A Most Unusual AL-Only Tout Wars Auction

Right around this time each year, I gush about the wonderful weekend devoted to Tout Wars, including our party at Foley’s, mingling with friends and industry folk, and, of course, participating in the AL-Only auction. I then share my team, my strategy going in, and my thought process in purchasing the players ultimately finding their way onto my roster. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has changed everything. Initially, the plan was to keep the weekend events as scheduled. That plan then (rightfully) changed pretty quickly, with all auctions/drafts moving online, and live activities canceled. Then last Thursday, the remainder of Spring Training was canceled and the start of the regular season was to be delayed by at least two weeks. We now had no idea when the season would begin, which makes valuing players even more challenging. Although the season was to be delayed indefinitely, the Tout Wars league auctions/drafts were held.

So, I spent this past Saturday morning participating in the AL-Only Tout Wars auction without a clue as to when the season would start or how many games would ultimately be played. Heck, do we even know if there will be a season at all? No, no we do not. But hey, fantasy baseball auctions are fun! So even if there’s no season, I would never consider the auction a waste of my time.

I had my spreadsheet of dollar values I calculated using my Pod Projections, but with the delayed start to the season, that was no longer enough. You see, currently injured players who were originally expected to miss the first couple of weeks of the season or even the first month or two now might be ready for Opening Day! The delay must be accounted for in player values as these injured players gain value. Not only that, but the players expected to replace the injured guys early on now lose value because there might not be any need for replacement after all.

For the healthy guys, I kept my playing time projections as if it was a regular season with no delayed start. There was no sense in changing the playing time projections when I had no idea what to change them to. So I just left them. For the injured players, I added about a month of plate appearances or innings pitched to their projection, checked what their value increased to, and added another column to my values that gave me my “new delayed start injured player price”. Each player gained either $2 or $3, so it wasn’t a substantial boost. However, that new higher price needed to be on my spreadsheet since the auction moves so fast and I didn’t want to rely on having to mentally make the adjustment on the fly or remember who is injured.

I was eager to find out how much, if any, adjustments the rest of league made to injured player prices. True to form as a league filled with fantasy baseball veterans, the delayed start was definitely reflected in the injured player prices…for the most part. But the guys whose price did not reach their delayed start price might have just come at a discount just like any player could during the auction.

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 (which could dramatically change hitter values). 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.

Now let’s get to my team!

AL-Only Tout Wars Team
Pos Player Additional Eligibility Cost
C Chance Sisco  $4
C Danny Jansen  $6
1B Renato Nunez  $11
3B Yandy Diaz  1B $13
CI Josh Donaldson  $27
2B Whit Merrifield  OF $28
SS Adalberto Mondesi  $27
MI Alex Bregman  3B $37
OF Anthony Santander  $4
OF Hunter Renfroe  $8
OF Willie Calhoun  $9
OF Trey Mancini  1B $6
UTIL Shohei Ohtani $14
SWING Ryan O’Hearn  $1
P Chris Sale  $13
P Masahiro Tanaka  $13
P Brendan McKay $4
P Rich Hill  $1
P Patrick Sandoval $1
P Griffin Canning  $1
P Taijuan Walker  $1
P Taylor Rogers  $20
P Brandon Workman  $11
Res DJ Stewart
Res Ronald Guzman
Res Chase Anderson
Res Martin Perez

I’m a stickler for value so nearly every player you see here, saw on past teams or will see on future teams, found their way onto my roster solely because I bid on them at a price below my value and no one outbid me. It’s as simple as that. I don’t have a “target list” or any particular strategy. I just want to accumulate as much value as possible with my fake $260. So I’ll stay away from mentioning that I got the player at a discount to my value, unless it’s part of the story. Since I’m not creative enough to recap my team through a different format, I’m simply going to go player by player. Let’s get to it.

I’m not surprised I ended up with Chance Sisco, thought I kinda expected to get him even cheaper than $4. A former top prospect, Sisco broke out over 196 plate appearances at Triple-A before his promotion to the Orioles last season. While a .319 wOBA was no great shakes, he hit a ton of fly balls, posted an 18.2% HR/FB rate, and significantly reduced his SwStk%, suggesting better strikeout rates are in his future. His current timeshare with Pedro Severino is keeping his price down, but I think he’ll easily outhit him and grab the lion’s share of the playing time.

Catcher is one of two positions where you’re dollar values are relatively meaningless. All that matters is your ranking. That’s because every league values catchers differently, and it’s usually below the value I calculate for each. That’s not always the case, but when it is, there’s no telling how much of a discount below my values each catcher will go for. So I have to guess which catcher is at a big enough discount to jump in on, hoping there won’t be a bigger one later. I didn’t do that all that well this time, so I ended up with Danny Jansen at a nothing-special discount. But hey, he’s young and has just as good a chance as most to breakout and end up among the top catchers.

Renato Nunez was the only hitter I paid more than my value for. It was over the final third of the auction when, if I remember correctly, I had the most money on the table. I identified that my team needed more power and was probably okay on the OBP side, which made Nunez a perfect fit, especially since he was one of the best first basemen left. So I bid a buck higher than my value and luckily didn’t need to go any higher. Chris Davis flopping again would make his playing time more secure, so the Spring news of Davis’ offseason work and small sample performance makes me a little nervous that Nunez could lose playing time quickly if he doesn’t keep cranking out those homers (even though Davis plays first and Nunez is the DH, Trey Mancini could shift to first if Davis flops, opening up an OF spot for another youngster, keeping DH open for Nunez).

I shared my Yandy Diaz Pod Projection last week, so you know exactly what I’m forecasting.In short, I’m a cautious believer in last season’s breakout, but you can never feel comfortable with a Rays player given the team’s willingness to platoon and get everyone involved.

It’s weird I ended up with Josh Donaldson. In late January after he signed with the Twins, I ended my park factor effects post with th following:

I remain hesitant to pay the premium he’s likely to command in drafts and auctions given his age and spectacular rebound season, but his value is certainly higher now than it had been.

Of course, that hesitancy assumed a standard 5×5 league that counts batting average. In an OBP league, Donaldson’s value surges, thanks to his consistent mid-teens walk rates.

For the second season in a row, I’m a proud Whit Merrifield owner! Last year, I paid $30, but after just 20 steals, his price came down by a whole two bucks. Do his steals rebound this year or continue their descent? The answer to that question will determine whether I paid too much or will earn a profit.

After I saw how highly I valued Adalberto Mondesi in my early February mixed LABR draft, I had to know I would end up with him in Tout. Of course, LABR uses batting average, where he’s basically neutral, whereas Tout uses OBP, in which he’s atrocious. But my values already take that into account and still believed $27 to be a bargain! So far, this is the first name where a delayed start to the season is going to be a significant positive, as it gives him additional time to recover from shoulder surgery. I’m salivating over that 20 homer and 50 steal potential (full season pace, of course).

I love that Alex Bregman qualifies at both shortstop and third base. Surprisingly, Astros hitters were not discounted during this auction, even though I felt they were in LABR. While Bregman is an elite fantasy asset in batting average leagues, he’s absolutely monstrous in OBP leagues given his .394 and .423 marks in 2018 and 2019. He was the second player and hitter I won and after Donaldson became the third hitter I won, I was able to pay a bit less attention to OBP and focus on increasing my counting stat projections.

I’m not a huge fan of Anthony Santander or anything, but given his 2019, he’s got a full-time job locked up and a good shot at 20+ homers (full season pace). That’s a good value at just $4, even though it’ll come with a weak OBP.

I purchased Hunter Renfroe when everyone had well below $100 less and knew given my comfort with my OBP and desire to keep adding power, he was a good fit, similar to Nunez I discussed above. In fact, I bought Nunez, Santander, and Renfroe over just four nominations, so I quickly fill in my roster with the types of players I was looking for at the time at good prices.

Introducing the second delayed start injury buy — Willie Calhoun. I was surprised how late into the auction he was nominated, as I figured he would be a popular target as he now shouldn’t miss any time at all after fracturing his jaw. It was at a time where owners didn’t have a whole lot of money left, so I knew I had a shot at getting him relatively cheap. He’s the rare power hitter who makes fantastic contact, which should give him a high floor.

Say hello to my third injury buy, Trey Mancini. It was announced on Thursday that he underwent surgery to have a malignant tumor removed from his colon and he would be sidelined indefinitely from baseball activities. We obviously have no real time frame and it’s certainly possibly he won’t be ready until August or September. But now he won’t miss the early games and there’s a real chance he ends up missing no time. At $6, it was a gamble worth taking given his power and solid OBP potential.

Tout Wars decided to divide Shohei Ohtani into two, so we actually roster the hitter and pitcher version separately. If you were following along with the auction or checked the results and wondered why I paid $14 for Sandber Pimentel (amazing name!), it’s because Pimentel was actually the random player nominated as a placeholder for the hitting version of Ohtani. I still can’t understand how a player could be so talented as to be an awesome hitter and pitcher, but he is, and all the underlying skills support it. Compared to my dollar values, he was my best hitting buy.

For my last hitter during dollar days, I was debating between Ronald Guzman and Ryan O’Hearn. I ultimately settled for O’Hearn simply because his strong Spring likely gives him more secure playing time out of the gate, while Guzman’s job seems less guaranteed. O’Hearn is willing to take a walk and has shown excellent power before, so he was exactly the type I wanted to roll the dice with for a buck at the end of the auction.

Chris Sale for $13! Yeah, we still don’t know what’s going on with his elbow and whether he’s going to have to go back under the knife and miss whatever season we have. But if there’s anyone who benefits greatly from the delay, it’s him. He could end up being ready and healthy for opening day and delivering like the top pitcher he had before 2019.

Masahiro Tanaka has become my favorite top-middle tier starting pitcher as fantasy owners are turned off by his disappointing 2019. I believe in a bounce back and think he’ll match many starters that were paid far more than his $13 price tag.

Shoulder stiffness slowed down Brendan McKay during Spring Training? So what?! He now has far more time to get that shoulder healthy again and be a part of the Rays rotation. Although his debut looked ugly from an ERA perspective, his 4.17 SIERA was nearly a run lower and all the projection systems, including mine, are projecting a sub-4.00 ERA. A condensed season means a lower innings pitched total won’t hurt his value nearly as much.

Gosh I love Rich Hill at a buck in a delayed season environment. He figures to miss the first half of the season after elbow surgery in October. But that could end up being barely any time now. Amazingly, his skills haven’t eroded at all and he’ll be entering his age 40 season!

Patrick Sandoval is one of my favorite cheap sleepers. On a an Angels team expected to feature an excellent offense and strong defense, he’s in a good situation to show off that lethal changeup.

Griffin Canning, another delayed season buy! Canning was shut down earlier in the month with elbow issues, so we still wouldn’t know when he would be ready regardless of when the season starts. But now he has more time to get healthy and build on a promising rookie debut in which he posted a 25% strikeout rate, backed by a 13.8% SwStk%.

Taijuan Walker was my last pitcher and at that point, I was having difficulty deciding who I wanted to pick. My other cheap targets were gone and no one else stood out. Walker was once an exciting prospect, but injuries and Tommy John surgery paused his career. He’s finally back and at least has the potential to be good, whereas the other options were nearly a lock to harm my ratios.

Remember earlier I mentioned catcher as one of two positions where dollar value doesn’t mean much? Closer is the other position. Ideally, you find out how much the league values the top closer and then use that price as your anchor. Unfortunately, Taylor Rogers was the 18th nomination and only one closer had been bought before that (Brad Hand, who I valued less and went for $17). To me, I got Rogers at great value and well below my price, but it turned out most closers went below, sometimes well below, my price. So I may have overpaid in a relative sense, though perhaps not an absolute sense.

Luckily, I benefited from the odd closer pricing by surprisingly getting Brandon Workman for just $11. He was already confirmed as the closer and although the walks scare the heck out of me, his strikeout rate should offset the wildness.

There were two hitters I strongly considered when I ultimately picked O’Hearn during dollar days to round out my hitting. Those players were DJ Stewart and Ronald Guzman. Luckily, I was able to pluck them in reserves and both have a shot at regular playing time. Stewart was a sleeper last year, but he ended up getting little playing time and then hurting his ankle. He is still recovering from surgery and the delayed season will give him more time to work his way into the team’s outfield plans. Guzman still has a shot to be the Rangers’ first baseman, at least on the strong size of a platoon.

After those two hitters, I was at a loss. No one left on my spreadsheets were appealing, but I knew I needed some more pitchers. I don’t have much to say about the two I ended up with, but let’s just hope they don’t see much time on my active roster! At the auction, I chose to ignore middle relievers as good ones always emerge during the season, making them easy to pick up then.

Overall, I spent 75% on hitting and just 25% on pitching, which is a Pod auction at its best. I usually like to spend more on pitching in Tout Wars given the weak pitching free agent pool, but I was shut out as I stuck to my values and refuse to overpay. This is definitely a fun team and more like an experiment with all these injured players, hoping they are recovered by the time the season starts.

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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