On Winning AL-Only Tout Wars

Aaron Judge, my thank you card is in the mail.

This was my fourth year in the American League only Tout Wars league after winning the inaugural Tout Wars mixed draft league back in 2013. I’ve had two bottom tier finishes, a second place in 2015, and now…a Yoo-Hoo shower! And since this post is partially meant to give me a pedestal to brag from, I will giddily share that I not only won, but set multiple league records along the way as well. My team scored 109 of a possible 120 points, the most in AL Tout history, while my 26 point victory margin was also the most. In addition, I set a couple of category records, and actually won eight of the 10 categories. It was quite the season.

For a refresher on the original team I purchased and my thoughts on the auction, check out my original recap.

In looking at the team I rostered, it doesn’t seem obvious this was a winning squad. I suffered from a lot of injuries. Six of my 14 starting hitters landed on the disabled list for a significant period of time, including Mike Trout. Sure, Matt Duffy is included in that total, who we knew would miss the start of the season. But he failed to record even one plate appearance all season.

Pitching was even worse — six of my nine starters suffered through a DL stint! That includes every single starter except Luis Severino. And those injuries actually led me to follow a new strategy.

In years past, when I suffered an injury from a starting pitcher, I’d panic at the thought of dropping in wins and strikeouts. So I would bid on and hope to win some weak pitcher that had serious potential to damage my ratios, and ratio damage was typically the outcome. Not this year.

In a mono league like AL-Only Tout Wars, you would be amazed at how slim the starting pitcher pickings are. Like, each week we would literally have five choices at most, and usually that group would include a pitcher named Ubaldo and a smattering of some fifth starters or some guy I never heard of just called up for a spot start.

So instead of closing my eyes and hoping for a miracle from an Ubaldo, I went in a different direction and FAABed high quality middle relievers. During the season, Blake Parker and Tommy Kahnle improved my ratios and even contributed positive value in strikeouts with their high rates. Anthony Swarzak is another name I added early, but looking at the stats he contributed while on my active roster, it appears he saved his good pitching when on my bench and was rather poor when I started him.

Using Parker and Kahnle most of the season, along with Craig Kimbrel, Sean Doolittle, and Matt Bush early, meant I only used four starters for many weeks. Predictably, this killed my win total, which is how I finished with just a two in the category (also, I most certainly had some bad luck). But because these guys were actually better for strikeouts than many bottom tier starters, I somehow managed to finish second in the category.

The other benefit of going with this reliever strategy was it resulted in huge leads in ERA and WHIP. By September, my lead was significant enough that I started benching all my relievers, including Kimbrel and now closer Doolittle (I was first in saves at that point too), and streaming starters. I had a very small chance of losing a point in ERA and WHIP, but one point was essentially my downside. On the other hand, I had a win point to gain and lots of strikeout points. This was an obvious strategy, and it helped me to those 11 strikeout points.

This is how James Shields, Anibal Sanchez, Brett Anderson, Daniel Mengden, Dillon Gee, Joe Biagini, Troy Scribner, and Buck Farmer all ended up starting games for me. Their ratios almost didn’t even matter, I just wanted the strikeouts and the win potential. It worked like a charm, even though nearly all the guys were terrible and pushed my ratios high enough to minimize the gap between my team and second place.

One of my better pickups during the season was Jake Faria as I worked to improve upon an acknowledged weaknesses in anticipating future call-ups and role changes. I don’t follow the minor leagues, so I generally just worry about who’s in the Majors. I consciously tried to change that this year and when Blake Snell was demoted, I proactively scooped up Faria on the hopes he would be Snell’s replacement. That wasn’t actually the case in the immediate aftermath of Snell’s demotion, but Faria did end up getting the call several weeks later.

On the hitting side, I ended up with perhaps the most depth I ever had. And it was much needed with some of my hitters missing a huge chunk of the season. Yolmer Sanchez was a 100% lucky pickup while waiting for Duffy to return. Aaron Hicks began his breakout while on my bench, but injuries on my team eventually pushed him into my lineup where he continued to hit. I picked up Matt Olson when I thought he’d stay up for a while after his first promotion. He was sent back down soon after, but I held onto him…and reaped the rewards. And then Mikie Mahtook was very solid and he was just a random injury replacement pickup. Every time a hitter returned from the DL, I had an extra one or two who should be starting for a team and ended up having to ride my bench until I could free up a spot.

So as usual, there was tons of luck involved. While I should give myself credit for some of the pickups, many of them were pure luck and some of the guys like Olson and Sanchez outperformed even the rosiest of expectations. Then of course, Aaron Judge. But the thing is, even if he posted counting stats just half of what he actually did, I would have only lost two points! The OBP probably would have been worse, so perhaps another two points. So if Judge performed as I projected, I seemingly would have finished with just four fewer points.

It was one heck of a season and this title is sure to spoil me in the future. Aside from the good results, I’m most proud of the new strategies I employed and ability to learn from a previous weakness. I’m already excited to get working on the Pod Projections and look toward the 2018 season!

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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4 years ago

Congrats–sounds like a really tough league!