May 4, 2015
Tout Wars X
The Dawn of Month Two
Six weeks removed from that fun and chaotic April draft in New York City, I think I have a better idea of how to approach this monthly format. I wrote in great detail about how that afternoon went, and what I was hoping to get out of that initial team. In the end, what it turned out that I got from that initial team was a lot of points—which is much to my delight.
If my goal was to not dig myself much of a hole going into month number two, then mission accomplished. Then again, if my goal was to be in first going into month number two, then mission accomplished as well (am I allowed to talk about it, or do I have to keep this a secret?). I ended up eking out a first place finish in April (with 58 points) by one point over the hard-charging Andrea Lamont. Of course, the two players who likely had the most to do with my performance were Stephen Vogt and Bartolo Colon—just like I drew it up on draft day, obviously. Vogt was my backup catcher/multi-eligibility guy and Colon was the last of my cheap starting pitchers to fill my active roster. Of course, that’s somewhat tongue-in-cheek, as Joey Votto, Justin Upton and Billy Hamilton all played large roles as well, but that’s a far less fun story. But enough about me, let’s instead move on and talk more about me.
This brings us to this past weekend, where I was tasked with selecting my first roster in what will be the standard format for the rest of the season. Rather than convening for a draft, and ensuring that no players appear on multiple rosters, all 10 owners are selecting their rosters independently, in a strict salary cap format. This means that if all nine other players think that Corey Dickerson is a bargain at $20, they can all own him as well.
Before we dig into my new roster, let’s again get refresher on those rules (from Shandler Park):
Wins + Quality Starts
In-season roster management
Now without other owners to compete with for the players I like best, my overall strategy changed a little (and got much more straightforward). The concept is the same from April, but this time I didn’t have to prioritize. Here were my targets for when I sat down with the new player list:
Spend approximately $80 on 15 starting pitchers. The “punt saves and holds” strategy that I used in April worked really well, so I’ve decided to go back down that route. What I’m hoping is that other teams don’t try to follow suit, as that could make this less viable going forward.
Pay for strikeouts, hope for ERA. The concept behind this is pretty simple: the prices for May often reflected actual performance, so while pitchers with shiny ERAs like Chris Archer ($18), Trevor Bauer ($18), Bartolo Colon ($17) and Alfredo Simon ($16) got big price bumps, some of the pitcher who fell on hard luck (or contact) in April saw depressed prices. We’ll get into names later, but I deliberately shot for high-strikeout pitchers with big gaps in their expected and actual ERAs.
Pair a big speedster with an OBP giant. This is important because, generally the players with big steal potential carry low OBP potential. Given that these are two of only four offensive categories, I think it’s important to specifically seek this pairing out.
Stack the offense. This one is self-explanatory. With my strategy, I need at least 30 offensive points each month.
Have two backups at each position through multi-eligibility players. I didn’t quite get this much flexibility in April, but it was also harder to come by. However, it’s importance was hammered home as having Stephen Vogt to plug in at catcher when Yan Gomes went down proved to be invaluable in my April performance. This way, if I have two injuries on offense, no matter what they are, I don’t have to hold a dead spot (except for catcher—having four of those guys isn’t a good use of resources).
So that’s enough talk about what I was planning to do. Let’s take a look at the actual team that I selected to guide me through the next four weeks, starting on offense:
C – Evan Gattis ($5) – eligible at C, OF
C – Caleb Joseph ($4)
1B – Joey Votto ($29)
2B – Ian Kinsler ($15)
SS – Marcus Semien ($11) – eligible at 2B, SS, 3B
3B – Josh Donaldson ($25)
CI – Adam Lind ($10)
Total Spent: $104
It’s important to get good players in a monthly format like this, but it’s also important to make sure you’re getting the most out of the good players you’re getting. For example, teams are playing anywhere between 24 and 27 games over the next four weeks. The more games played, the better. And hitters with helpful home parks who see more action there are better as well. So once I saw that Toronto and Milwaukee both had 26 games total and 16 home contests, I knew I would grab a player or two from each; and the Josh Donaldson/Adam Lind combo for $35 sounded great to me. Same concept goes for Yangervis Solarte and Evan Gattis, whose teams each play 26 games in this cycle—however, Gattis gets 15 at home and Solarte gets 15 on the road (games out of Petco is a good thing). Finally, Joseph has been highly underrated for the Orioles, with his .414 OBP—and with the makeup double-header with the White Sox added to the schedule, the Orioles have 17 home games and 26 total. Sign me up.
Of course, sometimes the value is just too good to care. Hence, the Joey Votto selection. He looks healthy, is hitting for power and he’s running. In an OBP format like this one (which counts runs produced, rather than runs and RBI separately, he should be a $35 player pretty easily. That justifies taking him, despite the Reds playing just 24 games.
OF – Billy Hamilton ($29)
OF – Corey Dickerson ($20)
OF – George Springer ($19)
OF – Ryan Braun ($18)
OF – Carlos Gonzalez ($11)
UT – Denard Span ($4)
For those of you counting at home, that is now seven players with outfield eligibility. Some of these picks are a little obvious, and I certainly expect them to also show up on other rosters in this league. Hamilton isn’t a bargain at $29, and the Reds only play 24 games, but he should be able to steal 10 bases in this four-week span and that’s worth it for me because I need a strong showing in this category. Springer is both a great value and good Hamilton insurance. Dickerson is absolutely legit as a high-end fantasy slugger—and the sooner the world realizes this, the better off we’ll all be. Of course, I think just about everyone knows by now. Braun started off the season slowly, but he’s been on fire since returning from his two-day mysterious, non-injury absence around a week ago. His average batted ball velocity is sixth in baseball and the Brewers play 16 out of 26 games at home. Span at $4 is a no brainer, which then leaves the embattled Carlos Gonzalez. There’s no question that it’s been a rough start to the season for the Rockies’ outfielder, but I’m certainly not about to give up on him—which is essentially what this price does. If a monthly leaguer doesn’t select him this month at $11, it’s because they don’t think he’s a good fantasy option any more. This is the same price as Jhonny Peralta, Nick Markakis and Brandon Moss.
C – Brian McCann ($5)
2B – Addison Russell ($1) – eligible at 2B, SS
3B – Kelly Johnson ($2) – eligible at 1B, 3B, OF
Having a third catcher is important, especially with McCann being so well-priced. If everyone is hitting, he becomes someone I can put in there while the Yankees are at home, while sitting either Gattis or Joseph in a tough series. Russell has struck out a ton since he’s been up, but has started to scrape together better at bats as he’s gotten more looks at major league pitching. I won’t want to be starting him, but as a fallback option, he’s better than the rest. Finally, Johnson has the eligibility I love and has shown a return to the stronger contact rates and power production of his more youthful days. Of course, those days are likely behind him, but for $2 on the bench, he won’t have to do much.
So far, that makes $216 spent on offense—leaving me with slightly over my $80 target to fill the 15 remaining roster spots on as many innings and strikeouts as I can find.
Starting Pitchers: The Six Shooters
SP – Madison Bumgarner ($20)
SP – Clay Buchholz ($7)
SP – Drew Smyly ($5)
SP – Jesse Hahn ($3)
SP – Travis Wood ($2)
When you have a decent number of teams with 26 or 27 games in a four-week stretch, that means there are going to be about 15 or so pitchers with six-start periods. Of course, not all of them are going to be reasonable values, but these five were. Bumgarner is elite is $16 less than the other elite starter with six starts (Clayton Kershaw)—that price difference is substantial over a four-week span. Buchholz has the strikeouts on his side, but has had two large duds sprinkled in with three excellent outings. Smyly has looked excellent since he’s returned, and I would not be surprised if he were on at least 5-6 rosters, given this price. Hahn was touted coming into the season, and has more strikeout potential than he’s shown. Wood is someone who will get overlooked because of his terrible 2014 season, but he looks much more like the 2013 version that was usable in mixed leagues for a good chunk of the season.
Starting Pitchers: The ERA Scares
SP – Carlos Carrasco ($13)
SP – Jose Quintana ($6)
SP – Rick Porcello ($3)
SP – Drew Pomeranz ($3)
SP – Joe Kelly ($2)
Carrasco is the perfect example here. His ERA is at 4.98 right now, but is paired with excellent peripherals, and sees a price drop because of it. In fact, he’s the fourth-most expensive pitcher in his own rotation, behind Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, and Danny Salazar. That’s just not right. Quintana has a 5.28 ERA, but given his consistency over the last two seasons, I like his chances to have the month he was supposed to have when he was three dollars more expensive in April. Pomeranz has a 4.61 ERA, but has paired that with nearly a strikeout per inning and the best walk rate of his career (small sample alert). Both Porcello and Kelly have ERAs above 5.00 right now, but the Red Sox have played a very tough schedule on their pitchers thus far. Additionally, they play all but nine games on the road over the next four weeks, and both of their underlying numbers suggest that they should be fine.
Starting Pitchers: The Values
SP – Francisco Liriano ($9)
SP – Dan Haren ($4)
SP – Jason Hammel ($3)
SP – Brandon Morrow ($3)
SP – Dillon Gee ($1)
In a league that doesn’t count WHIP as a category, Liriano is noticeably better than in standard leagues, and even in standard leagues he’s better than a $9 pitcher. Haren has a crazy strand rate of 96.6 percent, which clearly won’t stay that way, but he’s been good enough that this price gets him the green light. That said, Haren was the last pitcher I added to my squad. It looks like we’re getting the good Hammel again this year, as his return to Chicago (and the National League) has been strong up to this point. Morrow is always a risk to get hurt, but I feel more comfortable with that risk in a monthly league than a yearly one. Then with Gee, there’s always the specter of a six-man rotation or him just getting straight dumped in favor of Noah Syndergaard or Steven Matz, but he’s been good enough that at a buck, it’s well worth the risk.
The goal of this team is going to be the same as the goal of the last team: get 50 points out of the month and move on. You don’t get any bonuses in this format for winning an individual month, as it is just straight cumulative point totals throughout the six periods. A season full of 50-point months, if I can pull it off, should be strong enough for me to be right there when it comes to the overall title—and if it’s not, I will tip my cap to the owner who can provide that sort of consistent month-to-month outperformance. Of course, it’s a league full of experts, so that would not surprise me in the least.