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Depending on how long you have been a Baseball Prospectus subscriber, welcome or welcome back to the Expert FAAB Review. Every week, I’m going to take a look at the players and the process behind the expert bidding in LABR mixed, Tout Wars NL, and Tout Wars AL. Bret Sayre and I participate in LABR mixed while I have a team in Tout Wars NL, so I will provide insights behind the reasoning on some the bids. Budgets in all three leagues start at $100 at the beginning of the season.

Tout Wars uses a Vickrey Auction system. A basic description of the Vickrey bidding system can be found here.

Random Quote of the Week: “Bananas in pajamas are coming down the stairs. Bananas in pajamas are coming down in pairs.” –Carey Blyton

LABR Mixed

Josh Tomlin $3. Player released: Drew Storen.
Tom Wilhelmsen $3. Player released: Cole Gillespie.
Mark Canha $1. Player released: Nick Swisher.
Bartolo Colon $1. Player released: Cory Spangenberg.
Ketel Marte $1. Player released: Dan Haren.

It is September 1st (assuming you are reading this the day it was published), so it is safe to say we have reached the home stretch. In real baseball, this means counting down magic numbers, mulling over postseason roster decisions, and the appalling practice of awards chatter on social media. In fantasy baseball, the homestretch is generally represented by free agent pick-ups slowing down to a trickle, especially in redraft leagues like all of the expert leagues featured in this column. Next week should see a little more movement as most of the September roster expansion should be complete, but in mixed leagues most of these call ups are not the kind of players who will provide much of an impact.

Another factor that can determine how active or passive a league will be down the stretch is how close the standings are. With five weeks to go, this is what the picture looks like at the top in LABR Mixed:

Table 1: LABR Mixed 2015 Top Five, Through Games of Sunday, August 30th

Team

R

HR

RBI

SB

AVG

W

ERA

SV

K

WHIP

Total

Baseball Prospectus

15

15

13

13

6

14.5

15

9

12

15

127.5

MLB.com

14

12.5

15

14.5

10

13

4

10

13

12

118.0

USA Today Sports

11

9

8

12

11

10

7

7

15

10

100.0

Razzball

10

4

12

6

9

7.5

9

13

14

11

95.5

FNTSY

5.5

14

11

7

15

7.5

10

4

2

13

89.0

I only listed the top five teams because in leagues with cash prizes these are the teams that would most likely win money. We only play for pride and honor in the expert leagues, but in terms of success or failure, I’m still wedded to this old school idea of teams “cashing out” at the end of the season.

Barring some kind of miracle finish, it looks like LABR is going to play out as a two-team race between my/Bret Sayre’s Baseball Prospectus entry and Fred Zinkie’s team (MLB.com). Zinkie hasn’t been in first place at the end of any standings period this season, but he also has been at 95 points or higher since Week 7 and after dipping down to 97 points at the end of Week 17 Zinkie has been climbing rapidly toward our BP squad.

If Zinkie makes me nervous, it is because he still has some ground to gain while our team is near its ceiling, and could lose some points in saves if Carson Smith truly is done as closer for the Mariners in 2015. Zinkie’s moves above are going to be among the last free agent pickups he is able to make this season, as he only has three dollars of FAAB remaining for 2015. His offense is very good, and it isn’t difficult to see him grabbing another point and a half in home runs and breaking the tie with Mike Podhorzer of Fangraphs in steals with Billy Hamilton on the shelf. Two batting average points are also realistically attainable for Zinkie. If he maximizes his realistic offensive gains, that would leave Zinkie with 122 points. The good news for our Baseball Prospectus team on offense is that our runs and home-runs leads look to be fairly safe from Zinkie catching us.

This leaves Zinkie needing another 5.5 points to tie our team. He certainly could pick those points up on the pitching side, but the strength of his offense has come at the cost of his pitching. Chris Sale is a great foundation, but after that Zinkie’s rotation is Jake Odorizzi, Chris Bassitt, Kris Medlen, and Colon. That certainly could work out for Zinkie, but it is a high-end risk/reward strategy that could also leave him losing points on the pitching side. Since he isn’t the frontrunner, Zinkie doesn’t have the luxury of leaving some of those pitchers out to protect his ratios while he hopes that wins work out for the best. Realistically, Zinkie needs to flip the wins point with our team to have a realistic chance of taking the overall lead for the first time this season.

As I have noted before in this space, we have been out of FAAB for some time now, so the roster we have is the roster we will do battle with in LABR barring a trade at the 11th hour. We picked up Joe Kelly weeks ago, held our noses after he had a terrible week on our active roster, and then stashed him on reserve. Kelly is surging of late, so we will use him this week for a wins play at home against the Phillies. With Smith done, it’s likely that we use two of Kelly, Anthony DeSclafani, and Jered Weaver on our active roster in an attempt to try and grab wins and hold off the teams below us. We have the ERA/WHIP cushion to make this play, and hopefully Kelly and DeSclafani will also provide enough strikeouts to possibly push us ahead of Zinkie and swing a point the other way.

I feel good about our chances, but LABR doesn’t look like the near-lock it did a few weeks ago. Zinkie has rallied and certainly has a chance to pass us if things go his way. One drawback to the large gap between Zinkie and the rest of the league is that he might be able to use his last three dollars in FAAB on three players with uncontested bids. Hopefully this isn’t the case, but it is something to be mindful of as the September call-ups will be available on the wire next Sunday.

Tout Wars NL

Michael Lorenzen $1 ($12). Player reserved: Jordy Mercer.
Dustin Garneau $1 ($9). Player reserved: Mike McKenry.
Fernando Rodney $1 ($9). Player reserved: Yimi Garcia.
Logan Verrett $1 ($7). Player reserved: Matt Cain.
Jhoulys Chacin $1 ($6). Player reserved: Daniel Hudson.
Sean Gilmartin $1 ($5). Player reserved: Jorge De La Rosa.
Jonny Gomes $1 ($3). Player reserved: Jose Peraza.
Chris Stewart $1 ($3). Player released: Ryan Lavarnway.
Elian Herrera $1 ($3).
Other bid: $0. Player reserved: Yasiel Puig.
Robert Stephenson $1. Player reserved: Steve Cishek.
Chris Narveson $1. Player reserved: Pedro Strop.
Mike Foltynewicz $0. Player reserved: Ryan Vogelsong.
Kyle Barraclough $0. Player reserved: Antonio Bastardo.
Kevin Quackenbush $0. Player reserved: Clayton Richard.
Matt McBride $0. Player reserved: John Mayberry Jr.
Tommy LaStella $0. Player reserved: Kevin Plawecki.

As was the case in LABR mixed, it was a relatively quiet week in NL Tout Wars, even though there were a lot more individual moves. Phil Hertz’s (Baseball HQ) shift from his Post All-Star relief strategy of years past stands out, as he grabbed Lorenzen, Narveson, and Chacin in an effort to stay ahead of me and Tristan Cockcroft of ESPN in wins. It makes sense for Hertz to shift away from his strategy of prior seasons, as he doesn’t have the opportunity to jump up in ERA/WHIP with quality relief innings as he has in years past. Derek Carty’s (ESPN) pick-up of Foltynewicz makes me nervous; Carty is way ahead of Cockcroft and me in wins, but he could lose an ERA point and a WHIP point to Cockcroft, which wouldn’t do me any favors.

I picked up Gilmartin for De La Rosa to protect my rate stats. I need wins, but De La Rosa in Colorado against the Giants didn’t seem like the right play this week.

Entering last night’s action, here is the big picture in NL Tout Wars.

Table 2: Tout Wars NL Only 2015 Top Four, Through Games of Sunday, August 30

Team

R

HR

RBI

SB

OBP

W

SV

ERA

WHIP

K

Total

Mike Gianella (Baseball Prospectus)

11.5

12

12

7

9

7

7

7

9

9

90.5

Tristan Cockcroft (ESPN)

7

11

11

2.5

4

6

11

9

10

10

81.5

Derek Carty (ESPN)

2

2.5

1

11

10

12

1

11

11

12

73.5

Phil Hertz (Baseball HQ)

11.5

7

3

10

8

8.5

2.5

10

5

6

71.5

Ray Guilfoyle of Fake Teams (71.5 points) and Lenny Melnick of RotoExperts (71) are also close to third, but as is the case in LABR Mixed, this looks like a two-team race for first barring a miracle finish by one of the teams below Cockcroft.

Cockcroft entered last week two points behind me (90-88) and for a brief moment at the beginning of the week was one point behind, 90-89. Then the wheels came off, and everything that could have gone wrong for Cockcroft went wrong. He lost 1.5 points in wins, and his rotation of Max Scherzer, Johnny Cueto, Robbie Ray, Jimmy Nelson, Matt Wisler, Anthony DeSclafani, and Charlie Morton failed to pick up even one win for the week. I managed to pass him in wins, which is a two-point swing in the wrong direction that Cockcroft cannot afford. To win the league for the fourth year in a row, Cockcroft needs to maximize his wins points and probably take a point from me somewhere else. Homeruns is Cockcroft’s best bet; he is 15 behind me. This sounds like a lot, but works out to an average of three homeruns a week, which certainly is possible even if it isn’t probable. The other avenue for Cockcroft to jump up is in stolen bases, where he is six steals away from scooping up 3.5 points. The problem here is that his team has been moving in the wrong direction for weeks, and with Denard Span out for the season, a potential resource in this category is gone.

While the overall point shift looks great for me, my team has been anything but a juggernaut the last few weeks. From August 1 through August 30th, my team has only been the fourth best team in Tout Wars. If Tout Wars NL scored monthly the way Tout Wars X does, I would have had 66 points in the month of August. If there is a reason I’m still on top, it’s because none of my competitors had a big month either.

Table 3: Tout Wars NL, August 1-30

Team

R

HR

RBI

SB

OBP

W

SV

ERA

WHIP

K

Total

Scott Wilderman (On Roto)

9

12

12

9

12

6

12

9

11

5

97

Phil Hertz (Baseball HQ)

11

9.5

9

5.5

10

5

2

8

10

7

77

Tristan Cockcroft (ESPN)

12

11

11

2

6

2

10

3

3

10

70

Mike Gianella (Baseball Prospectus)

10

9.5

10

3.5

5

4

8

4

4

8

66

Derek Carty (ESPN)

2

1

1

7

9

12

2

11

9

11

65

Todd Zola (Mastersball)

4.5

8

7

10

3

7.5

10

7

5

3

65

Ray Guilfoyle (Fake Teams)

6

6.5

6

8

1

3

10

10

12

1.5

64

Brian Walton (Mastersball)

7

5

5

3.5

8

10.5

4

5

6

9

63

Steve Gardner (USA Today)

3

4

8

11

2

9

6

6

8

6

63

Gene McCaffrey (Wise Guy Baseball)

1

2.5

3

1

7

10.5

5

12

7

12

61

Peter Kreutzer (Ask Rotoman)

8

6.5

4

5.5

11

1

7

1

1

1.5

46.5

Lenny Melnick (RotoExperts

4.5

2.5

2

12

4

7.5

2

2

2

4

42.5

To be certain, this is an imperfect way to look at individual team performance over a given time period. For example, Peter Kreutzer has been a dead duck in the non-save pitching categories nearly all season long; while his August ranking in pitching is terrible, the impact on Kreutzer’s overall point total was nothing. The larger picture is useful too look at though, and shows a league where—on the whole—there wasn’t much movement over the last month.

In a 12-team 5×5, 65 points is the equivalent of a “.500” performance. Using this crude measurement, a lot of teams played .500 ball or close to it over the last month. Wilderman blew the doors off in August, but all this did was push him from 10th place and 52 points overall four weeks ago to seventh place and 62 points entering Monday’s action. It has been a nice run, but Wilderman’s might not crack into the big clump of teams in the low 70s. Melnick had a terrible August, and this pushed his team from a fringe contender into virtual non-contention.

My team has been mediocre of late. A strong pitching month could have put the league out of reach, but instead of sitting right behind the clump of teams ahead of me in ERA, I lost a point to Guilfoyle in ERA and have to look nervously at McCaffrey in my rearview mirror in WHIP. I’d rather be 8.5 points up than 8.5 points down with five weeks to go, but there is still enough variability in each category that I can’t take anything for granted. If September mirrors August I should be fine, but if Cockcroft has a hot month down the stretch or if I completely stumble, that lead could evaporate quickly. It wouldn’t surprise me if I hold on to the overall point differential, but it also wouldn’t surprise me if Cockcroft moves back to within 3-4 points in a week’s time. The race is far from over.

Tout Wars AL

Roenis Elias $7 ($9). Other bids: $6, $6. Player reserved: Kendall Graveman.
Finally! A player in one of the three expert leagues I cover with contested bids! Hooray!

Elias is a fringy option even for AL-only leagues. His walk rate is down in 2015 but his HR rate has spiked, leaving him with slightly lower fantasy value in 2015 than he had in 2014 in mono leagues. We are getting to the point of the season where the schedule matters, so when a starting pitcher is acquired I will look at his projected starts down the stretch.

  • September 1, @Houston
  • September 7, Texas
  • September 12, Colorado
  • September 18, @Texas
  • September 24, @Kansas City
  • September 29, Houston

One of the presumed benefits of using an AL West starter is the advantage of favorite AL West parks, but Elias won’t get to pitch in Anaheim or Oakland and will instead have to travel to Houston, Texas, and Kansas City. It’s a poor schedule, and even in AL-only I might simply pass. Chris Liss of Rotowire grabbed Elias. Liss has lost a little ground in ERA/WHIP of late, but with three teams sitting just one win behind him, Liss needs to protect himself in this category more than he needs to worry about his qualitative stats.

Hank Conger $3 ($6). Other bids: $2, $2. Player released: Alex Avila.
With Jason Castro on the DL, Conger suddenly becomes relevant in all two-catcher leagues. With eight home runs in 176 plate appearances, it is a little surprising that Conger was a free agent in an AL-only league to begin with, even with an on-base percentage that is a drain. We are getting to that time of year where teams are running out of FAAB, but more teams should have been in on Conger in Tout Wars.

Joey Butler $1 ($14). Player reserved: Nolan Reimold.
Chris Johnson $1 ($6). Player reserved: David DeJesus.
Steven Souza $1 ($3). Player reserved: Jake Diekman.
Grant Green $1 ($3). Player reserved: Mark Teixeira.
Brad Brach $1. Player reserved: Steven Wright.
Daniel Nava $1. Player reserved: Alexi Ogando.
Randy Wolf $1.
Other bid: $1. Player reserved: Jose Alvarez.
Chris Gimenez $1.
Other bid $0. Player reserved: James McCann.
Dariel Alvarez $1. Player reserved: Preston Tucker.
Tim Beckham $0. Player reserved: J.J. Hardy.
Kaleb Cowart $0. Player reserved: Justin Smoak.
Roberto Perez $0. Player reserved: Curt Casali.
Pat Neshek $0. Player reserved: John Danks

This list of players is a sobering reminder of how bad it is when a hitter gets hurt in a mono league that allows teams to carry active major league players on reserve. Some of these guys will play, but it is a terrible drop from Mark Teixeira to Grant Green, just to cite one example. Butler, Green, Nava, and Cowart are the types of players who are marginal starters in AL-only, generally speaking. Looking at all of the catchers who were purchased this week, I’m even more surprised that more owners didn’t make a play for Conger.

I’m not in Tout Wars AL, so I can’t offer too many informed comments on the race in the league, but I can offer a glimpse at the standings entering this week:

Table 4: Tout Wars AL Only 2015 Top Four, Through Games of Sunday, August 30th

Team

R

HR

RBI

SB

OBP

W

SV

ERA

WHIP

K

Total

Chris Liss, Rotowire

5

11

10

7

7

6

12

11

11

8

88.0

Jeff Erickson, Rotowire

9

7

9

4

9

9.5

2

9

10

12

80.5

Mike Podhorzer, Fangraphs

11

9

4.5

8

12

7

4

5

7

11

78.5

Larry Schechter, Winning Fantasy Baseball

7

10

12

11

5

2

9

4

8

7

75.0

Liss was in first place for a good chunk of August, but Podhorzer held a lead earlier in the year. Liss was sitting in the mid-90s overall entering the week, but both he and Erickson slumped considerably last week. Trying to figure out how realistic everyone’s chances are in a league I do not participate in would require studying every roster, and this is a project that isn’t worth my time, and probably isn’t worth yours either. At a glance, Liss looks like he is in good shape, particularly with Miguel Cabrera and Byron Buxton healthy and George Springer on the way back, but with only five weeks left in the season, it doesn’t necessarily hold that all three of these players will carry Liss to a resounding victory.