MLB Points Leagues: Let's Be Positive About Pitching

MLB Points Leagues: Let's Be Positive About Pitching

It hasn't been the most uplifting of starts to the MLB season as we've seen a rash of injuries to some of the most valuable pitchers on the fantasy landscape. That's been covered plenty around the industry, so we'll do our part to put a positive spin on things in this column by looking at some risers at the position early this season. To give it a specific focus on the points format, we'll focus on some early season standouts in both strikeout rate and innings pitched.

We've spent a lot of time talking about volume in the first few articles in this column, though it's primarily been in terms of batters. It may be even more important in the context of pitchers, however. Innings pitched are the base of a pitcher's value in points formats, because in most scoring systems a pitcher simply completing an inning gains points. The difference between a pitcher that consistently works six innings as opposed to five may not show up in a single start, but it will over time. Most points leagues also credit pitchers for quality starts and wins, the first of which requires a pitcher to work deep into a start and the latter helped by a lengthy outing.

For a pitcher who regularly works deep into games, a high strikeout rate can push them into elite territory. For pitchers who struggle with control or are otherwise generally pulled earrly, punchouts are a way to rack up points quickly.

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It hasn't been the most uplifting of starts to the MLB season as we've seen a rash of injuries to some of the most valuable pitchers on the fantasy landscape. That's been covered plenty around the industry, so we'll do our part to put a positive spin on things in this column by looking at some risers at the position early this season. To give it a specific focus on the points format, we'll focus on some early season standouts in both strikeout rate and innings pitched.

We've spent a lot of time talking about volume in the first few articles in this column, though it's primarily been in terms of batters. It may be even more important in the context of pitchers, however. Innings pitched are the base of a pitcher's value in points formats, because in most scoring systems a pitcher simply completing an inning gains points. The difference between a pitcher that consistently works six innings as opposed to five may not show up in a single start, but it will over time. Most points leagues also credit pitchers for quality starts and wins, the first of which requires a pitcher to work deep into a start and the latter helped by a lengthy outing.

For a pitcher who regularly works deep into games, a high strikeout rate can push them into elite territory. For pitchers who struggle with control or are otherwise generally pulled earrly, punchouts are a way to rack up points quickly.

We only have to look to 2023 results as an illustration of this concept.

PitcherTotal Points (Rank)PPS (Rank)Innings Pitched (rank)K% (rank)
Gerrit Cole622 (1)18.8 (1)209 (3)27% (10)
Spencer Strider576.5 (2)18.0 (2)186.2 (18)36.8 (1)
Zac Gallen553 (3)16.3 (4)210 (2)26 (13)
Logan Webb514 (4)15.6 (15)216 (1)22.8 (29)
Luis Castillo513.5 (5)15.6 (16)197 (7)27.3 (8)
Zack Wheeler513 (6)16 (8)192 (13)26.9 (11)
Blake Snell508 (7)15.9 (11)180 (25)31.5 (2)
Chris Bassitt501 (8)15.2 (21)200 (5)22.5 (31)
Zach Eflin495 (9)16 (9)177.2 (29)26.5% (12)
Logan Gilbert490.5 (10)15.3 (20)190.2 (14)24.6 (24)

While this is a limited sample of the pitcher pool, it illustrates the importance of pitchers taking the mound regularly and pitching for a high number of innings per start. Two players in the above list stand out in that regard in Webb and Bassitt. Of 44 qualified pitchers in 2023, Webb finished 29th in K%, while Bassitt finished 31st. On the opposite end of the spectrum, both Strider and Snell had relatively limited innings but nevertheless managed elite seasons due to their K%. Eflin was something of an anomaly as he wasn't elite innings pitcher or K%, though he did benefit from 16 wins.

With this information in mind, we'll use very early results from the 2024 season to identify some pitchers that are already rostered that we should be confidently starting, some shallow league pickups, and some deep league pickups. There should be a caveat before we go any further, which is that we're dealing with small samples, so any statistic cited below can't be considered sticky. Given all the injuries though, it's likely become a necessity for many to make roster moves. So, with the understanding that we're working with a small sample, we'll take the data points we have and do the best we can to interpret them accurately.  

Start Confidently

Reid Detmers

Detmers may be available in the shallowest of leagues, but he's included on this list primarily to highlight his positive start to the season. Though his surface stats weren't particularly impressive in 2023, he showed signs of promise by improving his K-rate to 26.1 percent. Through two starts in the current campaign, he has an unsustainable 45.2 percent K-rate, but he's seen increased velocity across the board. Detmers' control may prevent him from being elite, but he fits the mold of a poor man's Snell.  

Shota Imanaga

There were some questions about how Imanaga's profile would carry over to the majors due to his homer problems in Japan. He has given up a fair bit of hard contact (56.5 percent) stateside and is very reliant on strikeouts and flyball outs. That could cause some issues as the weather warms up and balls start to fly out of Wrigley Field, but until we see those flaws start to creep into his results there's no reason to sit him. He had a short start against the Dodgers, which is excusable, and a start against the Rockies away from Coors Field so far. His schedule coming up immediately is favorable, as he's lined up for a start at Seattle and against Miami for his next two turns.

Brady Singer

Singer was a popular waiver add the first couple weeks of the season, so there's probably not much opportunity to pick him up in most leagues. There's also been a lot of debate about his hot start to the season considering his disastrous 2023 results, so he's included in this list. The positive takeaway from his first two starts is a change in pitch mix, as he's throwing his sinker less and four-seam fastball more. The fastball-slider combo should lead to more whiffs. There's additional positive context in his home park (pitcher friendly) and what looks to be an improved team around him.  

Shallow League Pickups

Dane Dunning (56% rostered CBS, 19% ESPN)

Dunning hasn't had particularly good results two turns through the rotation, but he's thrown 6.2 and 6.1 innings in those appearances. He's struggled to work deep into games (he averaged around 5.1 innings per start in both 2022 and 2023) previously so his current jump is notable. The Rangers are shorthanded in the rotation even once Michael Lorenzen (neck) gets up to speed, but Andrew Heaney and Cody Bradford are more likely to get bumped than Dunning. I'm less convinced by Dunning's improved K%, but he is a worthy streamer.

Gavin Stone  (71% CBS, 16% ESPN, 48% ESPN)

Stone is being dropped in a lot of leagues, and the case for adding him is admittedly not straightforward. His 39-inning sample in the majors has hardly been impressive and that hasn't changed in two turns through the rotation in 2024. He's another pitcher with increased velocity on all of his pitches, and he also boasts a 26.8 percent K-rate. Considering his pedigree and team context, I'd expect him to start working deeper into games and find more success. There could be some danger he's bumped for the rotation when Walker Buehler (elbow) returns, but the Dodgers are liberal with their usage of the injured list and James Paxton has a lengthy track record of health issues.  

Seth Lugo (65% CBS, 20% ESPN, 28% Yahoo)

Lugo transitioned to a full-time starting role last season and still averaged 5.6 innings per start, and he's a lock to remain in the Royals rotation after signing a significant contract this offseason. If we're comparing to a successful pitcher from last season, he profiles similarly to Bassitt in that he pitches to contact and can be expected to work deep into games. To put things in perspective, he's scored two points fewer Tarik Skubal and the same number of points as Freddy Peralta so far in 2024.  

Deep League Pickups

Tyler Anderson (30% CBS, nine percent ESPN, 14% Yahoo)

Anderson was often cited as a punchline for the ineptitude of the Angels' front office last year after he signed a three-year, $39 million contract. However, the team revamped its entire coaching staff this spring and that seems to have done plenty of good for the starting stuff.  Anderson ranks fifth in overall points among starting pitchers, has worked seven innings in both of his outings, and he has a 15.5 swinging strike percentage compared to only a 15.7 percent K-rate. The swinging strike rate will come down, but the K% still has room to grow.

Paul Blackburn (34% rostered CBS, 16% ESPN, 15% Yahoo)

There are immediately a couple strikes against Blackburn. He's struggled to get a reasonable amount of strikeouts (seven across 13 innings) early on, but he's changed his pitch mix to generate more whiffs by greatly decreasing his sinker usage. We've seen that play out, as his swinging strike rate of 11.6 percent would be a career best and seems more realistic than some of the other inflated marks around the league. It will be vital for him to continue to work deep into games, as wins will be few and far between.

Kyle Gibson (40% CBS, 14% ESPN)

He wasn't included in the chart above, but Gibson is the perfect example of playing to the scoring system of a league format. He posted an uninspiring 4.73 ERA and had just a 19.5 percent K-rate in 2023, yet he threw 192 innings (5.81 innings per start) and finished 28th in total points. He's back at it again in 2024, as he's worked six and seven innings in his two starts, respectively. There will be bad outings, but overall he'll deliver more positive than negative results in points formats.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dan Marcus
Dan started covering fantasy sports in 2015, joining Rotowire in 2018. In addition to Rotowire, Dan has written for Baseball HQ and Rotoballer.
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