Tout Wars: 2022 Review + 2023 Draft Recap

The 2023 season marks my fifth year in Tout Wars. My tenure to date can be characterized graciously as mediocre; I accomplished a head-to-head semifinals appearance (a benched Kole Calhoun home run away from a finals appearance) in my 2019 debut but succeeded it with consecutive ghastly, basement-dwelling finishes and last year’s extremely turbulent middle-of-the-pack showing.

Entering my third year of the 15-team 5-by-5 roto mixed league auction (salary draft) with on-base percentage (OBP), I feel like I’ve finally found my footing. I had little enthusiasm for fantasy baseball in its pandemic-shortened 2020 season, and the 2021 season was my first after my daughter was born. Needless to say I had (and still have) a lot less time (and sleep) to prepare than I did in my glory days. And having freshly moved from 12-team head-to-head to 15-team OBP, playing a new format against a high level of talent, I got absolutely clobbered. Last year marked my second in 15-team OBP, and it went a little better.

I vowed to do better this year, despite the impositions—my performance last year gave me a faint glimmer of hope that I could—but that, of course, remains TBD. Truthfully, I have less time than ever before. But I don’t want that to be an excuse. I just knew I’d have to be more focused at the draft table. I think I was. I’ll get to all of that shortly.

First, a review of last season:

2022 Season Review

You can read my recap of my draft last year here. All told, it was an unmitigated disaster. Bryce Harper missed 40% of the season, Jacob deGrom missed 60% of it, Giovanny Gallegos didn’t close, Hyun Jin Ryu 류현진 learned his UCL is irreparably compromised, Adam Duvall cratered again, and, excepting Jake Fraley, all my $1 and $2 darts failed to pan out, mostly because they possessed arguably way more downside than upside. And, of course, I cut Fraley before he got the opportunity to finish hot.

I took an enormous risk not drafting Steven Kwan and Andrés Giménez during the draft (as opposed to the post-draft snake-style reserve portion). I was wary of nominating them during Dollar Days and getting outbid. They were, by far, my best picks. As you may or may not know, I loved them last year.

So, what happened? I spent most of May through July in 14th place. Then deGrom returned from the injured list (IL), and between the first week of August and the second week of September, my team clawed back more than 40 standing points in roughly as many days and climbed all the way to 2nd place. Even now, I can’t believe it. I had all but given up, and now I’m four points out of first behind eventual champion Derek Van Riper.

Unfortunately, the season doesn’t end in the middle of September. It ends the first week of October. And in those last two-and-a-half weeks or so, I ceded roughly 16 standing points and fell to 8th place. Womp womp.

In a sense, I should be disappointed with an 8th-place finish. In another sense, I should be thrilled with an 8th-place finish given how poorly it all started out. Mostly, I learned firsthand that, really, you can never give up—not even in early August. I wasn’t even close to contending, and yet I somehow made a spectacular run. There’s not much to learn from last year other than something extremely cliché: never give up!

2023 Draft Recap

My primary concern entering the draft was to not “wait for values” within a position and simply draft guys I wanted. When bringing dollar values into a draft, it can be easy to get spooked off of a player when the bidding goes one, two, three dollars over his projected value. It has definitely happened to me in the past, and it results in me passing over guys I want and settling for whichever plays are left, values be damned. Often, those values are worse.

In this regard, I think I executed well. I pursued the players I wanted and assembled a core that I’m proud of, risky as it may be. (The risk is the point: I am not good enough to beat someone like Jeff Zimmerman outright, so I need to take a chance on, well, chance.) It helped that the so-called bidding wars weren’t egregiously misplaced from a valuation perspective. In fact, so many of the players drafted nearly matched my values that it was somewhat eerie.

This is where I think I failed to execute: I created a list of players I thought would be values against average draft position (ADP) or general market value. Almost none of them—Tyler O’Neill, for example—ended up actually being bargains. I stubbornly pursued them anyway.

To be clear, this is not necessarily something for which to fault myself—given O’Neill’s peripherals, I like the idea of gambling on the T.O.N. rebound. But I didn’t need to pursue him specifically once the “bargain” that I expected to be there no longer was. There were always other options.

Keeping in mind these particulars—not backing off of players I wanted if the bidding got aggressive; drafting guys I wanted and not succumbing to groupthink—the only other things I wanted to do were:

  1. Not draft starting players who will begin the season on the IL;
  2. Invest in two closers and two catchers; and
  3. Front-load my draft and make my roster significantly top-heavy, then round it out with however many single-digit players I still need.

To most of those extents, I think I succeeded. There are a lot of ways to build a core; I mapped out several of the mentally and Frankensteined one together from those various scenarios day-of. Nick Pollack shared a similar sentiment about starting pitchers: he didn’t care which among the top-20 or so he acquired, he was just going to take the one(s) that fell to him as values. He perceived them as largely interchangeable, and, frankly, I agree wholeheartedly. I felt similarly about top-tier hitters, too: I just want to make sure I get a few of them, ones about whom I’m comfortable, and I’d be satisfied.

(This sounds like I am contradicting myself from earlier, when I said I wouldn’t do this. So, to clarify: I have targets for every position. But I am not chaining myself to any particular one, retaining the flexibility to pivot to the values that present themselves. I felt the same as Nick specifically regarding starting pitchers—but even then I had targets I pursued. I didn’t want to let early bidding bowl me over.)

Conversely, here are things I wish I could do over again:

  • Draft, uhhhh, fewer injured guys. I wound up with four starters who might begin the season on the IL. Their stays there might be short, but, still. Lots of FAAB work to do in March/April.
  • Draft someone other than Brandon Nimmo. I rightly am enthusiastic about Nimmo in an OBP format, but, unfortunately, I missed the news. Having taken a red-eye on Thursday and all but avoided my phone Friday while catching up on sleep and enjoying my daughter’s first taste of New York City, I completely missed Nimmo’s multiple-body-part injury that could shelve him for a few weeks. No wonder I was so excited that I was about to draft him for $5 or more below his market value—my 14 other league-mates knew what I didn’t. I’m not embarrassed—being off my phone all weekend was a wonderful feeling. It was just bad timing, and I paid the price.
  • Be more aggressive in the reliever market. As someone who has drafted closers very passively in the past (and routinely paid the price for it), I wanted to aggress, and I mostly did. But I ended up settling for Scott Barlow ($10), who I perceive to be the last bastion of good-enough closers, instead of bearing down and spending the extra dollar to get a better, safer closer for, say, $13.
  • Be more aggressive generally. I feel this way every year because there’s always a few specific player prices where I’m just like, Damn. What happened? This typically happened for players who I did not specifically target but was not fading, either—just dudes about whom I was somewhat ambivalent and therefore was slow to pull the trigger in-draft. A sort of draft room malaise, if you will.
  • Draft a different first baseman. This is where I got too passive. I don’t like Josh Bell all that much, and several similar names went at similar prices, like C.J. Cron ($18).
  • Re-draft the back of my rotation… maybe. I am bullish on Garrett Whitlock, but he’s probably not a $7 pitcher. I also am bullish, for the first time, on Tyler Mahle, about whom I’m more enthusiastic given the wide gap between his ERA and his pFIP, the latter of which has been consistently solid the last two years. I am, however, not enthusiastic about Nick whispering to me from two seats away, “Mahle’s sitting only 91.” Eat dirt, Nick!!!!

So, how, then, could I better spend $12 on three pitchers? Here are some ideas with interchangeable parts (although, truthfully, I still like what I put together):

Here’s my final roster, with dollar values according to their categorical contributions. I deliberately backed out all positional adjustments so catchers and closers would be valued on the same footing as everyone else. Honestly, I think doing this helped me draft more effectively this year, especially because positional adjustments can be arbitrary. Drafting catchers instead becomes an exercise in minimizing losses, for better or worse.

2023 Draft Recap
Pos Hitter Name Salary RBI R SB HR OBP Total
C Willson Contreras $18 $3 $3 $1 $4 $3 $14
C Cal Raleigh $7 $2 $0 $0 $5 -$3 $3
1B Josh Bell $15 $5 $4 -$1 $3 $4 $15
2B Jean Segura $4 $1 $2 $4 $0 $2 $7
SS Xander Bogaerts $19 $5 $6 $2 $3 $4 $20
3B Alex Bregman $27 $7 $6 $0 $4 $6 $23
MI Josh Rojas (2B/3B) $4 -$1 $1 $5 -$1 $2 $5
CI Patrick Wisdom (3B) $1 -$1 -$2 $1 $2 -$2 -$1
OF Tyler O’Neill $21 $5 $5 $5 $6 $0 $21
OF Brandon Nimmo $12 $2 $6 $1 $1 $7 $17
OF Seiya Suzuki $8 $2 $3 $3 $3 $3 $14
OF Seth Brown (1B/OF) $5 $3 $1 $2 $4 -$2 $8
OF Brandon Marsh $1 -$1 $0 $3 -$1 -$2 $1
UT Kerry Carpenter (OF) $2 $0 -$1 $0 $2 -$1 -$1
Hitter Totals $144 $31 $35 $25 $34 $21 $146
Pos Pitcher Name Salary W SV ERA WHIP K Total
SP Jacob deGrom $28 $4 $0 $8 $11 $5 $28
SP Max Scherzer $28 $6 $0 $6 $9 $5 $26
SP Garrett Whitlock $7 $1 $0 -$1 $1 $1 $3
SP Nestor Cortes $12 $4 $0 $0 $4 $4 $12
SP Chris Bassitt $8 $5 $0 -$1 $1 $4 $9
SP Tyler Mahle $3 $3 $0 -$3 -$1 $3 $3
SP Tyler Anderson $2 $3 $0 -$4 -$1 $2 $1
RP Ryan Pressly $18 -$1 $9 $4 $3 -$1 $14
RP Scott Barlow $10 -$1 $6 $2 $1 -$1 $7
Pitcher Totals $116 $23 $16 $12 $29 $23 $103

You didn’t draft $260 worth of value, Alex. You’re right! And I’m fine with that. Again, I’m taking $15 worth of perceived losses on catchers and closers and taking a perceived $4 profit (heavy emphasis on perceived) everywhere else. Also, if you are earning an outright profit based on projections, you’ve probably relied a little too heavily on projections.

I sought out players for whom I thought the per-game projections were rosy enough (it’s all relative to the salary) but maybe the playing time projections seemed too pessimistic: Rojas, Wisdom, Suzuki, Marsh. On the pitching side, I wound up with guys whose BABIP skills—and, thus, whose total values—the projection systems would invariable underrate: Nestor Cortes, Chris Bassitt, Tyler Anderson. I suppose this can be called “upside.” Really, it’s more of a blind spot. (Then again, everyone thinks they’re smarter than the projection systems. But I do like how pFIP properly values these guys.)

Then, of course, there’s deGrom and Justin Verlander. That’s where I need playing time variance on my side. (I prefer $28 Max Scherzer to $28 Justin Verlander, but I’m splitting hairs.)

Rob DiPietro showed that, for hitting standings points, stolen bases and batting average are least correlated with championship teams. I think this logic can extend fairly safely to OBP as well. So, I focused on bolstering the other three categories without the other two too much. People will overpay dramatically for steals; I accepted what the draft gave me.

For pitchers, ERA and WHIP correlate most strongly to success. Yet it’s important to keep in mind that projection systems struggle most with projecting ERA. The imbalance between my WHIP “value” and my ERA “value” is by design. WHIP will drive ERA, and I targeted guys pFIP says consistently out-perform other ERA estimators. I will go eat dirt with Nick if Cortes and Bassitt are below-average in ERA value this year.

Here’s my bench:

  • SP Brayan Bello. He has mid-rotation upside. We have unlimited IL spots in Tout Wars, so he’s an immediate stash.
  • IF/OF Jon Berti. Not a lot to explain here: he has literal game-changing speed. Who knows what his usage will be.
  • OF Tommy Pham. He’s the odd man out in Queens, but with Nimmo all but starting the season on the IL, I imagine Pham sees full-time reps to start the season.
  • SP Bailey Falter. Not even sure he starts the season in the rotation.
  • RP Alex Vesia. Mark my words: he leads the Dodgers in saves this year. (Please unmark my words if he doesn’t.)
  • SP James Paxton. I guess I like Boston starters? No, I don’t. But, again, we get unlimited IL spots, so it costs me literally nothing to wait for Paxton to awaken from an extremely long slumber and see if he he has anything left.

Two-time FSWA award winner, including 2018 Baseball Writer of the Year, and 8-time award finalist. Featured in Lindy's magazine (2018, 2019), Rotowire magazine (2021), and Baseball Prospectus (2022, 2023). Biased toward a nicely rolled baseball pant.

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NL Rulesmember
1 year ago

Thanks for sharing your thought process and draft evaluation — I always find this stuff to be fun and fascinating. I completely agree with your assessment of your cheaper SP and I would prefer much these (I subbed Urquidy for Gray)…but agree that of course it could work out with the 3 you rostered.