Learning From Last Season – AL Tout

Let’s continue reviewing last year’s teams to see if there are any global lessons to be learned, both positive and negative, and to see where are our missteps were. Previously I covered the results in NL LABR, today let’s hit up AL Tout Wars. Going into this draft, I had more focus and a better sense of my game plan – the oh-so edgy, revolutionary plan of building an offense around Mike Trout. In Tout Wars, as with most “only” leagues, my best teams have been strong offensively, and my worst teams have been when I cut corners there. I think that the equation is different in mixed leagues, where most often the bats are plentiful – at the very least, the playing time is – and elite pitching is more at a premium.

I was able to accomplish that at Tout, though I had to pay very close to my projected price on Trout, and I could have spent even a little bit more to bully the hitting categories. Still, at $189/$260, that’s over 72% of my budget allocated towards the hitting categories.

Did it work? As Gene McCaffrey (and Scott Pianowski) often says, any plan can work, but it has to have the right players. As with NL LABR, I finished in a distant fourth place, this time behind the dynamic duo of Rick Wolf and Glenn Colton. The difference was that the entire league finished distantly behind them – they ran away with a 21-point margin over second place. Full results after the jump, where we can break down whether player selection or general strategy was the greater shortcoming.

 

Rick and Glenn crushed it both offensively and with their pitching. My team picked up only 40 out of a possible 60 points offensively. And the pitching side was worse, chiming in with just 31 points, getting just six points in the ratio categories and finishing dead last in saves.

Let’s start the evaluation with the centerpiece of the plan, Mike Trout. My contention was that he is/was worth every bit of the going rate for him, giving you a big advantage on the field if you buy him, keeping in mind that this is an OBP league and not a BA league. I ended up paying $53 for him. Using our Earned Auction Values tool, setting it for an AL-only league using OBP, spending 72% of my budget on hitting and allowing for players to qualify at a position at 15 games, I found out that I overpaid … by $1, with him earning $52. In a vacuum, that’s totally fine. Surely such a valuable player gave me a really big lead on everyone else, right?

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Herein lies the problem. When Seth Trachtman is getting the same production for $16 cheaper, and Glenn/Rick spent a combined $61 on Ramirez and Lindor for $96 worth of production, you can see how it’s going to be an uphill battle to catch them. Even if you play the woulda/coulda/shoulda game and mention that Trout played only 140 games, you have to do the same thing with Betts, who played in just 136 games.

(By the way, here are the full results of last year’s auction, where you can see the sick bargains by Glenn/Rick and by Lawr Michaels)

Getting only market value on Trout, even with the sick bargains that others got among the elite hitters, in and of itself still wasn’t disqualifying. I allocated a healthy amount to my hitting budget, though my misgivings about Khris Davis turned out to be true. But my second-most expensive hitter, Miguel Cabrera at $24, was a bust, managing just 134 at-bats. Spending so much on Miggy only to see him miss most of the season hurt me more than it might other teams, due to the opportunity cost. It’s too bad, because I had many other good buys, like Mitch Haniger ($13), Matt Olson ($18), Kevin Pillar ($12), Teoscar Hernandez ($1), plus Daniel Robertson and Jake Bauers both on reserve. But you’ll notice that I left one great buy off the list:

Yep – how does one buy Adalberto Mondesi for $1 and still only net five points in stolen bases? By falling way behind in the pitching categories following a string of injuries and busts, and subsequently making a bad panic trade with Vlad Sedler, that’s how! It was in May, and I was already getting production from Robertson and pick up Joey Wendle, so I was pretty comfortable with my MI production, and Mondesi was still stuck at Triple-A Omaha, behind Alcides Escobar at the big league level. Vlad – he’s a crafty one – approached me about trading for Mondesi, knowing that I needed starting pitching help. We ultimately agreed that I would trade Mondesi for … wait for it … ugh … Jaime Garcia, who is now retired. Less than two weeks later, Garcia went on the DL, and my pitching staff remained undermanned, and I missed out on all of Mondesi’s second-half breakout. It was a bad trade, born out of injuries to my starting pitching staff.

I also didn’t draft a closer in this league – that was a bit of a feature, not a bug – I knew that I wouldn’t be able to afford one once I bought both Dallas Keuchel and James Paxton. But spending a combined $11 on Andrew Miller and Ervin Santana were structural mistakes, not mere player evaluation problems. I needed to buy more or better starting pitching with that money, instead of a non-closing reliever and an already-injured starter in Santana. The news on Santana got worse a couple of days after our auction, but when resources are scarce, don’t get stuck price enforcing on a player that is already going to be on the DL to begin the season. I compounded that error by having to fill the last two pitching spots with two more relievers. Once I made the decision to punt closers at the draft table, I should have fished more starting pitcher upside, bullied the wins and strikeouts categories, and given myself more options in the event another one of my starters, *cough* Lance Lynn, turned out to be a performance-bust.

It also didn’t help that my two reserved pitchers, Matt Moore and Joe Smith, were completely worthless – and in the case of Moore, actively harmful.

In addition to the awful, awful Mondesi trade, I made two other deals, which were about equal in impact:

1. I dealt Jake Bauers to Lawr Michaels, getting Hector Rondon in return. In terms of pure value, this was fine. Bauers was mediocre in his rookie season with the Rays, and I had a surplus of hitters, especially at first base. Rondon had 12 saves after the deal, though that came with mediocre ratios (4.37 ERA, 1.49 WHIP and 38 strikeouts in 35 innings). But I still finished last in saves, so this was a waste of a trade asset.

2. I dealt Matt Olson to Chris Liss, getting Andrew Heaney and Hanley Ramirez in return. Hanley had already been released, so I was just taking a chance that he’d get re-signed in a decent hitting ballpark (as Colorado at one point was rumored to pursue him). He never signed elsewhere. Olson was fine for Liss – .244/.335/.445 with 16 homers, 52 RBI and 53 runs. Heaney’s ERA was 4.68 for me, but with a 1.25 WHIP and 122 strikeouts in 123 innings. I’d take that exchange on the trade anytime, especially given my circumstances, though the combined effect of the two trades was to leave me hurting in RBI.

My best free agent purchase was my first one, in Joey Wendle. That’s not entirely surprising – often the final cuts before Opening Day present a buying opportunity for someone to win a roster spot that you didn’t expect, and they produce all season long. That was definitely the case with Wendle. I chased a lot of bad backup catchers to replace Blake Swihart, who I grew impatient with and missed most of his six stolen bases. I had marginally better success with the free agent pitcher pool, though none of them were huge wins. Shane Bieber provided wins and strikeouts, but at the expense of his ratios. LeBlanc was useful and so was Brian Johnson at time, but I didn’t get the big trade deadline free agent – there was little to choose from, and I didn’t choose well. Here’s the full list of free agents added.

Hitters: Joey Wendle, Ronald Guzman, Bobby Wilson, Robbie Grossman, Kyle Higashioka, Kevan Smith, Shane Robinson, Cedric Mullins.

Pitchers: Kevin Jepsen, Brian Johnson, Noe Ramirez, Wade LeBlanc, Shane Bieber, Hector Santiago, Bruce Rondon, Austin Pruitt, Tim Hill, Ryan Stanek, Jeurys Familia, Yonny Chirinos, Trevor Hildenberger, Franmir Valdez.

Overall, I don’t think my plan was all that bad, but the execution failed in two critical steps – I took on too much injury risk, and I didn’t really maximize the advantage of not paying for saves. In retrospect, I’d prefer not to punt any category at the auction table if possible, but if I do so again, I’ll make sure the endgame pieces fit my roster better.