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Wednesday 28th Jun 2017

Last time, I began a discussion about my shared strategy for drafting in both the 12-team National League-only LABR and Tout Wars leagues, with a focus on pitching. This is Part 2, in which I will cover the offenses.

At an initial glance, having only two pitchers in common across the two leagues would not suggest much of any consistency. Yet, I remained true to a basic approach across the two drafts while remaining flexible enough on individual players to seek out (relative) bargains.

I say “relative” because in industry leagues like these, the participants know very well the market value bandwidths of every player. Really, only when money is tight are there chances for what most would consider real bargains. Even then, and always, pricing is ultimately a matter of opinion.

Anyway, though Tout allows a swing player, a pitcher or hitter, instead of the fifth outfielder, I drafted a standard 14 hitter, nine pitcher roster. This time around, I ended up with five offensive players in common across my two teams, or 35 percent.

I will begin with the most important, Miami outfielder Giancarlo Stanton. A good summary of the lingering concerns from some about Stanton was published by the Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo a few weeks ago, noting that some talent evaluators think the slugger’s nagging injuries in recent years are not going away.

Good. Maybe that scared a dollar or two off his price. I look at Stanton’s maladies the past few seasons and see fluke injuries that should not slow him down in 2016. I acknowledge there is some risk, but one must take chances to win leagues like these and I am all-in on Stanton in 2016.

While my LABR price of acquisition was $37, the head of LABR, USA TODAY’s Steve Gardner, bid Stanton up to $38 in Tout. Gardner explained later that he wanted to own the slugger in one industry league and tried to make it this one. As a result, I went up to $39 to win.

Another reason to snag Stanton is that Tout uses OBP instead of batting average in its 5x5 format. Cardinals third baseman Matt Carpenter is both his team’s best leadoff man and likely its top run producer as well, but he will again be at the top of the order this season. Carpenter’s OBP cost me an extra $4 in Tout ($25 to $29).

Speaking of St. Louis, the club’s first base situation was already cloudy between two left-handed hitters in Matt Adams and Brandon Moss. Now that right-handed hitting Matt Holliday is also working out there, the uncertainty increases.

My take is that Moss is more of a proven commodity than Adams and has the additional flexibility of being able to play a corner outfield position. With the high prices at first base across the board in both leagues, I saved money here, snagging Moss for $9 and $12.

I may like Atlanta’s leadoff man Ender Inciarte better than most. I get that the centerfielder plays on a bad team, but I like the possibility of his club trying to manufacture runs and the resultant stolen base potential. I rostered him at $18 both times.

One of my hopes coming in was to avoid the dregs of the NL outfield pool. As cash got tight, I ended up having to acquire one such player in each league. It looks like I have a hit with Cincinnati’s Scott Schebler for $1 in LABR, but I lost out in Tout as my $3 Rymer Liriano suffered severe facial injuries when hit by a pitch a few days after the draft.

My final common player across my two industry league squads is Andrew Susac of San Francisco. In LABR, catching went for premium prices and with the defending champion Mike Gianella of Baseball Prospectus taking four top backstops (remember that swing spot), I chose to stay out of the fray.

I suspect that Susac ($1 in LABR, $2 in Tout) will see more at-bats than the average backstop since he plays behind Buster Posey. As we have seen, Posey is given a regular turn at first base by the Giants.

The only problem with my plan is that Susac’s spring injuries lingered long enough that the club decided to send him to Triple-A for every-day play. Until he is back, I have a catching hole to fill in each league.

So, that is it. My song did remain pretty much the same as it was in LABR, though I feel I was better able to execute my plan in Tout. Of course, time will tell.

Click on the highlighted link to see the full results of the Tout drafts, which are all on one spreadsheet. Just click on the tabs to toggle among the various format leagues. The NL LABR draft results can be viewed here.

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.

To tell the truth, I was far from the most dedicated Led Zeppelin follower even in their heyday, but I do subscribe to the theme of their 1976 concert film. When moving from the National League LABR draft at the beginning of March to the NL Tout Wars draft two weeks later, I stuck to the same basic tune.

Yet, just like a musician constantly altering how a song is performed live, making small adjustments seemingly every time, so it was here. My preparation for the second auction draft was based upon the first, yet unique in its own way.

Normally a spread-the-wealth kind of player in “only” leagues while avoiding the $1 pitching endgame, this year, I moved away from that approach. With the growing concentration of aces in the Senior Circuit, I decided I had to have one to compete. By carefully adding a few $1-$2 pitchers later in the draft, I could still snag my second and third hurlers in the higher and lower teens, respectively.

Which pitchers I would draft depended on where and when I could find value, but my hope was to ensure high strikeouts even at the slight expense of ratios. My thought was that I could mitigate some of the latter with a couple of solid setup men, if necessary. When all was said and done, I had just two common pitchers across the two rosters, or 22 percent.

In LABR, my ace choice was Stephen Strasburg. Lingering injury concerns might have caused a few of my peers to take a dollar or two off the price of the Nationals’ right-hander, but if so, that was fine with me. Strasburg finished the 2015 season very strongly and seems poised for a standout season. I paid $27 to roster him in LABR.

In Tout, however, I had to contend with BaseballHQ’s Phil Hertz, who lives in the Washington, DC area and is often all over Nationals (and his favored Mets, of which he rostered at least six this year).

Sure enough, Hertz doggedly hung in the Strasburg bidding until it reached $29, and I was not prepared to go $30. Hertz told me after the draft that he came in with the objective of getting Strasburg, and so he did. Only Clayton Kershaw ($41) and Max Scherzer ($32) went for more among hurlers.

I was very pleased, though, to acquire Jacob deGrom instead for at least $5 less than Strasburg would have cost. Perhaps the least flashy of the Mets’ three aces, my hope is that the reports of his velocity being down will disappear when the bell rings for the regular season.

My second starter in both leagues ended up being Tyson Ross of San Diego. Though the right-hander cost me a dollar more in Tout compared to my $18 purchase price in LABR, the 200-plus strikeouts should be worth it, even if the breakout predicted by many is less pronounced.

I strongly considered Adam Wainwright of the Cardinals for this spot as well. The veteran is coming off a non-pitching injury (Achilles) that essentially gave his arm a full year of rest at age 33. Of course, he has another good team behind him this season. My only trepidation was trading off strikeouts for Wainwright’s expected improved ratios.

My next two pitchers, around the $10 area, were Cardinals-focused. In LABR, just after going $12 on Jaime Garcia (for the ratios), his hard-throwing teammate Carlos Martinez fell into my lap at just $11. The latter was undoubtedly my best buy of the draft and came as a complete surprise, albeit a pleasant one.

In LABR, my choices were Julio Teheran ($12) and a veteran with a new team and additional upside in St. Louis in Mike Leake ($9). Comparing the pairs, Martinez may outpace Teheran, but Leake could outperform Garcia this season.

My ratio guys in LABR are Tony Watson and Sergio Romo at $2 each, added when most other competitors at the table were down to $1 maximum bids. Perhaps Romo will provide a few saves, as well.

That raises the point – taking this approach meant I was minimizing saves. I prefer not to say I am dumping the category, as in-season closer acquisition opportunities are not that rare. The large number of unsettled situations in the NL increase my odds of finding help later. In fact, Andrew Bailey went undrafted in LABR, but fetched $6 two weeks later.

In Tout, I had gone with a first-half, second-half closer split across two different teams in Fernando Rodney ($4) of San Diego and Arodys Vizcaino ($7) from Atlanta. Interestingly at Tout, the draftee just to my left, Ray Guilfoyle of faketeams.com, took both relievers (for a total of $15). As a result of not chasing saves in Tout, my total pitching spend dropped from $86 to $80, or 33 percent to 31. Not an issue for me.

Along with Ross, my other common pitcher across the two drafts was a definite target in Washington’s Lucas Giolito. All I have seen this spring reinforces my belief that once we get past the Super Two service time hurdle, Giolito will force his way into the majors – and perform well once there.

My fallback was another almost-ready prospect pitcher who is a bit less polished at this stage but also has a high ceiling in Tyler Glasnow of the Pirates. I ended up with Giolito at $5 (LABR) and $6 (Tout), while Glasnow would have required at least $5 as well. (He fetched $4 in both drafts.) I am pleased with my purchases.

There should be footnotes though, due to differences in league rules. In LABR, prospects can be drafted, but not added during the season via FAAB until they are called up to the majors. In addition, LABR has a six-man bench, making it easier to stash a couple of prospects.

Tout also has a swing player instead of the fifth outfielder. In that format, one could choose to start 10 pitchers and just 13 position players at any time or go with the more traditional 9/14.

Tout allows minor leaguers to be acquired at any point during the season, but they require a non-zero bid and must be active the first week after the purchase. Despite Tout thinning the reserves to four per team from six a few years back, the top prospects always seem to be grabbed early. If I was going to tie up one of my precious reserve spots, I wanted one of the very best prospects expected to be ready this season and I think I got my man.

I will reprise my The Song Remains the Same set right here next week when highlighting my NL LABR and Tout offenses.

Click on the highlighted link to see the full results of the Tout drafts, which are all on one spreadsheet. Just click on the tabs to toggle among the various format leagues. The NL LABR draft results can be viewed here.

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.

Like most of the rest of the fantasy world, I am participating in daily fantasy sports (DFS), and doing just fine. So why do I have an empty feeling about it?

This year, I have been thinking about this a lot and have decided what is missing for me is a staple of roto, the human element.

My fantasy baseball journey began almost a quarter century ago when my brother-in-law convinced me to join his AL-only 4x4 league with his high school and college friends. I had already been following Major League Baseball closely and the competition intrigued me. With a math background to boot, I had a feeling I could thrive.

When all is said and done, I subjected myself to years of painful eight-hour auction drafts - waiting while my brother-in-law flipped through magazines, paralyzed over whether or not to make a $1 bid - for one reason.

I wanted to kick his butt, which not only did I do, but years later, my oldest son did, too.

You see, my motivation was simple. My brother-in-law is younger, stronger and faster than me. No matter the athletic endeavor, his higher level of talent comes to the surface. But, he has still never beaten me in fantasy baseball, and I remain very proud of that fact.

I know I am not alone.

The devotion that we have to our drafts, our teams, trading and trying to win is a common thread that so many of us share. In fact, ESPN's Matthew Berry essentially filled an entire book, A Fantasy Life, with hilarious reader-submitted anecdotes highlighting their often-crazy fantasy passions.

Over the years, I competed in high-stakes games, including the National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC) and its football counterpart, the NFFC. While I did just fine at them, I eventually stopped playing. I had spread myself too thin with too many leagues and these lost out.

To me, the money just wasn'€™t the allure. I really enjoyed the friendships with Greg Ambrosius and Tom Kessenich, who run the games and their playing regulars. Though the leagues themselves had different members each time - for obvious reasons to avoid collusion temptation - the reality was that many of the same people play in the same games in the same cities every year.

One of the most fun parts of my NFFC preparation was to meet friend and former CreativeSports peer Lori Rubinson very early on draft morning at a New York City diner. In what must have seemed to observers to have been some kind of bizarre version of sports speed dating, we spent multiple hours firing names at each other to solicit the opinion of the player's fantasy prospects for the coming season.

My work at CreativeSports, which later merged into Mastersball, led to some of my closest friendships and eventually into invitations to compete in industry leagues. Though I have never yet won the XFL, Xperts Fantasy League, my 2009 National League Tout Wars title has been my career highlight to date. Not a penny changed hands.

Two things are tied for my favorite part of the First Pitch Arizona Forum, held in Phoenix around Halloween each year. One is going to Arizona Fall League games and sitting in the desert sun with my industry friends, talking prospects and whatever else comes to mind. The other is the XFL auction draft, held during the event without supporting materials of any kind.

My springs are not complete without a trip to Spring Training, followed by a weekend of Tout Wars drafts against the backdrop of the Big Apple. It is an opportunity to catch up with several dozen industry friends and competitors in an amazingly fun setting.

For me, the common thread is being with friends and hopefully, beating them. Winners are remembered, and if not, one can rest assured the first-place finisher will remind his/her league mates.

Daily games do not give me the same satisfaction. One faces different players, usually anonymous screen names, each day. Even if one scores a big win, few know it and it is almost sure to be forgotten in 24 hours or less.

Money is nice, but for me, peer recognition is far more important.

Next season, I hope to find the best of both. I am going to seek out a DFS league with friends. A format where we can pick new rosters each day and have daily winners, but keep running standings of the daily results over the course of the season with a big winner at the end.

In 2015, Tout Wars offered a version of this, with a once-weekly DFS game, split into monthly tournaments with a winner's€™ championship at the end. Alas, while I did well most weeks, I continued to fall just short of placing in any of the monthly tourneys. I was among those who successfully lobbied to add a wild card in the future, which had it existed this year, could have been my finals ticket.

Finishing first in a DFS marathon against friends would mean something, giving me the chance for that roto-kind of satisfaction from a series of daily sprints. I am pretty sure that is where I hope to get my DFS fulfillment in 2016.

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.

As another roto season winds to its close, it seems fitting to bring this column back around to its foundation – a discussion of league rules. More appropriately perhaps would be to say the discussion of league rules process.

Sometimes, it is cool to share with others specific new and innovative approaches deployed in our leagues, backed up by supporting rules, of course. Yet many times, these new ideas do not fit the league structure or format or even tastes of other owners who are reading this.

Instead, this is going to be a very basic column with just one key message - consider any adjustments to your league rules now.

Let’s start with the timing question.

No doubt that many have already checked out of baseball and are deep into the football season. I don’t understand those who can only juggle one ball at a time, but that is a discussion for another day.

You are likely not among those who have left baseball behind, however. After all, you are reading this fantasy baseball column in early October.

The 2015 season for your leagues will never be fresher in your mind than right now. Start by writing down those areas of contention that popped up during the season. (In the leagues I run, all year long, I maintain a simple list of such items that is stored on my computer. This helps the recollection process considerably.)

Whether you have an existing list or need to start a new one, your next step should be to review the items. The first question should be whether the issue is real. Many are not. Like any of this, it is a judgment call, though, so if it was important to someone in the league, it should probably get a fair hearing.

Next question is to consider the potential actions to be taken as a result. Is it a simple item such as moving a key deadline or is it a topic that would lead to substantial change and require considerable discussion among the league members? An example of the latter might be going from batting average to on-base percentage or migrating from 4x4 to 5x5.

Unless your league is a dictatorship, the next step is to decide how to elicit opinions from the league members.

My advice is to write an explanation of each proposed change in simple terms and include how the league constitution would change as a result. That way, everyone is starting from the same point.

If for some reason, your league does not have written rules, change that ASAP. Find a comparable constitution from another league and modify it to fit. No need to reinvent the wheel.

Now, how do you have the discussion? E-mail is often the fastest and most convenient for many. It also helps frame the evaluation process. Unfortunately, e-mail can also be the most chaotic.

In one of my leagues, a 15-teamer, any league discussion via e-mail is like open mic night at the local comedy club located at the Holiday Inn. There are so many clever comments made that sometimes the issue gets lost.

If your league software has a private message exchange or forum capability, use it. Having a documented history of the dialogue could prove invaluable later. It is much preferred to wading through what could be dozens of e-mails, with potentially different comments on different discussion threads, as replies are invariably not made to the most recent remark. Let your system help you here.

However you do it, do it now. Do not wait until next spring. Sure, the discussion will be a lot shorter, since few will remember the issues. The downside of waiting is that it will be likely that the same problems will be encountered again next year.

Instead, discuss potential changes and decide on them now, update your constitution and look forward to a smoother and more enjoyable league operation next season as a result.


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.

No matter what line of work you may be in, chances are very good you would be excused from reporting for duty for a few days for the birth of your child.

Not so, if you are professional baseball player, apparently. By the way some act, you’d think we were still in the 1960’s.

Last season, New York Mets infielder Daniel Murphy was trashed by a segment of baseball observers for spending two games away from the team to be with his wife while she was giving birth.

Never mind the fact that he was taking advantage of a capability allowed for all players. Since 2011, the collective bargaining agreement between Major League Baseball and the Players' Association allows for up to a three-day paternity leave absence.

Several prominent radio talking heads spoke for themselves and others who are living in the past.

"You're a major league baseball player. You can hire a nurse,'' 60-year-old host Mike Francesa said of Murphy on WFAN, the Mets’ flagship radio station. "What are you gonna’ do, sit there and look at your wife in the hospital bed for two days?"

On another WFAN show, former NFL quarterback and host Boomer Esiason agreed. The 52-year-old said that Murphy's wife should have had a "C-section before the season starts."

After widespread criticism was aimed in his direction, Esiason quickly backtracked.

This non-issue issue did not go away, however. Several weeks ago, it was St. Louis Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal’s wife who had the audacity to deliver her child during the season while her husband’s team was in first place.

This time, the critics included a Pittsburgh-based sports media personality named John Stiegerwald, age 67.

On Twitter he said, “Trevor Rosenthal taking 3days paternity leave in the middle of a pennant race is ridiculous & another sign of the wussification of America.”

It is sad that in today’s world, some men cannot appreciate the importance of family values for all individuals, even highly-paid professional athletes. Even if they don’t agree, they have no right to criticize others for their personal decisions.

One man who has never been accused of being a wuss is Tony La Russa. He is one of baseball’s long-time tough guys, not ever willing to back down to anyone. However, the current Chief Baseball Officer of the Arizona Diamondbacks, age 70, grew up in the game in a time long before paternity leave became commonplace.

In a book in which he fully cooperated, Buzz Bissinger’s “3 Nights in August,” La Russa shared his long-standing regret over how he dealt with a similar issue in his early days of managing.

Six months after making his eight-month pregnant wife move to Chicago against her wishes when he took his first managerial job with the White Sox, La Russa’s wife Elaine was hospitalized with pneumonia. It was early in the 1983 season and his family, including a three-year-old and the new baby, had not yet moved up from Florida to Chicago.

La Russa chose to remain with his club, asking his sister to take care of his children.

As the manager told Bissinger two decades later, “How was I stupid enough? I should have left the team and taken care of my wife and kids. I’ve never forgiven myself for that and they’ve never forgotten.”

The bottom line is that no one should be shamed for wanting to take an equal role in parenting. Those who cannot accept that don’t deserve the time of day.

Now, you’ll have to excuse me while I go and play with my beautiful granddaughter.


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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