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For the second consecutive year, I came up short in my effort to win a second title in Tout Wars NL. It was a bad year for me in my fantasy leagues, as I failed to win a title in any of my leagues for the first time since 2012.

Below is the roster I started the season with.

Table 1: Mike Gianella’s Tout Wars 2017 NL-only auction roster

Pos

Player

OBP $

Sal

+/-

Avg Sal

2016 $

C

Yasmani Grandal

$9

19

-10

16

$16

C

Travis d’Arnaud

$6

5

1

7

$2

1B

Daniel Murphy

$25

25

0

26

$29

2B

Neil Walker

$13

16

-3

15

$16

SS

Dansby Swanson

$7

16

-9

17

$5

3B

Conor Gillaspie

-$1

1

-2

1

$4

CO

Mark Reynolds

$22

6

16

3

$14

MI

Asdrubal Cabrera

$14

14

0

15

$17

OF

Starling Marte

$14

30

-16

29

$29

OF

Ryan Braun

$16

26

-10

28

$29

OF

Jason Heyward

$11

13

-2

12

$9

OF

Manuel Margot

$12

11

1

15

$0

UT

Hunter Renfroe

$9

9

0

11

$3

SW

Jung-Ho Kang

1

-1

9

$15

P

Johnny Cueto

$7

23

-16

22

$31

P

Kyle Hendricks

$16

18

-2

18

$33

P

Jeurys Familia

$3

11

-8

13

$23

P

Tony Watson

$10

10

0

13

$12

P

David Phelps*

$6

2

4

2

$16

P

Joaquin Benoit

$3

1

2

2

$6

P

Mauricio Cabrera

1

-1

1

$7

P

Juan Nicasio

$13

1

12

1

$9

P

Hector Rondon

$6

1

5

1

$12

Offensive Totals

$157

192

-35

204

$188

Pitching Totals

$64

68

-4

73

$149

Totals

$221

260

-39

277

$337

*combined AL and NL dollar value.

In terms of dollar values, this is arguably the worst team I have ever purchased in Tout Wars, and perhaps the worst team I have purchased in any auction, expert or otherwise. However, my approach this year did not revolve solely around valuation but rather a specific strategy. Getting the most value wasn’t as important as maximizing the value I purchased.

The plan was to purchase $195 worth of hitting and $65 of pitching, with two starting pitchers around $40, two closers around $20 and five one-dollar pitchers. The idea was that starting pitching in the middle tiers is difficult to predict and with starters pitching fewer and fewer innings middle relievers have far more value than they used to yet still only cost a dollar or two. From this standpoint, I failed as well.

So little went right that I can encapsulate it in a short, bulleted list:

· Stashing Rhys Hoskins early and picking up Paul DeJong immediately after his call up pushed my team close to the top of the power categories.

Well crap, that isn’t even a list.

As I have noted in earlier recaps, it is more instructive to write about losing seasons than winning ones. Whether I am looking back at a losing team in an expert league or in a private one, I try to break down what went wrong in terms of luck versus process.

Luck
The most obvious stroke of bad luck for my team came in the form of injuries. Fourteen of the 23 players I purchased at auction landed on the disabled list, and this does not include Scott Feldman, Brandon McCarthy and Trevor Cahill, all of whom I drafted on reserve. Not every injury was significant, but the combination of short- and long-term injuries was too much to bear.

This long list of the fallen doesn’t even include Starling Marte, who was suspended for 80 games in April after he tested positive for nandrolone. It is facile to just double Marte’s 2017 stats, but a 14-home run, 42-steal season would have been worth $28.32 and come close to matching the $30 I paid.

But most of my failures were due to…

Process
Before the Tout Wars auction, I decided to leave my comfort zone and build a team based on spending targets, as opposed to building a value-derived squad. While I maintain that the idea was sound, there are a few things I should have done differently.

Build Around an OBP Anchor
I am a proponent of “going where the value takes you” in auction leagues. However, there is a clear difference between how the value shakes out at the top of the food chain in OBP and AVG leagues.

Table 2: Top NL Hitters, AVG versus OBP

Year

Top 10 AVG

Top 10 OBP

+/-

Best AVG $

Best OBP $

2017

$330

$350

$20

Charlie Blackmon $10

Joey Votto $17

2016

$335

$351

$16

D.J. LeMahieu $11

Votto $15

2015

$354

$386

$32

Dee Gordon $10

Votto $19

2014

$312

$325

$13

Justin Morneau $7

Andrew McCutchen $12

2013

$340

$365

$25

Matt Carpenter $11

Votto $16

The increased value at the top of the player pool impacts OBP leagues in two ways. First, it offers more of a reward for teams that pay top dollar for the best players. Second—and perhaps more importantly—it is easier to dominate OBP than it is to dominate AVG with one hitter. Great OBP hitters are generally more predictable than great AVG hitters; a simpler way of stating this is that walks are not subject to batted-ball variance. In a standard 12-team NL-only, the 10 best OBP earners earned $93 in OBP compared to $68 in AVG for the 10 best AVG hitters.

The troika of top-shelf hitters I purchased—Braun, Marte, and Murphy—did not have OBP upside. Even if I missed on Votto, getting someone like Paul Goldschmidt, Kris Bryant, or Anthony Rizzo would have made a big difference in the category and for the value proposition for the rest of my team.

The Reliever Strategy is Fine, But You Don’t HAVE to Buy Relievers.
I purchased seven relief pitchers in Tout Wars, including both of my closers. An important component of my strategy was to be judicious about when I used starting pitchers to make sure I maximized my ERA and WHIP points. While this made sense in terms of roster construction in any given week, it didn’t mean that I had to leave the auction with seven relievers. Patrick Corbin, Jhoulys Chacin and Jimmy Nelson each went for $1 at auction. Chase Anderson was taken as a reserve pick while Zack Godley and Jose Ureña weren’t drafted at all.

The more important takeaway than the specific pitchers I did or did not buy is that I could have found relievers like Benoit, Cabrera and Rondon on reserve or in the free-agent pool. My preseason observation that middle relievers are undervalued ignored the reality that with each NL team carrying six non-closing relievers it is easy to pick one off the free-agent pool, and the reserve or $1 starters who don’t work out can be dropped easily in-season.

Don’t Overreact to Late Breaking News/Follow Your Instincts
In 2015, I bought Hyun-Jin Ryu in Tout even though bad news was released about his injury the morning of the auction. Since then, I have been cautious about paying full price for players who get hurt in spring training. My instincts on both Max Scherzer and Eduardo Nuñez said to hold the line on my bid limits but I chickened out on both players, especially Scherzer. Having Scherzer instead of the Cueto/Hendricks combination and saving $11 would have made a difference.

In Deeper Leagues, Power Matters
It was a record shattering year for home runs, and conventional wisdom in fantasy is that buying a top-shelf power hitter doesn’t matter as much as it used to matter. While this might be true in mixed formats, in -only leagues it is next to impossible to recover if you don’t buy at least one true bopper. I have been an advocate of the balanced approach on offense for years, but filling the back end of your roster with hitters who only hit 10-15 home runs isn’t a viable tactic going forward.

All of these takeaways would not have helped me or anyone else win Tout Wars in 2017. Gray Albright of Razzball executed his plan masterfully and won the league by 27 points. Even if all my players had stayed healthy/not been suspended for PED use, it wouldn’t have mattered. Maybe I could have finished second. There is no way I could have won.

As always, I am more interested in looking forward than backward.

Would I pursue a similar pitching strategy in 2018? It is possible. But if I do, I am far more likely to come closer to Doug Dennis of Baseball HQ’s $230/$30 hitting/pitching split. The idea of pushing more money into hitting is to mitigate risk; putting $195 into hitting does this somewhat but not nearly enough. A $30 loss on a $230 offense still gives your team $200 of offensive value. Additionally, I might eschew closers as well unless there is a clear bargain.

My other industry league NL-only team is a good model for this kind of pitching staff. In this league, I purchased Scherzer for $32, Cueto for $22 (oops) and filled in most of the rest of my staff with $1 or $2 fliers. I churned pitchers all season, and rostered enough quality innings behind Scherzer to be competitive in every pitching category. I purchased Jeanmar Gomez cheap, but cobbled together a Brad Hand/Sean Doolittle/Sam Dyson bullpen that grabbed me 54 saves. I finished with more pitching points than any other team in the league.

But there is another path, and it is the one that involves a return to a strict valuation model. My advantage usually rests in proper valuation, and this advantage is heightened in years when there is a paradigm shift. The home-run spike is going to be overestimated by some and underestimated by others. I will be sitting in the mushy middle, waiting to purchase the best bargains regardless of whether they are power hitters, base thieves, or OBP kings. The value approach is what worked for me in 2015, and it is not difficult to see it working for me yet again in 2018.

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davinhbrown
10/10
Mike, appreciate your efforts and sharing your experiences with us all year on the site, podcasts, and twitter. I've heard/read that common strategies going into 2018 will involve paying more for 'ace' pitchers, stolen bases, and middle relieves with high K's will be worth more. Interesting to see your takes listed above. Some of it is having the right players, and some of it is luck. Kang was a worthwhile risk. Marte and Familia were mediocre even when playing. Any thoughts on when the players above were or were not in your lineup? I know I had Reynolds on the bench the first two weeks. Hendricks was a tale of two halves. Guys like Renfroe, TdA, Watson - had stretches of good value and stretches where you'd have on the bench.
MikeGianella
10/10
Hi Davin, thanks for your reply. Marte was mediocre in real life. In Roto, he was fine when he played. If he had not been suspended and you simply double his 2017 stats (not a valid method for projecting player performance, I know) he would have been worth $28 (based on my formulas, coming out next month). This was part of the rationale of paying $30 for Marte. Even if he was bad in real life, the 35-40 steals would give him plenty of value. Sigh. In an NL-only, you seldom if ever have the luxury of playing match-ups. A warm body plays. This is particularly true on the pitching side. It wasn't until September, when I had Hoskins and Jeimer Canderlario in my lineup, that I had the luxury of resting a starter. I did roll with 13 hitters and 10 pitchers a few times in order to maximize innings early. I sat Watson once or twice, but since my strategy was so ERA/WHIP dependent most of my decisions revolved around playing matchups with McCarthy and Cahill. I did sit Hendricks for his Colorado start in May and when it was clear that Cueto wasn't automatic, I sat him two or three times. Eventually, when I knew I was not going to win the league, this didn't matter and I put five or six starting pitchers in the lineup to ensure I would make innings and not suffer a severe FAAB penalty for finishing under 60 points overall.
davinhbrown
10/10
curious for your thoughts on a few other things... it "seems" rookies are doing better and better [not just in baseball but other sports too] and teams expect them to perform. but on the flip side, there is guys like Dansby, Glasnow, etc that take time. While these are human beings, many of which college age debuting, seems like a better bet than it was a few decades ago for rookies. One thing I always forget about is injuries [especially minor ones] that may drag a players performance, or even a personal situation that weighs heavily on them. there are examples of players whose child had a situation, or being dragged thru the muck accused of something, etc. Any thoughts on how this type of info can be used to head into the next year?
MikeGianella
10/10
There isn't a good answer for this. Access to the players helps, but even then it doesn't guarantee anything. For injured players, I look at ST stats to see if they are hitting/pitching well. If a previously injured hitter is smoking the ball in the spring, it might mean he's healthy again. Personal situations are tougher because everyone is different, and there isn't a way to measure a player's ability to bounce back.