Tout Wars Head to Head Points League – 2020 Recap – Part I

Introduction

This year, I again had the great fortune and the amazing honor of being invited to one of the most prestigious fantasy baseball industry leagues – Tout Wars (toutwars.com). It was my second year participating in Tout Wars.

Last year, I was a member of the inaugural Tout Wars Draft & Hold league. This year, I was invited to take part in one of the four live auctions – the Tout Wars Head-to-Head Points league. It was originally scheduled to be held live in Midtown Manhattan on Sunday, March 15.

Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 outbreak, we were unable to hold this auction live. Though the NFBC had chosen to cancel their live auctions, and many of my home leagues agreed to postpone – the Tout Wars board had decided to proceed onward. Rather than postpone – all four remaining Tour Wars leagues competed online, with Fantrax as the provider platform.

Aside from the benefits of the social aspect of a live auction (one of the key reasons we do this in the first place), we lose many of its intangible aspects when moving to the online arena. You can no longer look a league mate in the eye as they bid. It is much harder to pick up on ‘tells’ by simply reading out your computer monitor. The art of using my voice to hypnotize others goes away (yes, that’s right – I said hypnotize). It isn’t the same.

Personally, I have played in many online auction leagues. It was a dynamic that I was used to, and I have previously played on the Fantrax software. My home office setup is quite decent for an online auction. I use two 27-inch monitors, plus a side 15-inch auxiliary monitor. I used one screen to see the auction room. One screen contained my homemade draft software. Displayed on the third monitor was my plan of attack for the day. Technologically, I was primed for the event. Perhaps, this medium of fantasy baseball drafting was even an advantage for me.

You can view the results of our auction on Fantrax here. Full spreadsheet results of all Tout Wars auctions and drafts are compiled here.

For Part I of my Tout Wars auction recap, rather than simply break down my player selections – I wanted to share with you some of my process and preparation. I might comment about one or two of my player selections along the way, but I thought that you – the reader – would benefit more from a discussion of my approach and from my overall observations.

Both in fantasy sports, as well as in real life – the process is always more important than the specific or situational results.

Hopefully some of these insights might help you with your future leagues in 2020 and beyond.

Here goes …

The Field

The Touts

  • Ian Kahn
  • Clay Link
  • Ariel Cohen
  • Alex Chamberlain
  • Paul Sporer
  • Ralph Lifshitz
  • Andrea LaMont
  • Andy Behrens
  • AJ Mass
  • Frank Stampfl
  • Nick Pollack
  • Ryan Hallam

Players that I was more familiar with:

  • Clay Link was last year’s runner up – and 2018’s inaugural TGFBI winner. I finished 2nd in 2018 to Clay in my TGFBI division.
  • As you of course know – Paul Sporer, Alex Chamberlain and Nick Pollack write here at RotoGraphs. I am most familiar with their work and with some of their favorite players.
  • Andrea LaMont and Ryan Hallam just recently participated with me in the inaugural Mixed LABR league. Nick Pollack also participated in that event, with Alex Fast as his drafting proxy.

Players that I was less familiar with:

  • Ian Kahn was last year’s winner. As the defending champion, I closely monitored his selections throughout the auction.
  • Andy Behrens – The 2010 Tout Wars Mixed Auction champion.
  • Ralph Lifshitz, AJ Mass and Frank Stampfl.
  • For these Touts, I had read some of their recent work, but was largely unfamiliar with their auction styles. It was harder to anticipate what these touts might do.

Tout Wars Head to Head started in 2016. Other than Ian Kahn, all of the past winners have moved to other Tout divisions. Andy Behrens was the only other player of this field to have ever won a Tout Wars contest.

I will have more on each tout in Part II of the Tout Wars 2020 Head-To-Head recap.

Rules

The Tout Wars Head to Head Points League is a 12-team non-standard mixed points auction league.

Roster

14 Batters – 2 C, 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, CI, MI, 5 OF, U

9 Pitchers – 2 Relief Pitchers, 7 Any Pitchers

Essentially this is a standard classic fantasy baseball roster, other than the stipulation that all team must roster at least two relief pitchers.

Points System

Hitting – 1B 1, 2B 2, 3B 3, HR 5, BB 1, SB 2, CS -.5, K -.5, R 1, RBI 1

Pitching – W 8, L -3, QS 5, SV 5, BSv -5, BB -1, ER -1, Hold 3, Out 1, K .5

The points system for hitting props up power and hardly rewards stolen bases. Pitching points are win heavy, with little emphasis on strikeouts. Saves are not a major factor; holds are worth almost as much, plus the penalty for a blown save is high. Pitcher strikeouts and outs in general are low relative to most other points league formats.

In terms of Head-to-Head play, at the end of the week, six points are awarded. Two points are awarded to the team with the most pitching points, two points are awarded to the team with the most hitting points, and two additional points are awarded to the team with the most overall points.

Since pitching and hitting are scored independently for two-thirds of the overall league points, one should theoretically want to be viable weekly in both offense and defense.

Homework

To do some homework on the field, I surveyed last year’s auction results. I did so to obtain a number of important pieces of information:

Hitter/Pitcher Split

I wanted to set my Hitter/Pitcher split of auction dollars to somewhat reflect prior league tendencies. When producing my auction values, I typically set my H/P split based off of current data (ex. NFBC Average Auction Values), or off of historical values. I typically then tilt my final split an additional 1-2% towards hitting – to better afford me the chance of acquiring at least one top hitter.

  • Last year’s split was 67%/33%.
  • Running the theoretical Z-Score split of values gave me 61%/39% for this year.
  • Last year’s winner – Ian Kahn’s split was 68%/32%
  • Last year’s runner-up – Clay Link’s split was 63%/37%.

I then decided to impose a 65.5%/34.5% split, which was aligned halfway between Ian & Clay’s prior split. It happen to also lie somewhere in between the overall historical split and this year’s projected theoretical Z-Score split.

In the end, in tallying up my actual 2020 split of auction monies – I spent $162 on hitting and $98 pitching. That equated to roughly a 62.5%/37.5% H/P split. I purchased a bit more pitching than I had imagined ($8 more), but nothing too crazy. The overall league’s split ended up at 64%/36% – not too far off of what I had used for valuations.

Market Curve

Another important reason that I studied last year’s auction was to obtain a market pricing curve.

There are two basic elements that go into my preparation for any fantasy auction. First, (which I won’t go into full detail on in this article) is my own calculated auction values. The second, is my best guess at what the players might cost at the auction table – a.k.a. the “market.”

For Tout Head-To-Head, I compiled my market values as follows:

  • Gather ADP. I blended a combination of a few sources. I then compiled an ordered listing of all players by their average draft position. As the Tout Wars specific scoring system is unique, I didn’t have any direct sources to use. I compiled a number of points league ADPs and blended them with the very robust NFBC ADP values.
  • Convert ADP to ADP$. As we are auctioning players off, a straight draft ranking will not work. I typically use a logarithmic formula to convert ranks to auction dollars – but for this exercise, I turned to the 2019 results for its pricing curve.

To illustrate my process, take a look at the following example of the most expensive 20 players:

Market Pricing Curve
Rank 2019 Player 2019 Bid 2020 Player 2020 ADP$
1 M.Trout 57 Ronald Acuna 57
2 M.Betts 51 Mike Trout 51
3 J.Ramirez 45 Christian Yelich 45
4 M.Scherzer 43 Cody Bellinger 43
5 J.D.Martinez 42 Gerrit Cole 42
6 R.Acuna 40 Mookie Betts 40
7 A.Judge 39 Jacob deGrom 39
8 B.Harper 38 Francisco Lindor 38
9 C.Yelich 38 Trevor Story 38
10 A.Benintendi 37 Trea Turner 37
11 A.Bregman 37 Juan Soto 37
12 J.DeGrom 37 Nolan Arenado 37
13 N.Arenado 37 Justin Verlander 37
14 G.Stanton 36 Max Scherzer 36
15 J.Soto 36 Walker Buehler 36
16 M.Machado 36 Alex Bregman 36
17 C.Sale 35 Jose Ramirez 35
18 F.Freeman 34 Fernando Tatis Jr. 34
19 P.Goldschmidt 34 Freddie Freeman 34
20 R.Hoskins 34 Bryce Harper 34

The columns on the left show last year’s largest auction bids. I then matched them up with 2020’s ADP, and simply assigned them the dollar amount corresponding to the 2019 rank. This was a very simple procedure mathematically. Over time, this has been a very effective method of obtaining market values.

For fun, let’s see how close the ADP$ approximation for the market behaved in the auction.

2020 Tout Wars HTH – Top 20 ADP Bids
Rank 2020 Player 2020 ADP$ 2020 Actual Bid Diff Owner
1 Ronald Acuna 57 47 -10 Ryan Hallam
2 Mike Trout 51 48 -3 Ralph Lifshitz
3 Christian Yelich 45 47 2 AJ Mass
4 Cody Bellinger 43 43 0 Ralph Lifshitz
5 Gerrit Cole 42 42 0 Clay Link
6 Mookie Betts 40 43 3 Andy Behrens
7 Jacob deGrom 39 44 5 Alex Chamberlain
8 Francisco Lindor 38 36 -2 Clay Link
9 Trevor Story 38 37 -1 Paul Sporer
10 Trea Turner 37 31 -6 AJ Mass
11 Juan Soto 37 46 9 Paul Sporer
12 Nolan Arenado 37 39 2 Paul Sporer
13 Justin Verlander 37 32 -5 Alex Chamberlain
14 Max Scherzer 36 34 -2 Andy Behrens
15 Walker Buehler 36 42 6 Clay Link
16 Alex Bregman 36 33 -3 Ariel Cohen
17 Jose Ramirez 35 32 -3 Frank Stampfl
18 Fernando Tatis Jr. 34 27 -7 Ryan Hallam
19 Freddie Freeman 34 38 4 Andy Behrens
20 Bryce Harper 34 37 3 Nick Pollack

It seems that the ADP$ that I used factored in too much of a roto ranking, as the players with a large speed component were de-valued in the HTH format. Ronald Acuna Jr. and Fernando Tatis Jr. for example, were far off of their projected market values due to their large speed element (it wasn’t just the fact that both share names with their fathers).

Other than high stolen base contributors, the only batter above who had a lower actual cost vs. predicted cost, was Alex Bregman – a player that I was able to nab at an excellent price of $33!

Auction Values

I have not previously played in many head-to-head leagues. I don’t typically play in either HTH category leagues nor HTH points leagues. Some of the nuances or qualitative features of a HTH points league may be novel to me. Most of this year’s participants played in this league last year; I was a newcomer.

I approached Tout Wars Head-to-Head similar to the way that I would plan a points league draft in any year. I started with the ATC projections, and converted the expected season values into expected fantasy points for the year.

Below are the top 15 players by expected fantasy points:

ATC Projected Fantasy Points – 2020 Tout Wars HTH
Rank Name Expected Fantasy Points
1 Gerrit Cole 563
2 Jacob deGrom 550
3 Shane Bieber 516
4 Walker Buehler 508
5 Max Scherzer 508
6 Zack Greinke 492
7 Chris Paddack 488
8 Stephen Strasburg 487
9 Jack Flaherty 481
10 Patrick Corbin 479
11 Jose Berrios 476
12 Justin Verlander 474
13 Luis Castillo 472
14 Aaron Nola 471
15 Trevor Bauer 468

As you can see, the top 15 players are all pitchers. In fact, they are all starting pitchers to be precise. The top hitter, Mike Trout, was only the 22nd highest player in terms of expected points – with 443.

So, does this mean that we should spend most of our money on starting pitching?

Not necessarily. It actually depends on the values of starting pitching vs. hitting at the bottom of the draftable player pool.

Here’s why:

Replacement Level

In this league, with 12 teams and two catchers per team – 24 catchers in all will be drafted. Since every team must purchase two catchers – the $1 minimum required bid will at the very least allow me to purchase the 24th ranked catcher.

My projections indicate that the 24th best catcher in this format is Mike Zunino. Thus, I am guaranteed to obtain a catcher no worse than Mike Zunino. The very worst catcher selected is known as the replacement level player.

ATC projections estimate that Mike Zunino will amass 136 fantasy points in 2020. Thus, the replacement level for catchers this year is 136 points.

Below are my calculated replacement levels by position for the Tout Wars Head-to-Head 2020 auction:

ATC Projected Fantasy Points – 2020 Tout Wars HTH
Position Replacement Level Points
Hitters
C 136
2B 243
SS 243
3B 231
OF 228
1B 231
Util 243
Pitchers
SP 338
RP 208
P 338

J.T. Realmuto, the top catcher in this format, is projected to accumulate 281 points. When paying for Realmuto in the auction – you aren’t paying for 281 points. You are only paying for 145 points. If a minimum bid for Zunino would earn you 136 points, any money spent on Realmuto would only gain you an additional 145 points.

Marginal Points = Fantasy Points – Replacement Level Points

145 = 281 – 136

You aren’t buying the top catcher in J.T. Realmuto, you are paying for the privilege of not rostering Mike Zunino.

Without going into all of the math, it is important to understand that prior to converting fantasy points into auction dollars, one should convert fantasy points into marginal points.

Examples:

Gerrit Cole’s Marginal Points = 563 – 338 = 225

Mike Trout’s Marginal Points = 443 – 228 = 215

Cole is still the higher valued player, even with positional replacement levels considered. After converting to the marginal points, Trout now becomes more on par with Cole’s value.

Not covered in this article is how I converted the marginal points into auction dollars.

Other Adjustments

Unfortunately, the season will not start on March 26th this year. The 2020 season will almost surely be shortened, if played at all. For my projections, I made the assumption that opening day would be delayed for two months (only 2/3 of the season’s games would be played). Injured players and pitchers who might have had innings limits suddenly gain in value, while suspended players lose value.

I wrote about the underlying mathematics of how to adjust player projections for a delayed opening day in an article found here. Players like Eugenio Suarez, Rich Hill and Chris Paddack jumped up in value due to these adjustments. Chris Paddack now becomes the 7th most valuable pitcher (as seen above) – a player that found his way onto my Tout Wars roster.

Other Notes / Observations

  • Speed – As mentioned earlier, speed was not as valuable in this format as it is in roto. In fact, teams did not have to roster any stolen bases – as SB was not a separate category.
  • Relief Pitchers – Even after adjusting for replacement levels, relief pitchers were still not a valuable commodity. By my calculations, Josh Hader was only worth $9. Roberto Osuna, the next highest closer, was worth only $6. Teams would be wise to spend money on starting pitchers who additionally qualify as relief pitchers for 2020 (current SPs who pitched as a reliever in 2019). For example – Carlos Martinez, Julio Urias, Ryan Yarbrough and Mike Montgomery were valuable. I purchased a number of these types of pitchers in Tout.
  • Streaming – Since lineups are set weekly, pickups are weekly, and points for pitching wins are high for this league – streaming starters is a fantastic strategy in this format. One should always draft with the assumption of some roster churn, and even more so here. I didn’t do the best job of this at my auction. I acquired a number of viable middle tiered starting pitchers, only leaving one $1 slot for streaming.

In Part II of my Tout Wars recap, I will talk about some of the research that I compiled on the other Touts prior to the auction, as well as recap the team that I ended up with.

In the meantime, you can view the results of our auction on Fantrax here. Here is an additional link to the full spreadsheet results of all 2020 Tout Wars auctions and drafts.

We hoped you liked reading Tout Wars Head to Head Points League – 2020 Recap – Part I by Ariel Cohen!

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Ariel is the 2019 FSWA Baseball Writer of the Year. He is the creator of the ATC (Average Total Cost) Projection System. Ariel was ranked by FantasyPros as the #1 fantasy baseball expert in 2019. His ATC Projections were ranked as the #1 most accurate projection system in 2019. Ariel also writes for CBS Sports, SportsLine, RotoBaller, and is the host of the Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational - Beat the Shift Podcast (@TGFBI). Ariel is a member of the inaugural Tout Wars Draft & Hold league, a member of the inaugural Mixed LABR Auction league and plays high stakes contests in the NFBC. Ariel Cohen is a fellow of the Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS) and the Society of Actuaries (SOA). He is a Vice President of Risk Management for a large international insurance and reinsurance company. Follow Ariel on Twitter at @ATCNY.

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Skin Blues
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Skin Blues

Good stuff, Ariel. Despite my disdain for H2H leagues in general, it’s interesting to look at points leagues and try to come up with a game plan. I like the way you did your market pricing curve. I do the same thing for roto auctions. It’s really the best way to predict what a player will sell for. Despite some convoluted mathematical methods that somewhat approximate what auction prices will be, real data is often the best. As a bonus, it’s also the simplest. People that use the Auction Calculator, or similar (which is a lot of people, if not most of them) will struggle when the actual auction prices don’t line up with their own values. Especially once you get to the sub-$10 players.

I find it interesting that Ian Kahn values closers to be not only low value, but negative value. I believe he said Josh Hader was worth -$3 or something like that. He may not have taken proper replacement level into account wrt the requirement for relief pitchers. I like your approach of targeting the SPs that qualify at RP. For points leagues in general I prefer to avoid closers if possible because they become useless if they lose the job whereas a guy like Urias or Yarbrough are more reliable. I’d almost give an extra boost of maybe 50 points to those guys, even on top of the regular RP boost that closers get. But I suppose you have to be careful of the QS wrinkle which also knocks some value off of guys that only go 4-5 innings and who might have an opener used before them.