NFBC: Overview and strategies of Cutline

The NFBC has offered the Cutline format over the last few years. The ten-team format features a 42-round draft that owners can choose to finish in a two-three hour time slot or as a slow draft. The national contest hosted 145 leagues in 2017 that competed for the $50,000 overall prize. As a points-based format, Cutline offers various ways to create point differentials at each 23-man position. Scoring over 9,000 points by the All-Star break would place teams in the running for their Cutline league titles. 

Owners need to build teams that not only can win their respective leagues by the All-Star break, but those teams need to have elite skills, flexibility, and depth to survive the nine-week playoff bracket in the second half. The top two teams in each league advance to the championship bracket in July, and the third through fifth place teams advance to the wild card bracket. During the final three-week championship period in September, the winning team in 2017 posted 3,056 points. For more details on the playoff bracket, visit NFBC.

Cutline only has two periods of FAAB, on April 10 and June 5. Owners do not need to worry about setting lineups, as the format optimizes each lineup during every weekly period, which runs from Monday-Sunday. Drafting reliable players early will help provide a foundation to place in the top-half of the league by the All-Star break, but teams will also need breakout players to thrive during a nine-week playoff against 725 teams.

During my first season of Cutline, one of my teams finished tenth overall nationally. Cutline offers a low-price point per team, $150, and NFBC lowers the price per team if owners buy teams in three, five, or nine-team bundles. Cutline drafts are fun and can be completed in a few hours. Before we sit down for our Cutline drafts, we should remember to shift our focus to a points format.  

Points Overview and Positional Flexibility
Much like Roto leagues, Cutline uses many of the same scoring categories (home runs, stolen bases, RBI, runs, wins, strikeouts, and saves) to accumulate points. Cutline provides four points for every hit instead of using batting average, and the format deducts one point for every offensive at-bat. On the pitching side, owners can choose to focus on starting pitchers first, who score six points per win and accumulate two-start weeks throughout the season. Owners may turn to relievers first, who receive eight points per save. While some owners have extreme strategies with pitching, referring to RotoLab to examine the points difference between each SP and each RP will help when drafting. In 2017, eight elite hitters posted over 800 points, and four elite pitchers scored over 600 points. 

With a computer optimizing lineups for us, rostering players that qualify at multiple positions can help over the course of the season. Players must accumulate 20-games at a position from 2017 or ten games in 2018 to qualify at a position. For example, Alex Bregman can help at a SS, MI, or CI if we roster a strong 3B with an early draft pick. If our 3B underperforms for a week or two, Bregman has the capability to shift to 3B or CI in our weekly lineups. While we should avoid paying too much inflation on multi-position players, they provide more freedom in Cutline drafts while giving our teams the chance to cover for players that are injured or perform poorly.  

Tiers, Depth, and Strategies
When planning for Cutline drafts, we can adjust projections in RotoLab and then create our own pre-draft lists on NFBC's site to make faster decisions under pressure. To make it easier, we can create several lists for elite players, mid-round players, and late-round players. If we find it easier to list players by position, we can create positional lists to emulate our tiers from our drafting software. If we don't have time to enter every pick into RotoLab, we can quickly look at pre-draft lists to determine the best pick for roster construction.

Our backups provide more chances for points if our drafted "starters" do not perform well in a specific week. It is important to roster backups at each position to avoid losing points in our optimized-weekly lineups. Although there are no DL slots, those players on the DL can enter our lineups with zero points if we have other players with negative points.

When planning for hitters, we should target elite hitters that can score more than 650 points before filling in each roster position. Throughout the draft and tiers, targeting the most valuable players before targeting specific positions will help our teams accumulate more points. Once we have the most points in our lineups, we can focus on filling in positional holes and rostering a backup at each position. 

If we are looking for extreme strategies, some teams draft only hitters through the first seven or eight rounds to build a strong foundation for their roster. Other teams draft only starting pitchers to maximize the two-start weeks throughout the season. Some owners prefer to draft two-three closers before taking their first starting pitcher.

Which strategies contributed to successful results in 2017? Fifteen of the top 20 Cutline teams were balanced on the pitching side, as they rostered at least two aces and two closers. Four teams relied on a single ace mixed with two-to-four closers, and one team trusted two aces and a single closer.  

The gap between the first ten catchers was 273 points in 2017, which was the third-largest difference behind 2B and OF #1 options. Drafting Gary Sanchez (617 points) and Willson Contreras (574) provides an advantage over Buster Posey (486; third) and makes them worth a look in the early rounds of drafts. Waiting on Salvador Perez's 427 points would provide a top-five option at the position while giving up almost 200 points to Sanchez. If we fail to grab a top-five option, the small difference separating Jonathan Lucroy (336; 11th) and Chris Hermann (280; 20th) allows us to wait on other options instead of following possible catcher runs. 

First Base
Paul Goldschmidt's combination of power and speed (798) tops all first-base options, and he posted the fifth-highest points overall in 2017. Joey Votto (740) continues to be elite, and there are four other options in the first tier that are projected to score above 700 points. Freddie Freeman finished tenth in 2017 with 618 points, but BHQ projections have him scoring 741 points in 2018. Depending on preference, grabbing a 700-point bat provides a solid foundation for roster construction. Much like the secondary tiers at other positions, the options at first base between #11-20 has a smaller gap, as 51 points separate Justin Bour (532; 11th) and Yulieski Gurriel (481; 20th). Make sure to grab one of the elite options early in drafts to secure a 700-point bat, and there are equal CI options at first base and third base in 2018. 

Second Base
Jose Altuve (893) posted the third-most points in 2017, and he is projected to score 161 more points than Dee Gordon (732-second) in 2018. If we miss the top two 2B, Jose Ramirez (726) and Brian Dozier (681) are top-five options at second base. The distance between Altuve and the tenth-best option, Rougned Odor (554) makes the AL MVP worth the second pick in Cutline drafts. When looking for MI or replacement options, owners can wait until the middle rounds to start looking at players like Ian Kinsler (469-17th) and Josh Harrison (439-20th) at the bottom of the second tier. 

Like the other infield positions, a first-round pick is necessary if you want Trea Turner's 755 points that lead the position. Unlike second base, the gap is smaller between players ranked first and tenth at SS. Owners can select Elvis Andrus (623; fifth) several rounds later, and Zack Cozart (532; 10th) can be rostered in the late-teen rounds. If teams are looking to fill MI and backup SS positions from #11-20, Trevor Story (517; 12th), Didi Gregorius (501; 13th), and Andrelton Simmons (457; 19th) are just some of the names that can offer more than 450 points.  

Third Base
If we are looking for one of the elite bats to start our drafts, Nolan Arenado can provide a foundation for our roster with 800 points. Jose Ramirez (726; second) and Kris Bryant (720; third) are among the twenty bats that are slated to score more than 700 points. Manny Machado (667; fourth) and Josh Donaldson (630; seventh) are going in the top 30 overall, but owners that are willing to wait at 3B can grab Anthony Rendon (647; sixth) a few rounds later. If we do not select a top-ten 3B as a CI, Adrian Beltre (554; 11th), Kyle Seager (538; 13th), and Eugenio Suarez (510; 16th) are all projected to score more than 500 points. 

The top three OF options, Mike Trout (895), Giancarlo Stanton (845), and Charlie Blackmon all offer more than 800 points if we choose to take an OF in the first round. While we would expect Mookie Betts (756; fifth) and Bryce Harper (703; ninth) to be in the 700+ points tier, the projections are optimistic that Christian Yelich (726; seventh) can perform as a #1 OF in 2018. 

When looking for second outfielders, we may choose to pick two options from the first tier to gain more points. If not, George Springer (648; 12th), Tommy Pham (619; 15th), and Andrew Benintendi (609; 16th) are  OF that are projected for more than 600 points. Sluggers like Kristopher Davis (592 18th) also fall into the second tier. 

The last three tiers of outfielders can be drafted much later if we choose to shift our focus to other positions. Depending on preference, we can roster Eddie Rosario (557; 24th), Adam Jones (553; 25th), Lorenzo Cain (545; 26th), or Ronald Acuña (538; 28th) from the third tier. Yaisel Puig (528; 32nd) and Kevin Kiermaier (516; 35th) can still provide 500+ points in the fourth tier. In the fourth and fifth tiers, we can choose the best OF for our roster construction, as only twenty points separate Odubel Herrera (486; 38th) at the bottom of the fourth tier with Delino DeShields, Jr. (466; 49th) at the bottom of the fifth tier. 

The pitching side offers a variety of ways to draft. Some owners prefer to draft all starting pitching to maximize their two-start weeks. Other teams have drafted four or five relief pitchers before looking at a starting pitcher. Some teams, like in Roto, aim for balance. For example, the 2017 national champion of Cutline rostered several aces, Chris Sale, Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, and Luis Severino, with some relief pitchers, Corey Knebel, Ken Giles, and Roberto Osuna. My team that placed 10th overall took a similar approach with several aces and four RP. Since the format allows for a variety of ways to roster pitchers, we will look at some of the points thresholds. To get a rough idea of a range, aces can score 700 points and a #5 SP can tally between 350-380 points. Finding a breakout pitcher, like Luis Severino and Corey Knebel in 2017, can propel our teams up the standings. 

Aces at 600
While two aces, Kluber and Sale, scored 700 in 2017, three out of the four aces are in the 600+ tier for 2018. Chris Sale (665) and Corey Kluber (657) have the early lead in the projections, and Max Scherzer (606; third) will try to match his 671 points from 2017. 

SP and Closers above 500
With a 181 IP projection, Clayton Kershaw (591; fourth) is just below the other aces. Taking either one of the top closers, Craig Kimbrel (586) and Kenley Jansen (578), will provide plenty of points. There are 13 more pitchers that are above 500, and our options include Carlos Carrasco (548), Corey Knebel (523), and Luis Severino (514). Once again, we can draft two-three elite starting pitchers or stick to a balanced approach in this tier to accumulate pitching points in the first six-seven rounds. Choosing to double up on elite pitchers provides a 200-point advantage, over a SP #5, if a team prefers to build on pitching. 

Dropping down to the next tier, we find another sixteen pitchers. If we want closers, we can draft Cody Allen (497), Sean Doolittle (481), and Brad Hand (454). While Robbie Ray (482) has been leaving draft boards in the first five rounds, teams can also add Luke Weaver (454) to their staffs a few rounds later. 

Fifteen starting pitchers occupy most of the next tier, along with four closers. Starting options range from Luis Castillo (449) and Dylan Bundy (431) to Dallas Keuchel (421) and Jose Berrios (416). Wade Davis (445) and Roberto Osuna (419) are pitching options that we could consider if we prefer to target relief pitchers.

Even though some of these pitchers are down a few tiers, some of them can still provide a decent number of points when they are healthy. For example, James Paxton (377; 42nd SP) averaged 2.9 pts/IP in 2017. When we consider pitchers with health issues, we need to roster more pitchers to cover when they miss time on the DL. Some of the other starters in this tier are Mike Clevinger (386), Sonny Gray (363), and Rich Hill (357). 

P Recap
There are another 25 starting pitchers above 300 points, and elite middle relievers can score near 300 points. Although middle relievers can help our ratios in Roto leagues, they lose some value in the Cutline format. While there are plenty of pitchers that score above 300 points, the aces and closers that score over 500 points add tremendous value to our teams. 

With only two FAAB periods, we should spend our money wisely. We should monitor playing time battles during the spring, as Alex Wood and Charlie Morton were two FAAB pickups in April 2017. In June, Corey Knebel, Justin Smoak, and Cody Bellinger were some popular additions to teams. Spending time with our rosters in early April will help determine if we need to spend some of our $1,000 FAAB in April or if we can save our money until June. 

The NFBC Cutline Championship is a fun experience that challenges owners in a points-format. Whatever strategy we choose, extreme hitting, a balanced approach, or extreme pitching, we should try to accumulate as many points early in drafts to provide a strong foundation for our rosters. 

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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.