This weekend I participated in the Tout Wars Mixed League auction for the third time - it’s a 15-team league with 14 Hitters, 9 Pitchers, 4 reserves, and a $260 budget. The league has previously used the traditional five hitting and five pitching categories, but this year, in an effort to stay with the times, and perhaps spice things up a bit, the Mixed League will be using On-base Percentage (OBP) in lieu of Batting Average. If you’re curious, here’s the spreadsheet containing the results of the auction (note: Mixed League Auction league results are shown on the second of the four tabs).
Tout Wars doesn’t have a relegation system for those who finish near the bottom of the standings, but there is still a penalty for those who do so - for every point an owner falls below a given threshold, the owner has one dollar subtracted from their $100 Free Agent Acquisition Budget (FAAB) for the following season. Since I fell 29 points shy of the 75-point threshold last season, I enter the 2013 season with just $71 to spend on free agents (0 bids are allowed on current major leaguers; there’s a $1 minimum bid required for current minor leaguers). At this point you may be wondering how I managed to fall so far short of the threshold in 2012:
- I made Troy Tulowitzki the cornerstone of my offense
- I made Roy Halladay the cornerstone of my pitching staff
- I managed to purchase a group of outfielders almost totally devoid of power (it wouldn’t have been a competitive group even in an “only” league)
- I left $5 on the table at the end of the auction (well, not really, but my last purchase was Scott Baker for $6, and the only reason I spent $6 on him instead of $1 was to take advantage of the Tout Constitution provision that allows an owner to release a DL’d player and reclaim some portion of his purchase price as additional FAAB money)
While the FAAB penalty may not come with the same physical or psychological stigma as a scarlet letter (at least not yet), I knew I had to do things differently in 2013 in order to avoid becoming the Hester Prynne of Tout Wars. I realized I would have to have a better auction than I did last year because I’ll have less FAAB to correct any “mistakes” I might make during the auction. So here are the “rules” I gave myself during my preparation for the auction:
- Avoid buying any players who were injured at the time of the auction, no matter how “minor” the injury might seem, or how soon the player was expected to return
- Avoid buying any players expected to start the season in the minors, no matter how talented they were or how soon they were expected to be called up
- Purchase three reliable closers at the auction for as little money as possible
- Purchase two top-tier starting pitchers, but fill in the four remaining rotation spots with inexpensive options
- Supplement the shortcomings in my starting pitching resulting from Rule #4 by using all four of my picks in the four-round reserve draft on starting pitchers in hopes of cobbling together a Stream Team staff
As for the auction itself I did two things differently than I’d done my first two years in the league:
- I created a specific list of players I wanted to nominate, namely second-tier closers. Usually, it’s the top-rated closers who are nominated first, and a certain subset of owners sit out the bidding in hopes of nabbing several second-tier closers for less money. I reasoned that if I nominated those second tier closers earlier in the auction than people were used to having to make decisions on them, I might create some confusion that would hopefully result in some arbitrage opportunities for me. Before the auction I looked at all 30 teams’ closer situations and classified the teams as having either (1) top-tier closers who were healthy (8 teams), (2) second-tier closers who were healthy (14 teams), or (3) closing situations that were “unpredictable” (i.e. - a mess) or in which the closer was injured, such as Jason Motte (8 teams).
- I decided to pay more attention to purchasing stats than I did to which players I purchased or what position(s) they played. This might seem like a subtle difference, but before I decided whether to bid on a specific player, I would look at where I currently stood in relation to the targets I’d set for each of the ten categories, then see whether that player would make it easier to hit my overall targets. Sure, every player contributes something in at least the counting categories, but if you load up on power hitters who don’t run much, you might end up having to overpay for “speed guys” later in the auction, and vice versa. Similarly, if you load up on pitchers with high K/9 rates but subpar expected ERAs and/or WHIPs, you’ll have a hard time making up for that later in an auction.
So, how did things work out (i.e. - how closely was I able to stick to the “rules” I’d set for myself)?
- I avoided purchasing any players who were injured at the time of the auction (i.e. - no David Ortiz, Chase Headley, Adam Eaton, Curtis Granderson, or Mark Teixeira for me). Unfortunately, I did purchase Tyler Greene for $6 - he was essentially released (by the Astros!) the morning after the auction took place. And unlike players who are put on the DL, there doesn’t appear to be any provision in the Tout Constitution to allow owners to reclaim FAAB dollars for players who are released, arrested for committing felonies, or kidnapped by extraterrestrials. Call it my “stupidity” penalty (or a “bad luck” penalty, if you’re feeling kind).
- I avoided purchasing any players who were expected to begin the season in the minors (i.e. - no Oscar Taveras, Zack Wheeler, Wil Myers, or Jurickson Profar for me)
- I purchased two closers from my list of second-tier options (Rafael Betancourt, Jason Grilli), but decided that prices were too high for me to afford a third, so I held my nose and did a dumpster dive into the third group, emerging with Carlos Marmol. In retrospect spending an extra dollar on Tom Wilhelmsen or going after Bobby Parnell rather than Marmol might have been smarter, but c’est la vie.
- I got my two top-tier starting pitchers in Yu Darvish and R.A. Dickey (no, I don’t think A.L. hitters are any more proficient at hitting hard-thrown knuckleballs than N.L. hitters are). Neither came cheaply, but both are potential Cy Young award winners. The four pitchers I purchased for a dollar each were Ervin Santana, Bud Norris, Vance Worley, and Jason Vargas (yikes - just noticed now that all four are A.L. pitchers - as Rick Perry might say, “Oops!”)
- There were still a surprising number of starting pitchers I thought were worth speculating on when we reached the four-round reserve draft. I was tempted to draft the injured(?) Phil Hughes at this point, but decided it still wasn’t worth taking someone who would probably require at least a $1 FAAB bid to replace with someone I’d actually want on my team. The four I took were Carlos Villanueva, Jhoulys Chacin, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Lucas Harrel - at least I got a couple of N.L. pitchers this time! They’re likely streaming options at best, but at least Chacin and Jimenez have some track record of success (dare I say “dominance”?) when they’ve been healthy.
One final point worth mentioning - for most of the time I’ve been participating in fantasy baseball auctions I’ve been much more in the value-based camp than the “stars and scrubs” camp. However, seeking to avoid having money left over at the end of the auction (cough, Scott Baker, cough), I decided to employ a different approach this time, accepting that I’d likely have to “overpay” on a few players in order to maintain the statistical balance I was aiming for across all categories. Auctions become a game of patience when you take this approach and reach the “Dollar Daze” phase, but again, my FAAB deficiencies for the coming season necessitated a different approach during the auction.
Coincidentally (or maybe not), KFFL’s Tim Heaney, whom I’ve observed to be a value-based guy too in the past, took a similar approach, and the two of us were the last ones to finish filling out our 23-man rosters; Tim wound up with six dollar players on his roster, while I have seven on mine - too bad that’s not a statistical category!
No one knows for sure how things will play out in our league over the next six months, but I walked away from the experience feeling good that I’d come up with a game plan for dealing with the FAAB constraint I faced and managed to execute it more or less the way I’d envisioned it beforehand.