My Tout Wars AL-Only Team & Experience

As a reward for winning last year’s Tout Wars mixed online draft league, I was given the opportunity to join one of the three live auction leagues. Given that I hate snake drafts and auction day is one of the most enjoyable of the year, I couldn’t say yes fast enough. My next decision was to choose which league I preferred to join between the two mono leagues and the 15-team mixed. This was also pretty much a no-brainer. The AL-Only league is the famous and storied one featured in one of my favorite books, Fantasyland. It is home to many of the titans of the industry such as Ron Shandler, Larry Schechter, Jeff Erickson, Andy Behrens, Lawr Michaels, and of course, the man who writes for every website, including this one, Jason Collette. I soon learned that I would indeed be joining this league and yesterday was our auction high up in the McGraw Hill building in New York City.

Although I had met and mingled with all the guys in the league many times in the past, it was still extremely cool to actually be in a league competing against them. One of my favorite bittersweet moments was getting outbid by Shandler. It was toward the end of the auction and Drew Hutchison was nominated. At this point, I was really thinking I could snag him for a buck or two, but my $2 bid was topped by Shandler’s $3, and given my money situation, I simply couldn’t go the extra buck.

This year, all the Tout Wars auction leagues adopted OBP after experimenting with the switch in the mixed draft league I was part of last season. This is important, because the values of hitters change, some of them drastically so. It replaces batting average, making guys like Adam Dunn an attractive commodity once again. Another interesting wrinkle in the two mono leagues is the use of a swingman position. Rather than the standard five outfielder setup, we only have four outfield slots, plus a swingman. The swingman spot could be occupied by either a pitcher or a hitter. So there could be teams employing 10 pitchers in a given week and just 13 hitters.

On Saturday night during the annual Tout Wars party, I was asked what my strategy was. Huh, strategy? I never have a strategy. Should I have one? This was sure to be the most competitive league I have ever participated in, so was it stupid to play it how I always do? I went in with my projections and dollar values, had a list of guys to nominate early and that was it. I simply planned to go where the value was and bid on anyone below my number.

Now finally, it’s on to my team. Here are the full auction results.

C – Jason Castro 15

I was fairly sure I would get Castro. I drafted him in LABR and figured I was higher on him than the majority. He sports an above average walk rate and gets a boost from the switch to OBP. He is also one of those rare every day catchers and will be hitting third for the ‘Stros. I thought I would get one of Joe Mauer and Carlos Santana, thinking I might get them at a nice discount if their OBP boost isn’t fully factored in. Although they did go for below my value, it was higher than I expected and I decided to pass.

C – John Jaso 12

OBP! You’d never see Jaso go for over $10 in a non-OBP league of course. He finished second in baseball among catchers in OBP last year and is slated to be the Athletics regular DH.

1B – Daniel Nava 13

Ughh. In my experience, first basemen seem to universally go for higher than my values. Does everyone overvalue them or are my values wrong? As many of the first baseman were going over my values, I kept going down the list thinking I’ll get that guy, then that guy. Nope, everyone ended up being too expensive and I needed to stay disciplined. Nava gets a huge boost from OBP, but doesn’t do a whole lot else. He’ll start on the good side of a platoon again so at least he’ll be respectable in the counting stats. I paid more than I expected to, but he was still a buck or two below my value, so I was satisfied.

3B – Matt Davidson 1

Yeahhhhh. So in addition to the first basemen generally all going at or above my values, so did the third basemen. Davidson was just demoted, but with the White Sox trotting out an uninspiring group to handle the hot corner, it shouldn’t be long before he’s back. He’s got good power and The Cell is a great park to possess that skill. Oh, and since it’s AL-Only, having a guy not giving you full-time at-bats from day one isn’t such a terrible thing. Plus, it was only a buck and…see my bench.

CI – Logan Morrison 6

He was part of a group of first basemen of which I didn’t totally care who I got. I needed someone and needed to spend my money. It ended up being Morrison. With the logjam in the Mariners outfield, the hope is that they play their offseason acquisition the majority of the time. Hopefully he can stay healthy.

2B – Ian Kinsler 22

My knee-jerk reaction after Kinsler’s move to Detroit was that his fantasy value takes a hit. But, Kinsler gets a boost from the switch to OBP. Plus, the Tigers have been running wild during the spring and there might be something to spring stolen base attempts being predictive for the season. With a new manager at the helm, it’s possible their philosophy has changed and Kinsler should benefit.

SS – Yunel Escobar 11

No, I’m not really a fan of Escobar. But given my pre-draft prep, it seemed that he would be undervalued, so I had it set in my mind that I would end up with him. I still got him at a slight discount, but it was more than I expected to pay. At least he plays every day and is a relatively safe bet to deliver as projected.

MI – Brad Miller 17

I love Brad Miller and drafted him in LABR as well. He routinely posted excellent walk rates in the minors and therefore has some serious OBP upside to go along with his combination of power and speed. Even though my entire middle infield was full at the time (see below), I couldn’t allow Miller to go for $6 below my value. So to ensure that didn’t happen, I bid $17 and then crickets. Heading into the pre-season, I had assumed he would be leading off. Then it seemed like he was dropped to the bottom of the order. Lately, perhaps as a result of his strong spring, he has been hitting second, which is infinitely better for his fantasy value.

OF – Shin-Soo Choo 35

Yes, 35 smackaroos. Possibly my most controversial winning bid, it might surprise you to hear that I actually had him valued at a whopping $39. He’s projected to finish third in the league in OBP by Steamer and fourth by ZiPS, which pushes his value into the stratosphere. And besides the OBP value he provides, he’s a 20/20 threat with 100 runs scored potential.

OF – Brett Gardner 22

There’s that OBP boost yet again. Gardner’s skill trends are a bit scary, but he’s still only 30, so it’s not obvious that he couldn’t rebound a bit. As my primary speed source, a stolen base bounce-back would be wonderful.

OF – Ben Zobrist 21

So, when I actually won Zobrist, he was sitting in my MI slot. But then Miller came along and I couldn’t pass up on him at that price. Luckily, Zobrist has insane position flexibility, qualifying at 2B, SS and OF. That’s super valuable. Well, not necessarily in dollar value terms, but it really does help, in an unquantifiable way. Zobrist was a disappointment last year, but I’m projecting some sort of a rebound. Plus, he always posts an excellent OBP.

OF – Kole Calhoun 16

I had to get the favorite FanGraphs sleeper. I’m a big fan of Calhoun with his combination of power and speed. Plus, he’ll be hitting atop a strong Angels lineup against right-handers, increasing his at-bat total and counting stats.

UT – Oswaldo Arcia 11

Given my insane focus on OBP, I knew I needed a lower OBP guy that provided some pop. Who better to go after than the one who I not only boldly predicted would hit 30 bombs this year, but also lead the league in home runs? I don’t like that Arcia has been hitting seventh during the spring, but a hot couple of weeks could be all that’s needed to move him up in the order, to perhaps as high as fifth.

SW – Abraham Almonte 3

I knew going in that I would be using the swingman slot for a hitter. If I ever wanted to take advantage of a good matchup or two-start week, then maybe I’d start a 10th pitcher. But, with four counting stats that an extra hitter provides versus just two for a pitcher, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to ever start a 10th pitcher, let alone draft one.

Since the beginning of spring, my Almonte plate appearance projection has gradually been increased. Now with news that Corey Hart is going to DH every day early on, the thought is that Almonte will become the every day center fielder. He has also been hitting lead off. Plus, he has some pop, good speed and is willing to take a walk. All this for $3?! He was my favorite purchase, which was made at the end of the auction, as I kept a spot open for him being fairly certain I would get him.

P – Jake Peavy 10

It took me a while to win the bid on a pitcher. And this is the first guy I ended up with. Hmmm. His skills remain good, so it’s just a matter of staying healthy. At least he pitches for a top offense so I don’t have to curse at them for not providing any run support.

P – Koji Uehara 21

I had him valued as the best closer by a couple of bucks. Unlike in mixed leagues, I knew I needed to get a solid closer since it’s going to be much tougher to land one during the season. Plus, with the need to draft crappy fifth starters to fill out our staffs, Uehara’s fantastic ERA and WHIP will be much needed.

P – Tyler Skaggs 4

I wasn’t sure if he was going to be that sleeper who wasn’t, but I got him at a fairly good price in my eyes. I love his velocity spike and he’s in a good ballpark to hold in his fly balls. He’s a nice breakout candidate.

P – CC Sabathia 13

Oyyyy. I passed on so many pitchers going at or above my value that I was left staring at Sabathia, needing to spend some money on pitching. This season I’m going to live and die by (less) big CC, as I own him in LABR too. Of course I’m nervous about the apparent further decline in his velocity, but it’s not automatically a death sentence. Just ask Felix Hernandez how that’s gone for him. To be honest, I’m shocked I had to spend this much to get him.

P – Jesse Crain 1

I could immediately place him on our unlimited DL and replace him with a solid middle reliever. With no standout candidate in the Astros bullpen, most assume Crain will close once he’s healthy. Could be a steal for a buck and frankly I’m surprise no one bid two.

P – Brad Peacock 2

Jason Collette was ready to strangle me after I topped his opening bid on Peacock. Knowing Collette’s love for Peacock, I strongly considered nominating him in the first round of the auction. But, he hasn’t even earned a rotation spot yet and I wasn’t even sure I wanted him for a buck. But I got him at the end of the auction and he offered more upside than the majority of the dreck still out there. So it had to be done. Sorry Jason.

P – Carlos Carrasco 1

Of course. Luckily, when I outed my love for him in my bold predictions, it didn’t affect my ability to get him for a buck. He, too, hasn’t sealed up a rotation spot yet, but given his upside, it would be silly for the Indians to banish him to long relief. Ground balls, a fantastic changeup and 95+ mph velocity. What’s not to love?

P Scott Feldman 2

Ummm, I actually outbid someone to secure Feldman’s services. Is it bad that I own two Astros starting pitchers AND a reliever? This is what happens in mono leagues. You still need innings as wins and strikeouts are categories. With all my question marks above, Feldman was the type I needed. Hopefully he doesn’t torpedo my ratios.

P Robbie Ross 1

One of a hundred candidates for the Rangers’ fifth spot in the rotation. He possesses a pretty solid skill set and could post respectable ratios.

Bench – Andrew Romine, Alex Meyer, Josh Tomlin, Brandon Maurer

Romine qualifies at third and at least at this moment, is expected to take over every day shortstop duties for the Tigers with Jose Iglesias out for the season. My plan is to start him at third base until Davidson is called up from the minors. Romine doesn’t offer much except some speed and playing time, but my fingers are crossed that the Tigers don’t bring in another shortstop, like Stephen Drew. Then it will be back to the drawing board to find a third baseman.

The Twins rotation isn’t very good, so if Meyer impresses early in the minors, he could be called up over the summer and give my pitching staff a nice boost. Carrasco is battling Tomlin, so figured I’d guarantee myself the Indians fifth starter. I actually kind of like Tomlin as his velocity is up since returning from Tommy John surgery and he has always possessed excellent control. It’s only spring stats, but Tomlin has been striking out batters at a significantly higher clip than he has during his short time in the Majors. Maurer was just one of those “well, at least he has some upside” type picks, so will hope for the best.

I ended up spending $205, or nearly 79%, of my budget on hitting. That was not the plan! It just so happened that all the values were on the hitting side and I simply couldn’t pass up a bargain. I like it this way anyway as I’m used to working to improve my pitching during the season. Having a full-time starting hitter at every position in a mono league is huge, so my offense should be quite strong. Hopefully my pitching is decent enough to allow me to make a run at knocking Schechter off the throne.

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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8 years ago


8 years ago
Reply to  jdbolick

Mike, it seems to me that in looking to exploit a potential market inefficiency with the switch from BAVG to OBP, you ended up focusing far too much on that category at the cost of all others. I’d be interested in reading how you calculate your auction values since they look way off to me, and I think you may have some mistakes in how you do it. For instance, I can’t imagine why you had Daniel Nava listed at $14.

8 years ago
Reply to  Mike Podhorzer

That’s the problem, though, in that I’m pretty sure you incorrectly calculated the value. That’s also why you actually should prefer to accumulate steals than ratio categories, because perception of value in ration categories varies so much from person to person, making them more difficult to trade.

With integer categories we know there is going to be X amount from the player pool according to our projections. So if there are 1,000 steals projected above replacement and we allocate $374.4 for that pool (12 teams * $260 * .6 hitting split / 5 categories), then each steal above replacement is clearly worth $0.37 in the abstract. There will be some discrepancies in calculating the replacement point, and actual value will depend on the rest of the roster since a team loaded in steals doesn’t need more, but the abstract value is easy to calculate and should be consistent from person to person.

Ratio categories don’t have that advantage because there isn’t one clear way to calculate their value. Different guys do it different ways, with my preference being to work backwards from how Player X’s contribution in that category would affect a pretty standard team. So I’ll take either the mean or median at-bats for the teams in that league the previous season, then adjust by 13/14 to simulate an open roster spot. From there I calculate how much Player X’s projected OBP would affect the OBP of the mean or median roster, then do the same calculations for everyone in the player pool and figure out how much of the $374.4 goes to each increment of positive or negative OBP adjustment and attribute the value over replacement accordingly.

From sixteen years of doing this, I know just how easy it is to swing off on ratio categories and value them too much or too little. Even in our magazine we value batting average a little more highly than I would like. I personally prefer to err on the side of a little undervaluing ratio categories if anything, because you are going to be more confident about the absolute value of integer categories. Whereas if you overvalue your ratio categories, you usually end up with a roster heavily invested in them at the cost of everything else, which makes winning the league extremely difficult.

The best valuation system then includes the variables for the remaining player pool and your own roster construction so that you don’t keep chasing ERA when you already have enough because the rest of the league didn’t perceive its value as highly as you did. Plugging everything into the laptop with all its dynamic recalculations sucked all the fun out of auctions for me, though, so it’s something I try to do just in my mind as I realize what categories are my strengths and weaknesses based on my roster so far.

8 years ago
Reply to  Mike Podhorzer

Weird. I got my start writing for Todd and Jason Grey, but I can’t remember how he calculated values or how it may have changed.