*Note this article first appeared in The Fantasy Baseball Guide Professional Edition 2020 available on a newsstand near you now and online at https://www.thefantasyguide.com/
My victory this year in AL Tout Wars, like any fantasy baseball win, was the product of draft day strategy, free agency and trade savvy, and a fair share of luck.
For years I’ve been a proponent of “boring is best” or risk mitigation. To that end, I went with a budget of 180 to 190 on hitters, rostering stalwarts in the power/OBP categories like Edwin Encarnacion, Carlos Santana, and Nelson Cruz all while without going over $25 and budgeting between $180-$190 hitting. In the same vain I targeted an established ace and went with Verlander, Gerrit Cole, and Corey Kluber being my other primary targets. The reason was those three, plus Kluber, were the only amongst a bunch of pitchers being purchased at ace-level prices, had the baseline of throwing the amount and quality of innings at a high level for the last three or more years. As we can see, anchoring your staff especially at the above normal prices of 2019 is a risky move, but some options, at least theoretically speaking, were safer options than others based on track record.
Draft Day Bargains
I was certain Mike Minor ($7), D.J. LeMahieu ($9), and Mark Canha (RES) were all going to earn profits for me, but more of the $15 to $20 combined range. I didn’t predict LeMahieu improving on his Coors Field experience or for Minor to throw over 200 innings and perform at that high a level. Minor was grabbed after pitching budgets had emptied out while LeMahieu and Canha’s uncertain playing time muted the room’s enthusiasm to acquire them.
Knowing Your League Rules
Tout Wars has a fifteen-game minimum rule as opposed to the normal twenty and often in the heat of the auction, it can fall by the wayside and lead to opportunities which I found for Carlos Santana at 3B and Jonathan Schoop to fit nicely at shortstop. At the very least, targeting the secondary position of players for later in the auction or draft for when their primary positions have been filled on other league mate’s roster is a good way to bargain hunt.
Lemons into Lemonade
While I aimed to snag an ace of the three I mentioned above, I also wanted to similarly focus on anchoring my pen with a closer with a fair track record and failed miserably to say “$20” on Aroldis Chapman and ended up with Cody Allen at $14. Allen at the time had the saves track record, but every other bit of his skills and talents were trending downwards and he may now be out of baseball, let alone no longer a closer. Having a failed closer early in the season though helps focus one’s efforts on his likely successor and everything pointed to the Angel’s favoring Hansel Robles over second-year player Ty Buttrey and I pounced with a risky $300+ bid. Robles is known for his strikeouts and the home runs he’s let up, particularly with my hometown Mets, so a few of those early on could have sunk them, but a closer role and non-high leverage situation suited him. Liam Hendriks meanwhile had similarly established himself as the number two guy while Blake Treinen was struggling and managed to pick him up before he was potentially prohibitively expensive. I originally projected myself to finish in the lower to the middle of the pack in saves with Allen, but the duo along with the occasional save from Adam Ottavino, whose value in innings and strikeouts cannot be understated in the environment of the post-200 inning starter era, landed me third place in saves. The addition of a second closer in single-league only formats remains one of the easiest and best ways to vault up the standings if you can acquire them via trade or FAAB.
Minor League Monitoring
Another of Tout Wars’ somewhat unique rules is the ability to pick up players still in the minors and add them to your roster provided you’re willing to earn 0 points in that roster slot for the upcoming week. When you’re replacing an injured or unproductive player, that’s an easy call. Yordan Alvarez was mauling Triple-A pitching and Houston was playing with a platoon outfield, an injury to Springer, and a revolving door at DH made him a very targeted grab in late April at $9. The luck/lesson here is being lucky enough where no one else was ready to pull the trigger yet and to be thinking several weeks in advance. There were several other good examples of this year with Orlando Mercado and Cavan Biggio being other examples of good grabs in that regard. It helps though to focus on contending teams not afraid of service time. The White Sox have had Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert destroy the minors two years in a row, tantalizing fantasy owners as potential call-ups. I had drafted and then re-FAABed Oakland catcher Sean Murphy just shy of September call-ups knowing he’d get a chance to play and though used part-time, played well.
Down the stretch especially I targeted the categories I could make ground in and categories I could try to block others. With several late injuries on the hitting side, my best bets were to focus on steals, wins, and strikeouts. For the first part, I moved Aaron Hicks for Mallex Smith. Neither player was particularly good, but all I wanted were steals and the 19 I received were ideal. Though out of contention for Greinke on FAAB day, I used my depth on offense to acquire him the day after the MLB trade deadline who acc9ounted for 7 wins, a 3.02 ERA, and 50 strikeouts.
The Final Week
The standings were tight with me a nervous mess from August on. The last two weeks were all about filling in gaps with callups (Murphy and Ryan McBroom) and maximizing opportunities to obtain wins and strikeouts given enough breathing room in ERA/WHIP categories to throw Dillon Peters, Trent Thornton, and Gio Gonzalez into action. It didn’t hurt that Justin Verlander was chasing 3,000 career K’s and 300 season strikeouts as milestones that week either.