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Fifth place. Sixth place. Fifth place.

Those are my three finishes since I joined the mixed auction league in Tout Wars in 2016. In going back and reading my far-too-long recaps of those auctions, I was struck by how little I had actually learned in my experience. I wrote this in my LABR recap from earlier this month: “I usually find that it’s not until the third season I’m in a league that I really feel like I have a good sense of both the overall style of the room and the stand-out tendencies of the individual owners.” In a way, I was subtweeting myself. Last year was my third year in this Tout league and I was too focused on the shape of the valuations (mostly from a hitter vs. pitcher standpoint) that I missed the bigger picture.

My big adaptation last year was being comfortable raising my prices on pitching to account for the growing weakness at the bottom of the pool. And because I was focused on those trees, I missed the forest once again. Sure, pairing Max Scherzer and Chris Sale ended up being a good idea, but value drafting on offense rather than being more aggressive hurt any chances I had of winning. The last three years, I had basically the same plan: buy some big names early, wait for the values to come to me, hold a few hammers for the endgame. Going in with the same plan last year and thinking it could work with just a little better luck on the players I got was where I failed. It bears out in how those “value” picks did in 2018. Here’s the ugly truth:

Player Price Paid Bid Value Earnings Gain/Loss
Brian McCann





Chris Davis





Jason Kipnis





Billy Hamilton





Ronald Acuna





Kyle Schwarber





Mark Melancon










This year, I went in with a very different philosophy. I kept my process the same but leveraged the information I’d learned in what I hoped to be an improved manner. My plan was to lean heavier into a stars-and-scrubs approach than I had in previous years, and my valuations were infused with this knowledge. The place I had generally gone wayward was in making the assumption that the players in the $5-15 range were notably better than the ones who ended up in the $1-3 range—and because of my typical strategy, it has to be the group on the whole because I tend to be relatively player agnostic in that range during the auction. In reality, the difference is small enough to not be worth saving any money for values that show up, so I saw about 5-6 players who were undervalued based on my spreadsheet by around $5-6 each come up towards the middle of the auction, and a 2018 version of myself probably had enough cash to grab most of them. Yet, the 2019 version watched and waited for a small handful of players I was not agnostic about and the endgame that was to follow. (We’ll get to those players later.)

We’ll break this up slightly differently than in previous years, into the way I was thinking about it during the auction:

The Mike Trout Gambit

There are a lot of questions on fantasy owners’ minds heading into the 2019 auction season, but one of them (especially in an OBP league) is “How high should Mike Trout’s price be?” The last three years, Trout has eclipsed a .440 OBP, including a career-best .460 mark last season. PECOTA projects him to get on base at a .455 clip this season. The next two highest projections are Joey Votto at .419 and Paul Goldschmidt at .388. That is system-breaking, in a good way. I had a personal price on Trout at $60 (the first time I’ve ever valued someone that highly going into any auction) and I came away with my team anchor for $56. It truly is hard to overstate the impact that has on your team.

Take My Money, Please (Part II)

I knew I wanted to get three things to complement Trout, if I indeed got him: a first-round-level slugger, an ace and an elite closer. They all came off the board relatively quickly. I knew my price on J.D. Martinez was very, very aggressive this year—I had him as the third-most valuable player and set him at $48 going in. Needless to say, I was pleased when I got him for $43. On the pitching side, the first closer to come out was Edwin Diaz, who was one of only two closers I had at $20 or higher. Maybe it was because he was the first one and maybe it was because it was particularly early, but the bidding stopped after I said $21. In the end, he went for the same price as Blake Treinen and three dollars more than Kenley Jansen and Brad Hand. I liked the Diaz buy at the time and liked it more after those prices were set.

Finally, the aces. What I’ve noticed happening over the course of this draft/auction season is that the more people talk about needing to have an elite arm, the higher the prices and draft spots get. You expect Scherzer, deGrom and Sale to be very high-end buys (and they were), but here were the prices for the next level of arms (with the one I bought bolded):

Gerrit Cole


Justin Verlander


Aaron Nola


Corey Kluber


Trevor Bauer


Carlos Carrasco


Blake Snell


Noah Syndergaard


There is a good argument for any of those last four as your ace based off the pricing, but I chose Bauer for a few reasons. One is the division – the AL Central is going to be historically weak this year, but you knew that already. One is his catcher – Roberto Perez was his primary catcher last year, but he struck out 206 batters in just 159 1/3 innings with the excellent framer behind the plate. Yes, the WHIP isn’t going to be at the elite-elite level, but everything else will be.

The Early Agnostic Phase

Instead of being less player-focused towards the end of the auction, I continued it as the auction was ramping up. Basically, I’m betting on the fact that if I put a $15+ price on a player in my sheet while using this aggressive type of valuation, I like that player. That is not always the case in the next phase. Having already spent $150 on my first four players, I wasn’t going to load up on these early draft discounts, but I ended up with four that I was pleased with. In the end, it probably wasn’t exactly the four I would have chosen (they never are), but it’s close enough:

German Marquez – $19
Clayton Kershaw – $17
Yoan Moncada – $16
Justin Upton – $15

Three upside plays and one safety. Marquez and Kershaw both have the potential to be $30 earners in mixed leagues this year, and in some ways there’s more safety in numbers than in safety itself. I like the odds of one of them getting there better than some of the pitchers who went singularly in the $34-36 range. Moncada in an OBP league is still one that could pay off very handsomely. He hasn’t run as much as we’d all have hoped so far, but the potential for 30 homers and 15 steals with a .330-.340 OBP is too much to pass on. Even with all the hand wringing about his strikeouts last year, he did put up a .315 OBP in his age-23 season—being more aggressive with the bat can ultimately raise his OBP even if he walks less, and it certainly raises his power. Upton is Upton. He’s a rock in this format: a reliable 30-homer hitter with a .350 OBP.

The Later Targets and the Endgame

These two really mush together when you’re just focused on getting players you know you want whether they are for $1 or $8. Some of these names are wholly unsurprising and you don’t need to see me write about them anymore. Others are players I was surprised to see at their prices. Either way, they’re all reflected in the final version of my 2019 Tout Wars roster below. The switch in strategy made me feel a lot better about the middle of my roster leaving the auction than in previous years, as it’s a lot easier and more fun to be excited about a player than a dollar value. I highly recommend it.

Speaking of, the final roster:

C – Mike Zunino ($3); Francisco Mejia ($2)
1B – Luke Voit ($7)
2B – Yoan Moncada ($16)
SS – Eduardo Escobar ($2)
3B – Ryan McMahon ($2)
CI – Josh Bell  ($7)
MI – DJ LeMahieu ($1)
OF – Mike Trout ($56); J.D. Martinez ($43); Justin Upton ($15); Billy Hamilton ($8); Ian Happ ($2)
UT – Pete Alonso ($2)

SP – Trevor Bauer ($30); German Marquez ($19); Clayton Kershaw ($17); Sean Newcomb ($1); Michael Wacha ($1); Brandon Woodruff ($1)
RP – Edwin Diaz ($21); Seranthony Dominguez ($3); A.J. Minter ($1)

Reserves, in order: Delino Deshields, Jed Lowrie, Adam Jones, Martin Perez, Sean Manaea, Kyle Seager

In the end, I had an updated plan and stuck pretty well to it. In another six months or so, we’ll find out whether it was the right one or not. Part of the theory on the risk I took at the end was experience that I could find a usable OF5 or SP7 off the waiver wire basically at any point during the season. There was no need to draft them when I could take higher-upside fliers and injured players I could stash (which I love doing in the reserve rounds because it’s FAAB prohibitive to not do so). If I can just hit on 3-4 players in that group of 15 that I took in the endgame/reserves, it’ll be worth the others all doing nothing. Between McMahon, Alonso, Happ, DeShields, Lowrie, Wacha and Woodruff making up the more likely end of that group, I like my chances.

Thank you for reading

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Elizabeth Jenner
RE: good price on Diaz. The first closer off the board tends to go lower than the rest. I don't know if it's that people haven't begun to worry about them yet and they see so many others (including their favourite sleepers) still available, or they wait until the price-point for saves is set before they invest, but it holds true most of the time. I tossed out Kirby Yates as the first closer in my final auction last week for a $12 opening bid and got crickets. Doolittle went for $17 not long after that. Wade Davis, Raisel Iglesias, and a couple others went for a couple bucks more than Yates, who I feel is superior to all of them. I imagine it's tougher in a league like this, but I love locking down some saves so I don't have to chase them like a maniac via FAAB.
Robert Thompson
Great get in Bell at $7-so underrated this year. I might just draft all AL Central pitchers this year.