of the rankings and content produced by the platforms only scratch at the surface of this uniqueness. And if that wasn't bad enough, point players also must often deal with derision from within their own fantasy family. You know, the roto-snobs that take every opportunity to tell you that "real" players don't play points? So, bad information and insults? Is it any wonder players get frustrated with the game?

Truth and love are what we're offering points players in 2020, wrapped up with what you need to know to have the edge on the competition in your H2H points league. Powered by the exclusive projections of RotoBaller's lead MLB analyst (and 2018's most accurate MLB draft ranker), Nick Mariano, we now have separate tools for standard leagues on ESPN, CBS, Fantrax, and NFBC (with Yahoo coming soon) that will lay out the metrics most important to understanding player values in your chosen system. Let's get started.

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A Fragile Ecosystem

For a variety of reasons,  points players platforms do not advertise just how different their scoring systems are from each other. Consequentially, their content tends to rely on general advice that's not specific enough to their scoring system to be truly actionable. That means most new ESPN players won't know that, barring a drastic change in profile, Acuna won't come close to earning his current spot atop their Top-300 rankings.   More than just performance, points players need to understand how a player's profile will perform in a given scoring system. Outliers abound in point leagues; it's not just Acuna and it's not just ESPN.

It boils down to trust. With different amounts of time that they can devote to preparation, fantasy players have to be able to trust their choices for content and this is especially true for points players. It cannot be overstated; every platform is its own unique system with differences that one can't fully understand enough to leverage unless you look at the system in its entirety. With different roster sizes and different scoring for different categories, every little piece of the puzzle counts. Even if two players are similar in a few areas of production, it won't guarantee that they will score in the same manner. Here's a taste of how big these differences can be, with the top-25 players sorted by their average final platform ranking in 2019:

Name AVG YAHOO ESPN FANTRAX CBS NFBC
Justin Verlander 4.4 2 1 2 1 16
Gerrit Cole 4.6 1 2 1 2 17
Cody Bellinger 5.8 15 4 3 4 3
Alex Bregman 8.4 24 3 5 3 7
Anthony Rendon 8.8 21 6 7 5 5
Rafael Devers 10.4 18 10 8 12 4
Ronald Acuna Jr. 10.6 10 28 4 9 2
Christian Yelich 12.6 30 19 6 7 1
Freddie Freeman 14 23 15 10 14 8
Marcus Semien 16.6 35 9 9 10 20
Nolan Arenado 17 31 13 18 17 6
Xander Bogaerts 17.2 29 16 14 16 11
Mookie Betts 17.4 38 11 13 11 14
Mike Trout 17.6 36 18 12 13 9
Stephen Strasburg 20.2 4 7 26 8 56
Peter Alonso 21.8 27 38 11 20 13
Juan Soto 21.8 37 20 15 19 18
Shane Bieber 24.2 3 8 36 15 59
Jacob deGrom 26.8 5 5 52 18 54
Ketel Marte 27.2 58 21 23 22 12
Jorge Soler 29.6 41 44 17 25 21
Carlos Santana 30.4 54 22 21 21 34
Trevor Story 30.8 44 53 19 28 10
DJ LeMahieu 30.8 47 26 33 33 15
Bryce Harper 31 42 46 16 24 27

Hmmm...That is quite a bit of variance, wouldn't you say? How did we get here? *

*Please note that Yahoo recently changed their scoring from the historical rates below, changing to a system that mirrors scoring in their daily fantasy game. The scope of these changes cannot be understated, even though the change was mentioned only in passing when their 2020 fantasy season was opened. This will be dissected further later in this Point League Ranker series but just know that hitter and pitcher scoring have been flipped upon their heads. How flipped up are they? Under the previous scoring system, Gerrit Cole was the #1 overall scorer in 2019...But would've been #54 under the new settings. Yep, that flipped up.

 

Platform Pitcher Scoring

Platform IP W SV SO QS L ER H BB HB
Yahoo 1 5 5 2 0 0 -0.5 0 0 0
ESPN 3 5 5 1 0 -5 -2 -1 -1 0
Fantrax 1 10 7 1 3 -5 -1 0 0 0
CBS 3 7 7 0.5 3 -5 -1 -1 -1 -1
NFBC 3 6 8 1 X X -2 -0.5 -0.5 X

 

Platform Hitter Scoring

Platform AB Hits 1B 2B 3B HR RBI R SB K BB CS HBP
Yahoo X 0.5 X X X 4.5 2 2 2 x x x x
ESPN X X 1 2 3 4 1 1 1 -1 1 x x
Fantrax X X 1 2 3 4 1 1 2 x 1 x 1
CBS X X 1 2 3 4 1 1 2 -0.5 1 -1 1
NFBC -1 4 X X X 6 2 2 5 X X X X

Each of these tiny differences ripples through every stat line, transforming each of them into their own unique entity. Later we will discuss various critiques of the different systems as a way to identify and exploit individualized strategies but for now, let's jump into how we can help with the new RotoBaller Points Ranker.

We know you have limited time and to that end, we're offering simplicity to points players. Lots of important calculations and strategy considerations boiled down into a few easy to understand numbers. For each platform, our rankings tools will cover the following:

  • The Basics: Player information, along with their projected IP/PA and total points scored.
  • Overall Rank, PAR rank, and POS rank: The "Overall" column is how a player ranks by total projected points, while the "PAR" column ranks players by their "Points-Above-Replacement" score. PAR is adjusted for positional scarcity so it gives you a level playing field for comparing players at different positions. The positional ranking has players ranked by most points-scored, with players listed at their most valuable position. At the positional level, the points-scored ranking and PAR ranking are the same things.
  • Rate of Scoring: Broken down into points/week, points/PA, and points/IP, these rates of scoring are another way to compare players at different positions, as well as being a tool for judging how a player's total skill-set will translate into your chosen platform.

Using the Points League Ranker Tools

With the ESPN tool as an example, let's take a look at the catcher position:

The first seven columns are pretty self-explanatory, using Nick Mariano's projections to tell you total projected points, with the player's overall and positional rankings. While it's great to know projected points, it's really the last two columns that will be particularly powerful for points players.

 

Points-Above-Replacement (PAR)

Or PAR, if you're into the whole brevity thing, man. Mostly simple to calculate, PAR tells you how many points above or below a player is from our all-mighty "replacement player", who is the first player after the last player who would be expected to be drafted at a position, given league size. In a 12-team league, there are 12 starting catchers and seeing that catchers don't provide enough offense to be worth playing in your utility slot, that means 12 catchers should be drafted. The replacement level catcher is simply the 13th-highest scoring player; or, Will Smith in our above example.

This process is then repeated at every position but not all are as straightforward. For one, all platforms have a utility slot and many have CI and MI slots. Players must also be evaluated in that context. A player's points may not put him among the 12 "starters" at his main position but he will still be above-replacement if he'd be among the starters at the swing positions. Looking at CI as an example, our league has 12 starters each at 1B, 3B, and CI, for a total of 36 corner players drafted. The less precise way would be to assume that you would have 18 1B and 18 3B, making your 19th-highest scorer at each position the replacement player. The more precise way is to make your pool the top-36 scorers at the combined positions. Doing it so gives us 17 1B and 19 3B with Albert Pujols and Giovanny Urshela the replacement-level players at their respective positions. For a more extreme example, shortstop dominates the swing positions on ESPN, with the MI position occupied by 10 SS and just 2B, with four more jumping in at the utility position, as well.

Another major reason that considering PAR is so important is the differences in roster sizes between platforms, with the most well-known example being the two-catcher format used by NFBC. To illustrate what a difference this can make, if ESPN were to switch to using two catchers, it would move the replacement level at catcher from Will Smith's 223 points to Willians Astudillo's 149 points. Under the old level, J.T. Realmuto has a 147 PAR that is the 55th-highest amongst all players. With his new 217 PAR, Realmuto would have the 17th-highest PAR, coming in just ahead of Jose Ramirez. Besides just the two-catcher conundrum, some platforms have three OF, some have five OF; some have MI and CI, some don't. These limits are very important and must be accounted for, especially in as it relates to comparing players at different positions, which is one of the most powerful ways to leverage PAR scores.

What is more valuable? The 367 points projected for Javier Baez at SS or the 275 points for Christian Vazquez at catcher? Comparing their respective PARs allows us to answer that question more accurately. Baez may have him out-scored by 92 points but his 54 PAR is just a notch above Vazquez's 52 PAR. Sounds odd but it makes sense under ESPN's scoring; Baez is a mid-range option at the deepest position on the platform, while Vazquez in a decent producer at the scarcest position. Simply put, the adjustments for positional scarcity are done for you when calculating PAR, making it easier to compare players at different positions. You'll never have to choose between drafting Baez or Vazquez but comparisons like this highlight the importance of relative positional value and how it can be leveraged when making drafting decisions.

 

Points-Per-PA

Just as simple as it sounds, the rate at which a player scores points per plate-appearance gives you a snapshot of how each player's total stat line translates to scoring in a particular system. This bears over-repeating; it only matters what a player does in the category in which he is scored. When projecting performance, it doesn't matter (relatively speaking) if you're projecting more or fewer home runs, a .321 AVG or a .279 AVG. All that matters is what the entirety of those expectations turn into when the math shakes out in the points column. Looking at Pts/PA allows you to evaluate what kind of asset a player might be if their playing time were to change while also letting you compare players to others within their position, and outside of it.

Take Kyle Tucker, for example. Mariano projects him for 419 PA with ATC projecting virtually the same at 425 PA. Tucker's projected 276 points put him as the 283rd-scorer overall and the #69 OF, making him 16-points below replacement and on the border of rosterable players. However, when looking at his rate of scoring it seems Tucker could be a major asset as a streamer and/or stash. His 0.659 PT/PA is the 4oth-highest among all batters and the 16th-highest among outfielders - just behind the rates of Starling Marte and Ronald Acuna. That isn't saying Tucker is as good as Marte and Acuna; it says that his skill set translates to a rate of scoring that is similar to theirs, regardless of the method by which he gets there.

This can also identify players on the flip-side, the accumulator's whose rate of scoring isn't great but have large point totals due to their amount of plate-appearances. The players who could take a massive hit if they were to miss time, or were in danger of getting platooned or moved down in the lineup. While not in danger of the above, Whit Merrifield is a great example of an accumulator's profile as his projected 704 PA make him the eighth-highest scoring second baseman, just behind Mike Moustakas and DJ LeMahieu. However, his 0.581 PT/PA is #20 among 2B, coming in behind Jurickson Profar, Tommy La Stella, and Kolten Wong.

Columns and Coloring

The coloring for PAR represents how far away a player is from the pale yellow of the replacement level, moving through various shades of green and red.  For Pts/PA, there is just one shade each of green, yellow, and red, with the levels relative to the number of players above replacement level in that particular position.

There are 12 players above replacement at catcher, so the top-12 Pts/PA rates are green, with the yellow of Yadier Molina's 0.540 Pts/PA coming in at the 13th-highest, with red for everyone else below. This essentially identifies who would be above and below replacement if plate-appearances were equal. While the color gradients on PAR are determined exactly from their distance from the replacement player, the shading for Pts/PA has more of a hand touch, with not every position necessarily having hardlines for when the color switch occurs. With Pts/PA I wanted to capture the replacement-ish players and sometimes the differences were so small at this level that the visual aid was better served by making softer choices. Taking a look at 1B below, technically Rowdy Tellez's 0.554 Pt/PA would be green, Moreland yellow, and the others red. But given the same amount of plate-appearances, Tellez, Moreland, Aguilar, and Lowe would be virtually the same player. That's the idea I want to help capture; pointing out whether a player's skill set produces in a particular system at a rate that is above, below, or at the average rate.

 

About Pitching

Just as in roto, directly comparing pitcher and hitter values isn't a straightforward proposition and might even be more muddled a situation in point leagues due to game rules/exploits. Some platforms have generic "pitcher" positional slots and some have designated positions for SP and RP but you're not beholden to using an actual "starter" or "reliever" in them. As long as a pitcher is eligible at the position he is in, the points will count the same whether pitched in relief or in a start. There are also technically limits to the number of starts you are allowed to make per week but the systems can be cheated in some cases. Just because ESPN says you're only allowed 12 starts, doesn't mean they'll stop counting the points when you go over.

Comparing PARs between batters and pitchers is still very helpful but probably not as much as batters to batters and pitchers to pitchers. In the same vein, rate metrics like Pts/PA and Pts/IP are only useful for comparison when keeping the positions separate, both between pitchers and hitters, as well as between starters and relievers. All three players will produce in distinct ranges making comparisons pointless. Looking at the 2.8 Pts/IP of Jacob deGrom and the 5.6 Pts/IP of Josh Hader doesn't really help compare their value.

Points Per Week

With our previous rate metrics not actionable for overall comparisons, we're instead using Points-per-Week as a way to help add some context when comparing hitters to starters to relievers. There's not much science here, just total points divided by the number of fantasy weeks. H2H points is a weekly game and this is a way for you to get a general sense of the range of points you can expect from different players in a given week, which along with their PAR scores, are more pieces to help you judge all positions on an overall basis.

 

Wrapping Up

All in all, we have run all of the necessary numbers needed to help you dominate your points league, whether playing on ESPN, CBS, Yahoo, NFBC, or Fantrax. Along with the actual points league ranking tools, we'll also be dropping separate strategy articles for each platform in the coming weeks.

In addition to an overall strategy, these will focus on drilling down into how different players will perform under the different scoring systems and how to avoid their pitfalls when drafting. Stayed tuned, my faithful points players. We're only just getting started.

More Points Leagues Analysis