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March 25, 2014

Tout Wars Recap

National League

by Mike Gianella


There are a lot of different ways that fantasy players determine who is or isn’t an “expert,” but looking at who does or doesn’t win an expert league is our collective shorthand. On this count in Tout Wars, I have fallen short. I have now had four tries at winning a title (in the NL-only part of the league), and all four times I have fallen short.

Oh sure, I’ve had a couple of very good seasons. I finished tied for third in my rookie year in 2010 and came in second last year. But as any fantasy player—expert or not—will tell you, winning is the only goal that matters. I’m not exactly disappointed in my lack of a title thus far (how disappointed can you get when you’re losing to Nate Ravitz, Steve Gardner, and Tristan Cockcroft?), but like everyone else who plays competitive fantasy sports, I want to win.

Despite this lack of success, I generally spend less time looking back and more time looking forward. Last year’s auction conditions aren’t going to duplicate this year’s, and not merely because of mild owner turnover. Rookies, players coming over from the AL via trade or free agency, and injuries rapidly change the landscape from one year to the next. You can’t simply look at last year and build on that this year. However, you can’t look too much at this year either and simply expect to win either.

Allow me to explain.

Tout Wars is the last expert league to auction, after CBS and LABR. It’s tempting to simply look at the LABR prices, use them to attempt to identify trends, and call it a day. There are several problems with this approach, but the biggest problem with it is that unless you were at the auction, it’s hard to know when a price was indicative of a trend and when it was just a weird hiccup during the auction

However, between all of the earlier expert auctions and drafts I had already participated in along with my own take on valuations, I did have a general idea of how I thought my auction would go:

It was very unlikely I would own a player costing $30 or more
The ground shifted from underneath everyone’s feet last year, as only two of the 10 most expensive hitters (Andrew McCutchen and Carlos Gonzalez) were also top 10 earners. Paul Goldschmidt and McCutchen are getting drafted like they are mortal locks to repeat 2013, but I see a landscape in NL-only where there is far less certainty among the best hitters than there has been in quite some time. I hadn’t spent over $26 on a player in any mono format mock or live auction this spring, and I suspected this trend would continue.

I would not buy an ace starting pitcher
Pitching has gradually been improving in real life the last few years, and the reaction to this has been to spend more on the top-shelf arms. While this is an understandable reaction, the reality is that when the average pitcher gets better, the arms at the top are worth less. In the past, the expert owners have been under-spending for the top arms; now it seemed like the top shelf arms would cost too much. The most likely scenario for my team was going to be a balanced pitching staff with no arm costing more than $15 and no one dollar bargain bin plays making up the back end of my staff as I have rostered in the past.

Go where the market takes me with saves
Many expert owners are doctrinaire about buying or not buying saves, but I tend to buy a closer only when the price is right. I have alternated in Tout Wars between buying two closers and none my first four years in the league. For the non-Craig Kimbrel and Kenley Jansen types, $15 is typically my stopping point. In some years, this means I can get the guys I’m targeting, but in others nearly every owner in the room insists on getting a closer, even it means paying more than what that closer is worth. I expected nearly every owner to buy a closer in Tout Wars—including Peter Kreutzer, who seldom if ever buys saves but told me before the auction that he planned to buy a closer this year. There was a good chance I wouldn’t get a closer if everyone was all in on the category, but I could live with that.

Go after "my guys"
I’m about valuation above all else, but I have found myself owning the same core of players in many of my leagues time and time again. Whether this is because I’m valuing them higher than others because of my valuation principles or because of some sort of non-analytical bias is difficult to say, but I figured there was a good chance that based on my valuations and what had been happening in my auctions/drafts thus far, I would own some of the following players:

Buy a balanced team
All of the above goals were tied into my larger, most significant goal: to attempt and purchase a balanced team. One of the most significant challenges I have had in Tout Wars every year is that while I always feel that I have come out of my auctions with a lot of value, I’m always in the position where I have deficiencies in multiple categories and have to try to trade my way into contention. This is far easier to do in a home league than in an expert redraft league, so this year I wanted to try to buy into as many categories as possible. Tossing aside one category was acceptable if it came to that; burning two or more was not.

So how did it actually play out?

I would not own a player at $30 or more
Check. David Wright at $29 was my most expensive purchase of the day, with Justin Upton ($28) right behind him.

I purchased Hamilton ($22), Wright, and Upton very early so right away I had $181 left to spend on 20 players. As I expected, Goldschmidt, McCutchen, and Votto all went for par prices ($38 apiece; Votto netted this because Tout Wars moved from BA to OBP this year). The only players I felt a slight pang of regret on at the time were Hanley Ramirez ($30) and Troy Tulowitzki ($29). Both cost $2 under my bid limit and both went to Kreutzer. If I had missed out on Wright and Upton, I probably would have pushed Ramirez and Tulo up another dollar, but since I already had a decent core I decided to wait.

I felt better about this at the end of the auction when every single middle infielder I had listed at more than $1 was purchased. Had I grabbed Hanley or Tulo, I would have been saddled with two complete scrubs and a star middle infielder with injury concerns. Getting 400-450 plate appearance from one of those studs plus two back-ups could have been the kiss of death. In retrospect, I’m glad I avoided buying Hanley or Tulo.

I would not buy an ace starting pitcher
Check. Of the nine pitchers I had valued at $19 or higher, only Matt Cain ($20) and Gio Gonzalez ($18) went one dollar under my bid limit. With so many aces going over my bid limit, I assumed that I would be able to fill out my pitching staff with bargains across the board and this is exactly how things played out. Every pitcher I purchased was a two-dollar or greater bargain based on my bid limits and I was the first one in the room to fill out my pitching staff.

Go where the market takes me with saves
One of the most shocking developments in the NL LABR auction was that four owners dumped saves while a fifth—Doug Dennis—only bought Huston Street because the closer market collapsed. Out of 15 NL closers, 10 cost $12 or less.

As noted above, I didn’t expect closers to go quite as cheaply in Tout Wars, because the closer market is usually more aggressive than it is in LABR. And sure enough, I was right. Kreutzer did buy a closer, and every owner except for Lenny Melnick did buy at least one closer, so on the whole closers were more expensive.

Table 1: NL-Only Expert League Closer Prices

Pitcher

Bid

CBS

LABR

Tout

AVG

Craig Kimbrel

24

26

22

25

24

Kenley Jansen

22

24

20

22

22

Trevor Rosenthal

20

21

16

20

19

Sergio Romo

14

17

17

15

16

Addison Reed

15

16

12

15

14

Jason Grilli

15

16

12

15

14

Jonathan Papelbon

14

16

12

14

14

Rafael Soriano

13

17

12

13

14

Steve Cishek

12

16

10

15

14

Huston Street

13

15

10

12

12

Jim Henderson

16

15

10

11

12

Bobby Parnell

13

15

7

12

11

Jose Veras

10

10

7

8

8

Latroy Hawkins

5

7

2

4

4

Totals

206

231

169

201

198

Table 1 lists all of the NL closers with the exception of Aroldis Chapman, whose price dropped considerably between LABR and Tout Wars after he was hit in the head by a line drive; including him here doesn’t help illustrate the price difference among all of the expert leagues.

It turned out that the Tout Wars closer market was more aggressive than LABR but less aggressive than CBS. In CBS, I opted out of buying a closer since every closer except for Henderson went for a par price or higher. In Tout Wars, I couldn’t pass on the cheap tandem of Henderson ($11), Veras ($8), and closer-in-waiting Rex Brothers ($6). For me, this was a best-of-both-worlds scenario. I got my guys cheaply while others paid mostly par or above par for their closers. Henderson in particular seemed to freeze the room; everyone was waiting for the next group of closers expecting bigger bargains that didn’t come.

Go after “my guys"
So what happened with the players I was “targeting”?

  • Billy Hamilton ✓
  • Chase Utley
  • Jim Henderson ✓
  • Will Venable
  • Anthony Rendon ✓
  • Andrew Cashner ✓
  • Tyson Ross ✓
  • A.J. Burnett ✓
  • Aaron Hill
  • Carlos Quentin

I bought all of my pitching “targets” and missed out on my hitting “targets” more often than not.

Buy a balanced team
So how did this all play out? Did I get the balance I wanted to or did I get saddled with a lopsided team?

Table 2: The Baseball Prospectus, NL-Only Tout Wars Team

Pos

Player

Salary

C

Wilson Ramos

15

C

Travis D’Arnaud

9

1B

Gaby Sanchez

7

2B

Anthony Rendon

17

SS

Zack Cozart

8

3B

David Wright

29

CO

Casey McGehee

3

MI

Chris Owings

7

OF

Justin Upton

28

OF

Billy Hamilton

22

OF

Matt Kemp

21

OF

Cameron Maybin

7

UT

Peter Bourjos

6

SW

Michael Morse

6

P

Andrew Cashner

15

P

Jim Henderson

11

P

Tyson Ross

11

P

A.J. Burnett

10

P

Jose Veras

8

P

Josh Johnson

7

P

Rex Brothers

6

P

Jon Niese

4

P

Archie Bradley

3

R

Maikel Franco

R

Santiago Casilla

R

John Mayberry

R

A.J. Ramos

On the whole this is a very balanced team. I have a projected starter at every offensive position once Maybin comes off of the DL. If Hamilton pans out, I have purchased way too much speed, but Bourjos, Maybin, and Owings aren’t potential zeroes in home runs either. I should get a lot of runs/RBI with this team assuming the rookies don’t wash out entirely.

The pitching staff has the balance that I wanted. The Johnson injury news was announced three hours or so after the auction, but even if Johnson misses a significant amount of time, I like my front four, and I believe Bradley will be up sooner rather than later. I was particularly pleased that I was able to add so much strikeout potential with every pick except Niese.

It is difficult to gauge your team immediately after an auction that is as fast paced as Tout Wars, but sitting back home two days later going over my results, I’m pleased that I executed most of my goals. I have more balance than I have ever had in Tout Wars and while I purchased a significant number of rookies, I have enough solid players on my team that I can even withstand one or two washouts. Even if I only hit the midpoint of my team’s ceiling, I’m in a position to contend, which is just about all anyone can ask for in an expert league of this caliber.

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

Related Content:  Fantasy,  Tout Wars,  Auctions,  NL-Only,  Expert League

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