2021 Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit

2021 Fantasy Baseball: Punting Categories


If you play Fantasy Baseball in a categories format, one of the age-old strategic dilemmas is whether you can win by punting a category or not. The strategies vary whether you are playing in Rotisserie formats vs. Head to Head.

We will walk through a case study for each format to see how the strategy works or does not work. The one thing about Fantasy Baseball is that it is not always about player analysis so much as applying game theory, and punting is one of the most common game strategies around.

Before beginning, it must be said that this article will only point to stand-alone leagues that do not have an “overall” component. That is a tournament that combines several rotisserie leagues together to form one giant league, with winners on both the league and overall level.

If you are playing in such a format, such as the Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational, or TGFBI, punting categories is not recommended. In such a format where there are 100 or even 400 points to be awarded per category, taking a zero or close to in any given category will basically eliminate your chances at the overall.

2021 Fantasy Baseball: Punting Categories

Get prepared for the upcoming Fantasy Baseball season by using the Fantasy Pros Draft Wizard.

Punting in Rotisserie

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So far this draft season, I have made it a point in Rotisserie styles to draft saves early. I simply do not trust the landscape. Having an elite closer has been a priority. For me, this includes Josh Hader, Aroldis Chapman, Liam Hendricks, Edwin Diaz, or Brad Hand. In some cases, I’ve recently added Trevor Rosenthal to the mix, since his signing with the Oakland Athletics. In many drafts, I try to make it my point to have two of these elite closers by the time I get to Round 10. I simply do not want to be in the saves roulette game.

Looking at a draft I recently completed on the NFBC platform, the Fantasy Pros Draft Wizard rated me a B+, and predicted that I will finish in a money spot this season. It goes so far as to list saves as a strength for me.

In this particular draft, I selected Aroldis Chapman in Round 6 and Brad Hand in Round 9. Pairing them to my pocket aces of Trevor Bauer and Clayton Kershaw I have to admit felt pretty good! The Fantasy Pros Analysis gave me a reputable 57 pitching points of a possible 75, which was good enough for the third-best pitching staff in the 15 team league.

For argument’s sake, let us assume I simply took the next starting pitcher available rather than the two closers. in the sixth round, it would be Corbin Burnes. In the ninth round, it would be Zack Greinke. After crunching the numbers to my projections, I ended up with four fewer roto points by drafting nine starters. This was enough to move me out of a potential money spot. Although I gained several points in Wins and Strikeouts, the underlying loss of two roto points in ERA added with the drop to only one point in Saves, the net result was negative for my team.

Another angle to consider when punting saves is that there will be several methods to try to acquire at least some later on. Obviously, trading is an option. But, a trade is going to cost you something elsewhere. The fact is that 40% of closing roles turn over on average per season. Firstly, you can stash on your bench and pray on successful relievers without a closing gig at the draft. Or, the math says that twelve new closers will be available to you via FAAB or waivers. The one good thing though, even if you go the whole season with zero saves, it still gets you one roto point!

Are Saves the Only Pitching Category to Consider Punting?

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Saves are not the only category one can punt, but it certainly is the easiest. The above case study does not take into account the possibility of your closer losing his role. Punting saves takes you completely out of that game. Although I lost four roto points by having zero saves, I may just as well have lost them if Chapman or Hand do not meet their projected saves. The saves category then becomes a risk tolerance decision for you.

Punting ERA or WHIP is not even a discussion, as it basically would mean you didn’t punt a category, you punted an entire pitching staff. Likewise, punting strikeouts simply does not make much sense, as they come with the simple acquisition of innings.

Now, interestingly, one can decide to take a very radical approach and draft all relievers. This usually will result in scowls and name-calling by your league mates. I have seen this approach taken in Head to Head formats, and it can be quite fun. Drafting relievers only and no starters will flop flop your Win and Save points, but will drop your ERA and WHIP significantly.

On the above-mentioned NFBC team, if I had replaced all of the starters with two additional closers and basically the five best relievers independent of saves available, I would have lost nine roto points in strikeouts, while gaining nine roto points in ERA and WHIP. I would have gained three roto points in Saves but lost seven in Wins. Again, a net loss of four. Without considering the boost you would get to your offense by not taking any starting pitchers, this extreme strategy is not recommended.

Punting Offensive Categories

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Punting hitting categories in Fantasy Baseball can also be a viable option. Two commonly punted categories are batting average and stolen bases. Average is difficult to quantify because there is an opportunity cost for what you are punting the average for. Are you loading up on Adalberto Mondesi types or Max Kepler? There are many different directions you can go.

Punting average will make your draft easier, as it will make these types of players available to you without needing to worry about the average drain. Most average punters tend to also punt catching. However, it is not a category to punt and hope to replace later. Once you fall behind in average, it is very difficult to make up later.

Stolen bases may be the most viable offensive category to punt. It removes specialty players off of your board that are generally three category performers. Removing Adalberto Mondesi, Myles Straw, Dylan Moore, Jonathan Villar, and Kevin Kiermaier from your draft board is a healthy proposition. My number one rule of Fantasy Baseball: cross off Mallex Smith, no matter what.

In today’s environment, it takes less than 100 stolen bases to be in the top half of the category. In a standard 14-hitter league, it only takes an average of seven stolen bases per player to get there. You can also get there by taking only one player projected for 20 stolen bases and knocking the average needed for the rest down to five each.

Punting categories in Head to Head Leagues

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In Head to Head categories leagues, punting is always a viable option. Regardless of which category you punt, you will always gain a further advantage in another. Whether you play in 5×5 or 6×6, or 10×10 for that matter, it simply works. You will almost never defeat your opponent by shutout. Going into a week with a plan for what categories you will lose puts you at a distinct advantage. If you eliminate saves, you can load up two-start pitchers and dominate wins and strikeouts. If you punt stolen bases, you will certainly be at an advantage in home runs and RBI.

Remember, you are trying to win the week, not build a balanced team over time. Whether you lose stolen bases, or any category, 10-9 or 10-0, it is still a loss. You might as well be in control of what categories you will lose to gain in others. In Head to Head leagues, you have to look at your opponent’s lineup and build yours to beat theirs. This sometimes will result in you benching your best closer, or starting a bench player over a regular hitter. Seven games played will always give you better counting stats than five.

The best format for punting categories in Fantasy Baseball is certainly in Head to Head formats. It becomes a strategic advantage against your opponent. You can even in some circumstances overcome a bad draft by maximizing categories weekly rather than for the season. As for Rotisserie leagues, I always recommend keeping a balanced approach. Consider the 80th percentile rule, being in the top 20% of every category will get you to the money.

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About Jeff Trela

Jeff is a 30 year veteran of fantasy sports as both a commissioner and player. He specializes in redraft, dynasty, and DFS. He plays in several NFBC Leagues and will be providing the DFS Pitching Primer this season. In 2021, Jeff will be taking his analytical and "game theory" approach to League 9 of the TGFBI. he is always available on Twitter @Jtrela20

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