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2019 marked my 10th (!) year in Tout Wars, one of the two expert leagues that kicks off the fantasy baseball season every year. After nine years on the National League side, with one title in 2015 to show for my efforts, I moved over to the American League this season due to a commitment on Sunday to one of my daughter’s intramural teams. Even though I’m new to the AL, I had the advantage of knowing what nearly all of my competitors’ tendencies are because Tout is a public league with years of available data and a similar pool of participants every year (it’s a 5×5 Roto format that uses on-base percentage instead of batting average). However, there is a difference between knowing what people have done in the past versus direct competition.

Something I do differently than many other analysts is I don’t build my team planning to acquire a specific player or acquire a specific type of player. For example, an analyst’s recap might say “I planned to spend $35-40 on an ace pitcher, get a first-tier closer for $18-22 and then spend $15 on the rest of my pitching staff. On offense, I want ensure I get production out of my infield and both catcher spots and am willing to build a cheap outfield.” This methodology works for some people, but it isn’t the way I like to build my teams.

My methodology builds off my auction valuations at Baseball Prospectus and then I customize those values for my specific league. I looked back at the three-year spending trend in Tout but also at what happened in LABR AL to tweak my values for Tout. Listed below are the adjustments I made in preparation for Saturday’s auction.

On-base percentage is the most significant change between LABR and Tout. I use the PECOTA projections to make this adjustment, and don’t apply it to most part-time or bench players. I’ve seen some use retrospective valuations, but this leads to some very radical price swings.

•Hold the line and don’t overspend on elite starting pitching
The market is pushing prices for the top 10-12 starting pitchers way up, and there are many good reasons for it to do so. However, the idea that the best pitchers will earn significantly more and/or aren’t immune to injuries/poor performance is a fallacy. The best pitchers will be worth their price but all 10-12 pitchers who cost $25 or more won’t be. I wanted an ace – and would slightly alter my pitching prices to obtain one – but didn’t intend to overspend to get one.

•Be slightly more aggressive on the best players
Tout Wars spends more on the top players and some experts there are more willing to go Stars and Scrubs than the LABR experts are. While I didn’t want to do that, I also didn’t want to be sitting on a pile of cash in the middle of the auction with no one to spend it on. In addition to the OBP bump, I pushed up the best players a little further.

•Get middle relievers
With fewer starting pitchers logging 160+ innings and/or pitching effectively, the value of high-end middle relievers is greater than ever. This is the most significant difference between mono and mixed formats. You cannot stream multiple starting pitchers in AL-only and while buying a $30+ ace is one way to attempt to mitigate the lack of quantity and quality, getting a reliever or two who can log 80-90 innings with stellar rate stats is a cheaper way to do this that won’t sink your team if your ace falters or gets hurt.

With my typical 450-500 word strategy introduction in the books, let’s get right to the auction.

A Farewell to (Elite) Arms
As I expected, the prices for the best starting pitchers sailed past my bid limits in most cases.

Table 1: Ten Most Expensive Starting Pitchers, Tout Wars AL 2019


Tout Wars


My Bid


Chris Sale





Justin Verlander





Gerrit Cole





Corey Kluber





Trevor Bauer





Blake Snell





Carlos Carrasco





Mike Clevinger





Jose Berrios





James Paxton










Table 1 displays the Tout Warriors brazenly neglecting the Law of Diminishing Returns. The 10 best pitchers in 2019 could earn $30 per pitcher (they did in 2018) but we know that’s not how this works. 2017’s 10 best AL starting pitchers earned a collective $277; they earned $211 in 2018. That’s a solid ROI but given the floor, you don’t want to pay most elite pitchers for a repeat performance.

The pitcher I came closest to regretting was Kluber, although I didn’t want to pay par for a player that early in the auction. I also had the last bid on Paxton, which was when I noticed a big difference between LABR and Tout Wars and rather than push Paxton to a par price, I decided to capitalize. Where the pricing in the middle didn’t let up in LABR, there was some softening on the next tiers of pitchers in Tout. Sure enough, this is where I landed a rotation that I not only liked but felt was pretty strong and deep under the circumstances.

Rick Porcello $13
Charlie Morton $17
Kyle Gibson $8
Nathan Eovaldi $9
Andrew Heaney $5
Reynaldo Lopez $8

Porcello and Morton were the 8th- and 11th-best starting pitchers, respectively, in AL-only in 2018, earning a combined $41, or one dollar more than Justin Verlander. They’re a nice combination of ceiling (Morton) and durability (Porcello). Morton is unlikely to ever pitch 200 innings, but his rate stats and strikeouts are great enough that he won’t need to. Porcello is one of only four pitchers with at least 190 innings in three of the last four seasons. The PFM likes them at these prices too, predicting the duo will earn $35. Even with a reasonable amount of regression baked in, the PFM sees a $5 profit.

The rest of the staff is a mix of upside and innings. Gibson reinvented himself in 2018 by throwing fewer pitches in the zone and getting batters to swing-and-miss more frequently or generate poorer contact. Lopez was the closest thing to an overpay on my staff but volume matters in an -only league. Lopez improved as 2018 went on and I’m hoping he keeps doing so in 2019. I wasn’t too surprised to get Heaney at $5, but it’s a cheap enough price where I’ll take the risk. If he can’t pitch at all in 2019, I get a $50 FAAB refund and he’s only my sixth starter at that price. If Heaney pitches even half a season, $5 is a nice bargain. Eovaldi is someone I thought would sail past my $12 bid limit. He might not pitch more than 120-130 innings, but the quality of those innings makes him potentially special.

Part of my loose plan was focusing more on middle relief than a closer, and this played out perfectly.

Dellin Betances $7
Ryan Pressly $6
Hunter Strickland $4

Betances’ velocity is down this spring but I’m trusting the reports that say he’s holding back and saving something for the regular season. Pressly’s overall line was decent enough, but what excites me is his 0.77 ERA and 0.60 WHIP in his last 23 1/3 innings after the Astros got him to start relying more on the curve. Pressly could be the 2019 version of Josh Hader: a middle reliever who earns at least $20 and comes close to cracking the Top 20 pitchers. More than any starter I purchased, the Betances/Pressly combination will make or break my season. 200+ strikeouts with a glittering ERA/WHIP will mitigate any damage the starting pitchers I bought do to my ratios and if any of those starters exceed expectations, I could have a top-tier staff. This was the blueprint for my NL LABR pitching plan in 2018. None of the starters I purchased cost more than $16 or earned more than $18 but thanks to Hader, none of them had to be stellar.

Strickland was my lone stab at a closer. The market wasn’t too robust, and there are a couple of closers I might regret not pushing harder for (Aroldis Chapman at $19 and Jose Alvarado at $13 stand out), but I only need 10-15 saves from Strickland plus whatever strays Betances and Pressly pick up to grab 3-4 points in the category. Saves are also a category where Auction Day frequently does nothing more than provide an illusion of statistics, which is a fancy way of saying more than a few closers won’t hold the job all season long. In a league with $1,000 FAAB and $0 minimum bids, I don’t mind plunking down a big chunk of FAAB for the right saves opportunity.

My Offense, On Balance
Sometimes when I construct my bid limits/rankings, there are players I know I’m going to get almost everywhere. Usually, these are players most believe are worth $5-7 who I think are worth $10-12. Every once in a while, there is a player who is a top-tier talent who I’m ahead of the pack on and wind up grabbing. This is what happened in Tout, which left me with a centerpiece of…

Jose Altuve $35
There’s some wariness about last year’s injury and because he missed a few games this spring due to soreness. There’s no doubting what Altuve’s track record is. He has been the most dominant player in AL-only 5×5 AVG leagues and he’s not that far behind in OBP formats. Altuve was on pace for a 16-home run, 112-run, 78-RBI, 25-steal, .394 OBP campaign before the injury destroyed his second half. He’s a five-category superstar. He won’t come close to Mike Trout but with a price tag that’s $16 cheaper, he doesn’t have to. If Altuve is healthy/100 percent/plays most of 2019, this price will be a bargain.

Tim Anderson $18
Marcus Semien $17
Andrelton Simmons $16

I didn’t intend to buy three shortstops but given what happened to the market at every other position, I don’t mind it. Anderson puts my OBP at risk, but he hit 20 home runs and stole 26 bases last year, more than making up for his awfulness in that category. Semien is the sort of hitter I love in mono: he does a little bit of everything and while his statistical contributions fluctuate, I’d be happy with 15/15 or 25/5. I love Simmons’ “boring” 10/10 baseline with a chance to do more. He is consistent enough in batting average to make him slightly positive in OBP even though he doesn’t walk a lot and his defense keeps him on the field for nearly all 162 games. Unlike most leagues, the two Tout mono leagues use a “swingman” that allows you to put any hitter or pitcher in this slot, so I didn’t lock up my DH/UT with Simmons. A bonus of this strategy is I “drowned the pool” and made a few rivals scramble at the end for a poor SS option.

Christin Stewart $8
Domingo Santana $13
Kevin Pillar $11
Kevin Kiermaier $12
Kyle Tucker $4

The top non-Trout outfielders were too expensive. I narrowly missed on a few of the second-tier outfielders and even my quasi-targets like Jackie Bradley and Austin Meadows came up at a point in the auction where others were sitting on them. The result is the rag tag crew you see above.

I like it. Stewart is the one I have the most regrets about, relatively speaking. The price is fine, but there were a few outfielders at the end I passed on (most notably Avisail Garcia at $7 and Daniel Palka at $5, I loves me some White Sox and ex-White Sox, I guess) who I would have preferred. Santana, Pillar and Kiermaier all offer varying speed/power profiles. Santana won’t bounce back to what he did in his career year in Milwaukee in 2017 (he earned $28 in NL-only OBP) but a fresh start in Seattle gives him a chance at a 20/10 season, at least. Pillar and Kiermaier are my kind of boring players; both are 15/15 candidates. I built my team with overall speed in mind, eschewing one-category players like Billy Hamilton or Mallex Smith in favor of well-rounded hitters who would boost me in all quantitative categories.

Between Bret’s LABR write-up and Rob Silver’s outfield recap, our staff has already spilled a lot of ink about Tucker, but I couldn’t believe I snuck him in for $4. If all he does is post his 13-home run, 40-run, 39-RBI, eight-steal PECOTA projection in 291 plate appearances, I’ll be giddy. But if he forces the issue sooner rather than later, he could be as impactful (in fantasy, at least) as Vlad Jr. in 2019. And if all of this is wish-casting and Tucker washes out, I spent $4 for a flier on one of the best prospects in baseball.

Luke Voit $12
Ryan O’Hearn $11
Zack Cozart $11

It took me a long time to find any corner infielders at prices I liked. Some are worried about Greg Bird stealing playing time away from Voit but I’m not. Yankee Stadium is tailor-made for Voit’s swing and he could hit 25-30 home runs, even if Bird steals some playing time. O’Hearn and Cozart were the last two players I purchased and while I’m OK with both their prices (my Tout-adjusted bid limit was $11 for O’Hearn and $10 for Cozart), one of my mild regrets is not pushing a little harder on C.J. Cron (went for $13), Tyler White ($12), Yonder Alonso ($11) or Kendrys Morales ($10 and 1B-eligible in Tout). O’Hearn is riskier than any of those players and while he could hit 25 home runs, he could also wash out and/or hurt my OBP. Cozart was my last buy of the day. I had $11 to spend on a third baseman or catcher and the pickings after Cozart were extremely slim. Unlike O’Hearn, there really wasn’t a third baseman I regretted letting go; it is a thin position that falls off quickly. It helps that I am a believer in Cozart and think he could hit 15-20 home runs and that in Tout he is eligible at second, third and short. I didn’t have much positional versatility on my team and liked getting that in Cozart.

Welington Castillo $9
Isiah Kiner-Falefa $6

Castillo was the only player in-auction where I deviated from my valuations on the fly. I looked at the catchers on the board and decided I didn’t want to go with $1 catchers, particularly in an auction where all the top players were sailing past my bid limits and there was real risk I could leave money on the table. Kiner-Falefa was a bargain by my price, mostly because of the 5-8 steals he could deliver, even if Mathis chews into his playing time. I bought $1 catchers in LABR AL in 2018 and the drag of having only 12 offensive contributors hurt. Castillo and Kiner-Falefa won’t earn a combined $15. But given how many awful offensive catchers cost $2-3, I was happy to get this duo, with only slight regrets about missing out on Mike Zunino ($8) after I already had the pair in tow.

The Reserve List
Where LABR has six reserves, Tout only has four. My team was balanced enough that I could go for value over need, so the first three players I picked were ranked highest when my selection came up.

David Fletcher
Jon Jay
Sean Reid-Foley
Edinson Volquez

I won’t spend much time talking about my reserves; it’s an AL-only and all these players are darts. Fletcher should start at second for the Angels and while I don’t see him as anything special, it’s nice to have an everyday grinder while I wait for Tucker. Jay is an alternative fill-in for Tucker and a decent replacement if I do have an injury. Reid-Foley and Volquez are my pitching fliers. Volquez was throwing bullets this spring and the one case where I abandoned my valuations. If he sucks the first two weeks of the season, he’s gone, with no harm to my active roster.

I came away from this auction really liking my team, and I say this as someone who has spilled plenty of virtual ink about how wary I am of saying “I like my team.” The offense is balanced with a strong anchor and plenty of speed across the board in an environment where steals are difficult to obtain. The pitching staff has plenty of volume and two relievers who have the potential to carry the squad even if the starters aren’t good. I was willing to go Stars and Scrubs, but because I finished my auction early, I noticed how much risk there was at the back end of multiple Tout AL rosters. I still believe Stars and Scrubs can work, but with so much money flying off the board in the first few rounds, teams dug themselves holes and there weren’t enough stats or players to make up for it. Altuve is going to make or break my squad, but that’s true for any team that purchased a player over $30 and unlike some of those teams, I bought 12 projected regulars and Kyle Tucker. Volume is key in mono formats and I successfully populated my squad with stats. More than in a mixed league, where upside matters and there’s replacement level talent to be had, in a mono format, a plethora of at-bats and innings is often what puts you in the driver’s seat.

Thank you for reading

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william fries
I really like the team you have put together here. I also agree with your core principles in a mono format. I know Altuve will be a guy I can get in my AL only redraft this weekend for less than $35 based on my league's spending history. I am not worried about the knee problem from last year (maybe I should be). I am worried about this year's oblique injury but can't find any new updates. Do you know his status and/or when he will be ready to go?
Mike Gianella
He has only played two games since his return but all indications are he his healthy (and he stole a base in his most recent game, which is nice to see)
Thank you for a great insightful article. I love the thoroughness. I have been playing rotisserie baseball for 35 years and can honestly say that this is an honest appraisal of what happens in the midst of auctions. I agree completely with the middle relievers being essential this year, given the lack of pitching after the top 16. The only question I have is how on earth does one acquire a closer who is expected to get 15+ saves and starting the season with no competition (ie long leash) for $2? My league would never allow anyone to go that cheap. Strickland. Also— what do you think of soler and Avisail Garcia this season? Can they over-produce?