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I didn’t participate in Tout Wars AL. However, looking at what happens in an expert league can provide us with solid baseline of what will happen in our home league auctions. Today, I will take a broader look at what happened in both of the mono leagues.

Before I get started, it is worth sharing a few caveats. The goal of this article is not to delve into individual team strategies or examine each and every purchase in depth. This is difficult to do, particularly since the timing of when a player comes up in an auction can often skew his value. Still, it is worth noting a few trends in the hopes that it can help you with your auctions in the next few weekends.

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 AL and NL 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. If not, they might be insignificant blips on the radar.

American League
For starters, let’s take a look at how money was distributed on hitters in AL LABR and compared it to how the AL Tout Wars experts allocated it this past Saturday.

Table 1: Hitter Dollar Distribution, AL LABR versus AL Tout, 2016

Group

LABR Cost

Tout Cost

Tout +

1-12

$399

$435

36

13-24

$309

$320

11

25-37

$251

$265

14

36-48

$221

$235

14

49-60

$201

$211

10

61-72

$175

$183

8

73-84

$147

$147

0

85-96

$119

$122

3

97-108

$102

$97

-5

109-120

$85

$75

-10

121-132

$60

$48

-12

133-144

$37

$27

-10

145-156

$26

$13

-13

157-168

$13

$12

-1

$Totals

$2,145

$2,190

45

A $45 price difference between LABR AL and Tout AL seems small, but this works out to almost four dollars more spent on offense per team. The big story in Tout was that Steve Moyer of Inside Edge spent $248 on his offense. Tout AL spent $11 more on offense in 2016 than in 2015, so the spending by other teams actually dropped on average. The Tout Wars group pushed the envelope on the top 12 hitters, spending an average of $36 per hitter. Generally speaking, Tout teams followed the Stars and Scrubs model across the board, spending $93 more on the top 72 hitters than LABR did.

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

Hitter

LABR

Tout

Diff

2015 $ AVG

2015 $ OBP

Pedro Alvarez

16

16

$17

$18

Austin Jackson

10

10

$18

$16

Hyun-Soo Kim

7

15

8

Carlos Santana

17

25

8

$18

$26

Prince Fielder

20

27

7

$26

$28

Chris Iannetta

2

9

7

$2

$5

Shin-Soo Choo

18

24

6

$23

$28

Josh Donaldson

34

40

6

$37

$39

Alex Gordon

16

22

6

$12

$16

Byung-Ho Park

15

21

6

New signees Alvarez and Jackson added $26 of salary to the AL hitter pool when comparing Tout to LABR, so it is possible that the experts didn’t adjust their prices anywhere else. This makes some sense, as players they were replacing were guys like Adam LaRoche and Jimmy Paredes, who cost nothing or next to nothing in LABR. Some of the difference in salaries is based on the fact that where LABR uses batting average, Tout Wars uses OBP. Santana, Iannetta, and Choo all are paid for their contributions in OBP. With a 15 game requirement, Fielder was first base eligible in Tout Wars, so the additional eligibility pushed up his price. The swingman position in Tout allowed Larry Schechter of Winning Fantasy Baseball to roster two DHs: Miguel Sano at $26 and David Ortiz at $23.

The aggressive prices on the top 10 hitters can be explained somewhat but not entirely by OBP. Mike Trout’s $47 price tag makes sense in this context, while Mookie Betts and Josh Donaldson’s higher prices do not. The top 10 AL hitters in OBP formats earned $411 in 2015. Given that the Tout Wars experts paid $24 more than that this year, there will be some pain in this tier come the end of the season.

As was the case with the hitters, the top pitching prices for Tout Wars spiked in 2016.

Table 3:10 Most Expensive Starting Pitchers, Tout Wars

Pitcher

LABR

Tout

Diff

Chris Sale

33

32

-1

Chris Archer

21

27

6

Corey Kluber

28

27

-1

David Price

29

27

-2

Carlos Carrasco

24

26

2

Dallas Keuchel

26

26

0

Sonny Gray

22

25

3

Felix Hernandez

25

22

-3

Garrett Richards

22

20

-2

Danny Salazar

22

20

-2

Totals

252

252

0

LABR and Tout spent the same amount of money on these pitchers, but LABR spent 26 percent of its pitching dollars on these pitchers while Tout spent 27.5 percent. The bidding war on Archer is part of this phenomenon, but a larger part is that no one saw Moyer’s cheap pitching plan coming and spent aggressively on the top arms not considering that there would be a drop off later. As a result, some of the mini-bidding wars that took place in LABR on the backend pitchers didn’t happen. Nathan Eovaldi, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Anibal Sanchez all cost two dollars in Tout; each one of these pitchers cost between $7-9 in LABR. Daniel Norris cost four in LABR; he wasn’t even purchased in Tout. In LABR, it was challenging to try to attempt and fill out the back end of your pitching staff cheaply. In Tout Wars, Moyer’s plan made this much easier to do.

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

Table 4: AL Expert Closer Prices 2016

Pitcher

CBS

LABR

Tout

Wade Davis

24

21

23

Craig Kimbrel

24

21

22

Cody Allen

18

17

20

Zach Britton

21

17

20

Aroldis Chapman

21

15

18

Ken Giles

20

14

18

David Robertson

18

14

18

Francisco Rodriguez

15

12

17

Huston Street

16

13

14

Shawn Tolleson

13

11

14

Glen Perkins

14

10

12

Sean Doolittle

14

12

11

Steve Cishek

11

6

10

Drew Storen

14

8

9

Brad Boxberger

18

11

7

Total

261

202

233

Even with the drop in pitching prices overall, the closer market in AL Tout Wars was more robust than it was in LABR, where a number of teams either dumped saves or refused to pay the big bucks. Boxberger and Doolittle were the only closers to take a pay cut, and in Boxberger’s case it was due to an injury that was announced shortly before the AL Tout auction. Teams were not afraid to open up their wallets in AL Tout, jumping into the $20s for four closers. An interesting strategy was employed by Chris Liss of Rotowire, who paid a combined $38 for Chapman, Dellin Betances, and Andrew Miller. The trio earned a combined $42 in 2015 in the non-saves categories. There is value to be had with this gambit.

I moderated the Tout Wars H2H chat on Friday night and went to watch some of Bret Sayre’s Tout mixed auction on Saturday, so I did not see the Tout Wars AL auction as it unfolded. It is more difficult to get a feel for each team’s strategy or tactics merely observing the auctions after the fact, but there were enough divergent price points to see that LABR and Tout were markedly different. If there is a lesson to be learned, it is that it is possible for one team’s significant departure from a $180/$80 price split to alter your auction a great deal, particularly at the back of the auction.

National League
The National League experts responded to five (and possibly six) NL teams tanking by spending aggressively at the top end of the player pool.

Table 5: Hitter Dollar Distribution, NL LABR versus NL Tout, 2016

Group

LABR Cost

Tout Cost

Tout +

1-12

$412

$436

24

13-24

$313

$328

15

25-37

$272

$263

-9

38-49

$237

$224

-13

49-60

$210

$195

-15

61-72

$184

$167

-17

73-84

$155

$147

-8

85-96

$133

$126

-7

97-108

$111

$98

-13

109-120

$80

$67

-13

121-132

$49

$42

-7

133-144

$31

$30

-1

145-156

$17

$18

1

157-168

$12

$11

-1

Totals

$2216

$2152

-64

The gap closed a little bit between LABR NL and Tout Wars NL, but not by very much. A $64 difference between leagues still works out to over five dollars per team.

NL Tout only jumped $3 on its overall hitting spending from 2015 to 2016. Just like Tout AL did, the NL owners pushed much more of their money to the top of the player pool. The NL owners spent $385 on the 12 most expensive hitters in 2015. Andy Behrens of Yahoo switching over from the AL to the NL and plunking $45 on Bryce Harper was part of the reason player prices at the top end of the pool spiked, but most of the reason this happened was due to fear of the bottom end of the NL-only player pool.

Harper went from $40 in LABR to $45 in Tout. Paul Goldschmidt jumped from $40 to $43, while Giancarlo Stanton went from $37 in LABR to $39 in Tout. Some of this was due to the OBP bump the stars often get in Tout Wars, but with one notable exception the biggest OBP difference makers didn’t get paid big bucks this year, relative to the production they can provide in an OBP-based format.

Table 6: Biggest 2015 OBP Differentials and 2016 Auction Prices

Hitter

LABR

Tout

Diff

2015 $ AVG

2015 $ OBP

Joey Votto

26

39

13

$32

$45

Bryce Harper

40

45

5

$39

$49

Joc Pederson

17

19

2

$12

$20

Paul Goldschmidt

40

43

3

$41

$49

Andrew McCutchen

34

37

3

$29

$35

Anthony Rizzo

39

38

-1

$32

$38

Curtis Granderson

22

21

-1

$23

$29

Lucas Duda

22

23

1

$16

$21

Yasmani Grandal

14

15

1

$9

$14

Dexter Fowler

16

19

3

$21

$25

I had set a raw price on Votto of $36 and thought I would get him based on previous trends. He easily sailed past it. Grandal was the only player on this chart I was able to get, and this is likely because most of the market is still afraid of his shoulder injury. I called out Rizzo early hoping to suck money out of the room, and the opposite happened, as he cost $1 less than he did in LABR. In retrospect, I should have called out Goldschmidt first and tried to get him instead of calling out a player I didn’t want.

OBP price enforcing was a mixed bag. Harper and Goldy didn’t get all the way there, but paying over $40 or more for any player is a difficult proposition. There is a difference between simply pushing past LABR’s prices and taking into consideration what a player earned in 2015. Yes, Duda only received a $1 raise from LABR, but his $23 price is still two dollars more than what he earned in OBP leagues in 2015.

The aggressive spending at the top of the heap compared to LABR made the price differences on individual players less pronounced in the $20-29 range. You have to get down under $20 to begin seeing the market purchasing players at significantly different prices than LABR did.

Table 7: $3 or Greater Differentials in Tout/LABR (Tout Higher Spend)

Range

#

LABR

Tout

Total Difference

Hitter/Pitcher

$30+

7

238

275

37

6/1

$25-29

4

96

112

16

4/0

$20-25

2

43

49

6

1/1

$15-19

6

78

104

26

4/2

$10-14

6

42

71

29

0/6

$5-9

13

41

92

52

6/7

$1-4

5

3

18

15

4/1

The prices in the $20s were fairly consistent on both ends of the spectrum for LABR and Tout Wars NL with a handful of exceptions. Since the market was willing to push the stars at the top up a few extra bucks, you might expect more bargains to reside here, but only Buster Posey, Corey Seager, and Ben Revere went for $3 under their LABR prices.

With so much consistency in the middle tiers for hitters, many of the big price pushes came for players on the bottom end of the pile. Scott Schelber, Jonathan Villar, Jon Jay, and Trevor Story all cost $5 or more than what they went for in LABR. David Freese and John Jaso cost $4 more. Differences of opinion were expressed quite a bit on the bottom end among the hitters. This is fairly common based on the timing of LABR and Tout Wars, but seemed even more common in 2016. Late signings and job news have added an additional wrinkle to expert leagues that will not be a factor in home leagues that auction later this month.

Where Tout pushed beyond what LABR spent on the top hitters, it held the line on the top pitchers, nearly matching LABR’s spending on the top 12 arms.

Table 8: Pitcher Dollar Distribution, NL LABR versus NL Tout, 2016

Group

LABR Cost

Tout Cost

Tout +

1-12

$325

$327

2

13-24

$196

$203

7

25-37

$133

$147

14

36-48

$99

$111

12

49-60

$61

$77

16

61-72

$38

$46

8

73-84

$24

$25

1

85-96

$15

$12

-3

97-109

$12

$13

1

Totals

$903

$961

58

The relatively aggressive spending in the middle tiers made it harder for some experts to fill out their pitching staffs. There were a number of pitching strategies on display. One team spent big on three aces and then spent six dollars on its pitching staff. Another spread the wealth, not spending over $13 on any pitcher.

Something else that happened in Tout Wars is that while the prices on the top relievers collapsed, a number of teams refused to let the bottom of the barrel closers go for under six dollars like they did in LABR. J.J. Hoover, Jason Grilli, Fernando Rodney, and Will Smith all cost over $5 in Tout Wars. Even newly minted closer Andrew Bailey went for six bucks.

The trend to spend aggressively on aces held in both LABR and Tout Wars. In 2015, three starting pitchers cost $25 or more in LABR while five cost $25 or more in Tout. In 2016, this increased to nine starters in LABR and eight in Tout. We are in the middle of a strong pitching era in Major League Baseball. However, the risk associated with pitchers in terms of injury is as bad as it has ever been and is arguably worse. So while teams spend and spend on top tier arms with no fear, the reality is that at least one of the pitchers at the top of the pile is going to crash and burn. I bought Kershaw last year at $37. While I believe he is the most reliable pitcher in all of baseball, every pitcher comes with risk, regardless of the price tag.

The better that pitching is across the board, the more it makes sense to spread your resources in an NL-only format if you are not investing in Kershaw. The pitchers in the middle tiers are likely to have an ERA and WHIP closer to the pitchers at the top of the heap and are also more likely not to crash and burn and destroy your team the way a pitcher would in a more hitter favorable era. Some of this belief was on display in NL Tout, as pitchers like Carlos Martinez ($15) and James Shields ($14) were pursued with little if any fear. Moving even further down the list, there are diamonds in the rough who could turn a double-digit profit. We don’t know who they are yet, but we know from past experience that they will emerge.

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