This past weekend I made 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.
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
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
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.
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.