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Thursday 30th Mar 2017

This past weekend was the culmination of the annual industry draft season with Tout Wars, held in New York City. I am back for 2017 with the goal of winning my second National League-only title against some very challenging competitors, including defending champion Todd Zola of Mastersball.

I am not going into a player-by-player analysis of my draft. Since I don’t find it all that interesting to recap myself, I am guessing it would not be too enlightening to you, either. (However, you can reference all of the Tout drafts via this Google doc.)

Not unlike many of your leagues, perhaps, most of the NL Tout participants have been at this for many years. Couple that with their strong knowledge of the player base and the fact that a number of industry leagues in which we participate have already been held, it means there really are not that many secrets.

In fact, one of my industry friends told me that because I had already drafted a team in NL LABR, my 2017 strategy, player and pricing preferences were known.

That was not the case. For example, I went with one of the top catchers in Tout, Willson Contreras, for $16, after spending just half of that combined on my catchers in LABR. That required me to spend less on one of my outfielders in Tout. There was some risk here because the under-$10 outfield pool was thin.

Even if that was not the situation, I always try to keep enough cash at the end to avoid dollar days. The main reason is that I want to be able to get the best players in the end game without being repeatedly picked off by others. Of course, as in everything, moderation is needed or one could end up leaving cash (and stats) on the table.

In the late part of the draft, I was pleased to acquire Michael Saunders ($7) and Andrew Toles ($6) to complete my outfield. This part of my plan worked especially well as I had $3 remaining for my final player, which I successfully bid on who I consider the best power prospect who should come up this season, Cody Bellinger of the Dodgers.

Looking back, one wouldn’t have learned much about my supposed favored players. I have just five common names across both Tout and LABR and none are what I consider core players – Jose Reyes ($14), David Peralta ($16) and Toles along with pitchers Jon Gray ($13) and Tyler Anderson ($2).

While there are always players I like better than others, there is no one I would pursue at all costs. For example, I had hoped to acquire Carlos Martinez to anchor my staff, but I backed out of the bidding when it became clear I would have to pay at least $27 and perhaps even more.

My primary strategy is to establish a core group of players from among a group of candidates and then look for value the rest of the way. I do not come in with the intention to punt any categories, though my OBP may require intervention.

Another tenet I follow is to avoid the peak-price players (generally over $30). Even so, my core as drafted is solid. They include a steals leader, Dee Gordon ($26), an OBP and power threat in Christian Yelich ($28), an ace in Jake Arrieta ($22) and a top closer in Mark Melancon ($20). This gives me a good start at a balanced performance.

Another important factor in an only-league is to maximize counting stats. On offense, that means getting 14 players with clear starting jobs. Finding hitters via waivers in-season who can contribute can be quite challenging. On the pitching side, I go starter-heavy. I may have to jettison one or two down the line, but my experience is that setup men with good ratios are always available on the waiver wire.

From a budget perspective, I came in with a general plan as to how much I would spend for each position based on potential target players, but use that as a guideline rather than a strict rule. In terms of hitting-pitching balance, I planned for a $182-$78 split and ended up at $185-$75. The league average was $183-$77. However, two of my colleagues were at the opposite extremes.

Defending champion Zola went heavy on pitching, spending $103 on arms, while Phil Hertz of BaseballHQ allocated $201 for offense. I asked each about their respective strategies.

Zola did not plan for this mix, but went where he saw value, keeping a mind toward trading later. (I did the same thing in acquiring steals.)

“I spent an extra $15-$20 on pitching which can be accounted for in two areas: Madison Bumgarner and a third closer,” Zola said. “I budgeted about $20 for my staff anchor, but when MadBum came in a few bucks under where I expected him to land (bought at $29), I decided to take that and not risk the next tier selling higher than expected. The plan at that time was to take away $10 from the rest of the staff, but it obviously didn't work out that way.

“The third closer was taking what the market gave me. I already had Seung Hwan Oh and Raisel Iglesias. After buying Iglesias, my thinking was to nominate every remaining saves candidate so no one would go really cheap. Then I realized if someone does go cheap, why shouldn't I be the recipient?

“There's obviously trading and it's really hard to get a surplus in a category from which to deal. Maybe I have more confidence that Brandon Maurer fends off Carter Capps, but if proven correct, I have a commodity to deal. If no one else trusts Maurer to hold the job, I can even deal Oh and compete in saves with just Iglesias and Maurer,” Zola concluded.

Hertz came in with a plan and executed it.

“I used ‘total control drafting’ in that I decided in advance to spend $205-210 on hitting and $50-55 on pitching,” Hertz said. “I targeted several players, notably Kris Bryant ($37), Billy Hamilton ($26) and Freddie Freeman ($39), as guys I wanted to build my team around. I also decided to neglect catching and in all likelihood saves.

“Regarding Hamilton, I decided that I would get him early -- he was the second guy I threw out -- and if successful, then I could pretty much 'ignore' speed the rest of the draft. I actually got him for less than I budgeted, which allowed me to go higher than my budget on Freeman.

“On the pitching side, my plan was to get two mid-tier starters, two or three upside starters, and then some guys who had a shot at closing at some point this year. I thought that would cost me $50-55. I spent a little more, in part because I wound up with three second tier guys (although one is Steven Matz and that money might be a waste).

“I was also very happy with the upside options I wound up with, including Wily Peralta in the reserve rounds. On the save side, I got what I wanted -- indeed right now I'm projected to get four points in saves, since three other owners wound up with even less in that realm than I,” said Hertz.

So there you have it – a look into how I approached the NL Tout draft as well as a view of two peers who had very different approaches. May you apply that which can help you and ignore the rest. No matter what, here is hoping you have successful drafts this spring!

 

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 18-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter @B_Walton.

Last Sunday evening in Phoenix, I once again had the pleasure of competing against fellow industry analysts and long-time friends at the 2017 League of Alternative Baseball Reality National League draft (LABR-NL). An exciting four-hour auction battle covered live on SiriusXM Radio ensued.

Rather than blather on about my team, which you can see among the others here, I will review several of the trends I experienced in hopes they might assist you in your preparation this spring.

I am rarely active early in auction drafts, preferring to get a feel for prices - but that changed this year. The gold standard for NL closers, Kenley Jansen, was the second player thrown out. Being caught with a minimal saves total in 2016 due to a failed gamble to cobble together saves in-season may have cost me the title. I had a firm hold on second-place most of the year, but saw no way to the top other than to attempt a Hail Mary play in September in which I made a series of trades to try to recover five lost months of saves in one month. It failed and I fell to third in the end. I vowed to not repeat that in 2017.

Obviously, at the point Jansen was thrown out on Sunday, the market for saves – or anything else, for that matter - had not yet been established, but I quickly decided to jump in, anyway. I paid a fair price of $22, but it soon became clear that it was not a bargain. The other top closers went in the $17-18 range with the next tier in the $11 neighborhood. Had I shown more patience, I would not have rostered as good of a closer as Jansen, but I could easily have saved $4-5.

Speaking of closers, though Fernando Rodney was part of my 2016 draft, I could still appreciate his appeal as a cheap $5 lottery pick. The proven closer on an improving team was a nice low-risk buy for Glenn Colton and Rick Wolf. Overall, the closer market was depressed, and in fact, much later on, I was able to roster both Hector Neris and Jeanmar Gomez for a total of $6. Unless Joaquin Benoit slips in and could hold the job in Philadelphia – which I doubt - I should have a leg up on saves this year with two NL teams’ ninth-innings covered. That would be a nice luxury in a 12-team format.

Jansen’s $22 price reminds me of another player who went for the same amount – Javier Baez. The Cubs star’s eligibility at second, third and short definitely has value – especially in a format in which active players cannot be moved to reserve unless injured or sent to the Minors. Still, I always pay special attention to prominent players on the prior season’s World Championship club for evidence of the halo effect. Since the Cubs just have a lot of very good players, I don’t know if it was truly a factor in why Baez’ price seemed high.

Since my primary volition is writing about the St. Louis Cardinals, which is well-known among my peers, anytime a St. Louis player is thrown out, I can feel a dozen pair of eyes moving to me. As seems often to be the case, my knowledge of the players’ warts as well as their strengths meant I ended the draft with zero members of the team. One surprising winning bid to me was $5 on Michael Wacha. If his shoulder continues to hold up, the right-hander will be worth double that price – or he could end up back on the disabled list – a risk I chose not to take.

One Cardinal who I did chase - and stayed in the bidding too long - was Carlos Martinez. While I like the young right-hander a lot, a duel with Perry Van Hook, drafting for Lenny Melnick, quickly escalated over $20. I admit I was relieved (and went church-mouse quiet) when Perry said, “$24”.

One of my perhaps more questionable choices was spending $15 on Pirates third baseman Jung-ho Kang, in limbo after his third DWI conviction in Korea. Concern by others at the table over the uncertain length of a likely suspension coupled with the unproven Josh Bell at first led to the price about which I was most surprised. David Freese sold for $9, a player I had in the $3 area. Despite Bell’s inexperience, he still was rostered for a robust $19, so it appears at least two others at the table were less concerned about his rookie season. Even so, the Bucs also have John Jaso as a first base option. He went for just $1, a deal I like far better than $9 for Freese.

I felt like I had plenty of choices at first base, but I found myself in a bit of a jam after bailing out perhaps too early on several of the big names, whose prices were high for my tastes. By the time my list was down to two primary choices, I did not go $23 on Brandon Belt, but ended up having to spend the same on Adrian Gonzalez. The alternative was to have to accept a lesser player at the position.

In terms of the competition, I can find something to like on every roster, but I especially admire the top end of the pitching staff of Steve Gardner - Max Scherzer, Zack Greinke and Kenta Maeda – acquired for a total of $55. Derek Van Riper also has a strong and deep rotation with Johnny Cueto, Jameson Taillon, Jeff Samardzija, Jerad Eickhoff and Ivan Nova. In part due to his usual strategy of minimal spend on pitching, $30 in total, 2016 second-place finisher Doug Dennis assembled a formidable offense, with just one hitter under $10 (Wilmer Flores at $7).

Following the LABR drafts, Lawr Michaels and I recorded a podcast with the leagues’ host, Steve Gardner of USA TODAY. We of course recap the AL and NL action, respectively. Check out the podcast here.

 

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 18-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter @B_Walton.

The last couple of weeks, we looked at the top contenders for the Cy Young Awards and Most Valuable Player Award races in the American and National Leagues.

This time around, my focus is Rookies of the Year.

In the Senior Circuit, the situation is not unlike the MVP race, in that there is a clear front-runner, but the AL winner may come down to the wire.

Like Kris Bryant of the Chicago Cubs seems a shoo-in for the NL MVP, Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager looks to be in the driver’s seat for the league’s top first-year player honors. In fact, Seager is the only rookie to receive serious mention in the MVP race, with an fWAR for the season second among all NL players, behind only Bryant (7.6 to 8.4).

Three other National League middle infielders should also receive respectable vote totals. Colorado’s Trevor Story got off to a very impressive start, but just as with St. Louis’ Aledmys Diaz, injuries slowed their first-year impact. Story was done for the year at the end of July, but by then amassed 27 home runs, while Diaz is being eased back into action late in the season.

Trea Turner of the Nationals took awhile to stick, but once he did, Washington added a plus bat and a player who can cover second and short as well as center field. Had Turner arrived in April and played this well all year long, it could have been a two-horse race with Seager.

The top NL rookie pitchers are imports. Kenta Maeda of the Dodgers does not blow hitters away, but mastered four pitches he can locate on demand and has already won 16 games. Seung-hwan Oh of St. Louis had over 300 career saves in Korea and Japan, but was setting up until Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal ran into injury and inefficiency. Since taking over the ninth in late July, Oh has been lights-out.

The American League Rookie of the Year race looks to be a toss-up.

In the first half, the award seemed headed for the engraver with Michael Fulmer’s name on it. The 23-year-old right-hander has faded since the break, but is still leading the league with his 2.95 ERA.

Now, the momentum is with Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez. As Hall of Famer Greg Maddux once famously said, “Chicks dig the long ball.” Despite having played in just 49 games this season and not becoming a regular until August, Sanchez has 20 home runs, reaching that mark faster than any player in MLB history. I think that is the 23-year-old’s ticket to the award.

In another year, Seattle closer Edwin Diaz could and perhaps should win. Despite not getting as much attention in the Northwest, the 22-year-old has fanned a whopping 82 in just 48 1/3 innings and saved 17 of 20 opportunities.

Two other early AL contenders have also fallen off a bit as the season wore on, but have bright careers ahead. Both are outfielders – Texas’ Nomar Mazara and Cleveland’s Tyler Naquin.

My prediction is that Seager will be the 2016 National League Rookie of the Year, with the controversial majority choice of Sanchez edging out Fulmer for the American League honor.

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 17-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

Those who read my columns regularly (when they are actually about fantasy baseball league rules) may recall that I often stress two things. One is to religiously follow your league constitution to the letter wherever possible. The other is to keep your league rules fresh and current.

Ideally, if the latter is executed well, the former can more easily follow. However, being realistic, no set of rules, no matter how comprehensive they are, can handle every possible situation. Or can they?

In one of my keeper leagues, populated by a group of highly-experienced, opinionated and very busy industry players, a problem recently presented itself that brought this to life. When submitting keepers this past fall, one owner inadvertently listed a player at first base and outfield, when in reality, the player had lost his prior eligibility at first.

For the November auction draft, the player in question was placed at first base on the keeper roster, but no one noticed the problem until afterward. Now, the situation had multiplied. This owner had six outfielders and no corner infielder, with no multi-position eligibility players who could be shifted. In other words, an illegal roster had been drafted.

The good news in the bad is that not only had this happened before in the league, but a rule change had been enacted afterward to address the situation.

In the current case, draft day logs verified that the last outfielder chosen was considered the illegal transaction, so that purchase would be voided. (The owner’s utility spot, another possibility, had been filled earlier in the draft.) That extra outfielder will be returned to the free agent pool for the league’s Stage Two draft in March and carry a cap and keeper value of one dollar less than the price paid on draft day. The rules clearly spelled this out.

The bad news is that the formal rule change was incomplete. As written, it did not specify how the illegally-drafted player would be replaced on the offending owner’s roster. In this example, governing how and when the owner would be allowed to fill his open corner infield spot was not explicitly documented.

An approach was initially suggested that seemed fair - at first blush. The offending owner could pick a replacement corner infielder from the undrafted player pool. That replacement player would carry the same value – relevant for cap and keeper purposes – as the illegally-drafted one.

However, I was less comfortable with this idea the more I thought about it. Since this same situation had occurred before, how did we deal with it then? Though we probably don’t remember, let’s try to go back and reconstruct how we dealt with the replacement player at that time. Even if we did not write it all into the rules, we should act consistently.

Fortunately, the league SWAT found the old emails. From them, it was determined the prior offending owner was allowed an extra pick to fill his roster at the end of the league’s Stage Two draft. That is a serpentine-style draft held in March. Of course, the owner does not have to wait until the last round to select a new corner infielder to ensure he has a valid lineup for opening day. Also, he is not precluded from re-drafting the initially illegally-chosen outfielder as a reserve.

Once we discovered we had a clear precedent, how to address the problem was as simple as A-B-C - Always Be Consistent.

Our final step was to add one sentence to the constitution - to put the already-established precedent into a clear rule governing how the replacement player is to be chosen. That way, when this happens again, which it likely will, it can be resolved even more easily.

In this example, the rules did their job, but they still needed our help. Making sure that past decisions were remembered kept us from potentially creating a new rule when the old one ended up serving us just fine.

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 18-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter @B_Walton.

Last week, we looked in on the contenders for the two Cy Young Award races for 2016.

In the American League, Boston’s Rick Porcello maintains a sizeable lead against all contenders, while the fight for the National League honors is narrowing down to Chicago’s Jon Lester or Max Scherzer of the Nationals, according to ESPN’s Cy Young Award Predictor.

However, the oddsmakers do not agree.

In odds published by Bovada.lv on Wednesday, in a surprise to me, Chris Sale has lowest odds in the American League at 8/5, with Porcello and Corey Kluber next at 2/1 each. ESPN has Kluber pegged as a distant second with Sale miles off the pace in fifth. The latter seems more accurate to me.

The National League odds do have Scherzer and Lester with the lowest odds, at 1/5 and 5/11, respectively. That is reversed from ESPN’s tool, where the pair are neck-and-neck.

Looking at the betting odds, the 2016 Most Valuable Player races suggest one clear favorite and one very tight race.

With the Cubs plowing their way to baseball’s best record, their offensive leader, third baseman/outfielder Kris Bryant, seems to be the consensus front-runner in the NL. The oddsmakers concur, with Bryant at 1/2.

Next behind Bryant is the Nats’ Daniel Murphy at 3/2. The latter is second in the NL in batting average and has put together a strong season, but I cannot see him knocking off the Cubs star.

The only other candidate even on the NL MVP betting board is MLB RBI leader Nolan Arenado at 6/1. The third baseman is cursed by playing for a non-contending Colorado Rockies squad. I see his chances of actually winning as being considerably worse despite leading the NL in home runs, just one ahead of Bryant.

Looking at fWAR, Bryant is the NL leader, in large part due to his defense, with a contender no longer on the betting board, shortstop Corey Seager of the Dodgers, right behind. In a bit of a surprise, Bryant’s teammate, first baseman Anthony Rizzo, is also no longer on the board.

When looking at Bovada’s lines for the AL MVP, I was initially amazed. Then I stepped back and considered the importance of bettors’ emotions.

A player I had not previously considered among the very top tier of candidates, Boston designated hitter David Ortiz, has the lowest odds at 2/1. I get that the Big Papi Farewell Tour has been a smashing success, but until I looked, I did not realize that the 40-year-old is second in the league in RBI, though down the page in the top 10 in home runs and batting average.

This suggests to me that perhaps Ortiz should consider playing another season, but I don’t see him as the AL MVP.

Right behind Oritz at 9/4 is Houston star Jose Altuve. The second baseman is a far superior all-around player, with a Gold Glove Award from 2015, a firm grip on the AL batting title lead to go with more than 24 home runs and stolen bases alike plus well over 90 RBI.

Next on the AL odds list at 4/1 is the Red Sox player I would put slightly ahead of Papi in the MVP race, outfielder Mookie Betts. Betts leads the AL in runs scored (one back of Bryant for the MLB lead), has 25 steals, over 30 home runs, over 100 RBI and currently has the same .318 batting average as teammate Ortiz.

Sadly, the man who many (including me) believe is the best player in baseball is no better than 4/1 in the odds. Of course, I am referring to Mike Trout. The Angels outfielder is tied with the aforementioned Red Sox pair at .318, but his “meager” home run and RBI totals of 28 and 95, respectively, lag the leaders. Yet, his 26 steals are just one behind Altuve.

WAR is clearly Trout’s friend, backing up my perception of him being the best in the game. His 8.8 fWAR dwarfs even Bryant. But because the Halos have been out of the playoff hunt for a long time, Trout’s 2016 MVP chances lag behind.

As it has turned out, the man who was considered MLB’s best player during the prior decade and Trout’s current teammate, Albert Pujols, has better power numbers at 30 and 114.

I cannot get rid of this nagging feeling in the back of my head that Pujols should have doubled his MVP total of three had the voters been able to see through Barry Bonds at the time. In the future, for different reasons, we may also end up looking back at Trout’s dominance, wondering why he always came so close, only to miss out time and time again.

In 2016, Trout could easily finish second in the race for the fourth time in five years as a Major Leaguer, with his only win in 2014. Just one MVP to date just doesn’t seem right.

Still, when all is considered, I am going with Altuve as the AL winner. I think that is where the writers will land, as I don’t have a vote, after all. Trout may lag while Papi and Betts could steal first-place votes from one another.

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 17-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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