2019 AL Tout Wars Recap

This past weekend I my 19th annual pilgrimage to Tout Wars.

For the second straight year, it was a bittersweet event after Steve Moyer’s passing last we lost my friend and former colleague back in my Mastersball.com days, Lawr Michaels. I met Lawr at the Arizona Fall League in 2000 and in 2001 we both participated in our first Tout Wars event in Steve Moyer’s basement, in Bethlehem, PA. I always looked forward to seeing him and catching up with him at events and certainly drafting against him, talking about our families, discussing our Strat league and music. His presence was missed even more so after having sat next to him at last year’s auction as we chatted throughout it.

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Ok, you came here for what, why, and the how of what I did. Overall, I am reasonably pleased with the results.

Pre-Draft Strategy:  After finishing last season, I am keen to redeem myself. To that end I budgeted $180 to $190 on hitting with the remainder on pitching with the idea that I would anchor my staff with an ace and closer and to draft a corps of hitters that were balanced in categories across the board. Mostly I just wanted to be patient and strike wherever I felt bargains were to be found. I’ve found in recent years that prices on players have been going higher than bid price more frequently and that even more discipline is required to stay true to your game plan. I also, per usual, but budgeted out my roster slots with the expectation that they would change and vary depending on where I could unearth value.

Draft Day Results: (Full Draft Day rosters can be found here.)

C: Mike Zunino $8
C: Jonathan LuCroy $7
1B: Edwin Encarnacion $24
2B: Dee Gordon $21
3B: Carlos Santana $25
SS: Jonathan Schoop $15
CI: Albert Pujols $5
MI: D.J. LeMahieu $9
OF: Aaron Hicks $23, Brett Gardner $15, Jacoby Jones $2, Willie Calhoun $1
UT: Nelson Cruz $25
Swing: Steve Pearce $3

Starters: Justin Verlander $36, Tyler Skaggs $9, CC. Sabathia $3, Mike Minor $7, Jamie Barria $2, Gio Gonazalez $1, Adam Ottavino $2, Blaine Hardy $3.

The Rundown
I didn’t purchase any players until the 21st player – Justin Verlander was nominated, rostering him at $36 which I felt was right around value. In retrospect, I could be have been more aggressive with my bids on Cole or Kluber who went for $35 and $34 respectively earlier and saved myself a $1 or two if I got to those numbers first, but on the other hand pitchers below this tier ended up being pushed higher than expected with both Ian Snell and Trevor Bauer hitting $30 and Jose Berrios hitting $25.

Closers: The upshot of spending $36 on Verlander backed me off a bit on going over $20 on a closer, though, spending $14 on Cody Allen. No closer is what I would define “a rock of stability” and Allen heads into the season as the Angel’s closer though I regret not having then highlighted $3 or so to target Buttrey later to lock down the save situation there. Allen, at least, has saved no fewer than 24 games the last five seasons and is still posting strikeouts well more than 10 per nine innings pitched. His walk rates, however, were well out of context with the rest of his career. Provided there is no hidden injury, I am banking on him rebounding to his career norms and mid 3’s walk-rates. If that happens, 30 to 35 saves is very attainable. The only other reliever I selected was Adam Ottavino who could have been a closer had he chosen to sign with a team looking for one, but instead opted to join the Yankees to win and is now quite some ways down on the pecking order despite his talents. He could still get a few saves, but I am mostly here for the extra strikeouts and good ratios. Blaine Hardy meanwhile will start the year in relief but was effective as a starter and I selected him with the potential to pick up innings in a swing capacity.

Catchers: I came in to this draft budgeting $5 and $3 for my two catchers., but once the early push for catchers and spending was over, they started to fall at reasonable prices, and I rerouted $8 to Grab Mike Zunino who I would’ve gone as high as $10 at the time on and Jonathan LuCroy at $8. While it is difficult to get excited about either player, I do not have two empty roster slots thought I’d be nice if either of these two gentlemen would make more consistent contact or draw a few more walks.

The Sweet Spot: At some point in every auction I tend to find a spot that seems me throw down quite a bit of cash in a short period of time. It comes as I start to find some bargains and players I have been waiting to be nominated finally come up. This happened between nomination 73 and 78 4 of the six players nominated. By this point I had decided that Edwin Encarnacion and Carlos Santana would be my 1B/3B combination and got them within moments of each other. Encarnacion I felt was a several dollar bargain, so it let me go a $1 or so over what I thought I wanted on Santana to secure the duo which I believe at the time were the last of the $20+ rated corner players available at the time. I chased John Hicks within that spot but couldn’t bring myself to go $7 on a part time player. I also grabbed Tyler Skaggs at $9 (valued around $11) and Aaron Hicks at $23 (valued around at $25). Both are players who enjoyed breakout seasons last year with Skaggs having an elevated BABIP despite superior strikeout and control skills and improvement to make him a $15 or more pitcher next year could be in the works. Meanwhile, always blessed with good OBP skills, stayed healthy and showed off his five-tools even though the 20-20 season once projected of him is no longer going to happen.

Thoughts on Dee Gordon
I went on air on SXM Fantasy Sports Radio while on break from the draft and thankfully I did as the draft board said I bought Justin Verlander at $38 and I got that corrected before running into issues in the end game. I also got heavily quizzed about Dee Gordon who I had just bought at $21 despite his OBP struggles the previous season. I put my faith once again in career context in this case. Gordon is still an elite base runner who puts the ball in play frequently, but his 1.5% walk rate was less than half his career average and he’s typically in the mid three-percent range. When he is healthy, his BABIP which was .304 last year, is typically in the .340 to .350 range. If he does indeed bat ninth, he’ll see fewer plate appearances, but 30-plus stolen bases are still within his capabilities.

Other Hitters: Tout Wars rules allow players to qualify at positions if they play at 15 or more games. I had roughly around $15 to budget for my shortstop slot with having taken D.J. LeMahieu for my middle infield spot already at $9, so I was pleased to include Jonathan Schoop in my shortstop hunt and hopefully a fourth year straight of 20-plus runs and another player whose BABIP was suppressed compared to his career norms (.261 compared to .296 career) who could bounce back given no other significant changes in hitting skills/stats from his previous seasons. Willie Calhoun and JacCoby Jones were both low-cost options on players with some upside. While Calhoun has no spot to play and will star the year in Triple-A, he’s just an injury away form a starting job. Jones, meanwhile, will be the Tiger’s opening day centerfielder. The 26-year old lacks plate discipline, but power/speed skills that should justify the price tag alone, but also remains fungible given the investment.

Pitching Bargains Begin to Fall

After the initial high-pricing of the pitching market, the prices on some pitchers began to come back to earth as I was particularly pleased to purchase Minor at $7 and Jamie Barria at $2 who I had pre-draft values of $12 and $6 on. Minor will once again be in the Rangers rotation showing swing and miss skills as well as above average control. His fly-ball ways in Arlington, however, hold him back from getting to the next level. Barria will be a full-season member of Angel’s rotation this year. Some regression will happen given his 82% left-on-base rate, but he still has inning eater potential.

Reserve Rounds:
Mark Canha – He’ll be in a backup role for the A’s. Drafted to serve as a short-term Willie Calhoun replacement until someone better comes along though to be fair Canha performed quite adequate in a part-time role with 17 homers and a .328 OBP for the A’s last year and has the skills for a repeat or better if called into service again.

Speaking of something better, I am hoping that Alex Kirilloff is one of those things. One of the top outfield prospects in baseball, Kirilloff is a left-handed hitter who can already hit for power and for average at just 21 years of age. He’ll begin the year in Double-A. He’s the type of talent that could move to the Majors if he does his part and his team is contending and looking for some extra fire power.

I got by far the most grumbles for my drafting of Clay Buchholz. He’ll start the season in extended spring training and is with an organization in need of his talents. I am not expecting last year’s results, but someone I can swap into the rotation to that could allow me to play whoever is the hot hand.

My final selection was Sean Murphy. Perhaps the best upper-level catching prospect now with Danny Jansen in a full-time job, I thought it was wise to grab Murphy given the state of catching in the American League. His plus glove and arm will get him to the big leauges, but he also features good contact making skills and 15 to 20+ raw homerun power potential. Not expecting that this season, but a good start at AAA could have him push Nick Hundley out of the job.

To wrap things up I think I have a very competitive, solid core of players. My lineup mostly consists of proven veterans and my pitching is likewise similarly anchored that should keep me anchored. Last year’s squad was not nearly as balanced statistically and incorporated a much higher level of risk. This year, my odds of being competitive and challenging for a possible title I believe are much better.

AL Tout Wars 2018 Draft Recap

This past weekend I made my 18th annual pilgrimage to participate in Tout Wars. The word pilgrimage seems appropriate as attending a fantasy baseball auction in person is probably as close as I often get to have a religious calling.

This year the experience was bittersweet due to the untimely passing of Steve Moyer. My first Tout Wars experience took place in his basement in Bethlehem, PA in March 2001. That event helped solidify many friendships which continue to the present day. I remember our dinner conversation fondly, where a group of us discussed Steve’s local extremely deep dynasty league. As many noted it was a strange experience not having Steve there going through his sheets of $1 endgame players and not having him correcting me on my butchery of player name pronunciations. I’ll miss his dry wit and the no bullshit way he always expressed himself. The Steve Moyer Memorial Home Run is being administered by Peter Kreutzer and Jeff Erickson to support his children.

This year’s event was held at a new venue – Richmond County Bank Ballpark, home of the New York Penn League (Rookie Ball) New York Yankees affiliate.

Pre-Draft Strategy:  After several years of moving towards a more-balanced hitting/pitching split, I opted to go back to my old ways with a more hitter heavy split of 195/65. On the pitching side of things, I opted to move away from my usual “ace anchor” approach and decided to spend my money on starters with upside in the middle teens to single digits range and to add a single closer. For the hitters, I focused mostly on value and used my spreadsheet to target each slot with a $ amount that I could easily shuffle on the fly as I purchased players.  I decided to try one new thing this year. In addition to my usual budgeting spreadsheet and tier-pricing sheet, I added a third party online software which I felt made it easy to look up players and track draft spending.

Draft Day: (Draft Day rosters can be found here.) So how’d it go? Well, let’s start with the positives. I drafted the pitching staff I set out to draft, though was subject to many jokes about its youth throughout its acquisition. I acquired Michael Fulmer for his “veteran presence”.  

In order of purchase: (Value in parentheses)
Jose Berrios $15
A.J. Puk $2
Dylan Bundy $11
Lucas Giolito $6
Michael Fulmer $9
Alex Colome $11
Danny Duffy $9
David Robertson $3
Seung Hwan Oh $1

As many of these players do not have long established baselines for performance at the MLB Level, projections of my pitching staff tend to vary quite a bit along the range from optimistic to highly skeptical.  This is not surprising at all. My strategy was to embrace skill and talent and to take a chance on that with the understanding that because of the uncertainty surrounding these pitchers, few if any, would go for full value and create an opportunity for s good return on the investment. Now it ’s time to cross my fingers, hope for good health and watch and see if they could build on the positives they have shown thus far in their young careers.

I consider every pitcher here a bargain, with the exception of Berrios who I bought at projected value and Puk who was a speculative play on the basis (and hope) that he might get called up to the Majors more quickly than expected depending on what goes on with the A’s MLB pitching staff and his own progress through Triple-A. I went over my budget by $2 to obtain Robertson in the end game at a bargain and speculative saves play. I originally planned to add no middle relievers and instead rack up as many innings as possible, but given what was available on the market, I went after value instead. In the reserve round, I was pleased to pick up J.C Ramirez as a possible source of innings as I have him valued at around $3. Though I believe Andrew Cashner owed his success to smoke and minors last year, I too a chance on him in the reserve round on the off chance that his swing and miss skills might return given and him worthy of activating. For now, he will stay firmly ensconced on the reserve roster.

So what went wrong? Well, things did not go wrong so much as resources got mis-budgeted and misallocated. I think I was done in by too much info in too small a space and should have utilized my one spreadsheet/one 11×17 sheet of paper approach instead. The upshot was thinking I still had more money in my hitting budget left than I did. I ended up reallocating dollars to additional $20-range players that should have been more evenly distributed along the rest of my hitting roster. The end result was yes, I still spent $193 on hitting, right around target. However, since I had accidentally distributed towards $20 players, I went after what was left on my desired players in that value range and ended up with a less balanced offense statistically than I had in mind. In other words, the value was good; the distribution will necessitate me being an active trader however and I’ve drafted a not quite-stars and scrubs offense.

Yan Gomes         $4
Bruce Maxwell   $1
Logan Morrison $14
Matt Chapman   $16
Mike Napoli        $1
Whit Merrifield  $21
Jean Segura        $22
Elvis Andrus        $24
Kevin Kiermaier $20
Bradley Zimmer $22
Colby Rasmus     $1
Jon Jay                 $1
Nelson Cruz        $26
Ian Kinsler           $20

I look at this roster and see a competitive team and one with leverage to deal.  My own projections, as well as others’, have shown it crushing in stolen bases, albeit well beyond the point necessary to achieve first in that category. On the other hand it’s somewhat deficient in power and overall in need of improvement and balance.

Immediately following the conclusion of the reserve round, which also included prospects with potential to get called up such as Kyle Tucker and Michael Chavis, I was being approached for deals by multiple league members for speed. Lawr Michaels and I on Monday quickly seized upon a deal that jumped off the page to both of us that had us exchange Jean Segura for Jonathan Schoop.  These two players of similar overall dollar value help to balance the projected stats of our teams. The trade should not cost me first place in steals but has the potential to move me up in home runs and RBIs, so I’m satisfied with the move. Since I still have leverage in the steals category, I suspect this will only be the first of several maneuvers I make this upcoming season.

Next year, the lesson I’ve already learned is to go back to my roots and simplify.  I’m not sure I’ll go all the way back to paper and pencil, but it’s possible!

Hitting Projections 2018 – The Baltimore Orioles

Today I kick off the release of my 2018 player projections. I will be attempting to release as many as possible, team by team along with my thoughts and analysis of the players. My goal is to release them all as CSV files with $ values for a variety of formats in the coming weeks. I’ll also be updating them behind the scenes and in the comment section of these posts as roster changes occur and spring training impacts occur.

But before I get going, let me relate some notes about my methods. First off, I have never utilized modeling or generated projections. I prefer to wade into it all, armed with a spreadsheet loaded with metrics and vlookups aplenty, and generating projections based on regressions and trends. My projections, for the most part, tend (as they should) to regress towards the mean and are rarely exciting. They should be considered a baseline for your expectations based on their career history, both in the majors and minors. Rookies, as a result, will the most potentially volatile of projections (for everyone who does projections, not just me!).

With that, here are my preliminary projections for the 2018 Baltimore Orioles hitters.

Name POS PA AB Hits 2B 3B HR Run RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
 Chance Sisco C 455 397 96 21 0 7 49 52 50 107 1 1 0.242 0.330 0.347
 Caleb Joseph C 245 229 54 11 1 7 24 27 13 60 0 1 0.236 0.283 0.390
 Chris Davis OF 613 522 118 19 1 33 86 88 78 208 2 2 0.226 0.333 0.459
 Trey Mancini OF 606 551 148 28 4 20 73 79 44 142 1 0 0.269 0.326 0.440
 Mark Trumbo OF 588 540 124 23 1 23 78 76 44 150 1 0 0.230 0.291 0.405
 Jonathan Schoop 2B 648 607 170 34 1 29 84 87 29 136 2 0 0.280 0.321 0.487
 Tim Beckham SS 592 548 137 21 6 21 64 67 37 177 6 3 0.250 0.301 0.427
 Manny Machado 3B 683 627 180 31 1 35 92 103 48 116 8 3 0.287 0.338 0.510
 Adam Jones OF 658 618 171 29 2 29 86 85 28 116 2 1 0.277 0.314 0.471
 Austin Hays OF 595 564 149 29 2 22 75 78 24 113 1 1 0.264 0.297 0.439
 Joey Rickard OF 217 206 53 11 1 3 23 24 9 43 5 1 0.257 0.292 0.370
 Luis Sardinas OF 60 56 11 3 0 0 5 5 4 14 1 0 0.196 0.252 0.261
 Anthony Santander OF 77 69 19 4 0 3 9 9 7 17 0 0 0.275 0.338 0.450
 Jaycob Brugman OF 49 43 11 3 0 1 5 5 5 10 0 0 0.256 0.343 0.392
 Ruben Tejada SS 70 64 15 4 0 1 7 8 5 8 0 0 0.234 0.306 0.343

 

Catching
As you may note, I am not nearly as high on Chance Sisco I was back in his early days as an Orioles prospect. The team has seen fit to let Wellington Castillo walk via free agency putting Sisco in the position of having the position to lose in spring training. While there is some talk of still emerging power in his profile, Sisco’s number one skill, in my mind, has not translated well as he moved up through the minors showing rather an alarming increase in his walk rates over time. His defense still draws mixed reviews which may impact his playing time especially in the context of having a defense-oriented manager like Buck Showalter watching him. I expect he’ll receive the majority of catching at-bats for the O’s, but do so in underwhelming fashion.

Caleb Joseph is a stalwart backup who could see more playing time than I have laid out here and has occasionally contributed as a power source and is worth noting from that perspective especially when you compare home run projections for the two catchers despite the disparity in playing time.

First Base
Chris Davis’s projection mostly indicates somewhat of a regression towards the norm minus the oblique injury that caused him to miss a month last season, but also acknowledges the increase in strikeout rates and his age which reduces the chances he has to once against achieving his 2015 and prior levels of play. He has surprised before with significant swings in BABIP, but to bid for someone who hits above .the .220 levels is inviting danger.

Second Base
Schoop provides one of the more stable skill sets on the team in terms of power and playing time. His gains in batting average and on-base percentage last year are supported wholly by an increase on batting average in balls in play, so a slip, though not one that should suggest you bid elsewhere, is to be expected.

Third Base
Ok, my Manny Machado projection may indeed be exciting and encouraging Orioles fans and Machado owners alike, but then again it is the product mostly of regression, in his favor. As a 25-year old who displayed the same or similar skills to his 2016 campaign in 2017, the .259/.310/.471 line looks like an anomaly with a return to his 2015/2016 levels. That is not to say 2017 could not happen again, it can, but given the sum of his talents and skills, it represents something of a worst case (not injury oriented) scenario. Note that Machado only qualifies at 3B heading into 2018 but will be the starting shortstop.

Shortstop
Tim Beckham, as you can see from Manny Machado, will also be gaining a new qualifying position as he shifts over to third base. The power looks legitimate and he may still have enough wheels to reach double-digits in steals. Look elsewhere for BA and OBP.

Outfield
Trey Mancini’s power is for real, but that .293 batting average is not supported by hi skills. He’ll contribute and will increase his plate appearances in 2018, but not at quite as a high level this time. Adam Jones is the epitome of consistency but is now on the wrong side of thirty. Similar results are likely in store for him, but the context has all changed with respect to the stats he provides and as a result, that dollar value has decreased. Last year I recall in some keeper leagues owners bidding for him close to the $30 level that he once commanded. In today’s context with so many similar players available that value can now be found in the lower-twenties which makes him a nice, low-risk, modest cost addition to your team.

Austin Hays is the wildcard in the Orioles outfield situation. No one doubts that this right-hander has excellent raw power and may have a few thirty home run seasons in him down the road. He showed a good quick bat, making a lot of hard contact in the minors, but his approach may have caught up to him in the Majors. He screams high risk/high reward due to the degree of difficulty regarding how well his minor league strikeout rates will translate to the majors over a larger sample. I would not be surprised by a very hot start to the year if he receives a steady fastball diet with a second-half fall off. At the very least, his sub 5% walk-rate is someone to expect to be streaky.

Designated Hitter
Mark Trumbo’s fall back to earth after his forty-seven homerun season was not all that shocking and he accomplished it without significant changes to underlying skills. His 2016 HR/FB of near 25% looks like an outlier compared to much of his career. Consider 2017 something of a worst case scenario with a slight bump upwards in his home runs and batting average both likely possibilities given his history.

Piscotty Gets A New Shot

2017 was a lost year for Stephen Piscotty who struggled with his health, his swing, and with family issues with respect to his mother’s health. The Cardinals were sensitive to the latter in targeting the A’s as his destination since he grew up in the Bay Area. The deal to Oakland gives Piscotty both a second chance to succeed as the penciled in opening day right fielder for the A’s and perhaps, most importantly, the opportunity to live close to home.

So what does the future hold as a hitter? When drafted, it was done with the expectation that his power would eventually emerge and it did in 2016 with his twenty-two homerun output. However, he faded power-wise as that season went on and 2017 saw a reversal of his ground-ball, fly-ball, and home run per fly-ball trends. In his favor, Piscotty did translate his minor league walk rates to the Majors but seems to have settled in around the 20% strikeout rates area. Heading into 2018 it is difficult and unwise to expect a full rebound to his 2016 levels of play, though a return to the .270-plus level batting average seems well within reach. Keep your expectations modest with a .260 to .270s batting average, mid-teens home run output. There is potentially nice room for profit in particular for OBP-leaguers this upcoming season, particularly if he is nominated late and the room is risk-adverse.

In exchange, the Cardinals received a duo of minor leaguers. Yairo Munoz is a middle infield/third base prospect who at the moment projects more as a utility player with a good glove and throwing arm. He makes contact regularly, but is overly aggressive and has low to mid-teens homerun out potential. He could see time in the majors this year in a backup role.

Max Schrock is not a tools guy but is intriguing second basemen. The former 13th round pick has excellent plate discipline, making contact more than 90% of the time on a regular basis while drawing walks over 7%, producing on-base-percentages in the .370 to .380 range. Other than that, Schrock has modest speed and power. The 23-year old lefty will move up to Triple-A in 2018 and could also see some time in a utility role for the Cardinals. He is exactly the type of player who if given a chance to start would at the very least not embarrass, but who could surprise and thrive with an opportunity, but it’s a big IF at the moment.