MASTER NOTES: Tout Wars recap, or why I drafted Billy Hamilton

On March 11, Tout Wars held their mixed league straight draft event. co-GM Brent Hershey and I each represented BaseballHQ. I had the 11th slot in the 15-team snake, while Brent had the 15/16 wheel picks.

For those who are unaware, Tout Wars has adopted On Base Percentage (OBP)  to replace Batting Average as a scoring category in all of its leagues this year, following a successful experiment with the idea in this mixed league event a year ago. That OBP component shaped my draft strategy considerably.

In planning to play in my first OBP league, the thing that struck me about the data is how OBP stratifies more than BA. Consider the top projected performances in BA and OBP, compared to the league-average levels from a year ago:

                                    BA      OBP
                                  =====    ====
MLB Avg, 2013:                    .253     .318
# batters proj >70 pts above         1        7

Essentially, what this little chart tells us is that OBP studs are a legitimate commodity, in a way that BA studs are not. The only player in our 2014 projections with a BA at least 70 points above 2013's league average BA is Miguel Cabrera. But there are seven hitters who have an OBP projection at least 70 points above the league-average OBP from last year. What this told me is that there is an opportunity at the draft table to build an OBP cushion early in the draft the likes of which you could never create in a BA league.

So, I entered the Tout-Mixed event looking to build that cushion. Early in the draft, my objective was to build a massive OBP. Once that was accomplished, I would then basically be able to forget about OBP, and just target power/speed sources without paying attention to whether or not they were dragging down my OBP.  Hopefully, that early OBP cushion would set me up to pick up later bargains as OBP-risky power and speed sources fell down the draft board.

The first few rounds broke perfectly for my plan. I picked Joey Votto (projected .430 OBP) in Rd 1, Shin-Soo Choo (projected .402 OBP) in Rd 2, Joe Mauer (projected .398 OBP) in Round 4, and Carlos Beltran (projected .358 OBP) in Rd 5. In all, those first four hitters project to over 2500 plate appearances at a nearly .400 OBP. In Votto, Choo, and Mauer, I had secured three of those seven elite-projected OBP hitters. To put it in perspective, that's the equivalent of rostering four .330 hitters in a BA league. You just can't do that.

With that core in place, there was essentially no way that I could damage my team's OBP. I still needed a ton of power and speed, but targeting those skills didn't seem like it would be a problem. In fact, right away in Round 6, I found a way to put that plan into practice:

With Felix Hernandez rostered (in Round 3) as my #1 starter, I really wasn't looking for another pitcher in Rd 6. And I couldn't find a big power source that I liked there, either. So, I started looking at speed options. Everth Cabrera makes for a nice speed source, and his OBP isn't even a detriment. But could I really bring myself to take him in the 6th round? And for that matter, how could I take Cabrera when Billy Hamilton was still on the board?

Once I spotted Hamilton on my draft sheet, my mind starting working through the considerations: sure, his OBP projects to be terrible... but I've already built a buffer against that. In my situation, if he is thoroughly unproductive but manages 50 SB, that would be a reasonable outcome for me. And Hamilton can manage that in half a season... and if he just manages to stay in the lineup all season, the 75 SB that we are currently projecting are more than worth this draft slot.

So, I drafted Billy Hamilton.

From there, I did the things that I have read about others doing in a Hamilton draft: with OBP and speed covered, I started chasing power with every hitter pick. Aramis Ramirez and Pedro Alvarez at 3B and corner, JJ Hardy and Neil Walker in the 2B/SS slots. As opposed to the broad-skill players I prefer to draft, this was a team of specialists: OBP guys, power guys, and Billy Hamilton for speed.

As the draft moved toward the end-game, though, I further processed the Hamilton move, and realized a curious problem: I needed more stolen bases. There were two reasons for this. First, I needed to hedge against Hamilton struggling and not meeting even my minimum expectation. Second, if on the other hand Hamilton exceeds expectations, I needed to have enough other speed on the roster to be able to trade him. So, I grabbed another one-dimensional speedster, Eric Young, in the 20th round. Young becomes Robin to Hamilton's Batman. I can't really imagine having them both in my active lineup at the same time, because of the associated power shortfall. But that's a problem for April.

This wasn't a planned or rehearsed maneuver. I didn't enter this draft planning to draft Hamilton. But after building that early OBP excess and needing to find ways to spend it, Hamilton became a means to do that.

I should note that this approach seems like it could only work in a league that allows trading. If Hamilton stinks, theoretically I have other chips I can spend to try and cobble together a reasonable SB finish from Eric Young and some trade targets. If Hamilton is on a 100-SB pace in June and I can afford to trade him (or Young), that is a potential path to shoring up other areas. But without that option to trade for balance, I don't know how you build a team around Hamilton: it just seems too likely that you either finish in the bottom of the category if Hamilton tanks, or you inefficiently win it by 50 SB if Hamilton delivers.

So, while I'm drafting in the National Fantasy Baseball Championship this weekend, don't expect to see me take Hamilton there. This team will be my one Billy Hamilton experience for 2014.

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