2021 Tout Wars AL Only Auction Recap — I Puk’ed Up

For the ninth year, I had the honor of being part of the Tout Wars family of auctions and drafts this past Saturday. From winning the inaugural mixed league draft back in 2013, to moving into the AL auction in 2014 and competing there ever since, including a win in 2017, my history suggests that I would never make the mistake I just did that ruined my entire day. Before I share what happened that led to an embarrassing performance, let me remind you what this league is all about.

First, we ran our auction online for the second straight year, while most of us were together on a Zoom call to at least get a little bit of that in-person experience we have been missing since COVID changed our world. As you will soon read, the auction room software combined with my confused brain, is what led to my error.

Next, for every league, whether an auction or snake draft, I calculate dollar values based on my Pod Projections. I don’t generally come in with a “strategy”, as I simply want to maximize the value I buy by the time my last player is rostered. The only way to do that is to buy as many discounted players to my calculated values as possible, all the while ensuring I spend my entire budget (obviously it does you no good to buy 23 $1 players that are actually all worth $5 each!). Therefore, it makes little sense to target players (“get your guys”, which also applies to those who like to ignore ADP and just get the guys you like, which is not the optimal recipe for success) or allocate a budget to each position. That increases the likelihood you end up buying $260 worth of value for your $260, or worse, less than $260 worth of value.

How are you going to win your league if you merely bought the projected value you paid for?! You’ll need a great amount of good fortune and savvy in-season pickups and trades to turn that roster into a winner…unless of course every other team did the exact same thing, and then it’s just an in-season battle between similar teams. But that never happens, as every auction and draft ends with some teams closing in on $300 (or more) of value, with others falling well short of $260 in value.

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. This is a hugely important distinction, as the switch could dramatically alter a hitter’s value (think Adam Dunn, who recorded a weak .237 career AVG, but strong .364 OBP). So keep that in mind when reviewing the team. In addition, we only require four starting outfield slots instead of five, switching one of those slots to a “Swingman” role. That spot could be filled by either a hitter or a pitcher and can be changed each week. 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…unless I make the mistake of all mistakes.

Now, please hold your laughter, here is my roster:

AL-Only Tout Wars Team
Pos Player $$
C Danny Jansen 6
C Tom Murphy 3
1B Bobby Dalbec 11
3B David Fletcher 12
CI Yandy Diaz 6
2B Nick Solak 14
SS Wander Franco 6
MI Nick Madrigal 11
OF Whit Merrifield 27
OF Max Kepler 16
OF Andrew Benintendi 17
OF Mitch Haniger 13
UTIL Giancarlo Stanton 24
P James Karinchak 18
P Dylan Bundy 17
P Jose Leclerc 11
P Ryan Yarbrough 10
P Mike Minor 8
P Garrett Richards 5
P Dane Dunning 4
P Gregory Soto 3
P Nate Pearson 2
Swing A.J. Puk 2
Bench Albert Pujols
Bench Jake Bauers
Bench Steven Matz
Bench Jarrod Dyson

Rather than discuss my team and delay the suspense, let’s talk about the elephant in the room first — my big a$$ mistake.

So the auction was humming along, I was buying up undervalued hitters, who were seemingly the guys whose values were boosted most heavily by the use of OBP instead of AVG, and then disaster struck. I had rostered 20 of my 23 starters when I realized that the auction room showed that I had two pitcher slots open. That was a surprise, because I only showed one pitcher slot left on the Excel file I was keeping to track my team. In the frenetic pace of an auction, I quickly highlighted my pitcher slots to see if I mistakenly only typed in eight instead of nine slots. Sure enough, Excel showed me a count of eight. Woohoo, I have another slot to use! So I added another row and several nominations later, I happily bought a $2 A.J. Puk.

At this point in the auction, I was hoping to land Hunter Renfroe for most of my remaining budget to round out my offense that could use more power and absorb a low OBP. About five picks after Puk, I did just that, winning the Renfroe bid, and leaving me with a couple of bucks to fill the last few roster spots.

Immediately following my Renfroe win, the Zoom room erupted, claiming it was an illegal buy because I had already filled my Swing spot with Puk. WHAT?! Despite the Zoom room’s protests, the auction software seemed to be telling me Puk was my final pitcher and I still had one more open spot for Renfroe! Nope nope nope, I was wrong wrong wrong.

You see, auction software can’t accommodate a Swingman spot in which you could choose either a hitter or a pitcher. The workaround that I clearly had forgotten (we even did the same thing last year!) was to add an additional Pitcher and Util slot. Whichever you fill to act as your Swingman, you then nominate a dummy player for $1 for the other extra spot, the 24th player. So when I bought Puk, he filled my Swing slot without me realizing it.

So then what happened with my Excel file that seemingly agreed I had only eight slots typed up? I was highlighting eight pitchers plus an empty cell (my ninth pitcher slot), so the count it was showing was eight, representing how many pitchers I rostered at that point, not how many pitcher slots I added lines for. Obviously, I know how Excel works and counts, but given the fast pace of an online auction, it was a moment of confusion and I just wasn’t thinking.

So my Renfroe purchase had to be undone, and then we had to back out all the nominations since my Puk purchase and start again. My leaguemates weren’t happy, especially those who didn’t join the Zoom and didn’t actually know what the heck happened. Non-Zoom participants in my league — I’m sorry for screwing things up, but at least you know my team is worse off for it! I ended up leaving $14 on the table, and was the only owner to have not spent his entire budget. In a league like Tout Wars, that’s nearly a death sentence.

Phew, let’s move on from my mistake and quickly talk about the team I did manage to legally acquire. I’m not going to go position by position, but instead just highlight some players and decisions.

If you are familiar with mono leagues, you know that top prospects expected to be called up at some point during the season will always get rostered well before the reserve round. I’m not sure I was ever a buyer of one of these players, because they usually go for far more than I’m willing to pay. Not only are we all unsure when the prospect will be called up, but he has to actually perform well in the minors to earn that call-up, and then once he’s recalled, actually perform well in the Majors to earn his cost. It’s quite a lot of things you need to go right to make such a purchase worth it.

So naturally, the top ranked prospect in baseball, Wander Franco, was the 19th nomination…and I ended up buying him, for $6. I couldn’t believe that he went that cheap, and I couldn’t believe that his price ended up below my $9 value, which was based on just 399 plate appearances (essentially assuming a beginning of June promotion). Remember that I’ll be able to bench him and start another hitter in his place until his promotion, so assuming the replacement’s OBP doesn’t negate the value from his counting stat contributions, I’ll get more than $9 worth of value from that combination of Franco + replacement.

Because I purchased Franco, I needed to roster another SS-eligible hitter. My options to do so were to buy one during the auction that also qualified somewhere else and filled that slot, and then select a player in the reserve round at the position that would slide into the slot at the spot the SS-eligible replacement bought at auction occupied, or just pick a SS replacement in the reserve round. The bottom of my shortstop values were terrible, with literally only two I had projected that were unlikely to be bought at the auction. So I felt I needed to buy my SS replacement, rather than wait until the reserve round to select one.

That’s where David Fletcher came into play. Just over 100 nominations later, I bought him to fill my third base slot, as he qualifies at second base, shortstop, and third base, thanks to our five game eligibility rules this year. This kind of position flexibility is enormous in a mono league. Since I wanted Fletcher to slide from CI into SS to cover for Franco until his recall, I knew I wanted a third baseman to fill the CI spot. While there are a number of startable first basemen in the bottom tier, there was a dearth of third basemen. So my options were limited. Ideally, I wanted more power, with little care for OBP. However, I ended up with the opposite in Yandy Diaz, but I was perfectly satisfied with him given the price. Now he could slide from CI to 3B when Fletcher moves to SS to cover for Franco, allowing me to pick any CI in the reserve round to fill Yandy’s spot. Those options were far superior than just shortstop or third base eligible guys, so I was happy with the way I afforded myself that flexibility.

I think Nick Madrigal is being massively undervalued. Last season, with no sense of when he would be called up and no MLB experience yet, he was bought for $12 in the league (our auction took place in March, the day it was originally scheduled for). This year, I got him for a buck less at $11. What changed? This year, he opens the season as the de facto starting second baseman. In addition, while his strikeout rate and SwStk% mark took small hits from his incredible minor league numbers, they were still unbelievably low, proving his unique skill set is translatable to the Majors. The various projection systems are all over the place on his OBP, but Steamer and I are both the most optimistic and those lines, along with the .350+ OBP, would make him an amazing bargain.

I don’t often roster the top tier of players…at any position. Why? Because I’m a bargain hunter and typically the top guys go either well above value or at fair market. So when this happens, sometimes you need to suck it up and buy a top player or you’ll end up with money left on the table. The best strategy? Overpay less than everyone else. That’s how I ended up with a fairly valued Whit Merrifield, who is seemingly never overpriced. As the 24th player nominated, most of the earlier names were overpriced, so getting my top second baseman (though he’s currently slotted in the outfield based on the way the rest of my auction went) at value was a win.

Mitch Haniger went for $29 in 2019, coming off his only full season. After being limited to just 63 games and then missing all of 2020 due to various injuries, his price has dropped considerably to account for the added risk. Compared to my projected value, he was a good deal, but there is a ton of additional upside here if he is fully recovered from those injuries.

Giancarlo Stanton is the only hitter I went over my value for. I’m fine paying a bit extra for injury prone guys who have a reduced playing time projection due to expectation of an injury at some point. Like I discussed when evaluating the Franco purchase, I can replace Stanton if/when he gets hurt, with the hope that the replacement’s OBP isn’t bad enough to completely offset the positives from his counting stats. In 2019 after coming off a healthy 2018, he went for $40, so you see how much his price tumbled given that he’s recorded fewer than 200 PAs over the past two seasons!

I don’t generally pay much for closers in a snake draft because there’s an opportunity cost in using a mid-single digit pick for such a variable category. In auctions though, you could allocate your budget however you want and not have to decide on a 6th round hitter or close. This, plus the mono league format, is why I’m more than happy to pay up for a closer because even without saves, the top closers will have a much greater effect on a team’s ratios and strikeouts than in shallow mixed leagues. Surprisingly, Jose Leclerc was nominated third in the auction. I was just about to type a whole schpiel about how with Jonathan Hernandez out to injury, Leclerc has little competition for the job and I was thrilled to buy him at $11. Then I read the news that he is experiencing elbow soreness and is expected to miss an extended period of time. Maaaaaaan.

Luckily, I rostered James Karinchak, who I am hoping will actually be the closer, and Gregory Soto, who I have been speculating on all year as the man that will earn the most saves in the Tigers weak bullpen.

Dylan Bundy is the only pitcher I bought above my price. I don’t like Bundy. His velocity faded last year and he dramatically outperformed his SIERA thanks to an unsustainably low single-digit HR/FB rate, combined with the lowest BABIP of his career. Yet somehow, I’ve already rostered him in two of three leagues! I guess everyone else is down on him as well, but perhaps I’m down on him less? It’s bizarre. Anyhow, good starting pitchers were going fast and he was relatively undervalued compared to the other pitchers in his value vicinity and above.

I collected a random smattering of starting pitchers to go with Bundy, including Ryan Yarbrough and his strikeout rate upside versus Steamer and Mike Minor and his Spring velocity spike. Then of course, there’s A.J. Puk, who began the discussion, in the Swing spot. I actually love that purchase at $2, but I wouldn’t have bid at all if I remembered I only had that one Swing slot available, rather than a P and Util spot.

Finally, it’s bench time, at which point I had to address specific needs. I needed a corner guy to replace Diaz, who would slide over to 3B, pushing Fletcher to SS to replace Franco until his recall. I then needed a hitter at any position so I could fill the Swing slot with a hitter, or at least have the option of filling it with either. Last, I wanted another pitcher to fill in for the currently injured Nate Pearson.

For what it’s worth, I was thrilled with the way the reserve round went, which changed my mood from super duper annoyed at myself to just super annoyed at myself. It’s totes sad to see Albert Pujols fall all the way to the reserve round, but good for me, as I had to scoop him up as my CI fill-in since he’ll play enough to accrue some value and give me a bit of the extra power I need without caring about his OBP. I then gave myself another potential first base option who could also work as a Swing in Jake Bauers. He’s currently battling Bobby Bradley for the Indians’ first base job. The key here is that Bauers is out of options, making it much more likely he wins the job to open the season. Of course, he’ll have to hit to keep his job, but at least he should get that opportunity. If that does happen, he’ll be used at Swing. If not, then I have Jarrod Dyson to chip in some steals during his odd start and pinch running chances.

Finally, I’m pretty surprised that Steven Matz wasn’t bought during the auction. His velocity jumped last year to a career best, leading to a strikeout rate and SwStk% surge to career highs as well. From spring numbers, it seems he has maintained that velocity increase. Unfortunately, his BABIP and HR/FB rates skyrocketed to insane levels last year, bringing down his LOB% along for the ride. That left him with a bloated 9.68 ERA, despite the best SIERA he has posted since 2016. He’ll now be taking over the spot left by Leclerc, so I won’t have to immediately dive into the free agent pool.

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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NL Rulesmember
1 year ago

Thanks for the recap – I always enjoy hearing auction stories. I have won an Only league before when leaving $13-14 on the table…but like you said, it requires a fair amount of in-season maneuvering. At a glance, it looks like this team will rely on Dalbec. Franco and some FA pick-ups or trades to improve the pitching.