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Charging the Mound: Erickson and Liss Talk AL Tout Wars

Chris Liss

Chris Liss is RotoWire's Managing Editor and Host of RotoWIre Fantasy Sports Today on Sirius XM radio.

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).

-----Original Message-----
From: "Jeff Erickson"
Sent: Saturday, March 22, 2014 12:33 am
To: "Christopher Liss"
Subject: Charging From Tout

Ok Chris, even though we're five feet from each other right now, I'm going to start this off anyhow just to demonstrate how connected we are to electronic devices. Actually, that's a lie. I'm not one of those scolds that rags on you merely for checking a score or an e-mail. That's just the way we live.

We've had two drafts against each other this week, with one more to go Sunday in AL Tout Wars. Thanks a lot for joining my league this year, by the way. Remind me to lie about strategies and players I like next year, by the way. Actually, that's not really a big issue - there's plenty of fish in the sea, and while the notion that elite starters are underpriced might matter a little bit, I don't think it's going to fundamentally rock our auction strategies. After all, I'm just going to be spending the morning going "+1" on Larry Schecter anyhow.

So what's on your mind? Want to talk about our respective Y!F&F teams? Want to talk about Scott Pianowski trying to game the system in that draft? Or how much the Aroldis Chapman injury affects him? Maybe we should talk about what we've seen this spring that moves the needle. It seems that every time I do a radio hit with a new station, one of the questions is "what am I looking at in spring training?" Honestly, I ignore roughly 90 percent of what happens in spring training - so much of it is noise and is misleading. But maybe I should at least pay a little attention so as to get ahead of the game on the likes of Jose Fernandez? What are you watching this spring?

-------Original Message-----
From: "Christopher Liss"
Sent: Wednesday, March 26, 2014 1:28 am
To: "Jeff Erickson"
Subject: Re: Charging From Tout

What a strange introduction - you sound like you're rambling while half falling asleep - the way I do during the first hour of the SXM show every day.

Now that I've dominated you in a third consecutive league, maybe it's time for both of us to take stock. I actually found AL Tout to be fairly straightforward and a somewhat easy auction. That's not to say I cleaned up or feel amazing about my team, only that the prices from beginning, middle to end were about right, and there weren't a lot of bargain or panic phases to it. I wanted to get one elite starter, and Verlander was available for the right price ($27). Felix Hernandez went cheapest at $25, but I'm nervous about him, so I didn't get involved even though I knew it was the best value.

On the hitting side I accomplished most of what I intended. I loaded up with corners, catchers and strong middles while going cheap on outfield and with the back end of my pitching staff. In the AL this year, there are a lot of $3-$12 outfielders I find hard to distinguish, so I figured there'd be some on the low end who could wind up doing well. Can anyone really say whether David Murphy, David Lough, Jarrod Dyson, Ryan Raburn or Dayan Viciedo will have more value? I just wanted a couple of them while the infielders do the heavy lifting. Here's a link to the entire auction.

One target I missed was Albert Pujols who in my opinion went cheaply to Glenn Colton and Rick Wolf at $26. I would certainly have said $27 had I not already owned Longoria ($28) and Eric Hosmer ($24). I'm happy with those two at those prices, and I had to say $24 on Hosmer because I didn't know what Pujols would go for later. But knowing what I know now, I might prefer Pujols who I think is going to have a big year.

The other odd thing about my Tout auction was being the last person to buy a player, then spending almost all of my money (I had about $47 left), then waiting and being the guy with the most money in the end game. I went from having the most money to the least to the most again. That's the way I used to auction, and now I remember why. You dont' have to wait to buy a player, but as long as you get in relatively early with some big buys, you'll never leave money on the table, and you can still pick and choose in the end game if you save a little for that phase. But as I said, this was a straightforward auction where players went mostly for value, so there was no serious danger of my being priced out of players late or being stuck with unspent cash.

I felt great about my Y!F&F team. Even though I drafted from the 12-hole in a 15-team league, I kept feeling like the players I wanted were falling to me. You took Bryce Harper (who I would have taken), but I was fine with Hanley Ramirez, and I got Stephen Strasburg and Justin Verlander - two pitchers I like - with my next two picks. The one gaffe I made - and it could very well work out - was taking Matt Kemp in Round 6. I had Joe Nathan queued up as closers are so valuable in this format, and I also considered Josh Hamilton and Carlos Beltran (both of whom I love this year), but at the last second I saw Kemp on the board and realized I had never seen him slip this far on any ADP list or in any draft I'd done, and impulsively I took him. You took Nathan right after that, and of course, Hamilton and Beltran went later that round. I'm not going to say it was a mistake, but it was an impulsive gamble that diverged from my strategy.

I was happy to get two decent closers later in the draft, like Starlin Castro in Round 12, and Dee Gordon in 14 felt pretty good too, especially since he should qualify at second base soon. (Of course, I missed out on Gordon's great Australia game because I thought I could set the lineup Saturday morning, but the system treated the games as a doubleheader).

There's been a fair amount of talk about Pianowski's tanking Wins and Ks for dominant hitting, saves, ERA and WHIP - Razzball's Rudy Gamble touched on it here. I think it's an easy way to get 90 points and finish 4th or better and great for side bets. I'm not sure it gives him the best chance to win the league outright, though he still might. Losing Chapman hurts because he probably has to get 10-plus in saves to win.

I'll leave you with an odd stray thought: last year, I nearly made Jose Fernandez my final reserve in NL Tout but didn't, thinking they'd never really let him break camp with the club. (I ended up FAABing him for $19 the first week of the year instead). This year for the AL, that player was Roenis Elias, another Cuban, who I didn't think would really make the rotation, but apparently has. Instead I took Anthony Gose with my last pick.

-----Original Message-----
From: "Jeff Erickson"
Sent: Thursday, March 27, 2014 5:09 pm
To: "Christopher Liss"
Subject: re: Charging From Tout

Fully admit - I was super-tired, rambling and perhaps even a little drunk. After all, you were there and went out with us that night.

Delusion is the opiate of the masses.You did well enough in the Tout Wars auction, but I don't think anyone dominated. I found it to be a really tight auction - in that I also thought that there were few outrageous bargains or overpays. I wouldn't go so far as to describe it as easy, as I felt that I needed to be vigilant about finding any sort of $2-3 bargain I could find. Then again, we take slightly different approaches, in that I believe you're more on the "genius" side of the ledger on the genius vs. agnostic scale than I am. You didn't use The Plan 2.0 or anything, but I think you have your guys, right?

Your dilemma on Hosmer vs. Pujols illustrates just how much of an illusion control is in auctions. This happens so frequently - we like two or three of one type of player, but we're still beholden to the order in which they're introduced and the behavior of others at the table. That's especially true early on, when the dollar values are plentiful for everyone. But even in the end game, typically there are 2-3 teams with a hammer to use at any given point. So often the best alternative is to grab the first player that we like from that class that stops at a reasonable price, even though it's possible we might like another incrementally better or that second player might go for less. Luckily, when I was debating Josh Reddick vs. Nelson Cruz to build my team, I got the better auction result. We'll see if my evaluation of the two players was accurate.

I do like your auction method of buying often in the upper tiers and avoiding the vast middle. To pull it off successfully you have to be extremely well prepared to know who you want in the end game - if you're going to have a lot of control late, you need to spend it wisely, and have a couple of alternatives if there's someone else that loves that same end-game buy as you and is willing to blow his budget on him. Again, timing matters - if you're picking and choosing, best to pick and choose before it all runs out. As you alluded, this auction worked well in that respect because it was so straightforward.

Your impulsive Matt Kemp pick in Y!F&F reminds me that in drafts, nearly every time that I act on last-second impulse rather than a pick arising out of some semblance of a plan, it usually doesn't end well. Of course, this has nothing against Kemp (or my hypothetical impulse pick), but the consequences of that pick. Inevitably the other alternatives I was considering go immediately after, and the alternatives to those alternatives next go before my next selection, and I end up scrambling for that quality - be it a position or a category. One can succeed while grabbing an unexpected value, but you have to know and prepare for the consequences of that pick. Those other options almost never fall to you later on. The cliche' in our industry is "never let a bargain pass you by." I prefer "chance favors the prepared mind."

Yeah, it's no surprise that Pianow's gambit has him pushing us to get those sidebets in - I'm eager to see how it plays out. The key for him is to nail the percentage categories. One thing about having so few innings is that two or three Mitchell Boggs-like outings could be devastating to him. And I'm more motivated than ever to make sure all my hitter spots approach the games-played max. He'll be starting from a higher baseline in terms of hitter quality, and also hurting us with the available options in our hitter streaming pool.

That this is a Yahoo! league also makes this possible. Not just with the lack of innings pitched floor, but also because we can manipulate the rosters as he did. We don't even have to maintain nine full pitching spots - how many leagues do you play in that have that feature? This is my only one.

Jose Fernandez is a tough "one that got away." I actually had Yasiel Puig in NL LABR with my last reserve pick. I also spent $20 on Roy Halladay before things immediately went downhill in spring training, so I won't break my shoulder patting myself on my back (not saying you were doing anything of the sort). In the last week I've had to get up to speed on both Elias and Billy Burns. Somehow, I don't trust Elias if for no other reason than it's the Mariners that are using him, even though they've had some other pitching successes out of the blue over the last couple of years. But once Iwakuma and Walker are ready, we'll see if Elias is around. My guess is it won't come back to haunt you.

-----Original Message-----
From: "Christopher Liss"
Sent: Thursday, March 27, 2014 6:02pm
To: "Jeff Erickson"
Subject: Re: Charging From Tout

I think the quote you meant to reference is: "Religion is the opiate of the masses," though I never took you to be a Karl Marx enthusiast. I suppose you could view religion as a subset of delusion, depending on your viewpoint, or depending on the religion.

I did get some of my guys - Will Middlebrooks, Dustin Pedroia, Joakim Soria and Derek Jeter. I didn't set out to get John Lackey or Manny Machado, but I guess I like them more than most as I have them both in four leagues now, more shares than I have of any other player. I do tend to find myself on the "genius" side of the divide, but you can only take that so far in an auction where you have to fill all your roster slots with as many at-bats as you can budget. I think the key for the "genius" style is figuring out not only who you love but who you can live with.

I agree on the impulse buys - they usually don't end well. But Kemp certainly has all the qualities Hamilton or Beltran have and more, and while Nathan would have been a safer pick, it is a competitive 15-team league where I'll have to get some big profits to win. I'm fine with it, but you do have to recover from it and stay on course. I'm impressed by your quotes, though - first Marx and then Steven Seagal, two of the greats.

Pianow is going to nail the percentage categories - I don't think there's much doubt with only relievers on the pitching end and Mauer, Pedroia and Cabrera in his lineup. I suppose he could have a Boggs-type blow-up, and losing Chapman hurts. But he's still got guys like Benoit and Uehara who are rock solid. The only thing that can prevent a fourth place or better finish is injuries.

As for Elias and the Mariners, I realize he's a long shot. Even more so because that organization just seems screwed up. First there was the Geoff Baker article where former manager Eric Wedge and assistant Tony Blengino went on record to say how awful GM Jack Zduriencik was, and this week Randy Wolf opted out of his contract because Zduriencik wanted to add a provision that allowed Seattle to cut him early in the year and prorate his salary. I'm not saying Robinson Cano will suddenly forget how to hit, but a negative environment doesn't help anyone. If a "rising tide lifts all boats", maybe a "sinking ship drowns all sailors." Or something like that.