ROTISSERIE: AL Tout Wars 2017

This season, I went into the Tout Wars-AL with the notion of using a two-part strategy first proposed years ago by the legendary Irwin Zwilling: First, figure out what players you want. Then get them. For the most part, it worked.

Last year, I went very heavily Stars and Scrubs, rostering three players over $30—including, unfortunately, Justin Upton. I did very well with low-cost pitching and went down to the wire with Seth Trachtman before finishing a close second.

This season, I had resolved to stay out of the big-game safari. I especially wanted to avoid battling for top OFs, since in past Tout auctions, low- and mid-priced OFs have been plentiful—and good sources of profits. My target hit-pitch split was the usual $180-$80 (70%-30%), but I’m not a fanatic about it.

Draft Plan/Budget: Primary Hitters

I used RotoLab and the BaseballHQ.com imported projections and values to do Part One of the Zwilling Plan, setting semi-firm values to guide (but not control) my bidding. My draft budget strategy for hitters started with price caps for seven key hitters: one premium IF, the three other main IF, one OF, and both catchers, all for a total of $130. Here’s what happened:

  • Premium IF, $31: I would have liked Carlos Correa or Josh Donaldson, but they and the other top IFs (Altuve, Lindor, Cano, Machado) all went, as expected, for way more than my $31 cap. My more realistic target was Edwin Encarnacion, a four-category stud. After most of the top guys were gone, I landed Encarnacion for $31 on the nose. I’m counting on something like 100-305-100-.360 (OBP), and I’m secretly hoping for some useful SB— Edwin has a 13-SB season on his resume and CLE had more SB last year than TOR had attempts. Heck, Mike Napoli and Carlos Santana had 5 SB each last season! Plus, I won a league once when Mo Vaughn stole 11.
  • Primary IF, low- to mid-$20s, $70 total: I targeted 2B Ian Kinsler, SS Tim Anderson, and 3B Jose Ramirez. Anderson is tough on OBP but has huge SB and mid-teens HR potential. Ramirez offers 25+ SB and a .333 pOBP to go along with usable power. Critically, he starts the year with 3B-OF eligibility, and he’ll likely add 2B soon after Opening Day. With the AL free-agent hitting pool almost empty after draft, position flexibility is very important. I got all three of my targets for $68 in all. Two bucks saved!
  • OF1, $15: A mere $15 would obviously not land me Nelson Cruz (who went for $30) or George Springer ($29). I didn’t want a one-category burner like Jarrod Dyson or Rajai Davis, but a useful all-round contributor. I was pretty sure Adam Jones or Jackie Bradley would not slip down to the $15 level (I was right—Jones went for $21 and Bradley for $20). So I was gunning for one of Carlos Gomez ($19) , Andrew Benintendi ($19), Max Kepler ($17) or Alex Gordon. I got Gordon, a $17 projected all-rounder, for my target $15. Melky Cabrera, another possibility, later went for the same $15.
  • C1, $12: I targeted Russell Martin, a very solid OBP guy, but he went for $17. After all the “name” catchers were gone, I felt lucky to get Stephen Vogt for the targeted $12, a $2 profit over projection and a hitter whose pOBP was not as high as Martin’s but was playable at .315-ish.
  • C2, $2: My target was Alex Avila, also a good OBP guy. Jeff Erickson, who oddly enough had also rostered Martin, also got Avila, beating me to $2. I decided instead to take my second catcher based on opportunity.

I hoped my target players would set a solid floor under my OBP, which they kinda-sorta did, at about .330, giving me the luxury of de-emphasizing OBP later. Money-wise, I spent $126 (two froghides less than budget) and by my projections had landed $131 in value, a five-bone profit.

I’m very satisfied with my primaries’ Runs and SB, which were well ahead of the pace I needed. I had targeted 105 SB to be competitive in the category, and these guys projected 80+. Power was a little concerning, at 20 HR-70 RBI per player, when I needed more like 18-79—including the less homeriffic secondary guys on the board. I knew my focus in the second part of the roster would be power.

Draft Plan/Budget: Secondary Hitters

The second part of the plan was to spend $50 on the seven remaining hitters. I saved $4 with my primaries, but I didn’t get my $2 second catcher, so I had $54 for eight secondary hitters: a catcher, three OFs, two IFs, and two UT (Tout uses the “Swingman” rule but everybody always uses that slot for a 14th hitter). I wanted to divide the money equally, around $7 per hitter, which is fertile ground for value in most of the Tout auctions I’ve been in. But I was willing to take bargains if and when the table offered them.

In descending order of salary, I landed:

  • C2 Welington Castillo for $13: Not a great get, but I remember thinking at the time that this was a price $2-$3 under value, and since Castillo was the last decent C on the board, adding him might squeeze some other owners into overbidding the remaining not-so-good catchers or snabbing sub-replacement guys in dollar days.
  • CI Mike Napoli for $12: My favorite get of this auction. I had Napoli at around $18, so a very nice straight profit. He’s always been good in TEX (.376 OBP at Arlington), and he should get 550-ish PA between 1B and DH, especially since he doesn’t have a platoon split.
  • MI Danny Espinosa for $10: My least favorite get. Something stuck in my mind from reading in prep that Espinosa was a dark-horse candidate to hit 30+ dingers in LAA. Let’s hope so, because his projection is 19, and his .272 pOBP ain’t doing me any favors.
  • UT1 J.J. Hardy for $2: I sniped Hardy off Erickson, and he seemed miffed, which is good. Not because miffing Jeff (or anyone) is good, but because he’s really good at fantasy, so I was reassured that I did well to snab Hardy, another sub-.300 OBP guy but a potential 15-50-50 power source.
  • UT2 Justin Smoak for $2: BHQ has Smoak listed at barely over 300 AB, but I see a path to more PT. The Jays seem determined to have Steve Pearce, Smoak’s main competition at 1B, start in LF.
  • OF2 Lonnie Chisenhall for $1: My second favorite get. Chisenhall has been a double-digit earner in two of the last three years, and the news that he might platoon is actually a bonus, because Chisenhall is fairly feeble vs LHP, with a .289 career OBP against them (.315 vs RHP).
  • OF3 Jefry Marte for $1: Another dollar-days brainstorm that resulted from pre-season reading. Maybe it was the same article as the one mentioning fellow Angel Espinosa. Wherever it came from, Marte had a 15-44 in 258 AB last year as a part-timer in Anaheim, and was right around .800 OPS facing RHP and LHP. As that obnoxious guy said in the first (and best) RoboCop, “I’ll take that for a dollar!”
  • OF4 Charlie Tilson for $2: A gamble. If my SBs are as strong as I expect, I might have a trade chip here that I can deal profitable later on to someone in need of speed.
  • Reserve Hitters: Marwin Gonzalez qualifies at 1B and 3B, so some lineup injury protection. Decent short-time all-rounder, no help in OBP. Ezequiel Careera: protection for OF injury and for Smoak, in that if Pearce beats out Smoak, Carrera could get PAs as a LF. Luis Cessa is a flyer pitcher. Joe Jimenez is a high-K alternative if I need to stream a starter out, or replace a starter altogether. And he has an outside shot at closing if things fall a certain way. If he gets the role, so long to Joe, because I'll try to deal him tactically.

Draft Plan/Budget: Pitchers

I targeted nine fairly specific starting pitchers, in a range of $3 to $17. I decided to punt saves (again), because I’m getting more and more convinced that:

  1. The $15 I would have to spend on a closer would result in maybe 35 saves at most, which might move me from one point to two—not enough offset the gains I get using that $15 to upgrade elsewhere.
  2. In a 5x5 league, if I assume 90 points will win, and I get my one for saves, I need 89 points from the other nine categories. That’s third- or fourth-place across the board, with better performances in some offsetting shortfalls in others. And again, that $15 I’m not spending on a closer helps out in at least four other categories.
  3. Yes, I know some closers give great decimals, but if I get 1,200 total innings, the 60 innings of a typical closer is 5%—not a huge factor.
  4. Closers are risky, and the less risky are more expensive. Chapman, Britton, Osuna, Herrera, Diaz, Kimbrel and Giles all went for $18+, and several of those for $20+. $20 for 60 innings seems pricey. And the cheaper options are more risky to lose the gig.
  5. Having nine starters let me pick and choose some lower-IP, lower-Dom guys most owners don’t want. I project to win Wins and Ks, not because I have any Randy Johnson imitators, but just because I figure to rack up 150-200 more innings than anybody else.

With all that in mind, I divided my $80 into groups like the hitters:

  • Main starters, $35: Two slots for reasonably good starters in the $13-$17 range. My cheat sheet said guys like Rick Porcello, Carlos Carrasco, Masahiro Tanaka, Danny Duffy, Jose Quintana, and Sean Manaea. Guessing (correctly) that Carrasco ($20) and Tanaka ($23) would go higher, I really wanted two of Porcello, Duffy and Manaea. I got Porcello at $17 but it took $22 to land Duffy. Four bucks over slot total and more than that over value. So, ouch.
  • Mid-starters, $40: Four decent quality $8-$11 arms from among Michael Fulmer, Felix Hernandez, Dallas Keuchel, Hisashi Iwakuma, Marco Estrada, Marcus Stroman, Garrett Richards, Drew Smyly, J.A. Happ, Danny Salazar, and Cole Hamels. I was pretty confident that many of these guys would go far above my projections. In fact, I hoped so, to wring out some cabbage. Getting Manaea from the higher tier for just $11 took some of the sting out of the Duffy deal. Getting Manaea, Smyly, Happ and Estrada for a combined $41 meant I was a bit over budget for the slot but a buck or two under full value. And I refuse to believe Porcello will fall from $30+ last season to half of that this year.
  • Endgame starters, $5: This was meant for three longshotty end-game guys in that $0 to $3 range. I had some targets—Matt Boyd, Francisco Liriano, Blake Snell, Andrew Triggs, Tyler Skaggs, Joe Musgrove, Daniel Norris and so on. I got outbid on all but Liriano, and that only because I bid a full eight loonies. I was very bullish on Liriano but (hits head repeatedly against a wall.) This unnecessary overbid affected my hitting a little, and forced me to settle at the end for 2016 disaster Twins (in both senses of the word) Kyle Gibson and Tyler Duffey. I had both last year and I remain absurdly hopeful.

The HQ projections show me in a tight race to win the league, with really good counting stats, a so-so OBP, huge wins in Wins and Ks, and disappointing decimals because of the Disaster Twins, who will have a very short rope. But you should always win your own projections.

Let the games begin!


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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.