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Points League Players and the Platforms Who Hate Them

Trust. Whether in roto, point leagues, or otherwise, players should be able to trust that the rankings and values they choose to rely on will be accurate and specific to their league format.

That standard seems to be a bit fuzzy when it comes to points leagues, even though point leagues should be fantasy baseball's gateway drug, a nice and easy way for baseball fans to dip their toes into the fantasy pool. Get them hooked on points until they're ready to handle that hardcore roto junk. Instead, those that want to play points face a variety of impediments standing in the way of their overall enjoyment of playing, both internal and external to the game.

Let's examine the real differences between roto and points leagues while dispelling some popular myths along the way.

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Big Differences

What do you mean Ronald Acuna Jr. wasn't a top-25 scorer on ESPN? Or that Jacob deGrom was a top-five scorer on Yahoo and ESPN but wasn't top 50 on Fantrax? How in the world was Zack Greinke the sixth-highest scorer on CBS? Why did Yahoo make a completely different game with an overhaul of their points system but failed to mention the ramifications of those changes to their users? Not only do points players have to decipher the different scoring systems between platforms, with only minimal (and often untrustworthy) resources to guide them, but they often have to deal with derision from within the very community they're trying to join.

The frequently heard refrains include: "Points is an easy game", "a random game", "a game for suckers and noobs that can't handle real fantasy baseball". Right, Roto Snob? Don't worry, we have plenty to talk about; but for now, please sit quietly in the back and play Settlers of Catan - or whatever other smart-people games you find worthy - until we're ready for you.

Just like fantasy football, points should be fun and approachable for many levels of skill and interest. A game where a layman can have a conversation with an expert and it will at least sound like they're speaking the same language. I'm not here to draw lines and pick fights. I love playing roto and I come to join together, not tear asunder. I only want the same thing most fantasy players want; to have more people to talk to about their teams without seeing the glazed-over eyes on their friends and family's faces. Like it or not, point leagues give us the best chance.

To that end, we here at RotoBaller want to lay bare all the different platforms over these next weeks, preparing you for points leagues as we never have before. We'll be introducing our points league rankers for each platform over the next week, and going through a ton of players who are favored or given the shaft by each platform. But first, a spirited defense of the format long-neglected. Let's go myth-busting!


Points League Mythology

Imagine a world where everyone was forced to switch to a 5 x 5 roto league with categories that would end up making Ronald Acuna Jr. the 25th-best player in the game. Would fantasy players just accept the game's obviously flawed way of evaluating players? Or would they question, complain, demand change? And yet, not only are points players forced to accept systems like this but they also must often accept content from that platform that doesn't always reflect the reality of the situation.

Perhaps "hate" is too strong of a word but the major fantasy platforms don't seem to love points players or wish the game to thrive. If they did then their scoring systems wouldn't seem so esoteric and spotlights would be shown on players like the examples above, making those important value gaps common knowledge. However, an increase in knowledge would bring an increase in judgment and the people may start to question why the system has such issues in the first place. We'll discuss systemic flaws later but first, let's look at some common misconceptions.


Myth #1: Less Of Us Care About Points Leagues 

Roto or points? This doesn't have to be an either-or situation but sometimes the fantasy baseball industry treats it as such. Both formats are centered around a sport we all love. Why don't we want it to grow? Is there not anything to be learned from fantasy football?

Fact: People like playing games head-to-head.

Fact: Not everyone wants to play a game that is a six-month grind, where they might be totally out of contention a third of the way in.

Fact: Many people would rather have the competitive camaraderie and trash-talking that comes from playing someone for just a week. Many people just want a chance to talk smack against their boss, co-worker, kid, or cousin.

Not that one should take a Reddit survey as gospel but I feel like more people than you think are on my side:


Myth #2: Points is Fantasy For Dummies

Okay, I'm ready for you. Stop building and put down your Resource Cards because your turn is over and everyone lost. Time they'll never get back, that is. I kid, I kid. My point is not every game has to double as a Mensa qualifying test to be a good game. Any game can be fun and a simple game can still be hard. Trivial Pursuit would probably seem easy if you only played against kindergartners and Tic-Tac-Toe is impossibly difficult if both players know and play optimal strategy.  Games are defined by the constant of their rules and the skill of their opponents. I'd usually rather play chess than Jenga but I'd probably have more fun playing Gary Kasparov in the latter. And not just because Gary would have no answer for my Jenga chaos wushu.

Point leagues aren't exactly the fantasy equivalent of hopscotch. If you don't know how to navigate the system you're playing in and are playing against opponents who do, you'll get smoked, absent a lot of luck. I don't care how much you know about baseball,  fantasy or otherwise. I repeat, if you don't either run the numbers yourself or get them from someone you trust, you Will. Get. Smoked. Quick! To a thought experiment!

Choose Wisely

Imagine you were forced to play fantasy baseball for your life where the winner gets the Holy Grail and the losers are rapidly aged into dust. Your opponents, an army of robots with brains of metal and science powered by the perfectly distilled essence of whoever in your eyes represents the best minds in the industry. You and your opponents (GambleBots? RoboVlads? Zolton 4000?) will start with the exact same projections and the game will be played in a vacuum, of sorts, where injuries don't exist and players perform mostly as expected.

In a draft-and-hold type format (as the in-season team management is a completely different ball of wax) would you choose to play H2H points or Roto? You're probably being cleaned up with a dustpan, no matter what, but I say the answer is roto if you want even a tiny chance of saving yourself (and Sean Connery) by drinking out of that championship chalice.

The basic steps of preparation are the same in both formats. You have to project player performance and then project how much fantasy value those projections will be worth. Given the conditions set above, the robots hold no advantage in the first step of valuations, as you'll all be working with the same information. The second step, however, is where they'll press the advantage of their perfect brains. There is a reason why so many (winning) experts tout their own evaluation system, whether Razzball, ATC, or Sedler's voodoo witchcraft; they're good and they work. But there are also many ways to skin a fantasy cat and (in theory) perhaps the everyday player could "out-valuate" their opponents and pull off an improbable victory.

That's the great mystery (and fun!) of rotisserie baseball; to answer the question, what is one home run worth? What is a stolen base worth? What is a 1.32 WHIP over 130 innings worth, when the player also has 10 wins and 120 K? You're going to have a hard time out-drafting your computerized opponents but you'll at least have a chance in roto because there is no exact answer before the season the starts. Not even robots can see the future.

You'd have no such chance in a points format because the nature of the game answers all of the questions in the second step... as long as you do the work. How much is a home run worth? However much the rules say it's worth. Same with everything else. No more, no less. And, poof! There goes your chance against Skynet. You'll all start with the same projections and you'll all know the exact value of those projections. With all the cards turned up on the table and facing hypothetical opponents that won't make any mistakes on the math, where exactly do you find a way to win?


Myth # 3: Points is Basically Roto

Aren't point leagues kind of like roto but you have to pay more attention to strikeout rates? The short answer is, no, they're not. The long answer is no-no-no-no-no-no-no-no-no-no-no-no-no-no. Not only are roto values unique from point values but point systems are unique from each other. Take a look at the following chart (ordered by 5 x 5 roto dollars-earned in 2019 according to the Fangraphs auction calculator) and see how the top-50 players ranked in scoring across different fantasy platforms.

Justin Verlander 1 2 1 2 1 16
Gerrit Cole 2 1 2 1 2 17
Ronald Acuna Jr. 3 10 28 4 9 2
Christian Yelich 4 30 19 6 7 1
Cody Bellinger 5 15 4 3 4 3
Rafael Devers 6 18 10 8 12 4
Anthony Rendon 7 21 6 7 5 5
Alex Bregman 8 24 3 5 3 7
Freddie Freeman 9 23 15 10 14 8
Nolan Arenado 10 31 13 18 17 6
Mike Trout 11 36 18 12 13 9
Xander Bogaerts 12 29 16 14 16 11
Trevor Story 13 44 53 19 28 10
Mookie Betts 14 38 11 13 11 14
Jacob deGrom 15 5 5 52 18 54
Peter Alonso 16 27 38 11 20 13
Juan Soto 17 37 20 15 19 18
DJ LeMahieu 18 47 26 33 33 15
Ketel Marte 19 58 21 23 22 12
Jonathan Villar 20 46 72 20 39 19
Marcus Semien 21 35 9 9 10 20
Jorge Soler 22 41 44 17 25 21
J.D. Martinez 23 50 39 24 31 22
Bryce Harper 24 42 46 16 24 27
Charlie Blackmon 25 60 33 31 36 23
Zack Greinke 26 25 12 47 6 67
Hyun-Jin Ryu 27 59 27 95 34 102
Nelson Cruz 28 76 65 53 63 26
Jack Flaherty 29 12 17 79 27 70
George Springer 30 63 50 43 51 28
Francisco Lindor 31 64 40 35 38 25
Starling Marte 32 71 63 54 57 30
Eugenio Suarez 33 55 66 22 47 24
Trey Mancini 34 53 42 27 37 29
Jose Abreu 35 49 61 34 50 32
Josh Bell 36 51 34 30 35 35
Carlos Santana 37 54 22 21 21 34
Josh Hader 38 65 49 110 75 71
Eduardo Escobar 39 45 36 25 32 33
Ozzie Albies 40 61 35 28 29 31
Trea Turner 41 108 89 63 73 38
Stephen Strasburg 42 4 7 26 8 56
Kirby Yates 43 138 78 150 101 87
Yuli Gurriel 44 70 32 49 46 37
Gleyber Torres 45 69 69 55 68 40
Whit Merrifield 46 73 51 32 45 36
Austin Meadows 47 87 67 48 61 39
Liam Hendriks 48 132 80 175 128 122
J.T. Realmuto 49 106 97 73 89 62
Charlie Morton 50 7 14 46 23 68

Much like the second-strongest entry in the Ashton Kutcher filmography, point systems are ruled by a fantasy butterfly effect, where small changes in scoring will ripple throughout the player universe. Lucky for you, RotoBaller has your back. We now have dedicated H2H points league tools to help you dominate your points league, regardless of platform. You'll get projected points derived from Nick Mariano's premium rankings, with points-above-replacement calculated for every position, allowing you to more accurately compare players at the same position, as well as at different ones. You too can now play like a ZimmerTronic!


System Flaws and Broken Trust

Do the different fantasy platforms actually hate you? No! They love you and to that end, they'll do anything they can to keep you. Which is why they'll never adjust their point-scoring systems to be like other platforms. If you play in a 5 x 5 roto league on CBS, you can easily find content from a plethora of sources across the internet. The only thing CBS can do to keep you exclusive to them is by providing the type of quality content that will do so. On the other hand, the only thing CBS has to do to keep you locked into CBS points coverage is to just not change their scoring. As long as their scoring values are unique, they'll remain your best source of information.

Do I wish that platforms would make some basic changes in order to make things a little less wacky? Sure! (Here's a hint; it's not that hard). But games are relative and everything is fair as long as everyone is playing by the same sets of rules. However, playing by the rules and understanding the rules are two different concepts and the platforms are failing you as game-makers in the second regard.

Why don't you know how wildly player values can swing? Why don't you know that Ronald Acuna, Trea Turner, and Adalberto Mondesi should be virtually un-draftable in ESPN, given their likely ADP? Why don't you know that Mike Trout finished as player #36 on Yahoo last season? More importantly, why don't you know that Yahoo went straight 'nanners this season, totally overhauling their points system and flipping player values on their head, with barely a mention to their patrons? What exactly is "straight 'nanners"?

Straight 'Nanners ( ˈstrāt nahn-nurrs'): When Gerrit Cole was the No. 1 scorer in 2019 under the old scoring system but would've been #54 under the new one.

However, this is a conversation for a different time and in the coming weeks, RotoBaller will be dropping individual strategy guides for ESPN, CBS, Fantrax, Yahoo, and NFBC that will address many of these issues. Then we can really dive into how well the platforms and their rankings are serving the customers. As well, we'll be looking at keys to finding certain players and profiles that will succeed and fail in every system. Where should we start? Well, if pop culture has taught me anything, it's that when you first get into the yard, you might as well tango with the biggest one out there...

I hope ESPN is ready to dance because just like Wes Mantooth, I wanna polka.

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