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March 25, 2009

Prospectus Today

Tout Time

by Joe Sheehan

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This Saturday morning at 9 a.m.-and I'm already behind the eight-ball with that ridiculous start time-I'll sit with 11 of my betters around a conference table in midtown Manhattan for the next-to-last time, and try to answer an impossible question: how do you fill 60 outfield slots with 56 AL outfielders?

My sixth AL Tout Wars draft is this weekend, and I'm looking forward to just about every part of it except filling out my roster. AL Tout is simply a great time with a group of people I'm proud to call friends and colleagues. It's an honor to be included, to be able to compete with them, and if my success in the league has been limited to one runner-up finish in six seasons, well, I have a lot of memories of laughs at the draft table and dinners at Virgil's to make up for that. Throw in a round of somewhat-chilly golf Friday morning with the usual suspects and it's shaping up as a 70 weekend.

There's a twist this year, however, as the powers that be have put in what I'm lovingly referring to as "The Sheehan Rule." If over a two-year period a team doesn't accumulate at least 100 standings points, that team will be relegated to one of the non-AL leagues. Because it was the setting for Sam Walker's novel Fantasyland, AL Tout is considered the most prestigious of the three Tout circuits (the other two are mixed, and NL-only), so we all want to stay in the group. The idea is to ensure that AL Tout has the top managers, and also to encourage full participation by everyone throughout the season. In a one-year league, the motivation to improve your roster can slip once it's clear you can't win, and that can distort a league. This should keep everyone, even the worst teams, clambering for standings points deep into September.

Mercifully, the counting starts now. I finished somewhere in Bolivia last season, as a good draft was completely undone by injuries. If an above-average AL player ended up on the DL last season, I probably owned him at some point. You think I'm kidding. I actually started cursing players at midseason by trading for them and watching them go down. At one point, I tried to FAAB Kim Jong-il in the hopes of using my powers for good. I ended the year with 30 points, which is a pretty brutal number in a 5x5 circuit.

So my first goal for this year isn't to win; it's to survive. I want to pick up 55-60 points so that I don't have to sweat the 2010 campaign. To that end, I'd like to assemble a roster that includes 14 position players who actually play a few times a week, which means avoiding injuries and being right about job battles. For the latter, I'll spend the next few days exhaustively catching up on all I've missed while working on the satellite. For the former, I'm going to trust Will Carroll's Team Health Reports and blame him completely if that fails me.

The problem with AL Tout is in the numbers, and while I've made this point before, it's worth repeating. When rotisserie baseball was invented back in 1980, most rosters had 15 or 16 position players, with two or three platoons per team, and nine or ten pitchers. The 14/9 split in the game reflects that. Nowadays, most rosters have 13 players and 12 pitchers, and if you were inventing the game today, there's simply no way you'd use a 14/9 split. It's an anachronism that we're stuck with, and I'm not entirely sure why, because it badly distorts deeper leagues. There isn't enough playing time to go around. We start 156 position players in a league that will roster just 182, and we have four-man reserve lists that will consume some of that overlay. Moreover, many of those 182 slots are useless for fantasy purposes; teams have taken to using the last three to five spots on their roster as temp slots, constantly churning to patch short-term injuries, or the need for an extra arm, or to give one-week tryouts to hot Triple-A players. Some belong to backup catchers and backup infielders or Rule 5 guys who simply never play. We'll roster many of the players who run through those spots, but catching actual value from them is a rare thing.

The numbers game is why AL Tout tends to come down to injuries. There is virtually no way to overcome a series of injuries. No one has depth to deal from, and there's no talent in the free-agent pool. My best year came when I had no injuries at all. My worst came when the black plague wiped out my roster. Other years fall on the continuum between those two. This is not to say that it's all luck, because playing fantasy well is a skill, but the combination of being a one-year league and the depth issues created by its structure mean that luck is a bigger factor in a single-season, single-league format than in any other.

My solution remains the same: you can either have a 13/10 roster split, to more accurately reflect MLB, or you can have a 13/9/1 split that allows teams to choose between a hitter and a pitcher for their last spot. In either case, you have to find a way to modify the roster requirements of fantasy in deep leagues to reflect the fact that there simply aren't enough players to go around, not because fantasy is ill-designed, but because baseball has evolved.

We're not making any changes this season, so we'll all be left filling our fifth-outfielder and utility slots with guys we sure hope will play. That's a challenge, of course, and you can argue that it's a skill, but I think that the evidence is strong that 156 position-player slots are too many for an AL fantasy league, and that issue drives everything else we do.

With that in mind, this is my annual call for suggestions on players, strategies, tactics, and wiseass comments to make during the draft. I've participated in a few mock drafts, but they've been of the mixed-league variety, so part of my challenge will be to not be stunned when no one brings up Albert Pujols for a while. Beyond that, I'm just hoping to get to the table on time, get off a few good lines, and have a functioning roster on April 25. I don't ask for much.

  • I should mention that while I use BP's Player Forecast Manager because of its PECOTA projections and dynamic value generation, I'll be managing my draft with a fantastic tool produced by Rotowire that replaces my Excel spreadsheet. The software is flexible, easy to use, and provides in-module player updates pulled from the Rotowire Web site. I actually might play in more leagues this year just so I can use this toy a few more times-it's that helpful.

  • For the morbidly curious, I will also use BP's depth charts extensively during the draft, with peeks at MLB.com's for any late changes on a Saturday morning. I'll have Baseball Prospectus 2009 in front of me, as well as Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster 2009. If you make a particularly salient comment below, you might end up on speed-dial Saturday morning. I'm not proud; I'll take info from anywhere.

  • From the fantasy realm comes this bit of good news. The "Fantasy 411" guys, Mike Siano and Cory Schwartz, are taking their act to the big stage this weekend. They'll be doing a 90-minute fantasy preview on the MLB Network on Sunday at 8:30 p.m. I had mentioned a couple of weeks back about the need for "other voices" on the network, and this is a great example of MLBN finding just that. If you've never checked out their stuff online-they've been doing their show for years in various forms-this is a great opportunity to see them do their thing. They know the game, they have great chemistry, and they're pros on the stage. MLB Network has 168 hours per week to fill, and their core audience loves fantasy baseball. This is a natural fit for them, and I expect that Sunday's show will be the first of many for Mike and Cory.

  • I'm always torn as to whether I should write about particular players or a strategy that I'm thinking of employing. I'm not a fantasy expert, but we all read each other in this league, and we're all competitive guys. With the pool spread so thin, I question whether it makes sense to mention how I think Gary Matthews Jr. is primed for a comeback, or my confusion as to why no one is looking at Joel Peralta for saves in the Royals bullpen. Bobby Crosby seems primed for that MVP campaign we were looking for two years ago, and the young Rangers hitters could very well invigorate Vicente Padilla and turn him into a four-category stud.

    But really, I can't give it all away. It's too tough of a league.

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

36 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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Re: the Rotowire draft software. Does anyone know of a good draft software that you can run on a Mac? Seems all the ones I've seen are Windows-only.

Mar 25, 2009 10:27 AM
rating: 0

try WINE, VM Fusion, or other emulator???

Mar 25, 2009 13:14 PM
rating: 0

Since you have already said how much you enjoy using the software I don't think you will take my suggestion, but I would consider ditching all the bells and whistles and just going with a pen and paper approach. I have confidence that you know the value of all the players in the AL, I think the software may be a distraction. Use the force Joe!!!

Mar 25, 2009 10:40 AM
rating: 0

I agree with Joe's endorsement of the Rotowire software. Good features and easy to use.

One caveat: Make sure you set up your league's teams correctly before you start assigning players - you can lose everything if you try to change team data.

Mar 25, 2009 10:52 AM
rating: -1


Wilson Betemit.......just one of the aging Sox sluggers needs to go down for this guy to get everday work........and as much as that makes my stomach hurt as a White Sox fan, as an AL Only fantasy owner, I have my eyes on him

Mar 25, 2009 10:55 AM
rating: -1

Thanks for the discussion of why switching to a 13/10 split is a good idea, Joe. I tried to talk my fellow moguls into it this winter and got nowhere. I hope some of them read this. Our league is an NL-only league, so our draft situation isn't quite as dire. But we still play Ultra (40-man rosters), so the FA pool in-season is pathetic.

Mar 25, 2009 10:56 AM
rating: -1

Always try to take one or two guys who have eligibility at multiple positions - Brandon Inge may not be sexy, but he is extremely useful in a deep league.

Mar 25, 2009 12:30 PM
rating: -1

I actually like the 13/10 or 13/9/1 as well - hopefully we can get some traction on that issue for next year.

Oh, and Joe - shortstop is scarce this year. You should consider Adam Everett. And I hear Dontrelle Willis has learned a cutter....

Mar 25, 2009 12:30 PM
rating: 2

Bah to this notion the AL is superior to the NL :) Competition is fierce in the NL!

The rule actualy is - Any owner who finishes with fewer than 100 standings points during the preceding two years (105 in NL-only) will be “designated for assignment.” AL-only and NL-only owners will be moved to the Mixed league.

Mar 25, 2009 12:34 PM
rating: -1

I haven't done many NL-AL only leagues. However, I have play in a multitude of 28 and 30 team mixed leagues. The same depth issues apply. The one difference, and disadvantage for this strategy is the smaller overall player pool.

I tend to buy as many high K RP as i can start given the roster requirements (usually about half closers). you can usually spend a $1 or $2 on a RP (non-closer). They provide usually a few wins since they pitch late innings,a handful of saves,60+K's,and a better ERA and whip than most elite SP. compare that to 10-ish wins and 100K's from your average starter (who also cost significantly more). Then i buy usually about 5 high K cheap breakout candidates at SP with no regard for their ERA and WHIP (and in a way IP).

It allows me to dedicate less $$ to pitching and typically finish in the top 80-90% in ERA, Saves, and WHIP. Therefore better than league average without any points in K or wins.

Obviously the idea is to spend more on hitters while still maintaining decent pitching. Daily roster changes are ideal though not neccessary.

Oh and buy Ronnie Cedeno for you bench assuming he has dual eligibility.

Mar 25, 2009 12:47 PM
rating: -1

So, I guess you'll all be gunning for Cody Ransom!

Mar 25, 2009 12:47 PM
rating: -1

Nominate players with their actual name, not nicknames. Some people may not know Coco Crisp is actually Covelli. ;-)
Grab those depth-chart buried players for $1. If they get traded somewhere else in the AL, the may get 300 more at bats than they're currently projected for.

Mar 25, 2009 12:53 PM
rating: -1

What are the pro's & con's of have a 2-year-point cutoff for the reassignment versus just stating that the lowest one or 2 teams will be "relagated"?

Or has the point-bar been set low enough that it's possible that no teams get banished?

I've always been intrigued by the "relagation" aspect of the Engligh soccer leagues ... and so I like the concept applied to roto ... and sometimes wish it could be applied to MLB ...

Mar 25, 2009 13:02 PM
rating: 0

I read about this on another site too and I think its more in line with your 2nd point. Its set at 2 years in case someone just has a bad luck year. And its not that they want to boot anyone, they just want to ensure everyone is competing all year. So its fairly low, but not low enough where you can just mail it in year after year.

Mar 25, 2009 18:34 PM
rating: 0

If your actual goal is not to win, but only accumulate 55 or 60 points, you should be able to do that by going pitching early, perhaps with as many as the top 10 picks or so, and then focusing exclusively on steals for the rest of the draft. This should net you at or very near the top in all five pitching categories, as well as grabbing some points from steals and probably average too. That should easily get you to your 55 point goal.

Mar 25, 2009 13:33 PM
rating: -1

H, is that you?

We have a player in our league (which is of similar depth to AL Tout; 14 players and 19 teams mixed AL/NL) who consistently executes this strategy and I can attest that it is a sure-fire winner for 4th place. You cannot win the league this way, but you also can't lose.

What you do is buy the top 4 starters, two good closers, and the best overall basestealer. That's ~$220. You then fill in every remaining hitting spot with the best part-time AVG/SB guys, and every remaining pitching spot with the best available relievers.

If you get very, very lucky, you can actually re-tool mid-season and go for real offense points. But typically you finish dead last in all the counting categories except steals.

And it really throws everyone else in the league for quite a loop.

Mar 25, 2009 14:39 PM
rating: 1
T. Kiefer

I agree with whipsaw. In an AL-only league where I was just looking to survive relegation I would be so tempted to take Sabathia as my first pick, and a top closer by round 5. If I were looking to win, I still would be tempted by that strategy.
By the way, a similar thing happened to me and my fantasy team vis-a-vis injuries (mental or physical) last year. That's the reason why the Tigers ended up in last place in the AL central last year --I seemed to curse any Tiger player I touched.

Mar 25, 2009 14:51 PM
rating: -1

As for a strategy that I actually use, punt batting average. Too many good counting stat hitters slide only because they don't put up a .270 or better average. Run the PFM with batting average removed as a category (maybe select ABs instead to keep 5x5) and you can focus on taking the three solid pitchers, two good closers, and guys that are batting average drains.
Maybe it's an NL-only strategy since the target guys I can think of (Dunn, Dukes, Chris Young, Weeks) are all NL players.
Oh, and definitely get Wieters. The uncertainty around his promotion date should reduce his price to a reasonable amount, and handcuff him with Zaun, then take a reserve pick flyer on Max Ramirez for if he's traded.

Mar 25, 2009 15:12 PM
rating: 0

Jack Cust... come on down! :)

Mar 25, 2009 18:37 PM
rating: 0

I'm trying to think what kind of advice I can offer that gets me on joe sheehan's speed dial. Joe, if you're looking for valuations on 20th century Chinese political leaders, message me. Yuan shikai has been going way under value.

Mar 25, 2009 15:49 PM
rating: 2

Chris Davis may be a tad underrated by BP. I have no idea what the Shandler book thinks of him.

Definitely stick to the more consistent categories. I usually toss a category like saves or RBIs out the window and just go for the majority of the stats I think will be most consistent. If 7 out of 10 stats are filled with studs then that is still the majority of the stats.

I am no Tout genius but I did read Walker's book and I'd give him beef for staging an ineffectual boycott. Maybe He'll draft Chacon and subsequently get him a job with the Orioles (if he is still unsigned).

Nate Silver used Draft Analyzer one year for football. May want to contact him to see if he knows if the Baseball is any good. I think it gives percentages on which guys could potentially fall back to you in a straight draft scenario based on each team's rosters.

I think I often fail to take the top guy on my list in different sections of my draft assuming he'd fall to me one more round. Most of the time they get drafted right before that one more round has come back to me! Do what you must.

Mar 25, 2009 15:58 PM
rating: -1
Kyle E.

Shandler thinks he's going to hit for a decent average. Davis had a .351 BABIP last season when he hit .285 in roughly half an MLB season. I think PECOTA is right and Shandler is wrong.

Mar 25, 2009 23:28 PM
rating: 0

Chris Davis' batting average is irrelevant. In Vegas, he is currently 30-1 to lead the majors in homers. As a point of reference, Manny is 40-1, Utley 75-1, David Wright 100-1. His over/under is 27.5. Vegas is generally pretty close on these things.

Mar 26, 2009 10:03 AM
rating: 1
Morris Greenberg
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As a Giants fan, there are so many spots up for grabs that even though many borderline hitters for their team are very mediocre, they will be more useful than many other backups in baseball. Definitely consider trying to get Nate Schierholtz if you are in need for a final outfielder. He has an okay chance with legitimate playing oppurtunities for a backup.

Mar 25, 2009 17:46 PM
rating: -9

I'm a Giants fan too, but I doubt that Nate Schierholtz has much chance of recouping much value in an AL-only league.

Mar 25, 2009 22:49 PM
rating: 1
Richard Bergstrom

Focus on middle relievers on teams with unsettled pitching staffs like the Blue Jays, Nationals, Cardinals and the like. Though it would be nice if one of them turns into a closer, there's also a chance one of them turns into a starter, giving you a starter's counting stats for Ks and additional trade value. If not, WHIP and ERA for relievers tend to be lower than starters so that should help your overall staff numbers.

Get positional flexibility. There are a lot of catchers who have or could be eligible for a second position this season. These can be used to trade for what you need and you tend to get more value from the other owner since owners hate having a position rack up 0s.

I try to avoid grabbing aces, but whipsaw's philosophy seems sound for doing well without going for the win.

Mar 25, 2009 18:08 PM
rating: -1

David Purcey is having a great spring and is a gigantic left-hander...

Mark Teahen is hitting .514 with 5 homers this spring! he'll be 2b-eligible soon as well if he gets the job (his competition is willie bloomquist). I got to see him play a couple games down in arizona and he looks comfortable turning the double play. he went for just $3 in LABR...

Mar 25, 2009 19:31 PM
rating: 0
Kyle E.

Late fliers on busts. Morales, Anthony Reyes, etc...

Mar 25, 2009 23:30 PM
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K. Morales has cut his K/rate in both winter ball and spring training. He could surprise.

Mar 26, 2009 02:18 AM
rating: 0

This may be oversimplifying things but if there is a dearth of talent amongst hitters then buy the hitters and fill in with the pitchers. Dont pay top dollar for the best hitters. Fill roster with second tier hitters, buy two second tier SP and punt saves. We all know that pitchers are the least dependable to spend money on and they come out of nowhere during the season (A Galarragga, B Ziegler, etc)and are available. After positioning yourself near the top of the offensive categories due to your strategy, you can then move some hitting for pitching mid year or late in the season.

Mar 26, 2009 05:52 AM
rating: 0

Joe, you've got the best resources available, so trust your valuations. While you should have a plan going in, stay flexible if you see opportunities. It's inefficient to overbid in order to stick to your plan. E.g. if you plan to go after certain big hitters, but the prices are high and you find ace pitchers are not being bid up, don't be afraid to change course.

Mar 26, 2009 08:06 AM
rating: 1

I hear the Orioles have a young kid that might be a pretty good catcher.

Mar 26, 2009 10:55 AM
rating: 0

I think Mark Teahan might be a steal and he might be eligible at 4 positions if he plays 2nd base this year. Him and Brett Gardner are my AL only sleeper picks. Feel free to use them and thank me when they do well for you.

Mar 26, 2009 11:26 AM
rating: 0

Joe - from what you say ...multi position eligibility will help gain valuable AB's

Aside from a couple mentioned in here already - Asdrubal Cabrera hit more than .300 his last 170 AB's last season, is a 10/10 guy with SS/2B eligibility

Gabe Kaplar may luck into 300 PA's as the .850 OPS vs.lefties half of a platoon and centerfield backup

Dan Bard could end up as the set-up man in Texas if the Sox pry Salty

A's starting pitchers should be generally very good values, their outfield, sans Holiday, is so unsettled that Aaron Cunningham will get a solid shot at some point...especially if Holiday is dealt

I have a friend inside with Cleveland who tells me that Shin-Soo Choo will hit 25-35 homers this season

Avoid the veteran Yankees unless ARod goes for less than $21- but there is a scenario where young Yankees pitcher David Robertson gets alot of high leverage innings -and will excel according to Pecota

Speaking of Pecota, John Lester's prediction has been hampered by his pitching while in cancer treatment stats...throw out Pecota -he is Boston's best pitcher

same goes for Seattle's Ceasar Jiminez

Remember that good health is a skill

Good luck!

Mar 26, 2009 15:47 PM
rating: 0

If you go with whipsaw's strategy and draft pitching early and expensive, I'd go for pure upside on the offense. Travis Snider? Wieters? LaPorta? so on

Mar 26, 2009 17:29 PM
rating: 0

Players with multi-positional eligibility go up in value, and I would overpay for alexei and derosa. I would get as many of these types as possible.

I would overpay for Miggy. His only weakness is being fat, which prevents him from running and injuring himself. I think people still don't realize how good this kid is.

Baker is going to go for more than he's worth. A lot of experts seem to love him.

Decide on a dollar value for Arod before the draft. You don't want to panic bid.

get the oakland pitching prospects.

Don't price enforce late in the draft unless you are prepared to be stuck with the player.

Everyone knows you love david price, so have a max dollar figure before the draft.

Pass on C.C. Few west coast dudes thrive in NY. Plus the abuse. Plus the New York factor in general. Plus the need to live up to that contract in this economy.

Buy Greinke. His only weakness is social anxiety disorder and having a lefty brain trapped in a righty body. Plus he's an artist.

Mar 26, 2009 20:59 PM
rating: 0
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