A Lesson from Tout Wars: Should We Resist Bidding Inflation?

Mistakes and regrets are a nearly inevitable part of auctions (at least in my experience), and so is the waiting to make up for those missteps in the following year’s auction. On Saturday, my chance to improve on my 2018 Tout Wars mixed league auction finally arrived.

So it was disconcerting to spend a total of $82 in the early going on three players who all enter 2019 with major concerns. My biggest bid in the entire auction went towards Chris Sale, who cost me $36. The Red Sox’s ace was bogged down by shoulder fatigue late last season, and his fastball velocity is still a bit down from where it was early in 2018. Then I spent another $30 on Francisco Lindor (calf), who is in danger of missing the beginning of the season, and $16 on Luis Severino (shoulder), who is out until at least the beginning of May.

Having made some of my earliest and priciest purchases on players who carry an uncomfortable level of risk was the result of my attempt to balance two strategic goals. I wanted to avoid going over my auction values, but I also did not want to get shut out of rostering players from the elite tiers at their positions. At least in comparison with my auction values, winning bids on the best players were inflated. (You can see all of the results from the auction by clicking here and then choosing the “Mixed Auction” tab.) So the only players from the upper tiers whom I could afford were the risky ones.

This also includes Gary Sanchez, on whom I spent $26. I am going to leave him out of the analysis to come, as I have a high level of confidence that he will rebound from a miserable and injury-riddled 2018 season. He also is a special case, because as a catcher, he has a chance to be far more valuable than the rest of a weak field at his position (except for J.T. Realmuto, who was already off the board when Sanchez was nominated).

In the aftermath of the auction, I wondered how I could have done this differently. Would it have been so bad to go over-budget on some less risky elite players? If I had gone this route, I would have had to spend less on players in the middle price range. Two owners in the auction, Scott Engel and Ron Shandler, took this approach. Engel made room for a $46 Aaron Judge and a $39 Nolan Arenado by staying out of the $15-to-$27 range, with the lone exception of Zack Wheeler ($22). Shandler avoided that range completely and wound up with Paul Goldschmidt ($43), Charlie Blackmon ($36) and Gerrit Cole ($36) in the process.

Including Sanchez and Severino, I had seven players within the $15-to-$27 range, with the others being Joey Gallo ($23), Matt Olson ($21), James Paxton ($20), Andrew McCutchen ($19) and Jesus Aguilar ($16). So I went back to the auction results to see if there was a possible way I could have found safer options than Sale, Lindor and Severino without losing value. This would have required me to not only spend a little extra for safety, but also to find better values than the midrange players I won in the auction.

Part of the reason I wound up with Sale and Lindor was that, despite their risks, I still had them as my highest-valued players at their respective positions. Still, I had Max Scherzer and Trea Turner valued similarly to Sale and Lindor, respectively. Once I adjusted Severino’s projection and value for missed time, he had a similar projected value to Patrick Corbin.

I was not able to find a scenario where I could save enough money and not lose value by bidding a dollar more on Scherzer, Turner and Corbin. However, I did find a scenario where I could achieve that if I was quicker to make the winning bid than each player’s eventual owner. If I had been able to do that, I still would have wound up spending $21 more on this trio than I had on Sale, Lindor and Severino.

Prices for Drafted Players and Safer Alternatives
Player Drafted Position Winning Bid Alternative Player Winning Bid Price Differential
Chris Sale SP $36 Max Scherzer $40 ($4)
Francisco Lindor SS $30 Trea Turner $41 ($11)
Luis Severino SP $16 Patrick Corbin $22 ($6)
TOTAL $82 $103 ($21)

To make those three moves work, I would have needed to find a way to replace my midrange players with cheaper alternatives who project to return similar value. This scenario cannot include either Gallo or Olson, who I value much more highly than most other owners. I spent $23 on Gallo, but actually projected him for $33 worth of value. Olson cost me $21, but I would have been willing to spend as much as $30.

That leaves with me with having to find players who would be better values than Paxton, McCutchen and Aguilar, and it turns out that I could have possibly found such players in the auction. As shown in the table below, Chris Archer would have provided a net gain of $8 to me ($11 savings, $3 lower in projected value) in place of Paxton. Justin Upton and Justin Smoak would have each returned a net gain of $2. Assuming no other owner would go yet another dollar higher, those three players combined would have saved me a total of $23 — two dollars more than I needed to save. Still, acquiring them would have left me with $11 less in projected value.

Value Buys I Didn’t Make
Player Drafted Position Winning Bid Projected Value Alternative Player Winning Bid + $1 Projected Value Savings Value Differential
James Paxton SP $20 $20 Chris Archer $9 $17 $11 ($3)
Andrew McCutchen OF $19 $19 Justin Upton $16 $18 $3 ($1)
Jesus Aguilar CI $16 $21 Justin Smoak $7 $14 $9 ($7)
Leonys Martin U $1 $1 Jackie Bradley Jr. $3* $11 ($2) $10
TOTAL $56 $61 $32 $60 $21 ($1)
Jackie Bradley Jr.’s winning bid was $3, so to stay within the $260 budget, I would have had to be the first owner to bid $3 to win him.

Fortunately, Jackie Bradley Jr. could have saved the day. If I had just been quicker than Gene McCaffrey to bid $3 on him (and if no one bid $4), he could have been a $10 value upgrade over Leonys Martin, who filled my utility spot. That would have left me with only a $1 overall deficit in projected value but with a lower level of risk.

So if there is a lesson to be learned, it is that I can loosen up a bit and go along with inflated bidding, at least to some degree. It would mean that I would have to be more patient and save a little more money for the endgame portion of the auction. Finally, sometimes it pays to get your bids out quickly.

Al Melchior has been writing about Fantasy baseball and sim games since 2000, and his work has appeared at CBSSports.com, BaseballHQ, Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster and FanRagSports. He has also participated in Tout Wars' mixed auction league since 2013. You can follow Al on Twitter @almelchiorbb and find more of his work at almelchior.com.

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How about staying away from studs on AL teams nearly certain to make the playoffs? Any minor injury and they will sit.