2019 Tout Wars AL-Only Auction Recap

On Saturday, I participated in my sixth Tout Wars AL-Only auction and seventh Tout Wars league. I was coming off a disappointing sixth place performance last year, after winning and setting four records (including most total points and margin of victory) in 2017.

As a reminder, the Tout Wars AL-Only league is a standard 12-teamer composed of 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 spot 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.

The shift to OBP can dramatically alter a hitter’s value, whether positively or negatively. That’s why it’s imperative that when you’re preparing for your own drafts and auctions, you calculate values based on your league’s settings and scoring system. Don’t think you can mentally adjust hitters on the fly and decide to pay a couple of extra bucks for Carlos Santana or fewer bucks for Dee Gordon.

Strategy

As usual, the only strategy you might consider as such is to amass as much value as possible, while being cognizant of not rostering 250 steals and 150 home runs. While trading is allowed, it’s not easy, and certainly not something to rely on if departing the auction with any sort of team imbalance. So ideally, I leave the auction with a relatively balanced team in the hitting categories.

Pitching is a different story. This year, it appears that starting pitcher prices have been adjusted upward. I’m not sure why, but I’m loving it. I’ve always paid less for my pitching staff than nearly every other team, instead expecting to make savvy in-season pickups or trade any excess hitting for upgrades. The overpaying for pitching makes it even easier for me to roster a killer offense, yet still allows me to take shots on cheaper pitching gambles, because the extra money going toward the middle and top tier has to come from somewhere, so there are still bargains to be had and inexpensive dart throws to be made.

With my Pod Projections in hand and those forecasts converted into dollar values, the goal was to simply bid on players until just below my value and hope to roster as many players at discounted prices as possible. Remember, the winning team is going to earn well over $300 over the season, so while a lot of that profit may come from in-season moves, you could give yourself a head start with a successful auction buying as many discounted players as you can.

2018 Tout Wars AL-Only Team
Pos Player Cost
C Grayson Greiner 1
C Jason Castro 2
1B (OF) Trey Mancini 12
3B Miguel Sano 11
CI Yonder Alonso 11
2B (OF) Whit Merrifield 30
SS J.P. Crawford 1
MI Jason Kipnis 7
OF Mike Trout 51
OF Billy Hamilton 19
OF Ramon Laureano 16
OF Cedric Mullins II 11
Util Randal Grichuk 13
Swing Billy McKinney 3
Hitter Total 188 (72%)
P Jose Leclerc 19
P David Price 18
P Masahiro Tanaka 17
P Blake Parker 3
P Lucas Giolito 2
P Danny Salazar 1
P Diego Castillo 4
P Marcus Stroman 7
P Brent Honeywell 1
Pitcher Total 72 (28%)
Reserve (SS) Richie Martin
Reserve (P) Sean Manaea
Reserve (3B) Rio Ruiz
Reserve (P) Dan Altavilla

Since I’m never quite sure how best to recap an auction, I’ll just post random thoughts on my team, rather than go position by position.

Mike Trout, $51

Though I can’t remember if he was the first name thrown out (he was definitely one of the first five), my purchase set up the entire rest of the auction for me. Obviously. The bidding and final winning bid was probably the quickest for a $50+ player in Tout Wars history. He was initially nominated for $30, then the bid was jumped to $50. I was going to jump it to $50, but I was beat to the punch. So I went $51 and got crickets. I was actually quite surprised, as I believe he went for $53 last year. In 2017, the year I won, I bought Trout for I think $49. How can Trout possibly be worth over $50 you ask? It’s actually really simple and only requires one tables and two rows.

Projected OBP
Rank Player Depth Charts Projected OBP
1 Mike Trout 0.437
2 Mookie Betts 0.382

Not only is that gap between first and second place enormous, but in no other category is their even close to as large a gap between the top ranked player and the second best. This is precisely why Trout is a $50+ player in an OBP league, rather than the mid-to-high $40 player you’re used to in a batting average league.

The side benefit of rostering Trout is that it allowed me to almost ignore OBP the rest of the way (though not completely ignore it, otherwise my Trout-established OBP base will disappear), and consider buying low OBP guys that other owners aren’t keen on.

Welcome Back Billy Hamilton!

You might remember back in 2015 when I selected Billy Hamilton in the second round at 20th overall in the LABR Mixed draft. Though he did steal 57 bases as I had hoped, he missed around a month of the season from a shoulder injury and various other maladies. So he was a detriment in the other three counting stats, and oh, batted just .226. Even those 57 steals weren’t enough to earn his second round value.

Since that season, Hamilton’s price has consistently declined, as he has found himself more often at the bottom of the order and we have all gotten tired of his poor batting average.

So, it was quite surprising to see how valuable he was projected to be according to my calculations. But perhaps it shouldn’t have been. Back in December, I published my thoughts on his move to Kansas City and concluded with the following:

On the other hand, the Royals have been more than willing to hit low OBP guys at the top of the lineup and will likely give Hamilton a much longer leash there than the Reds would have if they gave him another chance to lead off. So with a greater opportunity to earn lead-off at-bats that should boost all his counting stats and every reason to run wild in a home park that suppresses homers, this move should boost his fantasy value at least several bucks. He’ll likely be a great value on draft day, since he’s typically undervalued to begin with given many owners’ unwillingness to buy one category studs.

A move to Kauffman Stadium is usually a death knell for a hitter. But, that’s only for a power hitter, of which Hamilton clearly isn’t. We have seen the leash that Alcides Escobar has had as their leadoff hitter, which suggests that the organization still values speed over everything else from their table-setter.

While it was assumed that Hamilton would hit ninth, he has actually led off in the last five games he has started, typically being followed by Adalberto Mondesi and Whit Merrifield. It’s kind of hilarious that the team may very well open the season with a projected .301 OBP leading off and a projected .294 OBP in the two-hole. But hey, as a fantasy owner, I’ll play the hand that’s dealt, and if that hand includes Hamilton leading off, then I’m going to incorporate that into my projection and valuation.

The funny thing is that I bought Merrifield too at a price I’m guessing most would scoff at. In fact, I may have cost myself a couple of bucks, as I jumped the bid from $25 to $30, fully expecting the bidding to continue a couple of bucks higher. That didn’t happen and I rostered him at a price that may have been a couple of bucks more than I could have won him at. Oh well.

Hello Low OBP Sluggers!

The first three players I bought were Trout, Merrifield, and Hamilton. While Hamilton does indeed drag my OBP down, it was in such strong shape to begin with thanks to Trout that it still made sense to go after lower OBP guys. There was surely no need to buy guys whose value was primarily driven by OBP like a Shin-Soo Choo or a speculation like Yandy Diaz.

Trey Mancini, Yonder Alonso, Randal Grichuk and Billy McKinney perfectly fit the type of hitter I needed to surround my core with, and best yet, I bought each just below my values. I should also include Miguel Sano in this group, but he probably has the most potential of the foursome to be a real positive in OBP, depending on how his BABIP swings and if he has any success in cutting down on that absurd strikeout rate.

More Steals!

As if I didn’t have enough steals from my initial trio of Trout, Merrifield, and Hamilton, I oddly purchased Ramon Laureano and Cedric Mullins II in order to, uhhhh, win the steals category by 30? Did I ignore my own advice to depart the auction with a balanced team? Nope, because they also provide power, with double digit homers projected for both. The two undoubtedly found their names on many sleepers lists, yet I have found in all my drafts and auctions so far that they have been quite inexpensive. I fully expected the sleeper hype to push up their costs, but that never happened, which was delightful to learn.

I’m a big fan of Laureano, as his xHR/FB metrics fully support the power output and even hint at some upside. His batted ball profile is also superb and supports an inflated BABIP (though not quite .388), which should offset some of the OBP downside due to a potentially high strikeout rate. Perhaps the best reason to roster him with confidence is that he was a spectacular defender last year in center field, and that should keep him in the lineup, even if and when he slumps offensively.

Switching over to Mullins, did you notice the Orioles optioned like all their outfielders back to the minors? First the assumption was that D.J. Stewart would be their starting right fielder, but they optioned him down. Then we figured that the team was going to go with former top prospect Austin Hays, but he ended up getting optioned. With no real alternatives left to compete for outfield playing time, you have to imagine Mullins is a lock for every day at-bats and has been a fixture atop the Orioles batting order. Like Laureano, he has shown power and speed in the minors, combining for 15 homers and 23 steals last year.

Can I Buy A Shortstop?!?!?

Ahhhh, the adventure of trying to buy a shortstop. Seven of the top eight shortstops went at or above my value (surprisingly, only Adalberto Mondesi went just below, but he was not a guy I wanted to buy at value). I was hoping I could buy one of Jorge Polanco, Elvis Andrus, Marcus Semien, Tim Anderson or Andrelton Simmons, who were within $3 of each other, but alas, the bargains just didn’t come. Each time one of this group was nominated and purchased at or above my value, I waited for the next one thinking I could get a discount. But it just didn’t happen.

I then turned my attention to Willy Adames, who I’m not really a fan of, but nearly any full-timer is going to be worth at least $10, so sure, I’d buy him at the right price. Again, he went at value, and not to me. Moving on, the next four guys on my list went wayyyy above my value, very possibly because several owners were in the same position I was at the time — shortstopless and getting desperate.

Eventually, I was hoping to roster Tim Beckham or Troy Tulowitzki for a buck or two, but I ended up in dollar days and was unable to outbid Nando Di Fino, who decided to fill his utility slot with a $1 Beckham (aaarrgghhh) after he had rostered Tulo for $3 as well. Yikes, this won’t end well.

As you can see, I settled for a minor leaguer in J.P. Crawford. He’s not exciting from a fantasy standpoint, but he should be up at some point, and he’s unlikely to be promoted as a bench bat. So he should earn his buck eventually, it will just be delayed gratification.

Since I can’t go potentially several months with a zero from my shortstop slot, I had to find someone, anyone, to play there during the reserve draft. Richie Martin, may you win the Orioles shortstop job and steal 30 bases to give me a 50 steal win in the category!

Pitching

I knew I wasn’t going to pay the going rate for the top tier of starting pitchers. While I think most of those starters could earn their salaries, I believe that Trevor Bauer, Blake Snell, and Mike Clevinger are significantly overvalued. I knew from my past drafts and auctions that Masahiro Tanaka was easily the best value of the top end of the middle tier and that’s who I was expecting to roster as my “ace”. I also knew that David Price was probably going to come at a reasonable price and I could potentially pair him with Tanaka, all for below my value, while the top guys were getting paid well above my value. Mission accomplished.

With those two, I really had no interest in chasing the other mid-tier guys as most project for a 4.00 ERA and you’re essentially playing $10 roulette. Some of them will breakout, some will post 4.50 ERAs and ruin your ratios. I preferred to just go cheap and surround them with guys who could earn a big profit at a fraction of the cost. I’m encouraged by Lucas Giolito’s supposed velocity spike during spring training, while Marcus Stroman is a prime bounceback candidate given relatively stable skills. Danny Salazar will be an immediate DL stash.

Mistake Alert — I used a whole bunch of roster slots on injured players, trying to take advantage of the unlimited DL slots in Tout Wars. Since our FAAB process runs the night before the non-Japan opening day games, I’ll be able to replace them without taking zeroes. I nominated Brent Honeywell in the end game with the assumption someone would go $2. Instead I got crickets. I thought okay, well he’ll go on the DL and I could immediately replace him. But I forgot he’s not going to be placed on the MLB Injured List, so I’ll have to decide whether I want to fill one of just four reserve slots with a player that might not get the call until several months into the season, at the earliest, or drop him. That decision won’t be needed until I actually need the slot though, but he could earn a quick boot.

Though I hate paying for top closers and never do in mixed leagues, I do pay up for top closers in mono leagues like Tout Wars AL-Only. There’s a clear top five closers in the AL, plus Cody Allen and Ken Giles who are assured of jobs. I think Jose Leclerc represents the best value of the fivesome, thanks to his strikeout potential. Hopefully he could sustain that improved control.

I also like to speculate on saves by buying cheap relievers. Remember that in mono leagues, non-closing relievers can be valuable, so feel free to buy Ryan Pressly and Adam Ottavino. But I feel like the Presslys and Ottavinos of the world, those with little chance of seeing saves, could be found on free agency during the season. So I want to buy relievers that have a realistic shot at saves or emerging as the top guy in a muddled bullpen.

That led me to Blake Parker, Diego Castillo, and Dan Altavilla. The Twins closer hasn’t been named, even though everyone seems to be assuming it’s Trevor May’s job. I don’t think that’s automatically the case as they had numerous chances to formally hand him the job last year when he was dominating and they failed to do so. They also signed Parker, who has closing experience, so I think that he has to be viewed as the favorite for now until further notice. At the very least, I can’t see how he doesn’t garner enough saves to earn his $3 salary.

I have a similar view of the Rays closing situation. Everyone assumes that Jose Alvarado is their regular closer or will record the most saves, but I have a feeling that Castillo will finish the season with the most saves in that bullpen. Roster Resource projects that Alvarado will be the only lefty in that bullpen, so do you really think a forward-thinking organization like the Rays are going to want to pigeonhole their one lefty into such a set role? My money is on the hard-throwing, strikeout slinging righty.

Last, that Mariners bullpen is ugly. Does anyone really think that Hunter Strickland or Anthony Swarzak remain the closer all season? Absolutely not. So the search is on for sleepers to take over that role early on or some point in the middle of the season. I settled on Dan Altavilla and Shawn Armstrong as the deep sleepers here, but my projections like Altavila a bit more, and so that’s who I decided to run with as my last reserve pick.

Random Thoughts

  • Maaaaaan, the AL catcher crop is unbelievably weak. It’s just sad looking at your options, especially after Gary Sanchez comes off the board. Historically, I’ve been more than willing to pay up for catchers. But this year, I told myself I’m not getting into a bidding war for the likes of Omar Narvaez or Isiah Kiner-Falefa (my favorite name evaahhhhh). So $1 or $2 catchers it was and I was actually pretty happy with my $3 catching duo.
  • Why does everyone hate Jason Kipnis? He was a bargain for $7.
  • The downside of rostering an injured player like Sano is that you either have to select a player at that position in the reserve round to cover you until your injured guy returns, or hope to FAAB someone in the first week or two of the season. I refuse to take a zero for any amount of time, so I had no choice but to decide on a third baseman to replace Sano. Sadly, I had literally one player left on my spreadsheet with third base eligibility, so the so-called choice wasn’t one at all. Welcome to my team, Rio Ruiz. While he may not even make the team, which is going to leave me back where I started — with a hole at third — it might well work out after all. The incumbent at third is Renato Nunez, who enjoyed an acceptable half a season at the plate. But, his defense could be problematic, as he has already made four errors in spring training, ranking in a tie for second for most errors. Ruiz has outhit Nunez and hasn’t made an error, which means there’s now a real competition when there wasn’t expected to be one.

We hoped you liked reading 2019 Tout Wars AL-Only Auction Recap by Mike Podhorzer!

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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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Is this the “killer offense” you were hoping for?