In my previous column, I looked at what went right and what went wrong (mostly wrong) with my team in the Tout Wars mixed auction league in regard to the five hitting categories. This time, I am turning my attention to my team’s performance in the pitching categories. With a fourth-place finish in these categories, it’s a less painful exercise than the last one, but not much separated my team from the two teams tied for eighth place. I was nowhere close to Tim Heaney’s league-leading 68 points, so this account of my pitching staff will include some cautionary tales.
My 88 wins were good for fifth place, and since I spent 35.0 percent of my auction budget on starting pitching, I got many of those Ws from the players I drafted. Specifically, Justin Verlander, Corey Kluber and Lance McCullers accounted for 35 of my wins, even though I traded the latter two pitchers away in midseason. Picking up Marco Gonzales for $50 in FAAB added nine more wins, so the lefty plus the Big Three accounted for exactly half of my wins. Trading Rich Hill for Kyle Freeland in mid-June was nearly a wash in this category, as my net gain from the trade was one win. I also received seven wins from my relievers.
I did a fair amount of streaming, and 13 other starting pitchers accounted for the remaining 37 wins, with none of those starters getting more than five wins. Nine other starting pitchers, combining for 78.2 innings, did not add a single win to my total.
My auction spending on relievers consisted of a $25 bid on Kenley Jansen and a $2 flier on Alex Claudio. Given how few closers stay in the role wire-to-wire, my objective was to secure one stable closer and to fill in the rest of my saves by way of FAAB. After the first three months of the season, the strategy looked like a failure. Despite early struggles, Jansen did come through with 21 saves entering the month of July, but free agent pickups Jace Fry, Darren O’Day, Chaz Roe, Joe Jimenez and Tommy Hunter combined for three saves.
In July, I struck gold with Will Smith and Jose Leclerc, who contributed 12 saves apiece. That was enough to lift me to eighth place with a total of 64 saves. Smith cost just $36 of my $1000 FAAB budget, and at $3, Leclerc was my biggest bargain among pitchers. I spent a combined $100 on Roe and O’Day, so there is room for me to exercise more discipline next season, but overall, the strategy of relying on free agents for saves turned out to be a good one. (While Fry, Jimenez and Hunter did not work out for saves, they also did not cost me a single dollar.)
With there being even less certainty over the closer pool going into this offseason, I will likely rely even more on this approach in 2019.
I led the league with 57 FAAB acquisitions, and as far the pitchers went, not many of them worked out. While getting Gonzales was a boon for me in ERA (as well as wins and WHIP), the vast majority of my pickups did damage to my ERA. A Domingo German here and a Trevor Richards there wasn’t so bad, but it was the cumulative effect of one failed gamble after another that did me in. Even with Verlander, Kluber and Freeland collectively providing 459 innings worth of sub-2.60 ERA ball, I finished 12th with a 4.014 mark.
I would have been better off in this category replacing the likes of German and Richards with some relievers. For example, Michael Lorenzen (3.11 ERA in 81 innings) was unowned all season long, and Craig Stammen (2.73 ERA in 79 innings) was available for all but three weeks. Even with Stammen vulturing eight wins, they would have put me behind in the wins category, which was tightly bunched. Missing out on just five wins would have sunk me four spots in the category standings.
The key to improving next year may be to do a better job of finding cheap sources of ERA in the auction, since experimenting with free agents in a 15-team mixed league proved to be too risky. Let’s look to the example of our league champ for a better way. Tim won Blake Snell and Miles Mikolas for $6 apiece in the auction, and that enabled him to get some high-quality innings while still spending on Madison Bumgarner and a strong core of hitters.
Ponying up for Verlander and McCullers paid off big for WHIP, as both registered marks just above 0.90 while on my active roster. Gonzales (1.09) and Matthew Boyd (1.12) were also big contributors. A high chase rate helped Gonzales to limit his walks, while Boyd’s strong flyball tendencies allowed him to hold opponents to a lower-than-average BABIP.
My free agent relievers didn’t always come through with saves, but for the most part, they really helped with WHIP. Leclerc, Roe, O’Day and Trevor May combined for an 0.77 WHIP over 52 innings,, and Jansen chipped in with an 0.95 WHIP over 67.2 innings on my active roster. Those contributions helped me to finish third with a 1.1933 WHIP.
The $26 I spent on Verlander in the auction was money well spent, especially for his 290 strikeouts. I got another 208 from Kluber and McCullers, even though I had each for roughly half a season. While I traded them away knowing I would probably take a hit in strikeouts, Boyd and Tyler Anderson picked up some of the slack, with each contributing around a strikeout per inning.
Even with Boyd and Anderson’s contributions, I finished sixth with 1355 strikeouts. In trading Hill for Freeland, I had a net loss of 29 strikeouts, but that would have made up only part of the difference between myself and fifth-place Jeff Zimmerman. Giving a combined 169.2 innings to Gonzales, Blaine Hardy and James Shields was at least as big a factor in missing out on a fourth- or fifth-place showing in the category.
The big takeaway from my pitchers’ performance is that I need to keep the faith in my bullpen-by-FAAB approach but be far more selective in my pursuit of free agent starters, especially in 15-team mixed leagues and deeper formats. Also, back when we had our auction in March, the opener was not yet a phenomenon, so I will need to decide whether it’s worth investing in primary pitchers, and if so, how much to spend. Since I imagine that those roles could be fluid throughout the season, it probably won’t make sense to pursue the Ryan Yarbrough types until the endgame. Whether through the auction or FAAB, targeting these pitchers could be a way to perform better in ERA without sacrificing too many wins.
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.