Trout Wars

Last weekend was my 18th year in AL Tout Wars, a league that to my everlasting chagrin I’ve won only once, back in 2007. Even a Nutless Monkey, one might even say *the* Nutless Monkey, Chris Liss, has two Tout Wars titles. Speaking of which, you can read more about his Red Cross garbage team here, as well as his nostalgic trip to Staten Island when he was five.

Our venue was pretty sweet – we were in the home team locker room of the Staten Island Yankees at Richmond County Ballpark, a Short-Season affiliate of the big league club. A number of the touts got their rips in the batting cage and a handful went out onto the field, which overlooks New York Bay, the Staten Island Ferry and the skyline of Manhattan with an absolutely gorgeous view.

(not my photo, just in case you thought live baseball was being played in March in NYC – photo from NYCgo.com)

We took the Ferry to get to the ballpark, which is a block from the station. So even though the trip from midtown Manhattan to the ballpark was a little over an hour in total, it was a pretty easy trip – and a chance to check the box that I’ve done it at least once. Our draft room was pretty sweet, too:

A nice touch was that they had our name plates over the lockers, along with a couple of keepsakes in each locker (no, we didn’t get to keep the uniforms).

The last change regarding the logistics of the draft was the start time. Typically the AL auction is in the morning on Saturday, followed by the Mixed League auction in the afternoon. That’s really just pertinent to me and not anyone else in the draft, as I’m the auctioneer in the Mixed. We switched the two this year, and I was a little wiped out after the first auction. Fortunately I had a little over an hour to recuperate, but I’d prefer to go back to the old order if I had my druthers.

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Ok, enough about the draft logistics, let’s move on to the draft itself. I had a Plan A and a Plan B going into the auction. Both plans demanded a heavy emphasis on spending on my hitting. Simply put, it’s nearly impossible in an “only” league to find non-catcher free agent hitters on the waiver wire, short of a prospect getting an earlier-than-expected call-up or a player coming over from the National League. My better teams in this league have always done well in the hitting categories, and my worst team just died in the hitting categories due to a dearth of at-bats. I wanted to spend at least 70% of my budget ($182 in auction dollars) on hitting, leaving room to get all the way up to $200 if the prices were right.

Plan A was to get Mike Trout. In industry/expert leagues, the elite players infrequently cost full price. It’s really hard to get past certain price thresholds to begin with, and everyone wants to avoid looking like a fanboy. Last year, Trout went for $47 to the eventual champion, Fangraph.com’s Mike Podhorzer, and a mere $42 in AL LABR. My numbers this year had him worth $55 in Tout, and others have him even higher. Of course, he’s worth more in Tout than he is in LABR because we use OBP instead of batting average – so his .440+ OBP’s the last two years have a gargantuan impact. Plan A allocated $50 to spend on him, with some leeway to go $2-3 higher, and back him up with two $25 hitters. Plan B was to snag Jose Altuve and Josh Donaldson for a combined $70-$75 and then back them up with another $25 hitter. Either way, I was committed to spending on hitting – it only makes sense to me that if you invest in an upper-tier hitter, you place on emphasis on the hitting categories. Just the same, if you go after one (or two) of the “Big Four” starting pitchers this year (Kershaw, Kluber, Scherzer, Sale), you need to be all-in on the pitching ratio categories.

Trout came out in the first orbit of nominations – seven players in. Liss had already lost his mind* in buying Kluber, Sale and Stanton, so he clearly wasn’t in. Podhorzer was in on the bidding, which was completely expected, as were the team of Rick Wolf & Glenn Colton. They too frequently go after the high-end players in their auction within their system, so I wasn’t surprised that they were in it. I was surprised, however, that they were hanging around when it hit $49. Mike hit the magic $50 barrier (often an artificial endpoint that auction players don’t like to cross – frequently you’ll see players stop at denominations ending in “9” – probably for the same reason you see so many items marketed as $9.99, etc…) and probably thought that the bidding was done, begrudgingly paying more than last year. I waited a beat (not much more – auctioneer Joe Pisapia kept a quick pace, one that I prefer in auctions) before hitting the $51 – Mike appeared surprised, agonized a bit and then went $52, before I had to do the same with the ultimate winning $53 bid. The die was cast – I “won” Trout Wars – how would I follow it up? It’s noteworthy that Mike ultimately started with my Plan B – getting Altuve ($38) and Donaldson ($32). It’s my opinion he netted about $6 in profit combined between the two players, whereas I got $3 in profit with Trout – albeit with one player. Either route would have “worked” according to my strategy.

* Liss may not have called it as such, but this roughly was The Plan 2.0 – and he has had quite a bit of success with this auction style. It actually makes a lot of sense, but I can’t resist taking a gratuitous shot at him whenever I can.

Here are the full results to the auction (click on the “American League” tab if you click over to the Google doc.), and my squad is here:

My dollar value allocation was $189/$71 – I wish I would have kept it closer to $195/$65, but I also have the power of hindsight in knowing now that Ervin Santana is farther than I expected in returning from his finger injury. It was hard to find the $25 players to support Trout – so many of those players that I thought I might get at that level were chased up to $29-30, and so many of the $20 players were chased up to $25. In retrospect, I wish I would have jumped on Khris Davis (won by Lawr Michaels at $27) or even added another $30 player behind Trout. Speed in particular was rather expensive – Delino DeShields cost $23, and Mallex Smith cost $16, just as two examples of the inflationary prices on speed.

A few notes on individual players purchased:

Matt Olson, $18: Is he the next Brett Lawrie, in terms of breaking in halfway through the season and tearing it up over a short number of at-bats before cratering into a pumpkin? Or is there something sustainable here? He draws a lot of obvious comparisons to Rhys Hoskins, though with a far less feted minor league career. Olson was the first player out of the chute, and I had him valued at $23 despite downgrading his projection slightly prior to the draft. Maybe I’m too credulous with these first-time breakout players – it used to be a leak of mine that I was too skeptical and often missed out on the breakout guys.

Dallas Keuchel, James Paxton, both $18: No, $18 wasn’t some magical number for me – but in all three cases I had rough slots at $20, 18, $15 – and these three fit that pretty well. I knew that going with the Trout plan and the heavy offensive allocation, I wouldn’t have room for the top two tiers of starters. When Liss grabbed both Sale and Kluber, I was pretty happy, because I didn’t think that those second-tier starters would be as affordable as they were in AL LABR – one less team had an ace, so there was greater urgency to get one of those other top-of-the-rotation starters for much of the room. Here’s how the prices compared:

(Pitcher, LABR, Tout)

Carlos Carrasco, $25, $28
Justin Verlander, $24, $25
Luis Severino, $26, $28
Chris Archer, $23, $23
Gerrit Cole, $21, $26

Meanwhile, Keuchel went for $18 and Paxton went for $21 respectively at LABR. There were three participants that play in both leagues – Wolf/Colton, Lawr Michaels and Larry Schechter. Larry was the Kluber owner in LABR ($37) and the Carrasco owner in Tout. I wonder if he simply wanted to diversify, or if Carrasco was his pivot once Liss did his thing? Meanwhile, Wolf/Colton topped their LABR staff with Archer and their Tout staff with Severino. Lawr stayed out of the ace tier in both leagues, and also bought Craig Kimbrel in both leagues ($25 in LABR, $24 in Tout), instead of paying for an ace.

Andrew Miller $6, Emilio Pagan $1, Juan Nicasio $1: I approached this auction knowing it was unlikely that I’d buy a closer, but instead I’d try to find 2-3 set-up guys and hope to back into a few saves while posting good ratios. I’ll still try to compete in the category, whether it be via free agency or trade. In a trade league with no overall prize, it’s not required or even necessarily optimal that you emerge with a balanced roster – the auction is more of an exercise in acquiring perceived value. Moreover, in today’s game with fewer starting pitchers going deep, the best set-up guys are more valuable than ever, even in a 5×5 league. I didn’t plan on getting Miller – I thought he’d approach the $11 he fetched in LABR – but it was a happy accident, for sure. $6 seemed to be the going rate in this league for the best non-closing relievers – Chad Green, Alex Claudio and Dellin Betances also went for $6, while the two top Astros set-up guys (Chris Devenski, Brad Peacock) combined to go $12, at $4 and $8 respectively.

Overall, I like this team better than last year’s effort and better than my NL LABR auction from two weeks ago. I did a better job of sticking to my plan and remaining disciplined – there weren’t many impulse purchases. My OBP should be great – it better be – and my pitching actually turned out better than expected. If anything, I might be a little light on power, but the good news is that my mostly spot to replace will be the UT and SW (“swingman”) spots – meaning any hitter with a pulse can be slotted in there.