What Went Wrong – AL Tout Wars

It’s often said that you learn more from your mistakes and defeats than in your victories. 2016 was not one of my best fantasy baseball seasons. I won one league and finished in money spots in three others (not all were $ leagues), but all in all I came in short of expectations. Winning one league is a baseline expectation when you play in 10+ leagues every year. Even worse, I finished last in AL Tout Wars, was never competitive in the NFBC Main Event and had a couple of other bottom-division leagues. So I’ll have plenty of opportunities to learn, I suppose!

I’m going to try to break down each of my leagues to determine what went wrong and what I (and hopefully, you!) can learn from it. Mistakes clearly were made, but was there a consistent theme? Do I make strategy errors more often than not? Was I overlooking a particular category? Or was it simply a case of player evaluation error?

Let’s dispense with the notion that I was unlucky – yes, I’m sure in some cases I was, but baseball is a long-haul sport, and fantasy baseball is an endeavor where everyone is unlucky to some extent. No, it doesn’t even out, but we all have adversity to deal with, and how we address that adversity helps define our season.

We’ll start out with my worst team – AL Tout Wars. After a string of near-misses and money finishes, I sank to the bottom in 2016. Dead last, with lead weights tied around my ankles:

Seth Trachtman 10.0 10.0 10.0 10.0 5.0 11.0 9.0 8.0 5.0 8.0 86.0 -0.5
Patrick Davitt 5.0 8.0 6.0 11.0 9.0 12.0 1.0 11.0 12.0 6.0 81.0 6.0
Chris Liss 4.0 3.5 8.0 6.0 6.0 5.0 7.0 12.0 11.0 12.0 74.5 -2.0
Rick Wolf/Glenn Colton 6.0 7.0 7.0 12.0 11.0 7.5 5.0 2.0 1.0 11.0 69.5 -1.5
Lawr Michaels 7.0 1.0 3.0 5.0 4.0 9.5 10.0 9.0 10.0 9.0 67.5 -3.0
Ron Shandler 9.0 12.0 11.0 3.0 3.0 3.0 11.5 5.0 3.0 7.0 67.5 1.5
Rob Leibowitz 11.0 11.0 12.0 2.0 10.0 2.0 4.0 6.0 7.0 2.0 67.0 0.5
Larry Schechter 8.0 3.5 5.0 8.0 8.0 7.5 3.0 7.0 8.0 4.5 62.5 -4.5
Steve Moyer 12.0 9.0 9.0 7.0 12.0 1.0 6.0 1.0 2.0 1.0 60.0 -0.5
Mike Podhorzer 3.0 6.0 4.0 9.0 7.0 9.5 2.0 4.0 4.0 10.0 58.5 2.0
Jason Collette 1.0 5.0 1.0 1.0 1.0 6.0 11.5 10.0 9.0 4.5 50.0 3.0
Jeff Erickson 2.0 2.0 2.0 4.0 2.0 4.0 8.0 3.0 6.0 3.0 36.0 -1.0

Ouch. That’s not even within a standard deviation of the next pack. The offense was clearly a brutal disaster – there but for the grace of Jason Collette, I could have been last in four of five categories. In fact, in three of those categories I was much closer to 12th than I was 10th.

As luck would have it, I blogged about this team after the draft, so we can look at exactly what the hell I was thinking. AL Tout Wars is an auction league, 5×5 categories, but with OBP replacing batting average.

Post-draft, this was my roster:

C – Chirinos, C. Perez
1B/3B/CR – Fielder, Machado, Longoria
2B/SS/MI – Giavotella, Tulowitzki, Infante
OF – Springer, Hicks, R. Davis, Byrd
UT/SW – Colabello, Profar
SP – Archer, Iwakuma, Severino, Tomlin, Fister, Shoemaker
RP – W. Davis, Benoit, Colome

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Strategic Issues:

Budget split: $171 hitting, $89 pitching. I spent 65.7% of my budget on hitting, while the league as a whole had a 71/29 split – much of that coming from Steve Moyer having a 248/12 split. If you remove Moyer from the equation, the league split was 68/32. My preference is to go with a higher percentage of my budget on hitting, somewhere in the 70-75% range, so I fell short there. Given that I totaled 12 points in offense last year, I think you can guess which direction I’ll move back towards in 2017. This was problematic, but not ultimately decisive – just one log on the fire.

Roster Gaps: But it’s not just a matter of blindly spending on offense. One of the implications of spending big on offense is that you shouldn’t have any holes in the five hitting categories, and that’s often accomplished by not having dead roster spots. I came out of this draft knowing that I had problems at catcher (Robinson Chirinos and Carlos Perez) and second base (Johnny Giavotella and Omar Infante), and that I was light on speed – and that’s before Manny Machado decided to stop running. Scarily enough, that was my best offensive category, underscoring how badly I failed. The outfield also had too many part-time players – Hicks, Davis and Byrd were all time-share guys, and their best splits were against LHP’s pitchers, thus likely limiting playing time. Both my UT and my “Swing” batter were also part-time guys in Chris Colabello and Jurickson Profar.

Player Evaluation:

Even the worst teams can have a few things go right. Manny Machado remained a star and earned shortstop eligibility, Alex Colome was a big hit as a cheap closer, and Josh Tomlin was a fantastic endgame SP. But too many of my big money purchases underperformed, and many of my mid-tier purchases were complete whiffs. It probably didn’t help to have not one but two batters suspended for testing positive for performance-enhancing substances. Here’s the brutal price vs. earned comparison, using our Earned Auction Values tool.

Hitter:                                    Price:  Earned:

Manny Machado                  $33      $30
George Springer                   $33      $30
Prince Fielder                       $27       $0*
Troy Tulowitzki                    $20      $15
Evan Longoria                      $19      $24
Aaron Hicks                          $11       $0
Rajai Davis                            $10      $16
Robinson Chirinos               $9        $0
Johnny Giavotella                $2        $1
Marlon Byrd                          $2        $0
Omar Infante                        $2        $0
Jurickson Profar                   $1        $0
Chris Colabello                      $1        $0
Carlos Perez                           $1        $0

TOTAL                                  $171    $116

* Our earned values stop at $0, rather than descend into negative values, so this gruesome result actually understates the case. Only two players provided a profit (Longoria and Davis), and a whopping eight of the 14 hitters purchased did not provide any positive value. No matter how well you trade or fare on the waiver wire, it’s going to be nearly impossible to overcome that shortfall. I had six endgame batters that cost $1 or $2, and none of them returned net positive value.

Prince Fielder was the biggest disappointment. It looked in 2015 as if he had fully recovered from the neck injury that had destroyed his previous season, hitting .305/.373/.463 with 23 homers. I thought it possible for him to hit for a little more power in 2016, but clearly the opposite occurred. He couldn’t drive the ball, and it became apparent that he wasn’t healthy, and ultimately he didn’t merely end his season, but his career. Aaron Hicks was another bad miss. At $11, he used up critical marginal dollars and a big spot, whereas similarly priced players were big profit sources. For instance, Jackie Bradley Jr. was only $5 in the auction. Other $11 players included Jarrod Dyson and Didi Gregorious – not jackpots, but still positive valued players.

Pitcher:                             Price:   Earned:

Chris Archer                     $27       $12
Wade Davis                       $23      $10
Hisashi Iwakuma            $15       $10
Luis Severino                    $11       $0
Alex Colome                     $6         $15
Joaquin Benoit                 $4        $0
Josh Tomlin                      $1         $8
Doug Fister                        $1         $1
Matt Shoemaker              $1          $8*

TOTAL                               $89      $64

* I didn’t actually collect on Shoemaker’s profit – more on that in the “in-season management” section.

Archer and Davis were admitted overpays at the time of the auction, and they ended up worse than expected. Archer got bombed early and often, but at least recovered over the second half. Davis, a jump bid faux pas that cost me at least $2 in the auction, lost velocity on his fastball before hitting the DL with flexor tendon issue. We’re allowed to reclaim FAAB money if you cut a player on the DL, and thinking that he was done for the year, I did so with Davis, thus missing out on his six September saves (see also “in-season management”).

Severino was my biggest talent evaluation whiff – once again, that “$0” doesn’t truly reflect how bad he was. As for Benoit, I was right to doubt Steve Cishek holding onto the Mariners’ closer job, I just landed on the wrong replacement.

In-Season Management:

I tend to be an aggressive FAAB bidder early in the season, more so when I have obvious holes to fill. Alas, obvious solutions don’t always emerge, nor are you guaranteed to hit the right price or the right player with those bids. I churned through a lot of players on the waiver wire with very little to show for it. While trying to improve at catcher, I rostered such luminaries as Bobby Wilson, Bryan Holaday and Juan Centeno (Gary Sanchez was drafted in our league). None did anything for me except drain my FAAB. Attempts at other players drew similar results, and by the time the trade deadline came around, I didn’t have nearly enough FAAB to win Jonathan Lucroy, who not only fit my team but was one of the few big names moving over to the AL last year. My one positive foray on the free agent market was to speculate on Alex Bregman’s callup, winning him with a bid of $23/$1,000 of my FAAB. I did the same with Joe Musgrove to a lesser extent. I need to do more of that in the future – it’s easier to land an impact player in that method, for a cheaper cost.

Making matters worse, I gave up too soon on Shoemaker, cutting him before all of his good outings. So my net -$25 in pitching was more on the order of -$40.

Tout Wars is a tough trading league, but it can be done – I just didn’t get anything accomplished. I held onto Fielder too long, with the wanton hope of him earning any value at all.

Overall, if I had to rank my order of failure, it would be draft structure first (relying too much on cheap bats in an AL-only environment), player evaluation second and in-season management third. But they were all atrocious. We’ll do better next season.