ROTISSERIE: A Tout-AL rookie's thoughts

I was the new guy in Tout-AL, and I had very little time to research and prepare. So I used player values on the BaseballHQ.com Custom Draft Guide (CDG), set to a “Balanced” 72/28 split, based on splits in the past few years in this league. I set my own acquisition budget with a bit more tilt towards the hitters at 75/25 ($195/$65), partly to zag among the expected ziggers but also because I've always found in a very deep league like this, the shortage of hitters after auction and reserve makes it easier to manage pitchers in-season.

I organized my budget differently than in past years. I used to apply a discrete dollar value on each of the 14 hitter slots (not by position) and nine pitcher slots. But I've been finding a lot of merit in Ron Shandler’s ideas about embracing the imprecision inherent in the projections (and accompanying valuations). So I set value totals for clusters of players rather than for individuals:

HITTERS    VAL         PITCHERS    VAL
1-2........$70         S1..........$21
3-4........$55         S2-3........$25
5-6........$30         S4-6........$ 4
7-9........$25         MR1-2.......$ 3
10-11......$12         CL..........$12
12-14......$ 3
--------------         ---------------
          $195                     $65

Each cluster also had specific goals:

HITTERS 1-2 ($70): Establish a cross-category foundation with OBP focus by landing Miguel Cabrera plus one of either Mookie Betts or (preferred) Jose Altuve for $70 total.

HITTERS 3-4 ($55): Continue to focus on OBP while also trying to get players who contribute across multiple categories. (My CDG output grid was colour-coded for three-cat and four-cat hitters (Trout was the only five-cat.)

HITTERS 5-6 ($30): Fill gaps in the counting stats, wait for value in the $10-$15 grid cells.

HITTERS 7-9 ($25): Position fills in the $5-$10 cell.

HITTERS 10-11 ($12): Relax the OBP a little to get value hitters with upside.

HITTERS 12-14 ($ 3): Catchers, one speculative type.

The pitching budget was based on building a roster that would get enough innings to be solid in Wins and Ks, mid-pack in the ratios, and not-last in Saves (dream big).

It seemed these tasks would be easier in the much wider pool of replacements in a deep league like Tout-AL, where the hitting pool would be severely depleted just from the auction and four-player reserve. Out of my nine pitchers, five would be $1 or $2 LIMA middles and three endgame starters for the bottom of my rotation.

STARTER 1 ($21): An ace from the low end of the $21-$25 cell.

STARTER 2-3 ($25): Skills starters, hoping to get some value here after the dust settled from the opening binge. It would be nice to snaffle starters from the $15-$20 cell, but I realistically expect to be looking in the $10-$15 cell here.

STARTER 4-6 ($4): Crapshooting (meaning the dice game, but something of the other definition). Targets here were starters with sleeper coverage at BHQ like Jose Berrios, Tyler Duffey, Kyle Gibson, JA Happ, Erasmo Ramirez and Aaron Sanchez. I really hoped I would be able to get Jose Berrios for a buck or two in the endgame, since he had been sent to the minors earlier in the week.

MIDDLE RELIEVERS 1-2 ($3): LIMA guys with profit baked in. Focus on second/third choices in pens.

CLOSER ($12): Any established guy, even a shaky one like Steve Cishek. The goal here was merely to not be one of the two or three teams punting Saves, and at least getting enough to be comfortably ahead of the punters.

Armed for the first time with RotoLab drafting software and for the nth time with my 11 x 14 CDG cheat sheet, lavishly printed in full colour on rich white cardstock paper, I was ready for my first Tout Wars AL-only auction.


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The Auction

The auction got off to an unusual start. Steve Moyer of Inside Edge came out firing, bidding aggressively and piling up big offensive prizes: Josh Donaldson ($40), Jose Bautista ($35), Russell Martin and Brian McCann ($37 total), JD Martinez ($29), Billy Burns ($21), Carlos Santana ($25), and SS Francisco Lindor and Xander Bogarts ($41 combined). In all, Moyer spent $245 (!) on his offense, creating positional and category shortages for everyone else.

Moyer’s aggressive binge on offense recalibrated price expectations across the auction. Early on, I bowed out at $36 on Altuve, who eventually went for $38. Jose Abreu, Chris Davis, Manny Machado and George Springer all went several dollars over their CDG $30-ish valuations. FanGraphs’ Mike Podhorzer stole Carlos Correa for $33, as the Touts seemed to heed advice about lack of experience and possible regression.

Since I was the league rookie, my main goal was not to make a blunder, and fortunately, the blunder of the draft was not mine. Early on, one of the Touts nominated OF Ben Revere, and the low opening bid was quickly jumped by another Tout. So we had two expert bidders in on Revere, who isn’t in the American League. There was much laughter and jibing, none of it, thank goodness, aimed my way.

And I don’t think I gave anyone too much to laugh at in the auction. Here’s my tick-tock:

1. Mookie Betts (OF, BOS), $38: Betts was nominated after a lot of players had been bought for higher-than-CDG prices as noted earlier. His price shot up quickly, but keeping to my plan, I got him. The $38 price left $32 for Cabrera under my $70 total for both.

Decision time: Do I target a different player for my top pair? Or up the price I’m willing to pay for Cabrera? I upped and got 2. Miguel Cabrera (1B, DET), $38. I thought it was worth it to get Miggy’s monster OBP and power. Downside: After two picks, I was already $6 over budget in a hitter pool already thinning rapidly.

Fortunately, many of the touts started using their suddenly overstuffed wallets to chase high-end starting pitchers. The aces blew through my $21 budget target value into the mid-$20s and higher. Dallas Keuchel was first at $26, which seemed like a $3-$4 overbid. Then Chris Sale went for $32 and Corey Kluber, David Price, Carlos Carrasco and Sonny Gray all went for $25 or more.

In that environment, I was happy to get 3. Cole Hamels (SP, TEX), $18, a near-ace in my estimation. I paid a buck over CDG but three bucks under my #1 price target, which seemed reasonable. Moments later, I got 4. Jordan Zimmermann (SP, DET), $14, right at CDG and in line with my $25 total for my #2-#3 pairing. As it would turn out, I would not find an $11-ish match for Zimmermann.

With two top pitchers in hand, I reverted to looking for more cross-category hitters with above-average OBPs and lots of PA. I got BHQ favorite 5. Justin Upton (OF, DET), $30, in line with the CDG grid and a highly reliable across-the-board contributor.

The 2B pool was thin and getting thinner, so I stepped up to add 6. Ian Kinsler (2B, DET), $22. Not a top OBP guy, but also not a killer at .330-ish, and projected to provide 90+ runs, mid-teens HR and SB, and 76 RBI. I also appreciated the AAA reliability. He was in a cell with Brian Dozier and Jason Kipnis, both of whom went for more. I liked this get.

(By this time, everyone except me was thinking I had adopted a “get Tigers” strategy, possibly because I was wearing my autographed Miggy jersey; I was even asked about the run of Tigers in the post-draft SiriusXM interview. Honestly, I didn’t even notice.)

I next grabbed a closer, or rather an injured closer. 7. Brad Boxberger (CL, TAM), $7 was the last guy on the board, and I thought $7 might get me 25 saves or so and lift me out of the bottom of the category where the punters are. We’ll see. If he comes back, and I’m mired in Saves, I might be able to deal him.

I hadn’t targeted 8. Shin-Soo Choo (OF, TEX), $24, and in hindsight I’m not sure about the pick. But he was a very useful bargain under the circumstances: a .370 OBP with 20-HR potential, although not as useful a SB guy as he used to be.

Next came a value grab, 9. Billy Butler (DH, OAK), $6. The CDG had him as a $12 player with a playable .333 OBP. The profit gave me back the $6 I lost with Betts and Cabrera. But with Miggy and Billy, I wish they had a GIDP category.

(My daughter, listening to the draft on SiriusXM, Facebooked me to ask if my strategy was to target players whose shirts I owned. I have an old Butler jersey from his Royals days.)

I wanted to round out my infield before it was too late, so I grabbed 10. Marcus Semien (SS, OAK), $16 out of a thick group of $10-$15 shortstops. The $16 was close enough to CDG cell value, but I hadn’t had Semien on my targets list because of his poor OBP (.315-ish). But he was the last SS before we hit the dregs. He’s a $15 hitter on the CDG, with double-digit HR and SB and 130 combined Runs/RBI.

After an impulsive bid to land 11. Carson Smith (MR, BOS), $2 to slot into one of the MR slots, I finished the infield task with 12. Juan Uribe (3B, CLE), $3, a $10 profit by CDG.

I now needed to look for values and sleepers in the later part of draft. I was high on 13. Tyler Duffey (SP, MIN), $4, a modest profit. Next came my fourth (and last, under Tout-AL rules) outfielder, 14. Desmond Jennings (OF, TAM), another modest gain but not a great fit with his .312 OBP. But hey, maybe this is finally the year, right?

I nommed 15. Koji Uehara (MR, BOS), $1, and got crickets. He’s OK and a $7 profit, and should vulture some wins along with Smith with excellent decimals.

Now we were well and truly into the endgame. I held my nose in snabbing 16. Danny Santana (SS, MIN), and I’ve got his replacement in my sights already. 17. Rick Porcello (SP, BOS), $5 was a reach but a small profit and an innings-eater. I was glad to get a second young Twins starter in 18. Kyle Gibson (SP, MIN), $3; he’s far from established yet but was recommended by BHQ’s ace SP columnist Stephen Nickrand as “a pitcher on the rise with 3.00-ERA upside.” Even at 3.50 ERA he’ll earn a profit.

I was not thrilled to fill my CI spot with 19. Logan Morrison (1B, TAM), $4, a reliable earner and a profit at this price, but a .309 pOBP in 475-ish PA is not helpful.

My last SP was 20. J.A. Happ (SP, TOR), $4. I outbid Ron Shandler for Happ, and he commented that he was sorry he sold BaseballHQ.com because he couldn’t fire me for sniping him on a targeted pitcher! He also got Jose Berrios, and I actually thought about sniping Berrios, too. I wish I had.

Then came my two catchers, 21 Josh Phegley (C, OAK), $3 and 22. Jarrod Saltalamacchia (C, DET), $1. Horrid OBPs mean the less said the better, but they could chip in 15 HR between them.

And finally, I filled my swingman spot with 23. Paulo Orlando (OF, KC), $1, another horrendous OBP sink but a potential double-digit HR and SB guy, maybe better if Jarrod Dyson comes back slowly from the oblique that has cost him his spring training. At this stage of a deep-league draft, you gotta take what’s there.

I left $10 on the table, which was a bad error. And of course it’s almost impossible not to go back and say, “I coulda got” some player improvement or other. And it’s true, dammit. Marcus Stroman and Collin McHugh went for $13 each, so I could have at least got bids in at $14 and upgraded one of my $4 starters.

I won’t go into my four reserve picks, except to say that the SiriusXM interviewers were surprised that I spent my #2 on Adam LaRoche, asking questions like “You know he’s retired, right?” Thing is, I don’t buy it. I think they’ll come to some sort of accommodation with LaRoche, his son, Kenny Williams, and the other players, and he’ll be back to either bang out 15 HR or give me another trade chip. Or so I hope. After last year, I am not hugely confident.

In all, I thought the auction went well, although I left $10 unspent. I spent $192 of my targeted $195 on hitters, and came up with $209 in value. I only spent $58 on pitching, acquiring $63 in value, but I sure wish I'd been more aggressive on some of the $10-$15 pitchers I might have more successfully paired with Zimmermann in my 2-3 cluster. Still, I’m pretty confident I’ll be competitive. The RotoLab software, using BHQ projections, says I’ll be well situated in the league, and while I know you should always do well with your own projections, at least it didn’t say I’d be last!

HITTERS   TGT  ACQUIRED           VAL   +/-   SAL   +/-
1-2.......$70  Betts-Cabrera      $71  +$ 1   $76  -$ 6
3-4.......$55  Upton-Choo         $56  +$ 1   $54  +$ 1
5-6.......$30  Kinsler-Butler     $35  +$ 5   $28  +$ 2
7-9.......$25  Semn-Mrrsn-Jnngs   $32  +$ 7   $24  +$ 1
10-11.....$12  Phegley-Uribe      $12   $--   $ 6  +$ 6
12-14.....$ 3  Sntna-Orlndo-Salt  $ 3   $--   $ 4  -$ 1
-------------------------------------------------------
         $195                    $209  +$14  $192  +$ 3

PITCHERS  TGT  ACQUIRED           VAL   +/-   SAL   +/-
S1........$21  Hamels             $17  -$ 4   $18  +$ 3
S2-3......$25  Zmmrmann-Porcello  $21  -$ 4   $19  +$ 6
S4-6......$ 4  Duffey-Gibson-Happ $ 6  +$ 2   $11  -$ 7
MR1-2.....$ 3  Uehara-Smith       $14  +$11   $ 3   $--
CL........$12  Boxberger          $ 9  -$ 3   $ 7  +$ 5
-------------------------------------------------------
          $65                     $63  -$ 2   $58  +$ 7

-------------------------------------------------------
TOTAL    $260                    $272  +$12  $250  +$10

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