AL Tout Wars ’23 Recap

This weekend I had the honor and pleasure of once again competing in AL Tout Wars. This will be my twenty-third season and the first time we were able to draft in person since 2019, the year I finally took home a Tout title. It was wonderful not having to chance to hit that “+1 button” again and the wonders that would bring (hint, never use the +1 button, but I digress!).  

Fantastic to see everyone at Tout Wars, old friends, and plenty of new people given the four-year in-person hiatus. It’s a bit strange as I came into Tout in 2001 as a 25-year-old, one of the youngest competitors in the league, and now I find myself at 48, my first Tout Wars having to wear reading glasses the entire time. But I digress again, if you’re reading this, you wanted to read about my thoughts on the courageous crew I have assembled.

The Budget: The object, of course, is $260 for 13 hitters, 9 pitchers, and a swing. I set my grid at $200 on the hitting side with little to no intention of using my swing for a pitcher and $60 for pitching.  I rarely go over $30 on a single player, preferring to spread the risk, especially since others were pursuing aggressive stars and scrubs this year and preferred to stay out of those bidding wars. My budgets and roster slot budgeting are always flexible, moving as the market adjusts. In recent years I have found Tout Wars to behave much more like a local league’s draft with the ebb and flow of player pricing whereas, in some of my earlier years, it seemed like there was a little bit more stability with players going close to expected prices with greater frequency and fewer surprises. In other words, patience and looking for the times to buy and hold your money times is as important as always. You never want to be fighting with too much money on the table for the last good guy at a position.

Catcher: The duo of Danny Jansen ($13) and Logan O’Hoppe ($10). My original plan here was targeting the latter at the $9 to $11 price point and perhaps a second catcher in the same range. Catcher pricing went through the roof and Jansen, by comparison, was reasonably priced. Happy with my duo even if O’Hoppe may go down to AAA for a little while. Both offer OBP and power skills with upside. Jansen is the better defender between him and Kirk while O’Hoppe only faces journeyman types to claim the starting job.

Corners: Yandy Diaz ($18), Josh Jung ($11), Matt Chapman ($21).
Diaz’s plate appearances and OBP skills are worth every penning even with a slight regression in that category and even has some power upside from his 9 homers last year. Chapman was only my earliest buy, albeit at about full value. The steady, mid-prime player who like Diaz is much more exciting in an OBP league. This is good as buying Jung, even at a bargain at $11, may create a bit of an OBP hit. He was a patient hitter in his minor league career, but was far more aggressive in AAA and the majors over short samples last year.

Middle: Jose Altuve ($28), Christian Arroyo ($5), Andres Gimenez ($22).
Less than 12 hours later, this middle does not look as great as it once did with Altuve out until June. Wrist injuries can sap power for much longer than mere recovery and return to the Major’s time.  He’s worthwhile enough to ride out than to redeem as FAAB, which will remain an option should I need it. Gimenez and Altuve were a specific focus on players with some pop and speed. Gimenez is more likely to have a slight bump in the road in his age 24-season than have another season of great strides but may have some steals upside even if his power regresses. For Arroyo, it is all about staying healthy and in the lineup. There’s a good double, low-teens HR power, .270 hitter in that skill set, waiting to come out. Room for profit here at $5.

Outfield/UT: George Springer ($26), Eugenio Suarez ($17), Hunter Dozier ($3), Joey Gallo ($13), AJ Pollock ($3), Alex Reyes ($1)
My outfield ended up a bit strange but in the context of combining it with my UT slots makes more sense as I used a $17 slot to grab Suarez at a bargain. Like others, I drafted a much more exciting OBP league player than a normal 5×5 layer with durability, OBP skills, and even some power upside beyond his 31 homers each of the last two years. I had a range of players in the mid to high twenties with Springer on the list and he came out later, after a good amount of money was off the table, chasing players above value. Another of my power/speed focus though there is more injury risk with him than with the other players I purchased. Gallo is another potential bargain who came out late in the auction and fell short of the projected price which I certainly wouldn’t have gone to myself, but feel more comfortable at this risk point hoping that he is one of the primary beneficiaries of the change in shift rules and perhaps get his batting over the Mendoza mark which in turn would make his OBP rosterable. This is a player who has batted under the Mendoza line and still produced well over .300 OBPs. Dozier, Pollock, and Reyes were all end-gamers to fill out my roster. Pollock and Reyes both have profit potential tied directly to their playing time. It is difficult to project Pollock for many at-bats, but since he’s favored to be the everyday DH and is coming off of a 527 plate appearance season last year, there’s some cause for optimism, especially in the BA/OBP department. Any SBs above 5 are gravy. Reyes was reassigned to minor league camp but given his latent speed potential and that his competition in the Majors is Akil Baddoo, he could work his way back, so he’s at least a decent reserve roster stash for now. Dozier was grabbed mostly because he qualifies at 1B/3B/OF this year in Tout (15 game minimum) and is still slated to be the Royals’ opening day 3B, a position the organization does not have ready depth from which to supplant him. Offensive expectations are not high, but worth $3.

Pitching: Alek Manoah ($22), Jordan Romano ($22), Pablo Lopez ($11), Brady  Singer ($7) Martin Perez ($2), Marco Gonzales ($1), Ken Waldichuk ($2), Zack Greinke ($1), Dylan Coleman ($1)

I went into the draft with my preference for anchors at closer and starter and unintentionally it appears I’ll be rooting for the Jays this year. Knowing closers were going to go above value, I focused on landing one of the two (it’s always theoretical with closers) to give me a good starting point in saves and to use the free agent market or mid-season trades to acquire more. Both Romano and Manoah could regress a bit from last year but are still good foundational pieces. As noted, I went in with the $200/$60 split but like last year the pitching prices started dropping and there was simply more value to be found there in the hitting market at the same time, so I pushed over an extra $10, excited to grab Lopez and Singer potentially as bargains. This is a pitching staff designed to be streamed, not to be static, using Greinke, Singer, Perez, Gonzales, and Waldichuk on a rotating basis as I add more arms to the staff.

Reserve Round: John Means, David Fletcher, Sam Haggerty, Jordan Westburg
I’m treating John Means like a mid-season trade deadline pickup, hoping he comes back strong after the All-Star break, but costs me nothing, and will spend most of the year on the DL creating another open reserve spot for me to shuffle pitchers between my active and reserve roster. Fletcher, while he may no longer be starting and has difficulty staying healthy himself, at least fills Altuve’s spot, and provides some BA/OBP skills and a bit of speed until I can find a better option. Haggerty provides some speed and someone to rotate in if there are injuries at the MLB level that get him playing time. Adam Frazier is a one-year placeholder for the Orioles’ overflowing array of minor league middle infield prospects of which Westburg is at the top, so this is just an opportunity move in case Fraizer (or other infielders) is either injured or they move on from him sooner than expected.

Final Thoughts: Despite the loss of Altuve, I feel fairly comfortable with my offense’s foundation that it will be among the lead leaguers, though I’ll likely have to go hunting for more steals than originally thought. The pitching staff, like any other year, will be a constant work in progress though I’ve filled it with starters and should not hurt for wins and strikeouts and not having to crawl my way out of the bottom of the saves piles.

Rule Ideas for Running a 60-Game Season Fantasy Baseball League

Baseball is returning! Whether or not it gets shut down before late July and we get to put on hold again, keeper leagues need to start planning their season to maintain continuity for the 2021 and beyond.

A sixty-game schedule is a ridiculously small sample size and short-term variability will be the largest in determining factor who wins your league without the time available to regress over the length of a traditional seasonal available. Given this, it’s important to adjust some of your league rules and focus on designing the season to be 1) fun, and 2) avoid conditions that could have long-term repercussions when we return, hopefully, to full-season play in  2021, and more likely, 2022.

First off, if having to work from home for over the past three months has taught us anything, we now all have enough experience using platforms like Zoom to have a certain level of comfort to handle an online auction or draft without having to use third-party drafting websites. In fact, as someone who uses draft-ware or an excel sheet regularly to draft, having zoom running in the background while I auction will feel just like an in-person draft with only a single screen and the room to concentrate upon. Handling Tout Wars with an audio chat, draft-ware, and a third-party draft site was fraught and the only way to handle that is to isolate yourself and use pencil and paper in conjunction with a third-party site. A zoom auction instead of the third-party ware “normalizes” draft day in least in terms of your setup, letting you choose from the most complicated of draft software to the most minimalistic approach.

As someone whose day job regularly involves managing public meetings with over 20+ participants while juggling members of the public and their comments and avoiding zoom bombs I assure a 12-person draft is quite manageable.  After all, we are all looking for a means to connect and have a 12-person in-person draft, unless you can run it in your backyard and can still hear everyone’s bids given masks and social distancing, an online meeting is the only way it is going to work.

So, make it personal, or interpersonal for that matter. I know many of us are tired of Zoom work meetings but this is a chance for an entirely social experience that brings you closest to having a normal draft day experience and in some ways, it may even be easier as you won’t have to wait for “so and so’s stuck in traffic”. Afterall you were going to set aside time from your schedule to have a draft day away from the normal workings of your day anyway, so now all you must do is find a quiet spot for a few hours. Which in my case in a family of five, can be a bit daunting unto itself!

So, the first thing you will need to do is get that auction or draft setup.

Auctioneering and In-Auction Setup
If you are lucky enough to find a third party to serve as your league auctioneer, go for it. If not, you will have to identify the main auctioneer and a few back-up auctioneers who can jump in if the main auctioneer is involved in the bidding. You will also have to have someone volunteer running the official budget sheet. I highly recommend using google sheets to this (I could supply one to users here if you so desired for your use). Having done this for years over teleconference, it can be clunky, but it works, and everyone being in the same medium at their locations will be a boon. I have had situations where some of the league has gathered in person and others on their cell phones or landlines and tried to use a conference call to mixed results. The more mediums, the more issues.

Once in the auction, set the auction cadence in advance so everyone uses the same one, and require that no side-chat occur once a player has been nominated and bidding has closed. You may also want everyone to wear a headset with mic to avoid any outside noises being picked up and to enhance the chance everyone is heard clearly. I highly recommend running a practice session first so everyone just to see how it works. Keep in mind that depending on the quality of connections, turning off video might be a good idea but will require everyone to say their name to confirm their bid. There are settings within zoom to highlight the speaker as well which may aid in identifying who bid first. So, to repeat emphasis, run a test run to devise a means of identifying the most comfortable settings for your league.

Snake-Draft Alternative
For some, running an auction over zoom may simply be too daunting. Or the dynamics of an auction and different strategies teams might have, whether owners are really playing to compete for this season’s prize (more on that later) or not could lead to some unusual bidding compared to normal. So, as an alternative, you may wish to run a snake draft and then assign values by round or even pick made in declining value order. If you want to get even more granular, the available pool is not a mystery at all if you decide to go the snake-draft format. In that scenario come to a consensus on a set of values for players and use them when a player is taken. The bonus with a snake draft style is you won’t have to worry about side-chatter and management of the actual online meeting event is much more relaxed.

Adjusted Rule Ideas

Keeper Contracts – Given the shortened season I am recommending you that suspend the rolling over of contracts for one year. In the case of those leagues where a player is due to get a long-term contract have the owner identify that long-term contract, but do not count 2020 as a year on that contract.

Prizes – If your leagues utilize a monetary prize lowering dues is highly advised since the element of chance is more of a factor than typical for 2020.  It is also recommended that you set a minimum threshold for games played to even award prizes. I’m recommending that at least half the sixty-game schedule be played and if it is fewer than sixty, that it be prorated with some of the funding returned.

Prizes and League Style for 2020 – Your league must now answer the question about how they want 2020 to function. Do they just want to consider this year as in “maintenance mode” by running the draft and avoiding possibly dynamic trades and concentrate on FAAB or do you want it to feel more likely a typical season.

For example, in my twelve-team AL-only league, we normally distribute prizes to the top four teams with the majority going to first place. The fifth-place team doesn’t get a monetary prize, but gets the first pick in our next year’s minor league draft and goes from there to the 12th pick and then starts up again with the 4th place team getting the next pick after the 12th and so on until the winner receives the 12th overall pick. So, for this year, I recommend considering shifting your prizes to first and second place only and winner take all. (And if use a minor-league draft-place reward like we do, moving up that up to the first place that does not receive a monetary prize).

In this way, the lower cash stakes might still add up to approximately a full-season prize for first place and may encourage more aggressive trading and FAAB bids to make it feel more like a regular season. You and your league will have to make this decision, knowing the context of how your league operates. If dump trading is the norm, this may result in some significant dump trades for a short season gain that could have long-term consequences. So, if you have a salary cap, restricting it a bit more to avoid complete, wholesale dumps deals, might be in your best interest. So if you use a $325 in-season cap perhaps lowering it to $310 or $300 might be advised temporarily.

This is article is meant to get ideas flowing. So, If you have any other league ideas and alternatives to share or best practices for running an auction over the Internet, feel free to share in the comments below.

Book Review: The Kingdom of Liars

This is a changeup from the usual baseball writing you see on this site, but if you’ve read my about section at all you’ll know that fantasy baseball is not the only genre of fantasy of which I have an interest.

The Kingdom of Liars by Nick Martell

 I received this book from Gallery / Saga Press and in exchange for fair and honest review.

The Kingdom of Liars is a debut novel by Nick Martell which he wrote in his last two years of college. The setting is a place called Hollow on an alternate world from our own that takes place around the time of the industrial revolution and the move towards gun powder but combined with magical elements.

Here’s the blurb from the publisher:

In this brilliant debut fantasy, a story of secrets, rebellion, and murder are shattering the Hollows, where magic costs memory to use, and only the son of the kingdom’s despised traitor holds the truth.

Michael is branded a traitor as a child because of the murder of the king’s nine-year-old son, by his father David Kingman. Ten years later on Michael lives a hardscrabble life, with his sister Gwen, performing crimes with his friends against minor royals in a weak attempt at striking back at the world that rejects him and his family.

In a world where memory is the coin that pays for magic, Michael knows something is there in the hot white emptiness of his mind. So when the opportunity arrives to get folded back into court, via the most politically dangerous member of the kingdom’s royal council, Michael takes it, desperate to find a way back to his past. He discovers a royal family that is spiraling into a self-serving dictatorship as gun-wielding rebels clash against magically trained militia.

What the truth holds is a set of shocking revelations that will completely change the Hollows, if Michael and his friends and family can survive long enough to see it.

The book places the reader right into the deep end, beginning at the end of the story and then making its way back to that point throughout the course of the novel. It is told in the first-person with who is not an entirely reliable narrator. There are no all at once data dumps about the magic system or history of the world, but details are revealed at the appropriate times and you will have to be patient and stick with it as your reward. There is no spoon-feeding going on here.

The main character, Michael Kingman, is likable, crafty, and reasonably intelligent, but really is not particularly special, but simply driven and stubborn. Since the book is in the first-person you don’t get a lot of character development from characters not named Michael, but on the other hand, none of them seem two-dimensional or lacking in depth.

While the book contains one or two moments that seem a bit on the “too convenient” side, they are outweighed by far by the moments I didn’t see coming and how the mysteries are neatly tied together to a satisfying conclusion that leaves me eagerly awaiting the next book.

Did I say next book? Yes this is the first of a brand-new trilogy entitled “The Legacy of the Mercenary Kings”

On a scale of one to five, I’m giving it a 4 and am eager to see if he can top it with the following novels. The book is available on Kindle and electronic formats on May 7th and in Hardcover this coming June.

And yes I’ll be back with more baseball content soon as we move to the start of whenever hte season begins. But keep an eye out for more book reviews as well and perhaps even some baseball-related books in addition to the fantasy/sci-fi content.

TGFBI 2020 – Day Three

TGFBI 2020Jumping right into day three of the TGFBI as the decisions become more difficult and risk-taking increases.

Rob Day ThreeLeague 16 Live Draft Link

5:44 Tommy Pham – OF – San Diego
6:47 Brandon Woodruff – SP – Milwaukee

The second Merrifield was gone I locked in on as Tommy Pham as the well-rounded HR/SB threat my team needed most. I debated the pros and cons of perhaps jumping in on Luis Roberts given his potentially long-term better ceiling than Pham against his also potentially much lower floor if he’s unable to acclimate to MLB pitching. That debate was taken out of my hands since he was snagged the third earliest in any of the TGFBI leagues before I had to make my decision.

Pham is still a player with upside his game, particularly due to his stolen base efficiency coupled with his on-base skills. Pham’s groundball rates have been trending upwards, so he’ll remain right at the cusp of the twenty-homerun plateau. While he made good improvements in his contact-making game it stands out right now as something of an outlier and a regression back to the 20% strikeout arena is more likely until we have more data. Still, the overall package makes him a good fit for my roster.

For the Woodruff selection, I was focusing on three starters, Mike Soroka and Lance Lynn being the other two. I landed on Woodruff as a still-emerging upper end of the rotation starter who has the greatest potential of these three to be in the conversation at least a second-round pick in 2021. In fact, the only reason he may not have gone earlier was due to missing time with a non-arm related (oblique) injury that cost him about two months of action. He has a deep repertoire of plus pitches and made strides in improving his velocity last season. Health permitting, he has the potential to ascend to the next tier of pitchers in 2020.

Kevin Day ThreeLeague 26 Draft Live Link

Pick 5.73 – OF – Marcel Ozuna – ATL

Pick 6.78 – RP – Kirby Yates – SD

In the early rounds, I have been taking the best veteran player available, in my estimate. Starting off my draft with a solid Pitcher-Batter combo has afforded me the opportunity to do so. But now it’s time to get down to business, as one-by-one, talented baseball players tick off the board. Playing against competition the likes of what we have in the TGFBI keeps one working hard. Every home league has that one owner, a guy who is the Comish’s uncle, the guy whose draft prep consisted solely of stopping at Walgreens on the way to the draft and picking up a couple of baseball magazines. TGFBI does not have that guy – there are 300 plus owners who know what they are doing. There’s no chance in this league that an owner takes Josh Donaldson in the second round because his own mother’s maiden name is Donaldson. I’m competing against the best of the best.

I took Ozuna in the fifth round, to pair with Blackmon on my roster. Having only one SP on my team so far, I did strongly consider adding Bauer at this point but thought he may fall to me at 6.78 (he was, unfortunately, picked right after I took Ozuna). I feel that his move to a more hitter-friendly ballpark can only help his power numbers. And having some of the game’s elite talent on base ahead of you can only help the RBI numbers. So far in the draft, I have taken three high BA hitters and Ozuna doesn’t hurt that trend at all. If everything clicks, Ozuna could give me a .290-30-100 type season. He’s playing for a contract once more and I’m a believer. Another solid veteran pick for me here.

Let me preface the next pick by saying I cannot even remember the last time I drafted a closer in the sixth round. I’m your typical wait until the second and third tier of closers is being picked to start worrying about saves. But a funny thing happened to me during my very first TGFBI season last year. I didn’t draft quality closers figuring I would grab some along the way via FAAB. That never happened (refer to my acknowledgment. My reward for that strategy was finishing at the bottom of the save category and, most, unfortunately, helping me finish right in the middle of the pack overall. If I had only grabbed some closers earlier and got another 7-8 points in the SV category… if, if, if. Once bitten twice shy, I guess. With Yates, I get an elite closer who has the chance to be the best in the league in 2020. His microscopic WHIP and ERA in 2019 along with a 14.98 K/9 ratio allowed him to register 41 saves. I cannot see, barring injury, where Yates will fail to provide similar numbers in 2020. I will spend the next 4 weeks telling myself I went too early on this pick but come mid-July, I will be happy I did.