ROTISSERIE: Tout Wars mixed auction recap

It’s a general rule that there’s nothing more boring than hearing about someone else’s fantasy baseball team. This is not true—it’s way more boring hearing about someone else’s fantasy golf team, which might even be more boring than actual golf, though shorter.

(Actually, real golf is probably worse. If you make a noise while someone is talking to you about his fantasy golf team, you won’t get an angry staredown from an old guy with a dumb straw hat and Sans-a-Belt slacks.)

With that in mind, I’ve been asked to describe the thought processes and decisions that went into my second Tout Wars 15-team mixed draft, held March 23 at the Sirius/XM headquarters in New York.

Pre-draft

I got my player valuations from the BaseballHQ.com Custom Draft Guide (CDG), an incredible draft planning tool that lets users set scoring categories (Tout Mixed uses OBP this year in place of BA, which is a pretty big difference) and, more importantly, lets users weight those categories.

I tweaked the output by scoring SBs at 80% of full value and HRs at 120%, because of Ron Shandler’s advice from the last BaseballHQ Radio podcast; he said, and I agreed, that bags would be easy to come by throughout the draft, especially in a mixed format, but that power would be tougher to find.

Once I had the CDG output as an Excel file, I transferred the results into a grid, which I color-coded based on BaseballHQ’s Reliability Scores. Using Excel’s “Conditional Formatting” feature, I coded players as Red (“avoid”) if they had either “F” Health scores or “FF” Experience/Consistency scores. I coded as Green (“target”) players who went for under CDG value in LABR and the Tout straight draft, using HQ’s algorithm for converting straight-draft results to dollar values.

I went into the auction with two strategic goals and a bunch of tactical goals in support of the strategies.

Strategy: Offense

 On offense, my strategic goal was to finish at or near the top of the league in projected power: HR and RBI and HQ’s Mayberry score for power. I also wanted to be solid in Runs and OBP. I didn’t punt SBs, but thought per Ron’s advice that I didn’t need to focus in on bags because I could get enough here and there.

Tactically, I knew from my disastrous experience in 2012 not to spend heavily in a Stars-and-Scrubs approach, but I still didn’t want to go full-on Spread The Risk or Balanced. Expecting a $180/$80 split as the standard, I "zagged" a bit with a $175/$85, and resolved to not spend more than $30 on any player. I also knew from the previous year that there would be some bargains in the midrange ($10-$15 and $16-$20) OFs, which were also deep cells in the CDG grid.

I knew I wanted one of Carlos Santana or Buster Posey, and got Santana, my first choice, at $27, $2 above his CDG value. Posey went moments later for $25. I was targeting Edwin Encarnacion because I believe his expected regression will not be so pronounced as others think. And even if he regresses a full 20% from last year’s ~$40, that’s still $32, and I got him for $29, a buck higher than CDG but a price I think is a floor, with upside all the way back to 2012 levels.

I also wanted a good SS because the dropoff at that position was so pronounced. I targeted Jose Reyes but dropped when bidding soared past $30, $5 over CDG. I ended up paying $25 for Ian Desmond (CDG $17) because I thought prices might get even worse later for lesser players. They didn’t–I’d rather have had Alexei Ramirez for $10. I got Josh Rutledge for $10 and I think that could be characterized as a decent gamble. His hacker approach limits his OBP upside but I think $20 is possible with HRs and SB.

My $1 sleeper targets on offense were two Mariners: Justin Smoak (CDG $6, with upside) and Michael Saunders (CDG $7, with big upside). I got them both–Saunders was $3 but that was my last buy and it froze out the other guys with bidding power at the time, so I consider him a $1 get. Elsewhere I was just trying to get value where the table offered. I got Chase Headley for $11, who should be worth that if he gets even a half-season (and I got Trevor Plouffe on Reserve to fill in, generating some value from the slot).

The midrange OF tactic paid off. I got Shane Victorino (CDG$20) for $14, Dayan Viciedo (CDG $7) for $5, Nick Markakis (CDG $16) for $9, Austin Jackson (CDG $17) for $17, which I think has profit potential because of Jackson’s growing power, and greybeard Alfonso Soriano (CDG $10) for $4, which seems like a profit lock and could be extra nice considering his $15 year last year. That’s $21 in profit from five pretty reliable players, with a little upside opportunity and limited downside risk.

My big mistake of the offense was going to $19 on CIN 2B Brandon Phillips (CDG $12) . I actually wanted Aaron Hill (CDG $16), who went for $19 and is way more likely to earn it. Hill is a slightly greater injury risk than Phillips, but I just like Phillips as a player. I could point out that he has been a very reliable $20+ guy for years, and earned $30+ in 2011 (and 2007) and $24 last year. But I confess: It was a dumb move and if it pans out it will be more luck than design.

Strategy: Pitching

On the pitching side, I wanted two of my (and everyone else’s) five projected low-risk/ace-level starters—Kershaw, Verlander, Felix, Price, and Hamels, for less than $55 total. I didn’t plan to chase Strasburg—I like the Ks but basically 60% of one season is not enough of a track record for me to consider him risk free. I also wanted more starters for about $25 total and then five $1 guys of any stripe, though with an interest in skilled next-closer types.

So I got David Price and Cole Hamels (both CDG $26) for $54 total, gladly anteing up the extra two skins. I also got Trevor Cahill (CDG $8) for $8 and Johnny Cueto ($18) for $16, a $2 save that let me nail my $80 target for top four starters. I was pleased with two of my $1 endgame starters, Erasmo Ramirez (CDG $-1) and Mike Fiers (CDG $5). I’ll have them on short leashes, but you never know. Cahill, Ramirez and Fiers were also mentioned multiple times as pitchers to target by BaseballHQ.com’s starting pitching columnist Stephen Nickrand, who is my go-to guy on the topic.

I got caught with Mark Buehrle in a “somebody please bid $2” endgame gambit that earned crickets, but he can be dropped as easily as a flyball to the Mets outfield.

I bid on lots of closers to $8 or $9, but lost them all and I didn’t mind. I knew I would not compete for anointed closers, especially with so many of the current crop being on shaky ground. Last year, my auction closer (Sean Marshall, $12) lost the job about 17 nanoseconds after the draft. Even so, I finished OK in Saves by aggressively targeting “next closers” on the FAAB boards, landing Addison Reed (who had been waived) and Ernesto Frieri.

In this draft, I got endgame RPs Junichi Tazawa (CDG$1) and David Robertson (CDG $4), both of whom I think could get saves behind closers of suspect durability or skill. I also snabbed Luke Gregerson of SD (CDG $4) as a potential closer in the reserve round.

Finally, I also got Cuban phenom Yasiel Puig with my second reserve pick (I had to get Plouffe to slot-fill Headley). I know people think Puig won’t play, and he might not. But he might—and if he does he could be this year’s Yoenis Cespedes, who was one of my few bright lights last year.

Did it work?

According to Corey Schwartz’s (MLB.com) projections, I am set to finish fourth overall, and I did win the HR and RBI categories, with a second in Runs. So far, so good. My mix-and-match SB approach projects to nine points from a seventh-place finish, but I’m only three or four bags from 12 points in fourth. OBP looks like a surprisingly big problem: I project to a 14th-place, with only a couple of points within easy distance. I’m at .330 or so, which is less than I thought I’d get, and further from my third-place target; I'm a whopping 17 points short of third. Bleagh.

On the pitching side, I’m projected 10th in Wins but the pack there is tightly bunched. My semi-LIMA/SANTANA plan worked for ERA, which I project to win, and WHIP, where I’m a projected close second. I thought I’d be stronger in Ks with all those starters, but I’m next-to-last, although with even 20 whiffs more I could garner get a few points. Saves? I’m last, but as I mentioned there’ll plenty of rows to hoe in that regard during the year.

I also projected the league using HQ projections and my results are similar.

Final Comments

My other strategy was to have a good time, and in that I succeeded 100%. The draft itself was long and grueling, despite the frenetic pace set by auctioneer Jeff Erickson of Rotowire. But it was also funny and full of laughs, not least because Eric Mack and David Gonos supplied plenty of excellent wit, and generous laughs when they heard good lines from elsewhere at the table.

We had a post-draft shindig at Foley’s on 33rd that was just tremendous. I had the great good luck to sit at table for a while talking with Ron Shandler about baseball and the fantasy business, which is like talking physics with Stephen Hawking, only without the robot voice. That same table also included Steve Gardner from USA Today and past Tout champ Larry Schechter, both of whom were recently guests on my BaseballHQ Radio podcast. And it’s always a gas to talk with the irrepressible Lawr Michaels, who is just great fun to talk to—about damn near anything. We chewed the rag as a group about baseball, fantasy baseball, music, pot laws, and more, all of it lively, smart and hugely enjoyable.

So, for me it was a great weekend, even though I dropped my laptop and broke it. And while we all wait for Opening Day, I know the Tout season is officially underway–I already got a trade inquiry from Fred Zinkie!


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