It started with a simple three-part gameplan.
1. Load up with power
2. Spend $30 combined on my top two starting pitchers
3. Closely follow a throw list that emphasizes players negatively impacted by the league's use of OBP rather than AVG.
In an industry league with 15 teams, you might say that your chances of winning are precisely 1 in 15 (6.7 percent).
Given the circumstances, it's important to take chances in the roster construction process that provide opportunities for significant profit. With that in mind, I set out to build a very balanced roster filled with second-tier players, rather than paying a premium for three of the top 8-10 players as I did a year ago. Injuries ruined my season as an owner of Matt Kemp, Carlos Gonzalez and Jose Bautista on the same roster.
I used a similar second-tier heavy strategy in the first-ever RotoWire Steak Baseball League last season and managed to come away with the title.
This year for Tout, I wanted to have a designated Throw list. The vast majority of the players I nominated fit a simple common theme. I examined the player pool for players with surprisingly low OBP marks, especially the more highly-regarded types that were capable of commanding at least $10 in the auction. Keep in mind, that low batting average players are often undervalued in standard 5x5 leagues and when included as part of a well-constructed roster, can be highly effective for their counting stats.
Players I planned on nominating included:
For the most part, I found this to be effective, and one of the added benefits is that it really didn't give the other owners a good read on whether or not I liked/disliked a particular nomination. This is partially because you can use that price you are willing to pay even for a player you might see as flawed in some way. Without a doubt it requires a more agnostic approach. If in the final third of the draft, I nominated Cruz at $8 (with a valuation of $12, despite his relatively low OBP) I was open to the possibility that I might end up landing him at that price.
If you have read my articles in the past or listened to me on the radio with some consistency, my attitude toward scarcity in mixed leagues is categorically focused rather than positionally.
Over the course of the season, I believe it's more difficult to obtain power hitters on the waiver wire, and more over, it often *seems* as though trading for home runs comes at a premium. Having a surplus in expected home runs on March 23 is more than OK -- it might even be ideal.
As we saw in AL-only Tout Wars, being prepared to buy players early often leads to value. Two-time defending champ Larry Schecter nominated Mike Trout at $40 and received crickets. Josh Hamilton only fetched $25, and it's because he was one of the first players nominated.
With that in mind, I was ready to pounce when Mariano Rivera was thrown out as the third player on the board in the Mixed Auction. Every player has a price where I'm comfortable owning them. As a result, I bid a lot and try to bid very quickly. Tactically speaking, I feel it's the equivalent of running a full-court press in basketball. Many teams can handle the press just fine -- which is the case with Tout owners and aggressive bidding -- but when 345 players are on the block over the course of the auction, there will be owners caught off guard at some point if you're consistently forcing them to make a quick or difficult decision.
Consider the following scenarios.
The player to your right throws out Jose Bautista at $1. In a room where slower incremental bidding takes place, an extra 20-30 seconds could go by enabling each owner to run through the scenarios of ownership and make a "better" decision regarding what they're willing to pay. If the bidding goes $1, 2, 5, 9, 10, 15, 16, 17, 22, 23, 24, 25, 29, 30, 31 before he's sold. Each of the 15 owners in the room has had 15 evaluation points about owning Bautista. Maybe it's as simple as finding their pre-draft valuation and making a quick adjustment based on the players remaining on the present market conditions.
I would posit that drawn-out bidding very rarely benefits the eventual winning bidder in the form of an undervalued outcome.
Consider an alternative situation where the same owner throws Bautista out at $1. You've done your homework to the point where without even looking at the device or page in front of you, that you would happily take him at $25. After the $1 bid, the $2 joker weighs in and you quickly cut through with the $25 bid. The aggressive bid will almost certainly knock out a few owners who might be unsure about Bautista's health. If nothing else, other players at the table will become more likely to talk themselves out of raising the bid than limping in and continuing to sort out their plan.
Even in a room full of talented and experienced players, this sort of pressure is going to have an impact. You will either end up getting players below expected cost when your competition becomes tentative, or other owners will become more susceptible to falling into a bidding war in fear of missing out on the players and simply overpay.
There is no doubt that I have a more aggressive tendency after seeing Jeff and Chris play in Tout and LABR over the years, as it's part of their respective playing styles. In Liss' case, it's a bit more extreme, but you can check out the NL-only results or simply ask some of the other owners in the league how his aggressiveness impacted the market Sunday.
Here's my roster as constructed on draft day:
C - Wilin Rosario - $12 - I had him valued at $18, but would have stopped around 15. He was the second I player I won, so it was important to ensure that I didn't end up taking on too much other dead weight in OBP.
C - Miguel Montero - $14 - Thanks to a projected .400 OBP, Montero was valued at $23. In addition to being a steal, combine the numbers of Rosario and Montero at the end of the year and there should be much more than $26 in the return for my two catcher spots.
1B - Freddie Freeman - $21 - One benefit to having just two players rostered as the first break as free reign to take what I wanted for a significant period of the auction. Freeman might not have the elite power potential of the top first baseman, but his production in the big leagues considering his age should garner more attention.
2B - Dustin Ackley - $9 - Since he's capable of drawing a few walks, Ackley offers a bit more in this format than in standard 5x5. I admittedly went very cheap in the middle infield because I didn't like the prices throughout the auction. Rickie Weeks was a target long before I bought Ackley, but I didn't want to go to the mat for him At $5-7 above the projected value I had for him.
SS - Dee Gordon - $1 - It's the same problem that Rosario presents for me behind the plate with an extremely low OBP. Instead of a bunch of homers, Gordon *might* find a way to hang around on the roster and do what he does best. If I end up with 20-25 steals and a nice chunk of runs scored, I can live with this.
MI - Omar Infante - $1 - Maybe he's a .315-.320 OBP guy, but double-digit homers and steals and decent team-related numbers as a member of the potent Detroit lineup. He was on the throw list as someone I didn't really want, but the inflation at second base simply made Infante a piece of the puzzle for my roster.
3B - Ryan Zimmerman - $25 - I like Evan Longoria as much as the next guy, but not quite as much as Eric Mack ($33) does. There's little that separates Zimmerman from Adrian Beltre ($26) when you make the OBP-AVG switch.
CI - Ike Davis - $19 - Another player who benefits from the use of OBP here. What can Allen Craig ($21) do that Davis can't? I buy into the 35-40 HR potential here, especially when you look at what he did from early June on last season.
OF - Giancarlo Stanton - $34 - See Jason Collette's piece on lineup protection. Stanton gets a bump in this format as well. It was not part of a pre-designed plan to have him as my most expensive player.
OF - Jason Heyward - $31 - Heyward really seemed to put the pieces together last year. He's always shown the ability to draw walks (even though that rate was down a season ago) and the change in his batted ball profile (fewer grounders) should lead to better results on balls in play.
OF - Michael Bourn - $15 - I really needed steals, but I am not sure that anyone else in the room was aware of it. The bidding went $1, $2 and $15. I was willing to pay $20.
OF - Norichika Aoki - $13 - Generally speaking, OBP tends to be easier to find in power hitters. Aoki showed a bit more pop than expected last season, so there may be a little backslide there. Still, he's atop a potent Brewers lineup and has a manager willing to give him the green light. Aoki is undervalued across the board, and walks enough against righties to offset his struggles against southpaws.
OF - Corey Hart - $6 - Unlimited DL spots in Tout Wars are particularly helpful. If he's back May 15, four-and-half months should be well worth this price. I did not grab a fifth outfielder in the reserve draft, but will play the waiver wire for four-to-six weeks to address this spot.
UT - Jurickson Profar - $1 - Throwing out Profar during dollar days, I figured it was 50-50 at best someone else wouldn't throw an extra buck or two his way. Stashing him essentially makes my four-man bench a three-man one for a while. If he comes up in May, no sweat.
P - Mariano Rivera - $16 - As noted above, the third player thrown out on the block. I jumped the bidding from $6 or 7 to $14 and was planning on going as high as $19 to get him. Early aggressiveness paid off.
P - Chris Sale - $15 - While I agree that Matt Moore at $16 could be a great buy for Tim Heaney, the lack of love for Sale in general (and more specifically at this price) is surprising. I was very lucky he didn't go for more as he was the last elite strikeout starter still hanging on the board and I still didn't have a starter rostered.
P - Mike Minor - $7 - A tale of two halves last season indeed. Minor had a 5.97 ERA and .486 SLG against in the first half last season, before a 2.16 ERA and .318 SLG against in the second half. His control was much better in July and August at the expense of fewer strikeouts, but September offered the best of both worlds as he carried an 8.1 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9 over the final 31 innings.
P - Homer Bailey - $5 - My second starter purchased, Bailey was valued at $10 in the custom rankings and it's not surprising that the room was hesitant to aggressively pursue him given his home park and issues with the long ball. Bailey's peripherals have been very steady over the last two season (> 7.0 K/9, 2.25 BB/9) and last season's 200-inning effort came with an increased groundball rate (44.9%).
P - Brandon McCarthy - $5 - Moving into the National League should push up the K/9 and although he's moving into a hitter-friendly environment with half of his games coming at Chase Field, I'm willing to bet he's going to be effective enough with his two-seamer from becoming victimized by the long ball in Arizona.
P - Edwin Jackson - $4 - The last three seasons, Jackson has delivered xFIPs of 3.71, 3.73, 3.79. He's also stabilized his control with back to back campaigns at 2.8 BB/9. There's plenty of variance on a start-by-start basis, but the end results should yield $6-8 of profit.
P - Sergio Santos - $3 - I was price-enforcing given the timing of the buy, but without a second closer, wasn't completely disappointed. As Jason Collette later told me, Casey Janssen's velocity has been down and scouts in Florida have been concerned about him throughout the spring.
P - Wade Davis - $2 - Admittedly, this is a lottery ticket on a guy whose data is skewed by the bullpen assignment last season. The Rays thought enough of his potential a few years back to lock him up to a club-friendly deal, but the results simply weren't there over 58 starts in 2010 and 2011. He may end up being one of my early-season cuts, despite my willingness to throw an extra dollar at him late and I actually like a couple of the reserve-round pitchers I took better.
P - Pat Corbin - $1 - Even if Corbin loses the fifth starter spot to Randall Delgado (I don't think he will, but it's possible), Wade Miley's bout with dead arm and subsequent issues since could provide a path back into the rotation. Corbin was showing increased velocity this spring and is being overlooked in many circles, so I was happier getting him in dollar days than pushing Davis to $2.
R - Rick Porcello - Porcello averaged 30 starts per season over a four-year MLB career, which started at age 20. This is your annual reminder that age matters, and develop is not always linear. Now 24, the results and reports about changes in his approach toward hitters this spring are very encouraging, and it's the latter that has me more interested in seeing what he brings when the games begin to count.
R - Ross Detwiler - In hindsight, missing out on Detwiler to get Porcello might have been a mistake. Fortunately, it didn't play out that way. Perhaps the strikeouts will be lacking, but the ratio and win potential on a Nats team that should provide plenty of run support and a bullpen very capable of holding leagues are reason enough to be excited.
R - Jacob Turner - Sure, it's a pedigree buy. His hold on a rotation spot maybe slipping this spring, but do teams really judge players based on 15-20 innings during spring training. More importantly, he's a former top prospect
R - Nolan Arenado - To say that I was amazed he was still hanging around in the final stages of the reserve draft is an understatement. It's a quick cut if Arenado ends up got back to the minors to begin the season, but the chance to play half of his games in the most hitter-friendly environment in baseball and potentially follow Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki in the batting order is very intriguing.
The takeaway here is that I'm light on pitching because I spent heavily on the offense. My middle infield is ugly, but it cost all of $11 to build. In leagues that allow trading (and Tout does), I usually find that the return when dealing hitters for pitchers is often better than trying to go the other direction. Further, the scarcity of power hitters on the waiver wire can amplify the benefits of that exchange as well.
The full auction results for all of the Tout Wars leagues are available here.
Amanda Scarborough rode a train 12 hours each way from Toronto to attend Tout Wars - as a fan. (No, she did not bring a Canadian flag and pound on the glass of the fish bowl to celebrate the good buys of Fred Zinkie or Patrick Davitt. Maybe next year?)
The New York trip to Tout is always a good reminder of the number of great people in our industry. I am honored to be a part of it.
What do Jason Collette, Preston Blake, Longfellow Deeds and I have in common?
I learned that fellow Tout Seth Trachtman can kick himself in the head, although I have not seen that with my own eyes. Yet. There will be a YouTube search performed in the near future.
Kyle Elfrink seems to be warming up to Twitter.
Ryan Carey was kind enough to run the spreadsheet during the draft. He also assembled a "Shadow Team" along the way.
Places and Things
Foley's - For any occasion, really, but an excellent mix of service, atmosphere and beer list. The best baseball bar I've ever been to, and it's not even close. Their Shepard's Pie is my preferred menu option.
Angelo's Pizza - I haven't been to New York nearly enough times to give it a fair grade against the city's other offerings, but it's the best I've had so far and would likely grade as a 65 on the traditional 20-80 scouting scale against all other pies I've eaten.
Faces and Names - Not really a sports bar, but they did have a projection screen going for the NCAA tournament, and it ended up being my spot for 10 hours or so on tip-off Thursday. Sara(h) took great care of our group and the staff in general was friendly. If you are going to eat there, the chicken tacos are the way to go. Most of the other food options were at least average offerings.
Toasties - The location on W 49th is nothing special on the inside, but the staff, cost, and ingredients all exceeded my expectations in a good way.
Virgil's - Barbecue is seldom a target of mine in a city like New York, but Virgil's definitely holds it own against other well regarded joints in more notable BBQ locations. Lawr Michaels swears by the wings, but I have not tried them in my two trips there.