Draft Review: Tout Wars Head-to-Head Points

This past weekend was Tour Wars weekend in New York City. The committee extended me an invitation, likely by mistake, into its head-to-head points league auction. I’ll take a moment to self-indulge and say it’s pretty surreal to finally, like, reach the pinnacle, in a sense. I appreciate and am endlessly grateful for the kind words folks have extended my way in the past few weeks and months and years.

Rudy Gamble, of Razzball fame and a delightful human being whom I finally met in person Friday night, passed along to me positive feedback about my recent draft recaps (NFBC, TGFBI, Rotoballer mock), which seem to have been a helpful prep tool this preseason for some folks. I endeavor to provide a recap that goes beyond a simple list and self-aggrandizement — it would fundamentally misrepresent my rampant self-doubt. Besides, I think it’s helpful to articulate a plan and, when a plan falls apart, how a plan changes mid-draft.

This draft review differs from previous reviews in that the Tout Wars head-to-head points league spawns from an auction draft and not a snake. (A classic auction, each of the 12 teams was allocated $260 to fill 24-man rosters.) Thus, the structure will vary and may be a bit rough around the edges. Still, let’s give this a shot.

My typical points league strategy focuses primarily on minimizing the difference between strikeouts and walks for hitters. Most points formats award +1 point for a walk and –1 point for a strikeout, so closing the gap between the two establishes a certain floor, almost like a safety net. To attest: I won my third straight title in my head-to-head points league with my college buddies. In each of those years, I collected the most hitter walks and fewest hitter strikeouts. Not top-3 in one and top-2 in another or anything like that — outright, the best in both categories are the backbone of my team. I collected significant shares of hitters like Jose Ramirez, Manny Machado, Joey Votto, Anthony Rendon — hitters with excellent plate discipline and/or contact skills with other exemplary skills. Michael Brantley and Ender Inciarte, for example, are not high-upside hitters but offer ultra-low strikeout rates (K%) that helps mitigate weekly volatility.

My typical auction league strategy is what most call “stars and scrubs”: lots of elite players, lots of cheap players, and little in between. Most fantasy owners prefer snake drafts (in my estimation of the industry), but I prefer an auction nine times out of 10 because (1) it actually allows me to pursue this strategy, whereas a snake draft forces me (and everyone) into a mostly linear plan of attack; and (2) most people struggle to navigate a market that becomes heavily distorted almost instantly. A tertiary component of my auction strategy is to also leverage relative valuation. I’ll jump in on bidding on players who appear as if they’ll come in under-priced compared to players of similar caliber. As for the stars-and-scrubs approach specifically, I think the strategy is as much cost-effective as it is mental: it’s much easier to cut the busts you drafted for $1 than the busts you drafted for $10 or $15. The greater your initial investment, the harder it can be to cut bait, and the longer you might hold out for him to turn things around and cause irreparable damage to your squad. In contrast, the $1 player is not only an easy cut when bad but also a highly profitable asset when it pans out. It works both ways without compromising the talent on your team; if anything, having more stars guarantees a stronger, stabler core, whereas a club built entirely on middle-round assets is no safer from collapse than one built on late-round assets. (It’s a discussion about tiered bust rates to be had another day, although Ariel Cohen’s The Case for an Ace is a good starting point for that discussion, as pitchers are just a microcosm of the entire “market,” aka draft.)

I’ll tell you now: this wasn’t my strongest draft, or at least it certainly doesn’t feel that way given what I had in mind. I liked the core I built, but I overextended myself on stars, leaving me a little too starry-scrubby. Chalk it up to nerves, rust, both, neither, whatever. At least I can commend myself for not leaving money on the table (aka having auction budget left over) and not overspending on high-quality roto assets who are moderate- or even low-quality points assets.

I can’t remember the precise chronology of the draft, so I’ll do my best to replicate it from memory alongside my concurrent strategy-slash-thought process. Before I start, though, I should review the league’s scoring system, which is, in a word, odd:

Hitting: +1 1B, +2 2B, +3 3B, +4 HR, +1 R, +1 RBI, –0.5 K, +1 BB, +2 SB, –1 CS
Pitching: +5 W, +3 QS, –5 L, +5 SV, -2 BS, +1 K, –1 BB, –1 HBP, –1 ER, +0.33 out (+1 IP)

It’s unlike any standard scoring format (à la ESPN, Yahoo!, CBS, etc.), which not only levels the playing field but also makes the outlook for this entire endeavor rather opaque. I went with a SP-heavy approach, even specifically targeting RP-eligible starters to fill my two obligatory RP slots (the other seven are all-encompassing “P” slots). Ryan Bloomfield of BaseballHQ, who is verifiably sharp and whom I admire as an analyst, did the opposite — a full RP lean, with only a $1 share of Dylan Bundy to round out his “rotation” — which I interpreted to be an inauspicious sign for me.

Let’s dive in:

$45 Jose Ramirez CLE 3B

With Mike Trout and Mookie Betts leading off the draft at $57 and $51, respectively, I took the plunge on Ramirez, who projected (per my numbers) as basically interchangeable with Betts, given the lack of a premium on stolen bases relative to standard roto formats. There’s room for Ramirez to regress in power and speed, but he has a Silver Slugger award in his future. It’s hard to find a better hit tool in the bigs.

$35 Chris Sale BOS SP

I grabbed Sale at a fairly steep discount relative to the likes of Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom, which, again, is the game I’m playing here in the early and middle portions of the auction. By my numbers, Sale actually projected as #1, although that’s likely dependent on not only a sunny playing time projection but also some splitting of hairs when it comes down to wins and losses.

I should interject: if you hadn’t done the mental arithmetic on the scoring system, I’ll tell you now: Scherzer projected for about as many points as a replacement-level hitter. In a vacuum, this sounds like nonsense and that a wise man or woman might fade pitching completely. However, for this league, we accrue points for hitters and pitchers separately. The team that scores the most hitting points earns a Win; ditto, pitching. Lastly, a third Win is awarded for most points overall. This strikes me as an odd wrinkle, as hitting points are worth so much more than hitting points. Our Paul Sporer went with a full hitting lean — I’m talking a 90/10 split by budget allocation, maybe even steeper — which could prove to be the true optimal play, trying to simply blow your opponent out of the water with hitting points that are much easier to come by, taking down hitting and the overall each week.

$33 Francisco Lindor CLE SS

In roto, it’s a little riskier to grab Lindor on account of him maybe missing Opening Day and/or suffering prolonged ill effects in the baserunning department related to his injured calf. I welcome the discount, landing Lindor several dollars less than other elite bats. Even if he misses time up front, it’s worth it.

Again, I’m less concerned about stolen bases in this format. I’ll venture to say there are some objectively bad selections in this auction in the basis of overpricing their speed and under-pricing their negative contributions because of below-average plate discipline and/or contact skills. This will inadvertently be a passive-aggressive dig, which I do not intent it to be, at whoever drafted him, but: Ronald Acuna Jr. is highly, highly overrated in this format and cost $40. I would prefer Lindor at $40 over Acuna at $33, let alone with the salaries inverted.

$30 Carlos Carrasco CLE SP

I got a little too cute waiting for the market to calibrate and let James Paxton go for a meager $15. I also would’ve rather had Corey Kluber or Justin Verlander at their prices, and Blake Snell went for a mere $24 after Carrasco. I like Carrasco a lot as my SP2, even at this price, but I regret not throwing another dollar at Kluber or JV.

$27 Khris Davis OAK UT

This is where I derail not only my strategy but also the entire draft in general. I like Davis a lot, and I’ve wound up with a lot of shares this season. However, I keep forgetting he’s UT-only and not an outfielder, leaving my outfield uncharacteristically shallow for these teams and also clogging my utility slot (although I’m adamant there’s no such thing as “clogging” it — just using a turn of phrase here).

The derailment occurred in earnest when I nominated Nelson Cruz. It took about 45 seconds of bidding before Jeff Erickson (of Rotowire), our auctioneer, noticed I could not legally nominate Cruz because I could not roster him. So, I had to throw out a different name, and Cruz was withdrawn from the floor. Problem was… several owners struck Cruz from their lists — for some, mentally; for others, physically, with ink on paper or a checkbox in draft software — leaving him to linger on the board for the remainder of the draft.

A key tenet of my “brand” is to always target and draft Cruz, who is underrated annually. To watch him simply sit on the board until the reserve rounds was, with tons of exaggeration, one of the most painful things that has ever happened to me. We all debriefed afterward, and the general reaction was forgetfulness, either because he had been struck from lists or an owner already filled his or her utility slot before realizing Cruz was available. At a certain point, it was too late for everyone. Clay Link of Rotowire grabbed him with the second pick of the reserve rounds. Here, I do not exaggerate: that was the pick of the draft.

There’s a lull here on my end, which is about when I realize I’ve overextended myself. Four stars is the right number of stars, probably, if you want to have enough money to throw at mid- and late-round plays who you really like and will probably be under-priced anyway. Especially in this draft, with so much money funneled to the top of the draft board, a lot of mid-range options in the middle of the draft went for cheap (whereas these same options at the end of the draft were subject to the occasional last-minute scramble). I lacked the draft capital to swing my weight in certain spots where I wish I could’ve.

$7 Jesus Aguilar MIL 1B

This caught me completely by surprise. I had no intention of targeting Aguilar — I actually wanted to grab Edwin Encarnacion, who I knew would be under-priced (and eventually went to Bloomfield for low double-digits) — but when he almost timed out at $6, I knew I had to throw a dollar at him. If this had happened about an hour later, it wouldn’t have surprised me, but with everyone’s pockets still adequately lined, I thought Aguilar would reach at least double-digits, if not low-20s. This might be my best pick of the draft, but if not, it certainly won’t be my worst.

$16 Eddie Rosario MIN OF

Really happy to grab a hitter who, under the right circumstances, could hit 30 homers and bat .300. In a fan of the low strikeout rate, which should help him in case the power is somewhat of a mirage (Statcast doesn’t like him very much, but I try not I get hung up on Statcast as the be-all, end-all in terms of measuring a hitter’s batted ball quality and overall profile).

$14 Brian Dozier LAD 2B

Dozier doesn’t profile as my type of points-league hitter, but at this price, it’s the right play for cost-effective purposes. He’s probably a breakeven or a little worse at this price, but if he bounces back (that is, if he has recovered from the injuries that nagged him all last year), his power elevates him to an elite (or at least high-profit) bat despite his subpar plate approach.

$7 Ender Inciarte ATL OF

Again, Inciarte fits a very specific profile — in this case, excellent contact skills and a high average. His upside is capped, but he should pretty easily pay off his salary with his skill set as is. What I’m hoping for, specifically, is a repeat of last year’s absurd stolen base pace to begin the season, but sustained for the year. Inciarte is the darkest of dark horse candidates to lead the National League in stolen bases this year.

$8 Robbie Ray ARI SP

Realistically, we’ve seen the best and worst of Robbie Ray throughout the 2016-18 seasons. What we’re still searching for is his mean or median performance, which may or may not be reminiscent of last year’s 3.86 ERA. In points, a 33% strikeout rate and 13% walk rate (for example) is no less valuable than, say, Kluber’s 26% strikeout rate and 6% walk rate. Ray could actually be a sneaky high-floor play given his robust strikeout rate. Unfortunately, he could be subject to not only his own volatility but also the Diamondbacks’ mediocre squad, damaging him by measure of wins and losses.

$9 Charlie Morton TBR SP

I’m loading up on Morton shares this year, who, when stripping away all context, is hardly distinguishable from Paxton. Even though Paxton went at a steep discount in this auction, he was still considerably more expensive than Morton, who is no more injury-prone and hardly at all less-talented.

I finally reach the juncture of the draft where I have to confront my dwindling budget. I have the lowest remaining budget and, accordingly, the lowest max bid. I need to pick my spots, and I know who I want: Kenta Maeda, Rich Hill, Ross Stripling, and a top-8 catcher. I’ll get three of the four and call it a day.

$10 Buster Posey SFG C

To reiterate, I like points leagues a lot because roto-related bias slips into player analysis. Posey might not even hit double-digit homers this year, but he comes as close to erasing the gap between strikeouts and walks as any catcher. He’s a lower-ceiling but decidedly high-floor play on a per-game basis — it’s more just a matter of his health at this point. Off the top of my head, he was something like my #4 catcher for points; by draft salary, he ended up closer to his roto rank (near the back of the top-10). I’ll take it.

$6 Kenta Maeda LAD SP/RP

I already target Maeda relentlessly in every draft, but I knew it would be especially important for me to grab him as a de facto reliever. By measure of salary, he is technically a “low-end” pitcher, but he’s easily a top-30 starter for me, maybe better, on a per-start basis. That he is underrated for a third straight year because of a logjam in the rotation — one he figures to be a part of come Opening Day, and one that figures to miss out on Clayton Kershaw (among several others) at some point this year — is bananas to me. You can’t convince me that any reticence regarding Maeda is just.

$4 Rich Hill LAD SP

Feel free to load up on shares of Julio Urias, who is starting to shoot back up draft boards. (Sporer actually grabbed Urias for $3 early on the draft as his rotation “anchor,” which is simultaneously thrifty and hilarious given his overall strategy, which is so extreme. I genuinely love it.) I’d rather have a true top-20 starter on a per-start basis who is guaranteed a starting role, even if the eternal blister keeps him sidelined for one or two months of the year.

Dollar days (in non-chronological order):
$1 Yan Gomes WAS C
$1 Maikel Franco PHI 3B
$1 Cesar Hernandez PHI 2B
$1 Nick Markakis ATL OF
$1 Kole Calhoun LAA OF
$1 Cedric Mullins II BAL OF
$1 Carlos Martinez STL SP/RP
$1 Michael Pineda MIN SP
$1 Kyle Freeland COL SP

I like some of these picks and I hate some of these picks. I don’t dislike Gomes, but I would’ve rather had Austin Barnes, who Sporer (to my immediate left) nominated next and won for $1. Sporer had just enough money to throw at players he wanted, which means I likely would’ve lost out on Barnes anyway. But I regret not taking that shot in the first place.

That’s the difficult part of the end game, when your end game reaches you more quickly than you anticipated: you have to balance the reward of winning the $1 players you want with the risk of them being outbid by 11 other potential suitors. My several rounds of nominations — some bluffs, others authentic — were clunky at best. I watched Bloomfield score late-round darling (and my future bold prediction subject) Domingo German. I scored several players I love for points leagues (Markakis, Calhoun, Hernandez) or simply as worthwhile gambles (Pineda). However, I legitimately panic-nominated Mullins and C-Mart, the latter of whom I knew would qualify at RP to fulfill my requisite second slot. It’s always somewhat painful to see the caliber of players that sit until dollar days, and I lament not being able to capitalize on a handful of them. So it goes.

Reserve rounds (snake draft — no bidding):
1.12 Jeff McNeil
2.13 Michael Fulmer
3.36 Tyler Skaggs
4.37 Kendrys Morales
5.60 Jung Ho Kang
6.61 Trevor Cahill

My primary reserves target: Cruz. In any other draft, though, where I didn’t colossally distort the entire draft through my boneheadedness, my actual primary target would be McNeil. I could t be more thrilled that he lasted the full snake (as you may have noticed, I drew the reserves draft short straw).

I’m feeling very lukewarm on Fulmer, especially with depressed velocity, but Derek Carty’s THE BAT really, really likes Fulmer. I’m willing to entertain Fulmer having legitimate contact management skills, but it’s hard to shake the feeling there’s more downside here than upside (although, theoretically and maybe also practically, there’s zero downside to a bench stash).

Skaggs was the best remaining pitcher on the board, although this carries some wide error bars around wins and losses. It’s an unfortunate wrinkle. The actual best pitcher on the board is Danny Salazar, who I’ll keep a close eye on in all leagues. The upside there is absurd, but his situation, generally, is dubious.

Morales, like Markakis and Calhoun, is a super unsexy pick. He could go 30/.250 in 2019, though, which is hard to complain about from a bench bat.

Kang is a legitimate top-10 third baseman when starting regularly, which he could pretty easily be doing come Opening Day. His off-field issues appear to be in the past (although there’s a greater discussion to be had about alcoholism as a disease and the Pirates’ apparent failure to support a player in whom they invested for several year), making it hard to imagine a scenario where Kang doesn’t hit his way back into a full-time role. (Update: the third base job is how his to lose. The fact that he’s 36th among third basemen per NFBC ADP is insane, regardless of the certanity of his role. The writing was always on the wall that he’d earn it back. This might be my best pick of the draft.)

And, last but not least, I gotta grab yet another share of my boy Cahill.

* * *

So, like I said, it wasn’t my best draft. But with a little bit of distance, both physically and temporally, between myself and the draft room, I’m starting to feel better about my team. The entire point of stars-and-scrubs is to be able to easily cut bait with your busts, most of whom will likely be your dollar days guys. Better yet, if the dollar days guys pay off, they end up being highly profitable. I put too much pressure on myself for my dollar players, but come May, who cares that my biggest mistake might have been spending two dollars combined on Mullins and C-Mart?

Still, I’m not sure my overall approach was optimal — I didn’t pay too close of attention to everyone, but I did catch on pretty quickly to Bloomfield’s and Sporer’s respective approaches, each of which were unique and could easily prevail above the rest.

You, the reader — I want two pieces of feedback from you:

  • What do you think of my team? Whose team do you like best? (Draft board below.)
  • What did you like about this recap format? Again, it’s my first for an auction, so it surely has wrinkles worth smoothing. Let me know what you would have (and have not) liked to see.

Link to the draft board.

Tout Wars Roster
Pos Player Name Salary
C Buster Posey $10
C Yan Gomes $1
1B Jesus Aguilar $7
2B Brian Dozier $14
SS Francisco Lindor $33
3B Jose Ramirez $45
MI Cesar Hernandez $1
CI Maikel Franco $1
OF Eddie Rosario $16
OF Ender Inciarte $7
OF Nick Markakis $1
OF Kole Calhoun $1
OF Cedric Mullins $1
UT Khris Davis $27
P Chris Sale $35
P Carlos Carrasco $30
P Charlie Morton $9
P Robbie Ray $8
P Rich Hill $4
P Michael Pineda $1
P Kyle Freeland $1
RP Kenta Maeda $6
RP Carlos Martinez $1
R Jeff McNeil
R Michael Fulmer
R Tyler Skaggs
R Kendrys Morales
R Jung Ho Kang
R Trevor Cahill

Currently investigating the relationship between pitcher effectiveness and beard density. Two-time FSWA award winner, including 2018 Baseball Writer of the Year, and 8-time award finalist. Previously featured in Lindy's Sports' Fantasy Baseball magazine (2018, 2019). Tout Wars competitor. Biased toward a nicely rolled baseball pant.

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Really nice write-up, especially with the focus on walks and strikeouts in points leagues.