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Last week, I wrote about my NL Tout Wars auction. This auction was one of the strangest auctions I have ever had. I didn’t spend over $18 on a player, and only spent under $5 on one player: Taylor Jungmann of the Brewers. This was hardly by design. Based on the prices in LABR NL earlier this month, I fully expected to spend aggressively at the top of the food chain, particularly on the hitters. My bid limits were structured in a way that thought I would walk away with one or even two hitters at $35 or above. As you have probably read by now, it didn’t work out that way.

Table 1: Tout Wars NL 2016, 12 Most Expensive Hitters

Player

Tout

LABR

MG

2015 OBP $

2015 $

Bryce Harper

45

40

42

$49

$39

Paul Goldschmidt

43

40

45

$49

$41

Giancarlo Stanton

39

37

37

$19

$18

Joey Votto

39

26

37

$45

$32

Anthony Rizzo

38

39

35

$38

$32

Andrew McCutchen

37

34

38

$35

$29

Kris Bryant

35

30

32

$32

$28

Starling Marte

35

30

31

$29

$31

Nolan Arenado

33

36

33

$30

$34

Charlie Blackmon*

31

29

31

$33

$34

A.J. Pollock

31

31

31

$38

$40

Dee Gordon*

30

35

31

$35

$41

Totals

436

407

423

$432

$399

*indicates I had the penultimate bid

At a glance, LABR appears to be significantly more conservative than Tout Wars with their bids on the top hitters. However, because the best hitters in OBP leagues earn more than they do in AVG leagues, the spending at the top in each format is comparable when weighted in this manner. LABR spent eight dollars more on these hitters in 2016 than what they earned in 5×5 AVG formats in 2015. Tout Wars spent four dollars more in 2016 than what these hitters earned in 5×5 OBP formats in 2015. While the $423 in bid limits I had allocated to these hitters certainly wasn’t low, in this context it is certainly worth asking why I didn’t push at least nine dollars more into the top end of the pool to match what these hitters earned in 2015 in OBP formats.

The short and simple answer is that last year’s successes are often this year’s failures.

Table 2: Tout Wars NL 2013-2015 Hitters by Tier

Tier

Sal

$

+/-

1-12

$398

$301

-97

13-24

$317

$264

-53

25-36

$273

$221

-52

37-48

$238

$201

-36

49-60

$210

$188

-22

61-70

$181

$181

-0

71-84

$152

$141

-11

85-96

$123

$117

-6

97-108

$92

$93

1

109-120

$67

$119

51

121-132

$47

$98

51

133-144

$29

$91

62

145-156

$17

$56

39

157-168

$11

$53

43

Totals

$2,155

$2,124

-31

Table 2 looks at the results in Tout Wars through a different lens. Where Table 1 looks at what the most expensive hitters earned in 2015 and what the market paid for them in 2016, Table 2 takes the average salaries and earnings in groups of 12 (and in a group of 13 or 14 for the last tier of hitters, thanks to Tout Wars’ swingman rule) from 2013-2015 and tallies up the results. If Table 1 reflects the optimism of Spring Training, then Table 2 reflects the cold, hard realities of October.

The Top 60 hitters purchased in Tout Wars the over the last three seasons have averaged a loss of $4.33 per hitter. In layman’s terms, this is a lot. While this is very bad, the challenge we are presented with every year in fantasy leagues is that we must spend all of our auction dollars. There is no prize for finishing with the most profit if you leave $60 on the table. There were $246 worth of bargains on the bottom 60 hitters purchased at auction. While this is a fantastic rate of return, spending $14 on five hitters to obtain $35 worth of statistics is a marginal win. The conundrum we are presented with is the same every season. We know that the most expensive hitters are going to lose money for their fantasy teams. We also know that the most expensive hitters are going to provide the majority of stats for their fantasy teams.

Look at the “$” column in Table 2. On average, the results are almost linear by tier. Players 109-132 deviate somewhat, but this is hardly a significant leap or nosedive. The expert market does an excellent job of predicting how the hitters will do on the whole, even if in individual cases they are significantly wrong.

Since the data over the last three seasons prove that this is the case, doesn’t this reinforce the idea that I made a mistake in Tout Wars by refusing to allocate my auction dollars in this manner? In other words, if most of the earnings come from the top of the auction and most of the profit comes from the bottom of the auction, doesn’t it stand to reason that I should have spent my money on some of the top hitters regardless of the losses I would have incurred?

The $436 that Tout Wars spent on the top 12 hitters is $37 more than the average amount of money that Tout Wars spent from 2013-2015 on the comparable hitters in the top tier. Assuming that this year’s crop of hitters earns $301 again, this would be an $11 loss per player. While recent history instructs us that these will once again be the best hitters, this type of loss is prohibitive.

The more money a fantasy manager spends on the most expensive hitters, the more he negates the profits that are coming at the end of the auction. The last 60 hitters in Table 2 turned a profit of $4.10 per player. Pushing an extra three dollars to your best player in the auction negates your advantage at the bottom of the pool almost entirely.

If this isn’t enough of a reason not to go too crazy for the hitters at the top, another factor that plays a role in mono formats is the dearth of replacement players. The shallower the league, the less meaningful the draft or auction is, and vice versa.

Table 3: Top 10 Free Agent Hitters, NL Tout Wars, 2015

Rank

Player

$

Overall Rank

2014 Comp

2013 Comp

1

Matt Duffy

$20

33

$22

$14

2

Cesar Hernandez

$15

55

$15

$13

3

Justin Bour

$15

56

$13

$11

4

Kyle Schwarber

$15

59

$10

$10

5

Yoenis Cespedes

$13

68

$8

$9

6

Clint Robinson

$11

82

$7

$8

7

Eugenio Suarez

$11

89

$6

$7

8

Ben Paulsen

$10

94

$6

$7

9

Stephen Piscotty

$10

101

$6

$7

10

Cory Spangenberg

$9

109

$6

$7

Average

$13

75

$10

$9

$13 per player sounds like a decent rate of return. However, it is worth keeping in mind that in a 12-team NL-only, these replacements are typically spread out across an entire league, and do not fall into the lap of one or two teams. The 2013 and 2014 columns show that while the return in 2015 was solid, it appears to be atypical. The “free talent” that can paper over mistakes made during a bad auction exists, but its impact is often overstated.

Returning to the auction data, what about the impact of the players at the end of the auction? Is there a sweet spot for bargains?

Table 4: Top 60 NL Tout Wars Hitter Bargains 2013-2015, Sorted by Price Bracket

Price

#

Sal

$

+/-

$37

1

37

$49

12

$30

1

30

$40

10

$29

1

29

$45

16

$28

1

28

$49

21

$26

1

26

$46

20

$25

1

25

$35

10

$24

1

24

$41

17

$21

1

21

$33

12

$20

1

20

$33

13

$19

2

38

$68

30

$18

1

18

$32

14

$17

1

17

$31

14

$16

3

48

$85

37

$15

2

30

$54

24

$14

1

14

$31

17

$10

1

10

$26

16

$9

3

27

$73

46

$8

1

8

$17

9

$7

4

28

$87

59

$6

4

24

$80

56

$5

5

25

$92

67

$4

5

20

$102

82

$3

6

18

$92

74

$2

7

14

$118

104

$1

5

5

$76

71

60

584

$1435

851

Table 4 lists the top 20 bargains purchased at auction in Tout Wars NL in each season from 2013 to 2015. Reserve picks and free agents do not sit for this portrait.

As you would expect, there are a number of cheap players residing on Table 4. But they don’t take up the majority of players on this table, and there is a fairly healthy distribution of bargains at the bottom. There were 54 players purchased for one dollar in Tout Wars from 2013-2015, so while five of the one dollar players were significant bargains, the vast majority were not. This again speaks to the savvy nature of the experts in Tout Wars. In a vanilla home league, you might be able to snag a few one-dollar players in the endgame. In a league like Tout Wars, the odds of hitting on one of these players are much lower.

Bringing this all back to the team I purchased in Tout Wars last week, historically speaking there are also significant bargains to be had in the $7-17 range, which is where I purchased all of my hitters. Sixteen of the 60 biggest hitting bargains in Tout NL since 2013 fall in this range. Distributing this rate of bargains across 12 Tout NL-only teams, it is possible that I have one or two-double digit bargains on my team, even if we can’t see who they are right now.

All of this league-wide analysis ignores the fact that I auction in Tout Wars and have a track record that anyone can examine.

In 2015, I had three double-digit hitting bargains—Paul Goldschmidt (cost $37, earned $49), Freddy Galvis ($1, $11), and Yangervis Solarte ($3, $13)—and finished first.

In 2014, I had two double-digit hitting bargains—Anthony Rendon ($17, $31) and Casey McGehee ($3, $17)—and finished fifth.

In 2013, I had zero double-digit hitting bargains and finished second.

Two double-digit bargains are certainly possible given my track record in Tout. However, my success or failure hasn’t necessarily been tied into how well or poorly I have done in this area.

One of the reasons that more money has been pushed to the top and that more experts are pursuing a Stars and Scrubs approach in 2016 is because of the perceived weakness in the bottom half of the National League. The Braves, Phillies, Reds, Brewers, Rockies, and Padres are all perceived as being extremely weak. The fantasy theory is that this will soften earnings at the bottom of the player pool and make the top hitters worth more.

This is certainly possible. But if history is any guide, the ceilings of the top hitters should not be impacted too much by this development, and these sorts of changes are often overstated from a valuation perspective. It might be worth adding a dollar or two to the top hitters, but reaching beyond this can sink your team quickly.

All of this is a long way of reiterating what I said in my Tout Wars recap: that what I did didn’t look conventional but it was the right thing to do. While I would have preferred to buy an elite hitter or two, the extreme pricing on the top end made me eschew these hitters and pushed me into a balanced approach. It might not work, but I believe that the losses by some of the teams that spent big on the top hitters will wipe their teams out of contention. I will need to pull some profit out of my lineup to win, but this can be said in any given season and by any team, regardless of how it allocates its money.

I will look at pitchers in a future article.