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Tout Wars Recap – General Impressions

On Tuesday, I wrote about how I did in my NL-only Tout Wars auction. Today, I will take a broader look at what happened in the mono leagues.

The goal of this article is not to delve into individual team strategies or examine every purchase in depth. This is difficult to do, particularly since the timing of when a player comes up at auction can skew his value. Still, it is worth noting a few trends in the hopes that it can help you with your auctions.

Tout Wars is the third and final major expert-league auction. It is preceded by LABR in early March and CBS in late February. I wrote about LABR’s auctions earlier this spring and identified a few possible auction trends. If those trends held in Tout Wars, it’s likely that you may see similar results in your home league auctions this coming weekend.

American League
For years, I have noted that AL Tout Wars hews very closely to AL LABR, which makes the action in the AL somewhat predictable. This year was no exception. AL LABR’s dollar distribution was mostly unchanged from 2016. The league spent $2,140 on hitters in 2017 after spending $2,145 in 2016. AL Tout Wars spent $2,185 on hitters after spending $2,190 on hitters in 2016. A $45 difference between LABR and Tout Wars on the entire hitting pool does not sound like much, but it comes out to almost four dollars per team. Where is Tout Wars spending their extra hitting money?

Table 1: Hitter Dollar Distribution, AL LABR versus AL Tout, 2017

Group

LABR Cost

Tout Cost

Tout +

1-12

$416

$422

+6

13-24

$310

$315

+5

25-37

$262

$272

+10

36-48

$227

$240

+13

49-60

$203

$208

+5

61-72

$178

$185

+7

73-84

$142

$150

+8

85-96

$119

$127

+8

97-108

$96

$103

+7

109-120

$76

$70

-6

121-132

$53

$45

-8

133-144

$30

$25

-5

145-156

$16

$12

-4

157-168

$12

$11

-1

Totals

$2,140

$2,185

+45

Tout Wars was slightly more aggressive on the top hitters, but most if not all of this is explained away by Tout Wars’ OBP format. The best 12 AL hitters earned $408 in OBP formats in 2016 compared to $391 in AVG formats. This redistribution isn’t linear, since both player pools must earn the same amount of auction money in a hypothetical 12-team AL-only league. Additionally, the OBP price difference doesn’t completely explain why the top 100 hitters were more expensive in Tout. There were more Stars and Scrubs offenses in Tout than in LABR this year. If your league has multiple teams that follow a Stars and Scrubs strategy, Tout is a better league to review prior to your auction.

Table 2: Biggest Hitter Price Differences, AL Tout Wars More Than AL LABR

Hitter

LABR

Tout

Diff

2016 $ AVG

2016 $ OBP

Jurickson Profar

2

11

9

$4

$5

Joe Mauer

4

12

8

$11

$16

Steve Pearce

3

11

8

$9

$11

Carlos Santana

19

26

7

$21

$27

Josh Donaldson

31

38

7

$29

$37

Byung ho Park

6

6

$3

$4

Derek Norris

6

6

$5

$5

Russell Martin

11

17

6

$11

$15

Seth Smith

5

11

6

$11

$14

Shin-Soo Choo

10

16

6

$6

$8

Four of the 10 hitters on Table 2 had the greatest positive differential between OBP and AVG in 2016, so it is not a surprise that the Tout Wars experts paid extra for – in descending order – Donaldson (2nd highest differential), Santana (5th), Mauer (7th), and Martin (8th). Using 2016 OBP values, Mauer goes from being a third corner infielder to a bona fide back end first baseman while Martin jumps to second overall in a weak AL catcher class, behind everyone except Evan Gattis. The experts couldn’t bring themselves to pay the full freight for Mike Trout (earned $50 in 2016 OBP, cost $47 in Tout), but otherwise there was a strong corollary between OBP earnings and salary increases in Tout.

Norris was not available in LABR three weeks ago, while Park was in no man’s land on the Twins’ depth chart. The price bumps for Choo and Smith make sense, although I am a little wary of paying par for outfielders given the outfield depth in the AL. As was the case in CBS and LABR, there were several bargains on mid-tier and back end outfielders.

Not much had changed in the AL between the time LABR auctioned and the time Tout Wars auctioned, so I was somewhat surprised to see more than a few price fluctuations on the best AL starting pitchers. The Tout experts were slightly more conservative than the LABR crowd at the very top of the pitching pool but did spend aggressively on two top AL starters.

Table 3: Ten Most Expensive AL Starting Pitchers, Tout Wars

Pitcher

LABR

Tout

Diff

Corey Kluber

29

29

0

Yu Darvish

30

28

-2

Chris Sale

30

27

-3

Justin Verlander

24

24

0

Masahiro Tanaka

17

23

6

Chris Archer

25

22

-3

Danny Duffy

17

22

5

Carlos Carrasco

22

20

-2

Jose Quintana

19

17

-2

Rick Porcello

17

17

0

I was on my way up to Manhattan when AL Tout started so I cannot tell you what the auction dynamic was like during the Duffy and Tanaka bidding, but they cost a combined $11 more than they did in LABR. Prices tend to fluctuate more with pitchers in auctions than they do with hitters, so a two or three-dollar difference on a pitcher isn’t surprising. Except for Cole Hamels ($21 in LABR, $16 in Tout), the $14-16 arms in Tout were virtually identical to the $14-16 arms in LABR. The bargains came late, as more than a few teams devised a strategy like my NL Tout pitching strategy and spent next to nothing on low end arms. If you see teams refusing to spend on pitching late in your home league, it pays to slow down and attempt to capitalize a little later.

Instead of pushing for starters, the expert market went for relievers.

Table 4: AL Expert Closer Prices 2017

Pitcher

CBS

LABR

Tout Wars

Aroldis Chapman

25

23

25

Zach Britton

26

21

22

Edwin Diaz

21

19

20

Roberto Osuna

23

17

19

Cody Allen

21

15

18

Craig Kimbrel

29

17

18

Kelvin Herrera

20

17

18

Ken Giles

23

18

18

Alex Colome

25

14

16

David Robertson

16

14

16

Francisco Rodriguez

18

13

14

Cam Bedrosian

11

8

11

Sam Dyson

17

12

11

Ryan Madson

14

5

9

Brandon Kintzler

13

4

7

Total

302

217

242

The increased closer prices were mostly incremental. Twenty-five dollars feels like a lot to pay for any closer in a 5×5, but given Chapman’s real life contract and his dominant arsenal, I could see why a fantasy manager would pony up the dough. Bedrosian, Madson, and Kintzler all must have felt like steadier options to their fantasy managers than they did in early March at LABR. A $25 jump in closer prices doesn’t seem like much when spread across 15 closers, but when you consider the fact that Tout spent $41 fewer on pitching than LABR did, the spike in closer pricing is somewhat more dramatic.

The biggest takeaway from 2017 AL Tout is that there were more teams pushing a Stars and Scrubs approach than in the past. This makes more sense as a strategy in the NL, where the hitting pool is weaker and there is no DH. Because I was traveling last Saturday, I had the same bird’s eye view that many of you did at home. I did not do a shadow auction for Tout, but if I had it would have involved landing Chris Sale as an anchor pitcher, which would have led to a much different squad than what I wound up assembling in LABR.

National League
In 2016, the NL experts pushed hard on the top hitters. Bryce Harper ($45) and Paul Goldschmidt ($43) each cost more than $40 and six other hitters cost $35 or more. This near, no NL hitter cost more than $40, yet somehow the experts in Tout were spent more than the experts in LABR did on the top 12 hitters.

Table 5: Hitter Dollar Distribution, NL LABR versus NL Tout, 2017

Group

LABR Cost

Tout Cost

Tout +

1-12

393

414

21

13-24

323

322

-1

25-37

280

280

0

36-48

244

241

-3

49-60

215

209

-6

61-72

178

180

2

73-84

157

157

0

85-96

133

121

-12

97-108

111

97

-14

109-120

79

72

-7

121-132

44

46

2

133-144

36

29

-7

145-156

19

16

-3

157-168

12

9

-3

Totals

2224

2193

-31

Tout Wars NL historically spends more on the top hitters than LABR NL does. But Tout was more aggressive than usual on the non-elite hitters, which led to a mere $31 price difference between LABR and Tout.

In 2016, LABR spent $64 more on hitting than Tout Wars did. In 2015, that gap was $79. Tout Wars had always been reluctant to cross the 70 percent barrier for its overall hitting budget, but in 2017 they crossed that barrier with a gusto. This happened even though the first few big-name hitters purchased in Tout cost almost the same as they did in LABR. Even Harper’s OBP adjustment wasn’t nearly as big this year as it was in the past.

It wasn’t until the fourth round when non-buyers’ remorse set in and a few players went for far more than they did in LABR. Freddie Freeman ($39 in Tout, $29 in LABR), Brandon Belt ($26, $22), and Will Myers ($31, $27) cost at least four dollars more than they did in LABR, and even with the OBP bump all three prices seemed somewhat extreme. Six first basemen at Tout cost $25 or more. Only outfield had more $25+ players (with 12).

Table 7: Biggest 2017 Hitter Differentials, Tout and LABR

Hitter

LABR

Tout

Diff

2016 $ AVG

2016 $ OBP

Joey Votto

29

40

11

$32

$39

Freddie Freeman

29

39

10

$30

$34

Yasmani Grandal

13

19

6

$12

$16

Domingo Santana

13

18

5

$8

$9

Albert Almora

2

6

4

$3

$2

Brandon Belt

22

26

4

$17

$24

Bryce Harper

35

39

4

$22

$30

Curtis Granderson

13

17

4

$15

$19

Derek Dietrich

4

4

$9

$12

Howie Kendrick

10

14

4

$12

$12

Jake Lamb

18

22

4

$19

$21

Wil Myers

27

31

4

$29

$30

The NL experts did not alter their prices for OBP nearly as much as the AL experts did. Paul Goldschmidt earned seven dollars more in OBP formats than he did in AVG leagues, yet the NL experts only spent two dollars more on Goldy than he cost in LABR. There were a few buys driven in Tout Wars by the OBP differential who do not appear on this table, most notably Dexter Fowler ($20), Matt Carpenter ($27), and Joc Pederson ($22).

Many of the price differentials are explained away not by OBP but by auction dynamics. Freeman was the last big time first baseman on the board. Yes, he is better in OBP leagues, but he is not $10 better. Almora’s strong spring pushed his price up somewhat, while Kendrick and Lamb were price battles based on the needs of two or more fantasy teams at the time Kendrick and Lamb were nominated.

In 2016, I was the last expert to purchase a player and did not spend more than $18 on a single player. This year, I took the plunge early, grabbing seven players for a combined $143 after 46 players were nominated by the entire league. I avoided more than a few ugly fights in the $10-20 range and while there were a couple of players I wanted who I couldn’t get because I was out of money, I do not have any regrets.

Eighteen hitters cost between $25-30, including the three hitters – Starling Marte ($30), Ryan Braun ($26), and Daniel Murphy ($25) – who comprise the core of my team. In years past, this is where some of the “stretch” spending came in Tout. This was not the case in 2017. The Tout experts spent three dollars fewer on the same bucket of $25-30 players than LABR. NL Tout Wars doesn’t follow LABR nearly as closely as AL Tout follows AL LABR, but in 2017 the two NL-only leagues were much closer to each other on price than usual. This sounds appropriate, but when you consider that OBP pricing typically elevates the top hitters and flattens out the middle and the bottom of the player pool, the winners this year might be the teams that spent big on Goldschmidt or Harper.

Unlike in the AL, the NL experts paid big for their aces.

Table 8: Eleven Most Expensive NL Starting Pitchers, Tout Wars

Pitcher

LABR

Tout

Diff

Clayton Kershaw

44

45

1

Madison Bumgarner

30

29

-1

Max Scherzer

28

29

1

Carlos Martinez

24

26

2

Noah Syndergaard

31

26

-5

Johnny Cueto

22

23

1

Jacob deGrom

20

23

-3

Jon Lester

24

23

-1

Jake Arrieta

23

22

-1

Gerrit Cole

18

22

4

Stephen Strasburg

23

22

-1

Twelve starting pitchers cost $20 or more in Tout, for a total of $310, or 34 percent of what was spent on the pitching pool. This is relatively consistent with what the LABR experts spent, even if there were some differences of opinion on Syndergaard, deGrom, and Cole. If you want to get cute in the AL and spend less than $20 on your top pitcher, there is some wiggle room. But in the NL expert leagues, it is best that you either budget $20 or more for your top pitcher or commit to a strategy where you do not have an ace before you even walk into your auction. Other experts may not adhere as closely to pricing theory as I do, but they are aware that the aces in NL-only generally earn more and have higher ceilings than the ones in AL-only. The back-end options in NL leagues are soft, which elevates the earnings of the top tier arms.

The closer market in the NL is an absolute mess.

Table 9: NL Expert Closer Prices 2017

Pitcher

CBS

LABR

Tout Wars

Kenley Jansen

25

22

22

Seung hwan Oh

24

16

21

Mark Melancon

24

17

20

Wade Davis

21

15

17

A.J. Ramos

16

11

13

Jeurys Familia

18

11

11

Tony Watson

17

11

10

Brandon Maurer

13

7

9

Jim Johnson

11

9

9

Neftali Feliz

15

8

9

Raisel Iglesias

14

10

9

Fernando Rodney

10

5

8

Shawn Kelley

15

10

7

Greg Holland*

13

7

6

Jeanmar Gomez

8

2

5

Total

244

161

176

*Adam Ottavino in CBS and LABR

In 2016, I spent $43 on three closers because my prices, while sensible, were not properly adjusted for the conservative expert market on relievers. This year, I budgeted $180 for closers in my Tout Wars bid limits, assuming the same $20 bump from LABR to Tout, and an average of $15 per team at auction. It turns out that the Tout Wars crowd couldn’t commit to an average of $12 per pitcher for the closer pool. After the top four stoppers went off the board, there were all sorts of questions, ranging from trade risk (Ramos), a potential suspension (Familia), and performance or job security starting with Watson and going all the way down to Gomez. Three fantasy teams dumped the category, and in retrospect I cannot say I blame them. There is as much uncertainty at the back end of NL bullpens as there has been in several years.

The NL is thinner than the AL on both the hitting side and the pitching side. There were different auction philosophies at work as a result, and plenty of strategic purchasing. Three teams used the Tout “swingman” slot for a pitcher, conceding how weak the back-end hitting options are in NL-only. Ensuring enough value on both offense and pitching is even tougher to do in the NL than it is in the AL, and while I usually don’t recommend category optimization in a redraft, this year it is at least worth considering depending on your league and your opponents’ strengths and weaknesses.