ROTISSERIE: What was I thinking?

"...Going twice ... Sold! Ian Desmond to Davitt..."

Oh, no... What did I just do?

After three disappointing seasons in the Tout Wars Mixed auction league, I hoped this year to learn from past mistakes and to take fuller advantage of the HQ Custom Draft Guide (CDG) and other HQ tools to develop a firm strategy going into this year's auction.

The auction was held on Saturday afternoon of Tout Wars weekend in New York. We had a nice facility in a private area inside the City Crab restaurant at Park and 19th. If you’re in NYC and want a nice seafood dinner, try City Crab, and tell ’em Tout Wars sent you.

Planning

My first step in strategizing was to go back the last few years and look at how the winners and consistent top finishers budgeted their teams and organized their rosters. As a result, I decided that I would use a $195-$65 hit-pitch split (75%-25%) instead of the more balanced $180-$80 split (69%-31%) that I had been using. And I focused on HRs, which are clearly getting more scarce.

As well, the previous seasons had shown that the successful Touts were willing to go heavily Stars and Scrubs, especially spending early and often on offense. So I  ran the CDG, setting the levels for both the “normal” split and the 75-25 I was planning. I further tweaked my valuations to give slight dollar gains (and losses) to players in proportion to where they were relative to the median in HR, SB and OBP. To give you some idea, Mike Trout came out at $61, Paul Goldschmidt at $51, Andrew McCutchen and Jose Bautista at $48, and Giancarlo Stanton at $45.

I also decided to punt Saves in an effort to maximize Wins and Ks. I thought my pitching budget would be short as it was, and that I therefore couldn’t waste money on closers. This turned out to set up one of two disastrous mistakes.

I printed out the CDG “Grid,” without projected stats (they're educated guesses anyway, right?), but including Mayberry Method values and Portfolio tiers. It was immediately obvious that there would, as usual, be lots of OFs available in the $11-$15 value tier, and plenty more OFs in the $5-$10. There was also a similar value pokcet in both sides of the middle infield. This sets up the other disatrous mistake I made.

I also italicized all the hitters with multi-position eligibility, because I wanted at least two to provide roster flexibility to help manage the inevitable injuries.

Based on the grid and my priorities, I set up a budget that, for the first time in my auction experience, allotted dollars by position:

C1 $20   OF1 $20    P1 $20
C2 $ 1   OF2 $15    P2 $15
1B $45   OF3 $15    P3 $10
3B $20   OF4 $10    P4 $10
CI $ 2   OF5 $10    P5 $ 5
2B $15   UT  $ 5    P6 $ 2
SS $15              P7 $ 1
MI $ 2              P8 $ 1
                    P9 $ 1

As I rostered players, I would reallocate the savings and overspends among the remaining players, without transferring money from batters to pitchers or vice-versa. The budget reflected the abundance of mid-value OFs as mentioned, as well as that thick cluster of $10-$15 MIs. My budget plan also tried to allow for some degree of position scarcity.

It was through this process that I resolved to target Goldschmidt. The other top-value guys were:

  • OFs (Trout, McCutchen, etc), but as noted I thought the OF value would be in the lower tiers;
  • Other 1Bs (Miggy, Abreu, Encarnacion), about whom I had health or reliability concerns, and who offered zero SB help;
  • And Troy Tulowitzki, who is an obvious and, to me, unacceptable health risk.

Goldschmidt had potential for double-digit steals on top of obvious power potential, and an OBP that the HQ projections said was second only to Joey Votto’s.

Finally, I made a list of rosterable players to target later on in the draft despite a wallet that might be depleted by the S&S top guys.

Draft

Early on, I stayed in the bidding on Trout to $47, then let him go to Derek Van Riper at $48. Later, in the post-draft social at Foley’s (tell ’em Tout Wars sent you), I had the pleasure of discussing the draft with Paul Singman, an excellent player who was also in that Mixed Auction. Paul said that if my valuation scheme had valued Trout as a $61 player, I should have kept bidding towards that level, instead of handing Derek what I must have thought was a $13 profit on the best player in the game.

I replied that I just didn’t want to spend over $50 on a player—even Mike Trout—because of the risk and the downstream effects on my spending. The pace of draft under Jeff Erickson’s auctioneering is very fast, and leaves limited time for in-the-moment reflection. Basically, I knew getting Trout at draft would mean I would not get Goldschmidt, and furthermore would have to rejig my entire budget after my first buy. All that said, in hindsight, I’m not sure I made the right choice. Maybe Derek would have chased Trout up past $50 (I never thought to ask him), which at least would have hamstrung him a little later on.

Instead, my first buy was indeed Goldschmidt, for $44. Though he was $1 under slot value, it was still a buck or two more than I had hoped, and I got criticized for this by various observers. But I think the pick is defensible. His projection is around 95-30-100-12-.385; Encarnacion, who projects about the same HR/RBI, went for $9 less, but projects 10-15 fewer runs, 8-10 fewer SB and about 25 points less OBP. Also, Goldschmidt was well under my projected value. So I was happy.

My next buy was catcher Russell Martin for $19. I had Martin at $27 and the slot was $25, so again I was pleased, even though the Tout commentariat seemed to think it was an overpay. Martin is a good OBP guy with decent pop, and has flashed some useful SB speed in past seasons. I also liked Dioner Navarro for a buck—I think he will be traded and as a result get way more AB than what his current $6 HQ projection is based on. Navarro earned $8 two years ago and $16 last year. If I could get the midpoint, I'll buy that for a dollar!

Other good buys:

I wanted to get at least two decent multi-position guys, and landed Ben Zobrist for $17 and Emilio Bonifacio for $1. Zobrist was $2 over slot but $3 under projected value, while Bonifacio was $1 under slot and $6 under value.

I liked my OFs. Jay Bruce ($15) was a good get for my $20 slot and a profit on a conservative $17 projection, with potential for a double-digit profit if he rebounds fully from his knee injury. My $15 slots went to Nelson Cruz ($14) and JD Martinez ($15), both around their projections but also with upside. Cruz has been above $14 every year starting in 2009, and way above it last year. Martinez was a $25 hitter last year, and while I understand and expect regression from last year's 40% Hit Rate, I can’t see him losing close to half his value to where $14 is a losing bet.

Because of the big disaster, which I’ll come to in a minute, I had to quickly shuffle dollars out of my 10 OF slots, but nonetheless got Austin Jackson ($7) and Carlos Beltran ($5). I expect nice profits from both: Jackson hasn't been under $14 in the last five big-league seasons, and is projected for $20 in 2015. Beltran projects $13, with easy $20+ upside if he can stay healthy. I also got Torii Hunter for a buck in my UT slot, kind of insurance for Beltran, whom I consider my biggest injury risk. Although buying Hunter to guarantee production is like insuring your home with Al's Cut-Rate Insurance and Barber Shop. Meanwhile, HQ projects Hunter to $18 on his own merits, which would be a major bonus.

On the pitching side, meanwhile, I was just OK. I got Adam Wainwright as the staff anchor, at $19, right on value and $1 under slot, and Anibal Sanchez at $10, right on slot and $1 over value. I was pretty pleased to get a couple more Cardinals, John Lackey for $5 and Carlos Martinez for $1. Profit potential there for different reasons. And despite my pre-draft commitment to avoid AL East pitchers, I ended up with Miguel Gonzalez and CC Sabathia as one-dollar endgamers. The churn in pitching early in this league is considerable, so I didn’t mind these gambles.

Now on to the bad side:

I knew I wasn’t going to get a top 3B like Josh Donaldson or Adrian Beltre, so I looked into the $15-$20 tier and snabbed Evan Longoria for $22, a couple of bucks over slot and $3-$4 over projected value. This was an impatient move, but the pickings looked slim and I wanted to avoid the bidding wars I thought—incorrectly—might pop up later for 3Bs I had higher on my list. Kyle Seager went for the same $22 and I would way rather have had Seager. In fact, teams across the draft got good deals on their 3Bs that I did not.

I didn’t like Phil Hughes at $15. The price was right on slot value but was over projection by $4. I don’t remember exactly how it happened but I do know I was again impatient and as a result missed out on my preferred targets in that slot range—I tried for Gio Gonzalez (who went for $14), Julio Teheran ($16), Jacob DeGrom ($14) and others, and got outmuscled every time.

And finally, on to my two disastrous errors.

As I said earlier, I knew that there was going to be value in the $10-$15 tier at 2B and SS. I knew it. So I just don’t understand why I was in the bidding for Ian Desmond when all those lower-tier SS were still on the board. And even worse than bidding on Desmond, I got him—for a ridiculous $29. This was $14 over my SS budget slot, which would be OK if it was still a good value. But it clearly wasn’t; I had him projected for $24. So I lost $5 on Desmond and $14 from my carefully calibrated budget. It was a terrible, dumb, boneheaded decision and I can’t even explain what I was thinking. Or, more accurately, if I was thinking.

At least Desmond is playing. Which means getting Sean Doolittle might have been even dumber. In fact, since I was deliberately punting Saves, it was catastrophically dumb even to bid on Doolittle, much less to keep bidding. At the time, I thought I was being flexible and creative in zigging out of my plan, but about .085 seconds after auctioneer Erickson said “Sold!”, I wanted to bang my head on the table. Only I didn't want to break the table. Every time I look back on it, I get that empty feeling in the pit of my guts. Damn it, anyway.

Look, zigging and zagging are fine, and willingness to depart from a strategy for tactical reasons is the mark of a flexible thinker. But if I wanted to change plan to get a closer, why pick one who is going to start the year off the roster and who has well-publicized shoulder problems? I might as well have bid on Jim Johnson. Later, of course, all kinds of second- and third-tier closers went for single-digit prices, and while they aren’t in the Kimbrel/Chapman class, they at least going to be pitching in ninth innings. As Bugs Bunny famously said, “What a maroon.”

I take some solace that if Doolitttle comes back and gets even 20 saves, he could vault me out of the cellar for a couple of points because two other owners punted. As well, it’s possible that I could get enough out front of those two owners and then wheel Doolittle to someone in the actual Saves race, and maybe get back something I need. Then I will ride my magic fantasy unicorn to the top of the league and shower the world with magic roto dust that spreads peace and happiness to all.

Conclusion

Despite the Desmond catastrophe, I ended up with good hitting (he is a very solid four-cat hitter who won’t ruin the OBP). I spent $196 and I project to $230 in value, with the good power I wanted: over 250 HR and 1000 Runs and RBI. My SBs are a problem in the mid-120s, and a .331 pOBP is mid-pack at best. I well exceeded three Mayberry targets (Power, xBA and PT) and equaled the fourth (Speed).

Pitching was just OK to sub-par. I made my Mayberry xERA and IP targets, but was three points light of the 30 goal for Ks and way short of the Saves mark. I spent $64 on pitching and will have to churn the FA pool to get any profit.

The moral of the story is: If you go to any sort of length to make a plan, especially a budget plan, stick to it, unless you are jumping in to snab a tremendous bargain. Don’t break your budget, especially to spend $6 too much on a guy, or to get a guy who isn’t even playing. A prizefighter once said, "Everyone has a plan ’till they get punched in the mouth." If you're gonna get punched in the mouth, at least don't be the guy doing the punching.


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