2023 Tout Wars AL Only Review — How’d I Manage 3rd Place?!

My 11th season as an AL Tout Wars participant has concluded and it was once again an extremely frustrating season. I knew that my auction resulted in a high risk/high reward roster, but not only did my high risk guys not work out, many others failed to as well. For those of you who want to refresh your memories with some background information on my auction, check out my initial recap. Let’s start with the final standings.

If you’re having déjà vu, it’s because Doug Dennis has indeed pulled off a repeat, winning his second season in a row on the backs of an elite offense and a LIMA (low investment mound aces) type pitching staff, that included zero starters all season long. It’s a highly risky strategy as you’re essentially dumping two categories (wins and strikeouts), but it worked out for him…yet again. Unlike last season when I finished in second, this year I slid down to third, which was a bit disappointing as I was duking it out for second over the final month, but a huge push at the end by Andy Andres’ team made it look like he took second easily.

While I should feel like third place is a respectable finish, I’m actually baffled how I even finished that well at all! Let’s review the roster I left the auction with and dive in:

AL-Only Tout Wars Auctioned Team
Slot Player Cost $$ Val PA/IP OBP/ERA HR/WHIP RBI/W R/SV SB/SO
C Tom Murphy 1 1.0 159 0.335 8 17 19 0
C Jake Rogers 1 9.3 365 0.286 21 49 47 1
1B Ryan Mountcastle 15 14.2 470 0.328 18 68 64 3
3B José Ramírez 42 30.7 691 0.356 24 80 87 28
CI Alex Bregman 26 29.8 724 0.363 25 98 103 3
2B Michael Massey 6 4.4 461 0.274 15 55 42 6
SS Adalberto Mondesi 10
MI Dylan Moore 5 1.0 165 0.303 7 19 18 7
OF Yordan Alvarez 34 29.6 496 0.407 31 97 77 0
OF Taylor Ward 20 11.4 409 0.335 14 47 60 4
OF Andrew Benintendi 15 11.5 621 0.326 5 45 72 13
OF Harrison Bader 10 5.8 344 0.274 7 40 44 20
U Josh Naylor 12 19.8 495 0.354 17 97 52 10
Swing Jose Siri 3 13.0 364 0.267 25 56 58 12
P Alex Lange 9 10.5 66 3.68 1.33 7 26 79
P Carlos Rodón 10 -9.7 64.1 6.85 1.45 3 0 64
P José Leclerc 9 4.4 57 2.68 1.14 0 4 67
P Kendall Graveman 7 5.2 66.1 3.12 1.31 5 8 66
P Andrew Heaney 8 0.6 147.1 4.15 1.38 10 0 151
P José Berríos 7 11.6 189.2 3.65 1.19 11 0 184
P Reid Detmers 8 -3.6 148.2 4.48 1.35 4 0 168
P James Paxton 1 0.4 96 4.50 1.31 7 0 101
P Brayan Bello 1 1.2 157 4.24 1.34 12 0 132
Res Conner Capel -4.0 86 0.372 0 3 6 5
Res Cavan Biggio 8.8 338 0.340 9 40 54 5
Res Mauricio Dubón 8.9 492 0.309 10 46 76 7
Res JP Sears -2.3 172.1 4.54 1.26 5 0 161

How on Earth did I manage to finish in third after leaving the auction with this disappointing group?! According to our auction calculator, my $260 spent earned me just $201.90 in dollar value. That sounds like the earnings from a team that finished in the basement! Let’s start by looking at the bright side and discuss…

What Went Right

Some owners hate spending money on catchers. I’m not one of those, but somehow ended up with a pair of dollar catchers. As I noted in my initial auction recap, I thought catchers were overvalued in general, so I kept waiting and waiting, and ended up spending just $2 on my pair. It worked out just fine, as although Tom Murphy barely played, Jake Rogers ended up a nice buy for a buck, even if he posted a sub-.300 OBP.

Even despite missing time to injury, Josh Naylor still ended up as one of my better buys. He cut down on his strikeout rate, upped his FB% to a career high, offsetting some of the decline in HR/FB rate, and stole a career best 10 bases. I think there’s more HR/FB rate upside here given the elite maxEV, though I wouldn’t bet on him repeating that career best .326 BABIP.

Even in just over half a season, Jose Siri ended up my best purchase. Despite rarely walking and striking out often, he delivered a nice little home run and stolen base combo meal. His HR/FB rate jumped to 26.6% on the heels of an excellent maxEV and double digit Barrel%. I did expect him to steal more bases, but his home run plus stolen base total did match the projections, although in far fewer PAs.

After a poor 2022 that included an ERA over 5.00, I took a risk on a single digit priced José Berríos that he would bounce back enough to at least break even. He did that and more, improving his results back to his pre-2022 days, as his strikeout rate mostly rebounded and BABIP dropped back below .300 after a one season blip. His overall skills still remain meh to me, though, so he’s only someone worth drafting at a discount.

Kendall Graveman technically went right as he performed well and tallied those saves for me while he was closing. As soon as he was traded and lost his closer role, he was never active again, so he earned more on my roster than his full season value.

Mauricio Dubón saved me early on filling in for my injured middle infielders and ended up becoming a lineup mainstay for the majority of weeks. He actually started the season pretty hot thanks to an inflated BABIP. But it was totally empty, with no home runs and just two steals. He eventually picked up the power pace and tossed in some steals as well.

Did any in-season pickups go right? Ehhh, not really! I tend to spend most of my FAAB at the trade deadline, not because I’m intentionally saving it for a big name switching leagues that could deliver strong stats for two months. Instead, I just rarely come across names I expect to have a sizeable impact worth bidding the big bucks on. Inevitably, there’s always at least one team that bids significantly more than I do on a name. Of course, there are always some guys that go for cheap in FAAB and end up playing far more than expected and/or outperforming expectations when they do get on the field. Those are difficult to predict without a crystal ball.

My big splash FAAB acquisition was Max Scherzer, who performed well for me in the 45 innings he pitched, but then naturally got hurt, ending his season prematurely. Oh, I’m also embarrassed to admit I picked up Cole Ragans before the season began given his increased spring training velocity, just to drop him several weeks after when he stunk as a reliever. So naturally he switches teams, becomes a starter, and suddenly pitches like an all-star. He was a perfect example of my season.

What Went Wrong

Nearly everything!

Oddly, our auction calculator thinks that José Ramírez was one of my worst buys, losing me just over $11 in value. His full season line looked relatively in line with projections, but now looking at the pre-season forecasts, he actually fell short. His home run total disappointed thanks to his lowest FB% since 2017 and his RBI and runs scored totals were disappointing. His 28 steals were also likely a bit less valuable than usual given the rule change that led to an insane increase in stolen bases.

What a waste of $10 on Adalberto Mondesi. Initially only expected to miss a month or two, his return timeline kept getting pushed back and he ended up failing to record a single plate appearance. The silver lining to his missed season is that…he won’t come any cheaper than he will in 2024 and I’m excited to roster him at an even better risk/reward ratio!

Taylor Ward got off to a slow start, then began losing playing time to an out of nowhere sizzling Mickey Moniak, then got hot himself, then got hit in the face with a pitch and missed the rest of the season. He probably earned close to his value while in my starting lineup, but it’s always difficult to replace an everyday player in a mono league.

What the heck happened to Andrew Benintendi’s power?! Rather than increase as he reached his prime, his HR/FB rate has been stuck below 4% now for the last two seasons, while his ISO has slid below .100! The maxEV here is perfectly fine, but he just posted a career low 2.9% Barrel%. I wouldn’t write him off just yet given his age, but man has he been a disappointment offensively.

Seriously, Carlos Rodón?!?!?!!? This is the first year I owned him and even though it took him longer to return from injury than expected, he torpedoed my ratios while on the mound. His strikeout rate plummeted, but what’s surprising is that his pitch mix was essentially the same as last year, while his fastball velocity was identical. While his SwStk% was down a bit, it was mostly his called strike rate to blame for his declining strikeout rate. He ranked fourth worst in CStr% among all pitchers (357 of them) with at least 50 innings pitched. Perhaps he was still rusty and command was off. Needless to say, I expected a top pitcher for half a season and instead ended up with perhaps the worst results in baseball during his time on the mound.

I wasn’t totally sure how I felt about Andrew Heaney after his 2022 skills breakout, fueled by a new slider and increased fastball velocity. This year, he continued to throw his new slider often, though a bit less, while he held onto half his velocity gains. Sounds like a recipe to still be very good again, but not quite as good as 2022, right? wrong. His strikeout rate plummeted to its lowest since 2015, while his walk rate ballooned to a career worst. I wish I had answers here.

Oh Reid Detmers, how you disappointed me so. After a big spring training velocity spike, combined with his former top prospect status, I was all in on him this season. He did end up coming out firing, but ultimately, regression was too strong a force. This was his scary velocity trend:

By the end of the season, he was barely throwing harder than last year. Even when he was throwing hard early in the year and his strikeout rate was around 30%, his results still stunk thanks to some combination of a high BABIP and/or low LOB%. Ultimately, his CSW% finished barely higher than last year, though his strikeout rate did jump a bit. But thanks to an inflated BABIP and an increased walk rate, his ERA jumped from last year and his SIERA barely budged. Every game I thought this is finally the beginning of a long string of good outings, leading to a full season of breakout results, he would allow seven runs in a game, which he shockingly did three times. Oh, and FOUR wins all season?! C’mon!

Both James Paxton and Brayan Bello were looking so good at a buck until they eventually fell apart. Paxton posted a 2.73 over 56 first half innings, but then a 6.98 mark over the remaining 40 innings of his season. Similarly, Bello posted a 3.04 ERA over the first half, before a 7.62 Sep ERA pushed his second half ERA up to 5.49. Of course, luck had a lot to do with the up and down ERA, as Bello’s xFIP half splits were nearly the same. It was just a matter of both his BABIP and HR/FB rate skyrocketing in the second half, but it ended up bringing his ERA right in line with his SIERA.

JP Sears would have been a respectable reserve pick if he got any darn run support! Sure, the Athletics offense was awful, but winning just five games in 32 starts is comical. I also managed to make pretty good start/bench decisions here, as I actually had him active for a 3.96 ERA and 1.10 WHIP, versus his much worse full season ratios. Lucky for me, I also netted four of his five wins, whoopee!

Cavan Biggio ends up here because I dropped him early on when he was barely playing and also barely hitting the few times he got into the lineup. So, naturally, he eventually earned significantly more playing time and actually hit quite well to bring up his season line…while on someone else’s team.

Trades

As usual, I failed to make a single trade. I had several leaguemates contact me with ideas, but the only one I could remember was sending me Taylor Walls for my Taylor Ward, in a trade of Taylors. It made some sense given my need for steals at the time. The funny thing is Walls went down with injury very soon after, Ward then got hot, but then Walls returned and Ward himself got hurt. It probably wouldn’t have made much of a difference in the standings, but I declined the offer as I wasn’t much of a Walls fan and figured Ward was more valuable.

It’s always difficult to make trade in mono leagues as you rarely have any depth to trade from or a big lead in a category you could trade away. I certainly had no depth as my guys were either injured or bad, so in my mind, I’d fill one hole, but create another.

Parting Thoughts

I was excited by the prospect of buying discounted injured players at the auction, but those buys mostly proved to be a poor use of my budget. I don’t think that’s going to stop me from buying injured players in the future, as some do deliver after returning, like Jose Altuve this year.

After reviewing my roster again and the dollars earned, I remain baffled how I managed to finish in third place! All I know is that in 2024, the entire league, minus you know who, is going into full Operation: Take Down Doug Dennis mode. That said, I refuse to go LIMA to match him, but do hope others try out the strategy, as that will make it far more difficult for any of the LIMA planners to win.





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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couthcommander
4 months ago

Compare your dollars spent/earned to the league on players that cost more than $10. I think you did exceptionally well here (even with a slight loss). It helps that they were all hitters (more predictable), and that they all had over 400 ABs. Actually, looking back at the draft, you were 1 of 4 teams to spend less than $65 on pitching (the top 3 teams, plus 6th). Avoiding pitching helped all of you out, though it makes it even more astounding that Dennis swept the hitting categories.