2024 Tout Wars AL Only Auction Recap

This past Saturday morning, I hopped on the NYC subway for the quick trip to Hotel Edison to participate in the annual Tout Wars live auction. It’s one of the most exciting days of the year, and it’s always bittersweet when it’s over, knowing that I’ll have to wait an entire year to auction with these lads again.

This is just the second year I’ve gone without my beloved Pod Projections, after taking a pause on them in the middle of last year’s offseason. It’s incredible how much more prepared I feel when forecasting every single player myself versus using a computer projection system. But I think ensuring I read every single Rotoworld blurb and reviewing our RosterResource page was enough to make up at least some of the forced research I missed out on.

Anyway, 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. That’s not going to turn into a championship team without a heavy dose of good fortune.

As a reminder, the Tout Wars AL-Only league is a 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.

In addition, there was another tweak to roster slots this year, as the middle infield (MI) and corner infield (CI) slots were merged into infield (IF), while a second swingman slot was added. That means there are now three of 14 hitting slots that could be filled with any position, and two of those three could be filled by a pitcher. Talk about flexibility! It makes rostering a DH-only guy far more palatable, as the inability to move such a player around to another slot isn’t as problematic. Lastly, the number of IL slots were reduced from unlimited to just four, which should have squashed my appetite for rostering guys with health issues, but as you’ll see, apparently did not!

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

2024 AL-Only Tout Wars Team
Roster Slot Hitter Position Cost
C Austin Wells C 8
C Shea Langeliers C 8
1B Nathaniel Lowe 1B 13
3B Josh Jung 3B 13
2B Brandon Lowe 2B 10
SS Carlos Correa SS 14
IF Ryan Noda 1B 9
OF Randy Arozarena OF 32
OF Luis Robert Jr. OF 28
OF Jose Siri OF 12
OF Brent Rooker OF 9
U Byron Buxton DH 12
Swing Giancarlo Stanton OF 6
Swing Leody Taveras OF 12
P Kevin Gausman P 23
P Alex Lange P 10
P Bryce Miller P 10
P Shane Bieber P 10
P Carlos Rodón P 8
P Max Scherzer P 1
P Michael Kopech P 3
P Garrett Crochet P 3
P Jack Flaherty P 6
Res Casey Mize P
Res Steven Wilson P
Res Drew Thorpe P
Res Miguel Sanó 1B

Overall, I ended up with a 186/74 hitting/pitching split, equating to 71.5% spent on hitting. That’s actually a bit low for my hitting spend, as last year I actually spent exactly 200! The league finished at a 69.4%/30.6% split, almost perfectly matching the 69%/31% split I used for my valuations. I think I ended up spending less on hitting because there were no discounts among the top tier of hitters (there usually aren’t many, if any, though), with many of them going for fair value or significantly over value. So I opted to wait patiently and scoop up discounts in the low/mid tier, but still did end up with two top tier hitters that I thought came at relatively good prices.

So let’s get to the names. I totally forgot that I shared my surprise at catcher prices in last year’s recap, which I only realized after opening it to copy the roster table formatting. Somehow, some way, the league spent $224 this year for their 24 catchers, which almost perfectly matched last year’s $225 spent! What are the odds?! I only valued the group at about $203, so that’s $22 overspent on catchers, which isn’t typically the position fantasy owners overspend. This is in total contrast to my LABR mixed snake draft, in which catchers as a whole were severely undervalued.

The overpaying forced me to sit on the sidelines for a while, to the point where I was almost positive I would end up with two $1 catchers. To my shock, I ended up with two guys right around what I valued them at, so I was happy with the ultimate outcome. And since I often try to roster the same players across leagues, I was doubly happy I ended up with Shea Langeliers again, even though his projected OBP is rather brutal.

My infield was another result of the insane patience I practiced, as top name after top name was awarded to other teams and I wondered who I might end up with. For most (all?) of these slots, I filled them when I was high money man at the table. This was the case for a large portion of the auction, as other teams spent and filled their teams, while I waited for discounts to appear, which eventually did. Having the biggest stack allowed me to target the best available guys at each position at the time, knowing I would roster them, while hoping I wouldn’t actually have to overspend. Luckily, it worked out as I expected it to, as everyone else being so down in money meant I didn’t have to overspend on anyone in my infield.

I felt I got nice discounts on names with current injury issues like Nathaniel Lowe and Josh Jung, guys no one is really targeting after meh recent seasons in Brandon Lowe and Carlos Correa, plus Ryan Noda, who gets a massive value boost in OBP leagues, but is still an Oakland Athletic, so no one really cares. I’m not particularly excited about any of these names, but they were decent to very good prices given their projections, and the recent disappointments could easily surpass the conservative forecasts.

Since I can’t remember the exact order I rostered each player, I will share that given my offense, I was hoping to land Nolan Schanuel at that IF slot. You see, it felt like I was low on OBP, as I don’t really have any big OBP anchors, though just two names are projected for sub-.300 marks to drag me down. Everyone else is essentially in the low-.300 to .340 range with two just above .350. So I thought that Schanuel would fit really well with my current offense as I seemed pretty darn set in power, and didn’t mind if he finished with just five or 10.

I figured I could get Schanuel for a nice price, as it was late, teams didn’t have much money, and he both showed no power last year during his cup of coffee, plus has almost no minor league track record to get an idea of his potential. So naturally, he gets bid up right to my value, and I wasn’t going to spend more than he was forecasted to be worth just because I thought I could use his projected OBP before the season even began. He’s a real mystery to me and I’m eager to see how his power plays out this year. Instead, I ended up settling for Noda.

Moving to my outfield, I believe that Randy Arozarena and Luis Robert Jr. were my first two hitting buys. Given the price of top tier talent, I was thrilled to buy Arozarena for a buck less than my value. It’s rare to get any discount on $30+ players, so when any, even just a buck, is presented, the opportunity must be grabbed. I overspent on Robert Jr. compared to my value by a couple of bucks, but I felt I needed to in order to spend my entire $260 budget as the top tier was gone across the board when his name was called. Given his age and four category contributions, I figured he was a good name to overspend on if you’re going to pick a hitter to overspend on. Those two gave me a nice power/speed foundation to build on early.

Very later on, I finally nabbed my third outfielder, once again rostering Jose Siri, who I paid just $3 for last year. He now has less competition for playing time, so center field should be all his, as long as he could remain healthy all year this time.

I oddly ended up with Brent Rooker as my final outfielder, who I never would have guessed would end up on my roster (and also means I now owned three Athletics, which can’t be good!). It was late, I had the money, and I couldn’t let a guy projected for 25+ home runs while expected to bat third, with a non-killer OBP, go for just $8, so I went the $9 and boom, finished off my outfield. He became an extreme fly ball hitter last year, so it’ll really come down to how much of that FB% spike he maintains this season. His maxEV and Barrel% validate his HR/FB rate, so if the fly balls remain, he’ll hit 30 homers again. Since he also struck out over 30% of the time, there’s additional upside if he could improve that mark, while not giving up any power.

Let’s talk Byron Buxton. At $12, he was one of my favorite buys, and came at a price I wasn’t really surprised about given how late I snagged him in LABR mixed. His DH-only eligibility shouldn’t last long, but that doesn’t matter a whole lot given the three slots I could start him in. Last year, our auction calculator says he earned $8.30, despite only accruing 347 PAs, or essentially playing just half a season. All he has to do is play a bit more than half a season and he’ll earn what I paid! It’s crazy that he’s just once recorded more than 500 PAs in a season and that was also the only season he even reached 400 PAs. So the odds are against him playing more than half a season. But at just $12, the risk-reward tilts heavily in my favor.

My thoughts are very similar when moving on to my first Swing buy, Giancarlo Stanton. He, too, has struggled with injuries, though obviously not to the degree Buxton has. In just 415 PAs last year, he earned $9, and yet I bought him for just $6! He, too, was a late grab in LABR mixed, so it’s pretty clear that fantasy owners, at least those in the industry, have moved on to newer, shinier players. I think Stanton’s an absolute no-brainer at his cost, as there’s almost no risk, but significant upside.

Finally, rounding out my offense is Leody Taveras, who gives me the additional steals I was seeking. With the sudden influx of talent in Texas, it’s possible fantasy owners worry about Taveras’ job security, but I don’t see how the team would move on from him after a 2.3 WAR season as a 24-year-old.

Overall, I’m very excited about this offense, though I could use a bit more speed and OBP is a bit of a question mark, but both figure to project somewhere mid-pack. I’m seemingly going to have lots of home runs to spare, especially if Stanton and Buxton remain healthy, but trading isn’t ever easy. As usual, my entire offense is filled with full-timers (or strong side platooners), which should give me more PAs than the majority (all?) of my competitors. However, the downside is that when someone attractive appears on free agency, I won’t have any room to start said player and might have to make a trade to benefit from my newfound depth.

Pitching, ahhhh pitching. I can’t recall the last time I spent more than $20 on a starter in Tout, or if I ever did. Heck, last year, my highest priced pitcher was only $10! My excruciating patience on the hitting side meant I couldn’t spend as much as I often have on offense, freeing up some extra moolah for my staff.

Early on, every. single. top starter went for above or well above my price. It was nutso. It took a while, but Gausman was eventually thrown out, and because budgets had been depleted and he has been slowed by a shoulder issue, I thought there was a good chance I could get him at a discount, or at least a relative bargain compared to other pitcher prices. Sure enough, the bidding stopped at 22, which is what Logan Gilbert sold for (I can’t be sure if Gilbert sold before Gausman was called, though), and I couldn’t possibly let Gausman go for the same price. So I went 23 and heard crickets. I officially nabbed my first starter and now need to cross my fingers that the shoulder ultimately won’t impact his performance.

Similar to starters, closers were all going above my values and given their unpredictably, I surely wasn’t paying more than I thought they were worth. Eventually, I had no choice but to land Tigers closer Alex Lange, who I paid a buck more for compared to last year. He’s not very good given his control issues, but the saves need to come from somewhere, and I’d rather pay just $10 and take the savings from not buying a top closer over my value to use somewhere else. I paired him with Michael Kopech, who was surprisingly moved back to the bullpen after he was supposed to be in the starting rotation. Presumed White Sox closer John Brebbia is dealing with a calf issue, hasn’t pitched yet during spring training, is 33 years old, and is projected for an ERA over 4.00 by every system. So I have no idea why it’s a foregone conclusion that he’s the team’s closer.

Kopech mostly pitched in relief back in 2021 and was dominant, posting a 36.1% strikeout rate. So he could become a strong multi-inning reliever or close and could deliver some profit on his $3 cost. Obviously, I’d like the saves, which is why I also drafted Steven Wilson, who came over to the White Sox just last week from the Padres as part of the Dylan Cease trade. The bet here is that Brebbia isn’t good enough to keep the closer role, or that he won’t even open the season with it to begin with, and one of my two dart throws wins the job.

After Gausman, this is potentially the best staff I have rostered in Tout in years. I wasn’t a Bryce Miller fan heading into spring training, but reports of him throwing a new splitter, along with posting an unbelievable 32.9% SwStk% so far over a tiny sample, were enough for me to highlight his name so I remember to “go the extra buck”. To me, his projections are now meaningless, as I think he’s going to destroy those strikeout rate forecasts, at the very least. And if he does that, he’s going to break out with an ERA well below 4.00.

At some point in the auction, Shane Bieber stood out as the best pitcher still uncalled…by far. Again, I had the money, so I knew that I could get him without overpaying if I wanted. While we have no Statcast readings, reports so far have suggested his velocity has been up, which is a big deal, as his fastball velocity has slipped from a peak of 94.3 MPH in 2020, down to 92.9 in 2021, down to 91.5 and 91.6 in 2022 and 2023. As a result, and probably not coincidentally, his strikeout rate has plummeted to 25% in 2022 and just 20.1% last year.

Better health leading to a velocity rebound could be a boon. Don’t forget he’s still just 28 years old and while the velocity and strikeouts were down in 2022, he was still superb with a 2.88 ERA, so it was really just last year the performance dipped while the velocity was down. I think he’ll prove to be one of the better pitching buys in fantasy leagues if the velocity rebound is for real.

I honestly don’t know why I had to buy Carlos Rodón not just in LABR, but in Tout too! Seriously, I have no idea what to expect, and his spring, with initial reports sounding encouraging, is no longer so. I figured for $8, might as well go all in. The danger, as evidenced by his torpedoing of my ratios last year, is that I’ll be too stubborn to ever bench him if he fails to rebound. I’ll just keep waiting for the turnaround that might never come!

Sooooo, Max Scherzer for a buck? This was at the latter stages of the auction, at which point there were a bunch of starting pitchers I wanted to speculate on. So, rather than throw someone out that I wanted and risk getting into a bidding war, I decided to throw out a name that I figured would go for a bunch of bucks and I could safely wait until my next nomination before risking rostering someone I didn’t necessarily want. So I landed on Scherzer’s name to throw out for a buck thinking that surely someone would go $2. Nope! Crickets.

Whaaaaaaaaaaat?! I quickly checked the news, thinking for sure I missed something or that he wasn’t expected back until September. Instead, I found positive news, and that he might be back before June! Now I’m confused, upset that he took a spot away from a more “fun” pitcher I wanted to speculate on, but then excited because I potentially just landed four months of him for a buck.

A bit later, Garrett Crochet’s name was called, and he was one of the guys I was hoping to speculate on. He’s expected to open the season in the rotation after having never started a game over his short MLB career. He missed all of the 2022 season recovering from TJ surgery and then recorded just 12.2 innings last year upon his return. It’s been just nine spring innings, but so far so good, as he sports a 34.3% strikeout rate with no walks and a 25% SwStk%. He actually reminds me of Chris Sale’s transition from reliever to starter, as they are both left-handed and have similar repertoires, but Crochet throws harder. It makes him a primo sleeper, though he probably won’t throw a ton of innings to accrue significant shallow mixed league value.

Finally, finally, finally, we end my active roster with Jack Flaherty. That $6 cost isn’t real. Well, maybe it would have been, but probably not. I had $6 left when I threw out his name to finish my roster and nominated him for $6. Naturally, I heard crickets. I’m sure I would have only had to pay $3 at most if I nominated him at $1, but we’ll never know. That’s what happens when you get Scherzer for a buck! It threw off my budget and left me with more money than expected.

Anyway, Flaherty is another surprising name I highlighted on my valuation sheet. He’s dealt with both injury and poor performance in recent years, while his strikeout rate has been way down. But in between, he has been very good, with ERA marks from sub-3.00 to the low/mid 3.00 range, and strikeout rates in the mid-to-high 20% range, even closing in on 30% back in 2018 and 2019. What’s odd is that his velocity hadn’t changed significantly that would explain the weak performance of late. Although it has been down, it hasn’t been so dramatically that you could point to it as the obvious reason.

Now, it’s time to get optimistic. Over 62 four-seamers thrown during spring training this year, he has averaged 94.5 MPH, versus just 93.1 MPH last year. In fact, the highest average Statcast has ever recorded for him in a season is 94.3 MPH, back in 2019. But don’t forget, on average, velocity rises as the season progresses. In April of last year, all pitchers averaged 93.8 MPH with their four-seamer, but 94.3 MPH from May through the rest of the season. The fact that Flaherty is already higher than his previous peak in a full season, and it’s still only spring training, is a big deal! The results have been there too, as he has struck out 32.4% of opposing batters with a 15.9% SwStk% (he hasn’t even posted a mark above 11.6% since 2020) during spring training over a tiny sample. I’m buying anyone with both increased spring velocity, plus increased SwStk%, and given his history of strong performance at times in the past, he’s a prime bounce back candidate.

Let’s quickly review the three other reserve list names I haven’t touched on yet. Casey Mize missed all of last season after undergoing TJ surgery (apparently I love rostering post-TJ surgery dudes!), and has just one full season under his belt, which was kinda meh in my eyes given the pedestrian sub-20% strikeout rate, even though his ERA was a solid 3.71. But get this — his fastball velocity this spring is sitting at 95.6 MPH, while it was just 93.9 MPH during that one full season in 2021. That’s a massive increase! Soooo, former top prospect with a near two mile per hour bump in velocity to potentially give that strikeout rate a huge nudge? Yes, please, join my team.

It’s interesting that he, Flaherty, Tarik Skubal, and also Matt Manning are all seeing velocity jumps during spring, so suddenly the Tigers are looking like a pitching factory. While it doesn’t appear Mize will open the season in the team’s rotation, likely starting out in Triple-A, he’s undoubtedly going to be first up and could still deliver significant fantasy value.

Winding things down, we get to Drew Thorpe, which means I rostered two of the four the White Sox received in the Cease trade. The top prospect has just a slight chance to win a rotation spot, but more likely opens the year in Triple-A. He has just 30.1 Double-A innings under his belt, so it couldn’t hurt to get him some Triple-A experience. But man has he been dominant in the minors, posting a 32.4% strikeout rate and 17.9% SwStk% at High-A and then a 40% strikeout rate and 21% SwStk% at Double-A last year. He could prove to be a good stash.

My last reserve pick was a complete shot in the dark in Miguel Sanó. There was really no one else I cared to roster and even if his chances of making an impact with the Angels this year are slim, and he might not even make the team out of spring training, the upside here if he surprises was enough to use my final pick on. During his peak years, he was an excellent OBP producer given his typically weak batting averages, but double digit walk rates.

***

So how do you think I did? Weaknesses? Strengths? Would you have done anything differently?





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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LightenUpFGmember
2 months ago

That was one heck of a write up. Team looks fine to me apart from the saves challenge, but hopefully you luck into some more somewhere.