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“Twenty.”

There are moments in every auction—especially one you haven’t participated in before—when you think the world is beautiful place and nothing can hurt you. Those moments are inevitably surrounded by disappointment and regret. It’s an auction, after all, and no matter how experienced of a player you are or how much research you do ahead of time or how much you think you can read a room, there is always regret. There’s the number you didn’t say or the number you did. The spot you filled too early or the spot you filled too late. And the fun part is that you rarely ever know it right when it happens. I felt great about getting Travis d’Arnaud as my second catcher for $10, but after Yasmani Grandal went for $12 and Yan Gomes went for $5 later on, all of a sudden I didn’t feel so great any more.

However, in putting the buys and sells into perspective as the auction draws to a close, you’re left reflecting most about the decisions you made through the lens of what happens in the final third. If you are sitting back in dollar days with spots to fill and the players you want keep getting overbid, it’s that one player you were on the fence about buying that haunts you. In my case, and we’ll get to this later, it was the opposite. So the at the forefront of this article, I wanted to get that number (and this anecdote) out of the way first, so I can finally put it completely behind me. It’s the day after, and Anthony Rendon is not mine, but that’s okay. You never leave an auction with the exact 23 players who were the best values in a room. You only strive to get as many of those 23 as possible.

In that respect, I was really happy with how my auction went and what my team looks like. There were some surprises (mostly the not-quite-Steve-Moyer-extreme-but-still-pretty-extreme cheapness of my pitching staff) and some things I expected (I swear that we’re not court mandated to purchase Billy Hamilton in an expert league here at Baseball Prospectus as some sort of community service plea). And without spewing any more words without actually showing you the end result of my plan and execution, here is my 2016 Tout Wars team:

Pos

Player

Price

C

Brian McCann

$18

C

Travis d'Arnaud

$10

1B

Chris Carter

$6

3B

Danny Valencia

$7

CI

Mike Napoli

$5

2B

Ben Zobrist

$10

SS

Jimmy Rollins

$1

MI

Neil Walker

$6

OF

Andre Ethier

$2

OF

Mike Trout

$46

OF

Lorenzo Cain

$23

OF

Andrew McCutchen

$38

OF

Billy Hamilton

$15

UT

David Ortiz

$17

P

Carlos Martinez

$9

P

Santiago Casilla

$6

P

Francisco Liriano

$8

P

Drew Storen

$7

P

Kevin Gausman

$4

P

Jordan Zimmerman

$8

P

Roberto Osuna

$2

P

Steven Matz

$6

P

Hisashi Iwakuma

$6

There are many grand plans you can infer from just seeing the team, but the only real grand plan that existed was to stay relatively tight to my auction values that I went in with. I know my colleague and LABR co-owner Mike Gianella would agree with this sentiment, but when you go in with a value-based system, it’s much easier to make decisions in the room, especially one that flies as quickly as Tout does—thanks to the brisk auctioneering of Jeff Erickson.

This auction really divided itself into three sections for me, and it’s a much more interesting story to tell it through this lens, rather than just going through my hitters and blabbering on about why I liked them at this price (we’ll do that anyway, of course). So, let’s start with the first.

Phase 1 – The Par Game
We spend a lot of time thinking about and preparing for inflation in keeper league auctions—and for good reason. Inflation isn’t a concept that gets discussed much in redraft auctions, yet it exists nonetheless. When you track the prices that players go for in your auction side-by-side with the values for the remaining players available, you can calculate mid-auction inflation. The key to this is making sure all of your values heading in add up to the total money available to spend. The reason why this is important in the first stage of the draft is so that you know when to stop buying players at par (meaning up to and including your individual values). Of course, the par game lasts longer for stars and superstars than it does for the middle-of-the-road players, since there are always so many of the latter and so few of the former.

This all leads to the first player I threw out. Fortunately, being to the left of last year’s champion, Fred Zinkie of MLB.com, gave me the second throw of the auction. So I wasted no time in trying to get a particular outfielder from Los Angeles at my price. Naturally, I threw out… Andre Ethier? This is purely a mixed-league auction strategy thing for me. When you know you’ll end up spending big on a number of players—and given my values on hitters, I was likely to have at least a modified stars-and-scrubs approach—I like to lock in a few of my favorite endgame values early so I have more flexibility. I actually had Ethier valued at $4 before the injury last week, so the $2 throw was a successful attempt at an injury freeze. I’d do the same thing a couple of rounds later with Jimmy Rollins at a dollar, but that wasn’t an injury freeze, just my favorite dollar player in my spreadsheet.

Outside of those two, my biggest par buys in the first portion of the auction were Mike Trout ($46), Andrew McCutchen ($38), and Lorenzo Cain ($23). In fact, they (along with Jimmy Rollins) were my only par purchases of the entire auction. I entered the draft knowing that my prices for the top hitters would likely leave me with a few of them rostered, but I also believed that I’d end up with one of the top 15-20 starters as well—as my de facto ace. However, the prices for those top starters ended up quite exceeding my expectations, and were a cut above what the room exhibited last year. Here is a side-by-side comparison of the pitchers purchased for $20 or more last year and this year:

Player

2016 $$

Player

2015 $$

Clayton Kershaw

38

Clayton Kershaw

36

Max Scherzer

30

Felix Hernandez

31

Jake Arrieta

29

Max Scherzer

29

Matt Harvey

29

Chris Sale

28

Madison Bumgarner

28

Stephen Strasburg

28

David Price

27

David Price

26

Chris Sale

27

Corey Kluber

24

Jacob deGrom

27

Jordan Zimmermann

23

Jose Fernandez

24

Madison Bumgarner

22

Zack Greinke

23

Johnny Cueto

22

Stephen Strasburg

23

Zack Greinke

21

Gerrit Cole

22

Cole Hamels

20

Carlos Carrasco

22

Jon Lester

20

Noah Syndergaard

22

Felix Hernandez

22

Dallas Keuchel

21

Jon Lester

21

Chris Archer

20

That’s 18 starters whose bidding reached at least $20, compared to 13 from the previous season. And despite it looking like a philosophical decision to go relatively cheap on pitching, I was in on a lot of these guys until the end. My number on Kershaw was $37 and oh what my staff (and team) would have looked like if I had ended up with him. I thought my $20 bid might get Syndergaard, but it was trumped. Same with Gerrit Cole. And it went well beyond just this group. Cole Hamels went for exactly my $18 value, but the number came out of Joe Pisapia’s mouth first. My $15 bid on Johnny Cueto stood until the last moment when Ray Flowers took him up a dollar. This is where the comfort in numbers helps. I knew, based on where the prices were versus my values, that there would be arms available later that I could get at a comfortable discount. But that was never “the plan”.

Phase 2 – Bargain Shopping
Let’s get back to in-auction inflation because this is when it really affects bidding. There was a total of $3,900 in the room—that’s the beautiful thing about an auction; it’s entirely closed system. So as I’m tracking the total players bought plus the total values left in on my sheet, I’m using particular figures as mile markers. When we’re at $3,950, I’m not looking to go all the way up to par on anyone. When we’re up to $4,000, I’m looking for $2 discounts to my bids—with the exception of bona fide stars. After seven rounds of this auction, that number was up beyond $4,100, and by my calculation that meant I was looking for $4 discounts on average per player. For those of you wondering, it’s not a one-for-one calculation (and shouldn’t be) because there are always going to be more players that continue to come off the board at a premium. If that’s not the case, you’ve made an error in putting together your bids—likely not scaling down far enough from the stars.

This part of the auction was where I was really able to capitalize and turn what was looking like a stars-and-scrubs approach into a much more modified version. This is what my next 12 purchases looked like, comparing their prices to my values:

Pos

Player

Price

BSV

C

Brian McCann

$18

$22

C

Travis d'Arnaud

$10

$16

2B

Ben Zobrist

$10

$17

MI

Neil Walker

$6

$12

OF

Billy Hamilton

$15

$19

UT

David Ortiz

$17

$23

P

Carlos Martinez

$9

$14

P

Santiago Casilla

$6

$10

P

Francisco Liriano

$8

$12

P

Drew Storen

$7

$9

P

Kevin Gausman

$4

$6

P

Jordan Zimmerman

$8

$14

P

Roberto Osuna

$2

$1

P

Steven Matz

$6

$12

TOTAL

$126

$187

The values certainly came, at least in my opinion. Of course, there are a few names on this list that I think are chronically undervalued—which could mean that I’m the problem. Fred Zinkie and myself went back and forth a few times on McCann while the rest of the room was quiet—why he’s not widely viewed as a $20 option in on-base leagues is something I still don’t understand. My Zobrist and Walker prices may have been on the high side, but to get them for a combined $16 was beyond even my most optimistic scenario once my outfield and utility spots were all filled out before I had a second baseman or middle infielder. Speaking of the utility spot, this will be the last year that David Ortiz remains criminally undervalued in fantasy. We know that there’s a tax on those without true eligibility, but with so many DH-only types this year, it almost needs to be treated as a separate position.

On the pitching side, it’s a staff built on risk, but not overwhelming risk. Things have gone too far on both Martinez and Zimmermann—the former from an injury/workload concern and the latter from a decline concern. There’s also too much anchoring around the up-and-down past of Liriano, who has been consistently great since joining the Pirates back in 2013. Matz and Gausman both have track records that, well, don’t really exist—but they have prospect pedigrees that are pristine. The closer market started out hot, stayed that way for a while, but collapsed at the end just in time for me to secure two closers with reasonable safe strangleholds on their jobs. Casilla is safer than most believe and is in a perfect situation in San Francisco. Storen, on the other hand, is a better pitcher, but is not as much of a lock on the job—which was why I went to $2 on Roberto Osuna. I generally hate handcuffing closers, but this isn’t a typical handcuffing situation—I’ll happily pay an extra dollar to secure the remaining 25 percent chance that Storen doesn’t run away with this job.

Now, finding these values is great, but once I had 7-8 spots left, I started to think I might not be able to spend the rest of my money fast enough. That’s never a good feeling. When I was called into the SiriusXM booth to talk about my team after the second break, I had $24 left for just four spots and only three players left at double-digits on my spreadsheet. Which brings us to the finale.

Phase 3 – The Specific Targets
In looking at where my team was categorically, I knew that the last spots I had to fill needed to bring some additional thunder with the bat. Fortunately (and strangely), I still had all three of my corner spots available—I played coy on the radio (pretty uselessly, but I tend to get very proprietary mid-auction) yet I knew who I wanted. The goal was to get as close to 75 homers as possible, and the PECOTA projections for Chris Carter, Mike Napoli and Danny Valencia add up to 65—and PECOTA hates Valencia (projects him for 13 homers). Of course, PECOTA has a long memory and I think Valencia has a real chance to be a $15 player this year. On the pitching side, the best pitcher available was Hisashi Iwakuma, and he’s been a consistent SP3 while healthy. If he gives me 125 innings, he’ll be well worth the $6 spent. If he gives me 175 (not likely but possible), he might be my ace.

Of course, just because I liked the players I got at the end doesn’t mean they were the best values available at the end. There were plenty of players at the end who I could ideally have gotten at a much lower price than my final four if I had spent big on one additional player earlier on. Alex Rodriguez for $2 to Ray Flowers was just highway robbery. And when Flowers was also able to grab Matt Holliday for $4, something I would have been all over if I’d had an open roster spot for him, I could only tip my non-existent cap. Then there were the dollar days bargains: Al Melchior grabbed two of my favorites in Leonys Martin and Cory Spangenberg, Scott Engel grabbed Jonathan Villar, Derek Van Riper took personal favorite Adam Lind (who I had just barely behind both Carter and Napoli), Tim Heaney finally stopped Jose Reyes’ free fall, and Fred Zinkie grabbed a bona fide closer in Fernando Rodney (if not a frightening one).

Once the bidding was over, the reserve round kicked off and my philosophy was to grab the best hitter available at a corner spot (to back my weakest position), then take four pitchers in a row to back my somewhat risky staff with some depth, and then take Aaron Hill (in all likelihood) because I’m nothing if not an Aaron Hill apologist these days. And it played out exactly like that, nabbing Pablo Sandoval with my first pick (second overall). After that came two safe, but not particularly high-upside starting pitchers in Wade Miley and Martin Perez, followed by some sexier ceiling in Zack Wheeler and Tyler Skaggs. I almost went with a shortstop over Hill to backfill against Jimmy Rollins (my only active shortstop), but there were enough available that I thought I could grab someone to fill Wheeler’s spot if I needed to.

In the end, I left the room feeling about as good as can one can reasonably expect to feel after an auction—especially in a room filled with sharp players. That’s the great thing about Tout Wars and the other expert leagues. We all feel reasonably good after leaving the auction, and for good reason. Of course, someone is going to feel more good than the rest at the end of the season, but optimism still reigns supreme 24 hours after the end of the auction—except for the whole Kevin Gausman shoulder tendinitis news. Then again, pitchers are pitchers and they all get hurt eventually. And a quick benchmarking of my offense showed me right in line with that I thought I might need to finish as a high-end hitting team. Here are my projections against last year’s fourth place finishers in each offensive category:

R

HR

RBI

SB

OBP

Projection Totals

993

261

959

158

0.3354

2015 4th Place

993

252

966

140

0.3315

Of course, I’ll probably need to have a top-three offense in order to have a shot at winning the league, barring an extremely unlikely barrage of good luck on the pitching side. But that is a story for another day. And for the full rosters for the entire league, along with the other Tout leagues, check out the official spreadsheet. It’s going to be a fun season.