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Rounding Third: Value, Value, Value

Jeff Erickson

Jeff Erickson is a co-founder of RotoWire and the only two-time winner of Baseball Writer of the Year from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. He's also in the FSWA Hall of Fame. He roots for the Reds, Bengals, Red Wings, Pacers and Northwestern University (the real NU).

Value, Value, Value

What do you do when one league rival has held over you and the rest of the league for three years in a row? Do you change strategies, or how you value players? That's the question we all faced this weekend at the AL Tout Wars auction, as we took on three-time defending champ Larry Shechter. You may have heard, Larry has written a book about his dominance of this and other leagues. If you haven't read it yet, I highly suggest that you do. You'll learn a lot about how much preparation time Larry puts into fantasy baseball and the specific drafts that he's in, and about his adherence to finding value in the auction.

As mentioned, Larry has dominated us the last three years, and I particularly have been frustrated by this, having finished third, second and fourth the last three years respectively. I believe that my approach to the auction has been fairly similar to Larry's, if not in the gory details. He's just been able to build a better roster. Does he have an advantage in player analysis or valuation? He might, but if so I don't think that the advantage is so great as to make him an overwhelming favorite, or to make me switch my approach. However, one area where he has been superior is in his discipline at the auction. Let's face it, we're all touts and like our share of players, and thus subconsciously take a "genius" approach (on the Chris Liss genius-to-agnostic scale) with player selection. Sometime that results in us paying the extra dollar here-and-there over even what we have player valued, and to pass up other bargain opportunities at the auction knowing that the player that we want for that spot is still available. While one can't enforce every price and collect every bargain that an auction presents, this is also clearly a leak in our game, one that I believe that Larry has been able to exploit.

So this year I resolved to be as pragmatic as possible at the auction. If a particular bargain stood out - according to my own published values, mind you - I was going to take it, without worrying that I liked a different player a little bit better in that same category. Moreover, I wanted to remain flexible about where my money went, in regards to position, to category, and even tiers. If that meant that I took one extra $20 player at the expense of a couple of $5 players later in the auction, so be it. Finally, like nearly everyone else, I wanted to compile as many projected at-bats as possible. It's so much easier to pile up the counting stats and trade from that strength than to try to make up ground there, and it's easier to trade a bat rather than an arm.

Did I bid differently when Larry was involved with a player? I'd be lying if I said that it didn't occur to me that I wanted to prevent him from getting what I perceived to be a bargain - I think that's only natural. I wonder how other Touts felt about that as well. To me, it seemed as if he found it more difficult to spend his money, especially on the hitters. It was a pretty tight auction anyhow - there weren't too many outlier plans, purchases or budget management issues, unlike in the Mixed Auction where there was a huge sum of dollars left on the table, or as in NL LABR where it appeared to be the Wild, Wild West in spending on hitting. At the same time, we all have our own rosters to attend to - if we spent the auction solely focused on one competitor, surely we'd torpedo our own team in the process. So even while acknowledging his footprint on the draft, I don't think we were all that different in our approach.

You can see the full results of the auction here. Here's my squad:

Catcher - Carlos Santana ($28), Derek Norris ($9) - This is as good a place as any to mention that Tout switched from batting average to OBP as a hitting category this year. I don't always have to own one of the elite catchers, but both Santana and Joe Mauer (who went for $27 to Joe Sheehan) appealed to me because they'll retain catcher eligibility while playing a much less strenuous defensive position this year, and thus get more plate appearances. Norris also does better in an OBP environment than with BA, and there's some small chance he adds a couple of stolen bases as a bonus.

Corner Infielders - Brandon Moss ($19), Brett Lawrie ($17), Jonathan Singleton ($1), Mike Carp (R), Daric Barton (R) - The fantasy community hasn't quite fully embraced the notion that Moss is for real, but his price is creeping higher. I don't mind the possibility that he'll be platooned, but rather welcome it, as it limits his OBP downside. Lawrie was the one player that I paid a unit higher than my dollar values had for him. At that point in the auction, only three other full-time third basemen were available - David Freese, Trevor Plouffe and Matt Dominguez. So far the third basemen had been selling at $2-3 over my prices, so I didn't have much confidence that I would find a better bargain compared to my prices if I waited, so I resolved to take the first one that was close to par. Freese ended up going for $14, Dominguez for $11 and Plouffe for $10, all fairly close but slightly above my prices. Is Lawrie worth the premium? I think he has a higher 90th percentile outcome, though he is also more volatile. At that point in the draft, the chase for upside was worth it. Singleton will begin the year in the minors, but I don't see a current reason why he would stay down beyond the All-Star Break, and with that in mind, he should provide a pretty good profit. Carp and Barton should be adequate fill-ins until then.

Middle Infielders - Brian Dozier ($13), Erick Aybar ($12), Gordon Beckham ($5), Jonathan Herrera (R) - All of these were agnostic buys, despite my having landed Dozier in other leagues. Dozier and Aybar will give me a modicum of speed and Dozier has some power to boot. I held my nose and took Beckham even though he's currently hurt - five months of him should still be worth $8-$10. Let's see if I get five months of him. I took Herrera over Jeff Keppinger as my final reserve because Keppinger is also hurt now, and I needed someone on the active major league roster to fill in for Beckham while he's out.

Outfielders - Jose Bautista ($30), Coco Crisp ($18), Josh Reddick ($13), Robbie Grossman ($9), Grady Sizemore ($6), Jackie Bradley Jr. ($2) - Sizemore was actually the first of my outfielders rostered, coming up in the first round of players nominated. There's plenty of risk with him, but if between the two of Sizemore and Bradley I get a full-time Red Sox outfielder, I should get plenty of profit. There's a lot of overt and implied "ifs" in that statement, I realize. Bautista is a great fit in OBP leagues, and he's looking great health-wise this spring. Reddick was a totally agnostic purchase - I had him valued at $18, so when the bidding was stalling at $12 I jumped in, rather than wait for Nelson Cruz, who ultimately went for $18. Likewise, I wanted either Grossman or Nick Castellanos for my last UT spot, and Grossman's name came up first. I only had $11 as my max bid at that point, so there was a good chance I might get neither player if I didn't jump on the first. Sure enough, Castellanos later went for $14 to Lawr Michaels.

Starting Pitchers - Max Scherzer ($29), Chris Tillman ($11), Jeremy Guthrie ($2), Brett Oberholtzer ($1), Felix Doubront ($1), Matt Harrison ($1), Marcus Stroman ($1), John Danks (R) - By now most that have read or listened to me know that I believe that the elite starting pitchers remain undervalued, so I won't belabor the point here. Tillman was a mistake, though. Not that I don't like the pitcher, but at the time I thought that I needed to back Scherzer up with a second-tier starter, but in actually I would have been better served to spread that $11 around to three different pitchers in the endgame, instead of getting so many $1 pitchers. I'm short at least one starter. The only good news is that there a lot of SPs that become available on the waiver wire. There's no guarantee that I'll get the ones that pan out, though. I should have grabbed two in the reserve rounds.

Relievers - Ernesto Frieri ($17), Casey Janssen ($15) - I dabbled with the idea of punting closers, but instead decided to go with two closers given the depth in the AL. Frieri can be scary at times, but he corrected his flaws towards the end of the year last season and has followed that up with a dynamite spring. And Janssen just doesn't walk anybody - I love closers that aren't agonizing to watch with their control - it lends to greater role security. The negatives with him are his sore shoulder this spring and the presence of Sergio Santos, who has looked all the way back from his injuries.

As always, the draft software likes my team. If it didn't, there would be a problem. I haven't had too much of a chance to evaluate my rivals' teams, but so far those that have responded like Chris Liss's team and Steve Moyer's, and, of course, Larry's team. What say you? How did I do? Which team would you like to leave this auction with?

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