2023 Tout Wars AL Only Auction Recap

This past Saturday, I hopped on the F train in NYC for the quick trip to Hotel Edison to participate in the first Tout Wars live auctions since 2019. After several Covid-induced online auctions, it was great to enjoy one of the best days of the year in person once again.

As a reminder, I have taken a pause on running my Pod Projections. So this is now the second industry draft/auction I have participated in without my own forecasts. I felt naked. It was weird. But then I reminded myself how much time I saved by not having to stare at FanGraphs player pages and Excel for many, many hours! It also meant that I no longer have any opinions. Players are just names, positions, and numbers on a spreadsheet. That’s the way I like it. No chance of letting your feelings get in the way and triggering an overpay or passing on a guy you “just don’t like”, even if the price is good.

Before I share my team, let’s review my auction philosophy and the Tout league rules. For every league, whether an auction or snake draft, I calculate dollar values on my own. Even this year using another projection system, I still calculated values, rather than relying on another source or using the FanGraphs Auction calculator, simply because I know exactly how the values are being calculated using my own methodology. I don’t generally come in with a “strategy”, as I simply want to maximize the value of my squad by the time my last player is rostered, while being cognizant of statistical balance and risk. 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, even if they are actually all worth $5 each!). Therefore, it makes no sense to target players (“get your guys”) 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-player starting rosters, with the only wrinkle coming from the usage of OBP instead of AVG in the 5×5 categories. This is a massively 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.

With the background out of the way, let’s check out my roster. You can also view the results of the entire auction here.

Overall, I spent exactly 200 on hitting and 60 on pitching. This is a split I love to have as it’s hard to make up hitting counting stats, but I could manage my pitcher ratios by jettisoning the starters that are killing them and opting for relievers instead.

Introducing…the all-IL team! If you forgot, last year I departed the auction with the all-risk team, comprised of a number of players that were either injury prone or returning from major injuries. It worked out for the most part, at least if you consider finishing in second still relatively successful. This year, I apparently took the theme one step further. Forget guys who had been injured in the past, give me all the players who are already injured!

As usual, I didn’t enter the auction with the intent of buying up injured guys. It just so happened that way. I find that industry leaguers are usually risk averse — not to rookies and young players, but to injured players or guys returning from major injury. That sometimes spells opportunity as these players can often be rostered at a discounted price. I think that’s what happened here (at least I hope!) and I decided to take advantage of most of these opportunities, and all the risk that goes along with it!

So let’s review these guys expected to open the season on the IL:

Adalberto Mondesi
Dylan Moore
Harrison Bader
Carlos Rodón
James Paxton
Brayan Bello

Six of my starting 23 figure to open the season on the IL! THAT’S A LOT.

So it wouldn’t be a Pod team if Adalberto Mondesi wasn’t a member of it. I had really hoped to buy him cheaper than $10, especially considering that’s where my dollar value pegged him. But that $10 value was derived from just 386 PAs. Needless to say, there’s tons of room for upside if he exceeds that. Of course, I should have learned my lesson by now and just changed his projection to 50 PAs, but that’s no fun.

I don’t know where my head was at when all the middle infielders were nominated, but I clearly wasn’t paying enough attention. I overpaid for Michael Massey, given that there was little left available after he was off the board, though he wasn’t too bad a player to overpay on given his age and still cheap price. Then, when I had to fill my MI slot, I was left debating between an injured Moore to go along with an already rostered and injured Mondesi, or some scrub who might start just once or twice a week. Moore’s injury news came out the day before our auction, so I manually reduced his PAs and counting stats. Even then, I still had him worth a couple bucks more than $5, so I figured paying for the upside here was well worth it. I preferred this route than a buck on someone like Kyle Farmer, especially since I had the money to burn.

It was late in the auction and I think only two OF names that were still unrostered were worth at least $10 according to my values. I eyed Bader and knew I had to roster him to ensure I spent all my money. I actually was pleasantly surprised when the bidding stopped with me at just $10, as I think he’ll have no problem earning well above that value. Moving from one of the most pitcher friendly home parks to Yankee Stadium should greatly benefit his offense.

Carlos Rodón was the first pitcher I selected in the mixed LABR draft last month, so naturally soon after, he gets hurt. Since I love to double down, figured I might as well bet on his healthy return in two leagues so I either go down with the ship or hit the Yoo-hoo showers twice. I never expected to roster Rodón once, let alone twice, in leagues this year, but I couldn’t possibly let him go for just $9. I was pretty shocked I won him for $10, but it gets back to us industry folk being petrified when the word “forearm” or “elbow” are typed into the same sentence as the pitcher’s name.

It was down to dollar days for me and I needed to fill my last two pitching slots. My top two targets were Matthew Boyd, who I nominated and immediately heard Jason Collette yell “SEVEN!” to spend the rest of his budget and close out his auction. Darn, let’s try my next target — Shintaro Fujinami. I was sure no one else would be interested here, but I was wrong, as Patrick Davitt called out 2 and placed him in the Swingman slot I always use a hitter in. UGHHH. I went up and down the list of remaining pitchers, trying not to throw up. Ultimately, I settled on gambling again — with injured guys — a pair of Red Sox starters, actually. I drafted Paxton in LABR as well and figured I might as well throw another dart at his name. At least he’s not dealing with an arm injury now. For a buck, the risk here isn’t very high.

I was super excited about Bello’s debut last year, but he ended up disappointing, especially with just a 20.5% strikeout rate, after posting marks over 30% at every minor league stop he made since 2021. Like Rodón, he, too, is dealing with a forearm issue, which of course means that the words Tommy John could pop up in our news feed on any day and no one would be surprised. I preferred speculating here than going with a healthy pitcher with a low projected strikeout rate that’s likely going to make me want to drop him after his first start.

So those are my injury buy stories. Don’t forget that we have unlimited IL spots in Tout Wars, so I will be able to replace these players immediately and benefit from some additional counting stats.

Let’s make some quick additional observations about the team and auction:

  • The catcher buys were crazy! I don’t know how many of them were nominated early on, but they came out fast and furious. I have no idea what triggered the “run”, but it was nuts. Typically, I find catchers undervalued compared to my values, but that was not the case at this auction! I had the room paying a total of $225 for their 24 catchers versus a projected dollar value total of just $192. It’s rare I see such overpaying at catcher. Since they are typically undervalued, I usually pay up for a strong pair, but I wasn’t going to overpay. That’s how you get a duo of Tom Murphy and Jake Rogers! There’s real upside here to become a bargain duo, but the more likely scenario is I’ll be picking up and dropping like 10-15 catchers all season long. Fun times!
  • Never overpay is a great rule to follow…the vast majority of the time. The one exception is when everyone in a group, whether that group is a position, or a specific category, is overpriced. Rather than get shut out at the position or the category, the strategy shifts to overpaying the least. That relates to the José Ramírez buy. He was no bargain, but buying the top player at a position at value is usually a good idea. You might need to buy a top guy just to ensure you spend all your money, so you want to make sure that when you do, you overpay by as little as possible, if you have to do so to begin with.
  • At first glance, Taylor Ward at $20 seems crazy. And it might prove to be. Heck, I’m not thrilled about it, though he was a bit undervalued compared to my values. But this is a guy who posted a .360 OBP last year without any luck (wOBA and xWOBA nearly identical) and is slated to hit leadoff…ahead of Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani. That could result in a ton of runs scored, and he makes for an excellent darkhorse candidate to lead the league in the category.
  • The AL closer crop is scary. There are seemingly only six closers that we’re pretty sure are locked into the job. Every other team’s situation is questionable. That could have provided me with a great reason to buy one of those six closers, but instead, I opted to spend half price on three different relievers who I think sit atop the depth chart at the moment. Relievers are relatively unpredictable from year to year, so I wanted to spread the risk and also capture more upside with three potential closers.
  • LOL, I had highlighted a bunch of pitchers green and red based on spring training velocity and/or strikeout rate. One of those I highlighted in red was Andrew Heaney. Last year, his fastball velocity jumped, which was likely one of the drivers of his strikeout rate surge and big half season breakout (the other driver was his new slider). This year when I compared his spring training velocity to last year, it was back down to his 2021 mark, so I got worried his breakout may turn out to have been a fluke. But, when he was nominated, I had the money, needed more starters, and there weren’t many decent ones left. I couldn’t let him go at $7 given the possibility that last year was real. That’s a good example of everyone having a price. I actually expected him to be overvalued, so I was surprised.
  • Yuck, I have never been a José Berríos fan, but even a 4.23 ERA projection yielded a $10 value, so I couldn’t let him go for just $6. I don’t know where his strikeouts went last year, but his velocity was fine, and he supposedly worked on his mechanics all off-season, so the hope is that he rebounds. He doesn’t even need to full rebound to earn me a profit, as even a 4.00 ERA will do just fine.
  • I think I’m now in love with Reid Detmers. While he hasn’t been recorded by Statcast yet this Spring, word is that all his pitches have enjoyed an uptick in velocity. As a result, I highlighted his name in green and was thrilled to buy him just below my value, using a projection I think is going to prove far too pessimistic. It’s a tiny sample size so far for sure, but he’s sporting a 35% strikeout rate so far, which makes me wonder if a strikeout rate surge is coming this year. I was all over paying just $8 to find out.
  • Reserve draft goal — cover for your injuries! With only four reserve slots, I couldn’t cover all six of my injuries, but I’ll get a chance to do that before the season begins anyway. JP Sears was my first pick, as he might win a rotation spot in Oakland and is sporting a 28% strikeout rate right now, versus just a 17.7% mark during his rookie season last year. I then went with Conner Capel, who looks to start the year as the Athletics’ starting left fielder against right-handers and will be my Bader replacement early on. I then went with two infielders in Cavan Biggio and Mauricio Dubón to help fill in for Mondesi and Moore. Dubón should see a significant uptick in playing time after the Altuve injury, so I definitely lucked out there!

There are two regrets I specifically remember. One was not having the ability, or not wanting to at the time he was nominated, to outbid Jason Collette for Mitch Garver, who went for $3. He’s only DH eligible now, but should eventually earn catcher eligibility and should end up being an excellent second (or first!) catcher at that price. Jeff Erickson scooped up Franmil Reyes for just a buck. The rebound potential here makes that a no-brainer buy.

Overall, the hitting projections all look strong compared to last year’s categorical standings, and they will be higher when including the replacements to my injured hitters. My pitching is more of a crapshoot as my ace is injured, I have a number of risky mid-tier guys, and two more injured guys at the bottom with significant upside that could perform all over the map…or never leave the IL. But pitching in general is kinda crapshooty to begin with, so I always leave my auctions with these types of rosters.

Sooooo, what do you think of the injured player theme? Do you like it better than last year’s injury prone/returning from injury theme?

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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2 months ago

You focus a lot on finding values vs. projections as the cornerstone of your draft. I wonder if you felt freer at all to deviate a little from the values, considering you were using someone ELSE’s projections?

I would guess that when you spend time manually projecting each player, you come to strongly believe in that projection and the resulting valuation. Whereas using another projection set (even a highly regarded one), you don’t have the psychological & time commitment of it being YOUR opinion.

2 months ago
Reply to  Mike Podhorzer

So the exact opposite of what I suggested – you felt MORE tied to projections! Will be interesting to see if that approach pays off. You certainly would have more time to focus on other aspects of fantasy prep (i.e. roster construction, game theory stuff, playing time battles, etc.)