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October 1, 2013

Fantasy Freestyle

Tout Wars in Review

by Mike Gianella

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In fantasy baseball analysis, there is a lot of focus on what decisions should be made but often very little if any discussion about the results of those decisions. What we do in an auction environment gets discussed at great length, but whether or not we executed our plans gets buried in the excitement surrounding the postseason, the arguments about the awards, and later the analysis of this year’s free agent class.

This past March, I participated in the NL-only auction for Tout Wars, one of the better-known expert leagues in fantasy baseball. The rationale for what I did can be found in my write-up here. The short version is that I intended to spend $200 on offense, spent $226 instead, and came out of the auction with a powerful offense and a soft pitching staff.

My roster looked like this:

Table 1: Tout Wars Roster: Mike Gianella 2013

Position

Player

Salary

C

Ramon Hernandez

$1

C

Gerald Laird

$1

1B

Adrian Gonzalez

$26

2B

Brandon Phillips

$24

SS

Starlin Castro

$27

3B

Pablo Sandoval

$20

CO

David Freese

$18

MI

Aaron Hill

$22

OF

Carlos Beltran

$19

OF

Andre Ethier

$17

OF

Ryan Ludwick

$12

OF

Alfonso Soriano

$13

UT

Hanley Ramirez

$17

SW

Lucas Duda

$9

P

Mat Latos

$18

P

Matt Garza

$7

P

Andrew Cashner

$3

P

Cory Luebke

$1

P

Brandon Lyon

$1

P

Tyler Skaggs

$1

P

Jonny Venters

$1

P

Travis Wood

$1

P

Barry Zito

$1

R

Darin Ruf

R

Kirk Nieuwenheis

R

Antonio Bastardo

R

John Lannan

Once I veered into spending so little on pitching, I had to readjust my goals as soon as the season started. These were my expectations heading out of the auction:

  • Dominate in home runs, RBI, runs, and batting average. If I can’t do this, my season will be a disaster
  • Hope to get lucky/fortunate enough in pitching to net 30-35 total pitching points.
  • Try to grab one and possibly two closers via FAAB (free agent acquisition budget). 6-7 points in saves is ample given the 30-point overall pitching strategy
  • Use my excess in power/runs to trade for stolen bases

Overall, the goal was to finish with as many points on offense as possible and 30-35 points in pitching. A 90-point team might not win, but would certainly be competitive. How did I actually do?

Dominate in home runs, RBI, runs, and batting average
For the most part, my mission was accomplished here. Early injuries made this look doubtful for a while, as Ryan Ludwick, Aaron Hill, and Lucas Duda all missed significant time. Hanley Ramirez was supposed to miss some time, but a second injury knocked him out for longer than I had anticipated. I bought so much offense that I was still able to nab most of the hitting points in the non-SB categories that I wanted, but the early injuries hampered my ability to make some of the trades I was hoping to make.

Hope to get lucky/fortunate enough in pitching to net 30-35 total pitching points
In a perfect world, two starting pitchers would have emerged as decent options on the cheap. In reality, having Travis Wood turn into an extremely solid no. 2 behind Latos allowed me to flirt with my 30-35 point goal all season long.

Try to grab one and possibly two closers via FAAB (free agent acquisition budget). 6-7 points in saves is ample given the 30 point overall pitching strategy

I made it halfway to this goal. Early in the season, I made a significant FAAB bid on Edward Mujica and up until the last month of the season he was one of the best closers in baseball. However, I was unable to grab a second closer via FAAB and had to eventually dip into the trade market, something I hate to do with closers.

Use my excess in power/runs to trade for stolen bases
The good news: I was able to make this type of trade with zero impact to my power points. The bad news: the trade I made had no impact on my stolen base totals.

On the Sunday after the All-Star break, I was 25 ½ points behind Tristan Cockcroft of ESPN and thought that I was playing for pride. I was middle of the pack in runs, second in RBI, second in steals, and second in batting average. Everyone was healthy for me, though, and I had a chance to move up in steals if I made a move. So I traded for Everth Cabrera and Starling Marte (giving up Beltran, Freese, and Hill). If Cabrera hadn’t gotten get suspended, this might have worked.

Despite this failure due to the Biogenesis scandal, I still had offense to trade. My second gambit came in late August. I flipped Marte to Phil Hertz of Baseball HQ for Todd Frazier and Brad Ziegler, traded Alfonso Soriano to Cockcroft for Patrick Corbin, and traded Hanley Ramirez to Brian Walton for Francisco Liriano and Jorge De La Rosa.

Every year I have written one of these recaps, my sad lament was that I had to “rob Peter to pay Paul.” Because of the significant lead I had in HR/RBI, that wasn’t the case in 2013. If my trades had paid off, I might have had a shot. But it didn’t work out that way.

Corbin and Liriano both weren’t very good down the stretch, while de la Rosa was shut down early due to a thumb injury. This had a marginal impact on my ERA/WHIP, but the bigger problem I had was that I simply couldn’t pick up any wins in the last month of the season.

Table 2 – My Pitching Staff Down The Stretch

Name

Wins or Saves

Francisco Liriano

1

Travis Wood

1

Patrick Corbin

1

Edward Mujica

2

Brad Ziegler

6

Craig Kimbrel

7

Andrew Cashner

2

Jorge De La Rosa

0

Tyson Ross

0

Not every one of these pitchers was spectacular in September. But Wood (3.21 ERA in September) and Ross (3.77) probably deserved better. I did better in the saves department, but I was anticipating better from Mujica.

This turned out to be moot anyway. Entering action on September 1, I was four points behind Cockcroft, 81-77. I finished with 76 points overall, so while I didn’t improve, I spun my wheels. Cockcroft, on the other hand, shot up to 86.5 points. His offense bounced back in the end, and I fell short.

Second place in an expert league is nothing to be ashamed about, but I am disappointed in some of the mistakes that I made. I should have been more aggressive going after closers-in-waiting. I passed on Jim Henderson in the reserve round of the auction despite my reservations about John Axford. I also had a hunch about late season closer LaTroy Hawkins that I didn’t play. I had a chance to acquire Ben Revere in April and passed due to Revere’s slow start/ concerns about playing time. Because I didn’t, I had to gamble on Cabrera not receiving a suspension.

Some of the blame lies with the injuries I mentioned above. If my team had been healthier, it would have been easier to trade from strength earlier and I might have picked up a pitcher like Liriano or Corbin when he was still hot.

Every year is an opportunity to get better. I didn’t quite get to the summit, but I came close to executing my plan. I bought a 60.5-point, ninth-place team and picked up 14.5 points on pitching. The cheap pitching strategy can work. I just fell somewhat short trying to execute it.

Mike Gianella is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Mike's other articles. You can contact Mike by clicking here

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