2017 AL-Only Tout Wars Recap

This past weekend, a collection of fantasy baseball veteran nerds gathered in New York City for our annual Tout Wars auction and after-party fun. It’s always one of the best weekends of the year, and this year I got to hang out with fellow RotoGraphers Paul Sporer, Jeff Zimmerman, Al Melchior, and Justin Mason. We represented! Oh, and dare I forget my AL-Only league competitor and representer of every fantasy baseball site on the Internet, Jason Collette.

The AL-Only Tout Wars league is a standard 12-teamer with 23-man starting rosters, with the only wrinkle coming from the usage of OBP instead of AVG in the 5×5 categories. Oh, and we only have four starting outfield slots instead of five, instead switching one of them to a Swingman role. That could be filled by either a hitter or a pitcher and can be changed each week. But because hitters contribute in four counting stats and pitchers only three (starting pitchers only two!), I play a hitter there like 99% of the time.

As usual, I had no particular strategy, aside from amassing as much value as possible. I had my Pod Projections in hand, the dollar values of each player’s stat line, and the goal was to simply bid on players below my value and hope to win as many as possible. Oh, and there was one more unique thing about this year. You’ll find out what exactly that is shortly.

GOOOOOOOOOOO YANKEES! I ended up with four of them in my starting lineup, with a fifth on the bench. At least it’ll make it easy for me to decide which game to watch each night!

If you know me, you’ll recall that I value catchers highly. Or to put another way, my values reflect the dollar value boost they require to get the last one to be worth a buck. Since I almost always find that catchers are undervalued, I end up getting two pretty good ones, since I’d rather pay $20 for a $25 player then $2 for a $7 player. Surprisingly, this undervaluation just wasn’t happening on Saturday morning. Literally every single catcher nominated ended up selling for $3 to $5 higher than my values, which I’ve never seen before. Perhaps it was an overadjustment to the fact that wow, AL catchers really stink once you get past the top two. Whatever the explanation, I wasn’t going to join the overpayment party.

The thing is, in a deep league like this one, the catcher bump is actually far smaller than it is in a 12-team mixed league. That’s because replacement level at catcher here is actually pretty close to every other position. In fact, there’s almost no positional adjustment whatsoever. It doesn’t matter what position a player plays!

Ready for some cray cray? I just changed Mike Trout’s position to catcher on my spreadsheet. Could you imagine if Trout qualified at catcher?! His value jumped…two bucks. TWO MEASLY BUCKS!

Missing out on any semblance of a decent catcher early on meant that I was ecstatic to get Mike Zunino at merely a buck over my value. I actually like him this year, and his biggest weakness (OBP) perfectly fits on my high OBP squad. I then settled for Geovany Soto as one of the last teams to select a catcher. He’ll provide some pop and actually contribute positive value in OBP relative to the position. I don’t think it’s a given that Omar Narvaez will be the White Sox starting catcher, so there’s playing time upside as well.

Joe Mauer was the direct result of the valuation methodology I employ. Last year, I let him go cheaply because I made a conscious decision to avoid the high OBP, crappy counting stats guys that my values had higher than everyone else. Apparently, I forgot about that decision and in the heat of the moment, couldn’t let him go that cheap versus my value. And then nobody said the magic 13. He’s boring as can be, and who ever trades for OBP? I’m probably stuck with him, so perhaps he enjoys a late career power surge.

Chase Headley is another exciting member of Team Pod…not. Meh. Not much to say here. Maybe he remembers his 2012 power stroke at the same time as Mauer recalls his 2009 one?

I was shocked, SHOCKED, that the bidding ended with me at 12 for Greg Bird. I was a big fan heading into the pre-season, thinking he would be my sleeper who I can acquire cheaply in all leagues. Then the Yankees went out and signed Chris Carter. Hey, for that cheap, how can you blame them? But it put a damper on my enthusiasm for Bird as I now had to worry about his playing time, especially if he got off to a slow start. As a result, I missed out on him in my two previous leagues. But then his spring happened, which not only suggests he’s healthy, but also cements his role.

So with all that, I was totally sure the bidding would get out of hand. Maybe he just came up at the right time in the auction. Timing plays a vital role in the ultimate price a player is won for, and if you ran this auction 10 times, I bet Bird goes for more than $12 in like nine of them. So I was pleasantly surprised when the bidding stopped with me as I really wanted to own a share and I was able to do so for much cheaper than expected.

Tyler Saladino was one of the last decent second basemen still without a home and once again, I was surprised he didn’t go for more as he has become a somewhat trendy sleeper. Here’s to hoping Yoan Moncada still can’t get those strikeouts under control and doesn’t get the call until September!

I probably thought I got a larger discount than I actually did, as I didn’t realize Matt Duffy probably won’t be back until May. Still, 5/6ths of a season at $4 was a good deal and I’ll be able to slot in Andrew Romine with the hope of notching a couple of steals over the first month.

I alluded to something unique about this year and now it’s finally time to discuss. When I finished my dollar values on Friday night, I couldn’t believe I had Mike Trout valued over $50. I’ve never owned him. Could this be my first opportunity? I told myself over and over again that I’m getting Trout and will go up to $50 for him. I had to psyche myself into it because I knew if I had to decide in the heat of the bidding, there would be no way I could bring myself to bid that much on one player. As usual, he was nominated very early and I thought, heeeeere we go! To my delight, I won him for essentially the same price as he cost last year. But this version of Trout is back to stealing bases and increased his walk rate/OBP!

I really like Matt Holliday in Yankee Stadium, as he finally returns to a hitter friendly park, and is worth even more in an OBP format. How did I get Aaron Judge for $3? I’m no more bullish than anyone else, but I guess it was just another timing thing. Or everyone is frightened by the potential of a gazillion strikeouts and a demotion. Surprisingly, he hasn’t even won the right field job yet, even though he has performed as well as hoped during the spring. I snagged Aaron Hicks in the reserve round as my backup in case Judge does open the year at Triple-A. But I need Judge to win the job to supply me with much needed power.

Matt Joyce is the sleeper I’ve said nary a word about. There were swing adjustments made that fueled the best wOBA and HR/FB rates of his career, and when I have an explanation behind the breakout, it’s much easier to believe. In a typical AVG league, he’s a nice cheap gamble, but in an OBP league, he’s almost a must target given his likely cheap cost.

I’m encouraged by Felix Hernandez’s spring velocity and have done a complete 180 on him. I never spend on top pitching, so figured I’d go for the guy who could rebound back into the top pitcher he used to be. I rostered David Price cheaply in my home league, so figured I’d double down. Fingers crossed he returns in May, stays off the DL the rest of the season, and actually pitches like good Price. If that happens, he’s a bargain at $13.

I love Nate Karns in Kansas City with that defense and home park. I’m also a Tyler Skaggs fan and think the velocity spike should lead to an increased strikeout rate. And Matt Shoemaker looks to be fully recovered from last year’s scare and should splitter his way into lots of strikeouts. I’m throwing my hands up on Luis Severino, as he was just a cheap gamble I’m hoping pans out. Then I decided right in the moment to bid on two current middle relievers with a real shot to become their team’s closer at some point in Matt Bush and Sean Doolittle. That puts me in a good position for saves, though Craig Kimbrel needs to get his velocity back and stop scaring me.

The Tout Wars league site at onRoto.com displays projected standings based on two different projections sets — from ClayDavenport.com and BaseballHQ.com. Both project me to win the league! One by a whopping 16.5 points, and the other by a mere 3.5 points. For most of the categories, I’m a bit more bullish than the projections for my team, of course. But it’s pretty clear that I’m strong in OBP, runs scored, and steals, with solid all around pitching.

Projections aren’t the end-all-be-all, but we all draft using projections, so it does mean something. I used to run projected standings for my home league and I always projected myself to win by 10-20 points. Well, of course, because I drafted using my projections, so if I wasn’t forecasted to kick butt, I seriously screwed up! But to see two other projection sets project you to win does validate what you did. Now it’s just up to me to manage in season. Easy peasy.

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Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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A usual disciplined-budget Pod team, but without a crazy buy for speed or at catcher? That’s a nice combo! 🙂

I do like this team a lot. If you’re going to pour resources into one guy, Trout’s the man. Not just the performance, but the health & age.

Only quibble would be Price. For him to be a bargain, as you said, he needs to 1) Get healthy quickly; 2) stay healthy; and 3) return to pre-2016 levels. Seems an unlikely path forward.