How I Won Tout Wars

Back in mid-February, I was invited into the inaugural Tout Wars mixed draft league, which was a real honor as it is one of the two most prestigious “expert” leagues the members of the industry participate in. A month later, I drafted my team. My full results and analysis can be found here.

As a quick reminder, it’s a 15-team, 5×5 rotisserie league with standard 23-man active rosters and a 4 player bench. The one quirk is that it uses OBP instead of AVG. I led the league the majority of the season and heading into the Rangers-Rays tiebreaker game, I was winning by 5.5 points. Unfortunately, the current second place team, Tom Kessenich, mathematically still had a chance to overtake me. It was highly unlikely, but there was a non-zero possibility. Luckily, I held on for the win, despite my lead narrowing to five points. If you’re interested, you can check out the full final standings here.

So you don’t have to click over to my original draft article, this is the team I drafted with round numbers following each. I drafted 7th.

C: Yadier Molina (7)
C: Chris Iannetta (21)
1B: Joey Votto (1)
3B: Kevin Youkilis (15)
CI: Chris Carter (17)
2B: Ian Kinsler (2)
SS: Derek Jeter (12)
MI: Chase Utley (8)
OF: Matt Holliday (3)
OF: Desmond Jennings (4)
OF: Shin-Soo Choo (5)
OF: Carlos Gomez (14)
OF: Justin Ruggiano (16)
U: Lorenzo Cain (20)
P: C.C. Sabathia (6)
P: Tim Lincecum (9)
P: Dan Haren (10)
P: Sergio Romo (11)
P: Glen Perkins (13)
P: Matt Garza (18)
P: Andrew Cashner (19)
P: Trevor Bauer (23)
P: Chad Billingsley (24)
BN: Drew Stubbs (22)
BN: Frank Francisco (25)
BN: Chris Archer (26)
BN: Wily Peralta (27)

Drafted Roster

The first thing that may jump out at you is that this certainly doesn’t look like a winning squad. Winning teams are typically filled with breakouts or at least players who provided solid profits given their draft costs. Amazingly, I did not benefit from one breakout performance from a player I drafted. In fact, I counted 11 disappointments from the 23 starting players I drafted! That’s pretty crazy.

One of the cool features that onRoto.com, the stats service Tout Wars used this year, offers is the standings with the draft day rosters. I assume this means that if transactions weren’t allowed and your starting roster was locked and based on who you drafted, what would the standings look like. Well, I won in those standings as well, with just 8.5 points less than my actual point total. Looking at the names on my roster, it’s hard to believe, but I have to chalk it up to simply valuing players correctly and scooping up undervalued players in many of the rounds, even if those specific players didn’t actually outperform expectations.

Now let’s go position by position and see how how I managed this team during the season. Yadier Molina was a mainstay and despite both his homer and stolen base contributions declining from 2012, produced excellent value. I was real happy with my Chris Iannetta selection in the late rounds as he gets a significant boost from the switch to OBP. He was quite the disappointment all year though and started losing more and more playing time to Hank Conger, so I sought out a trade for a replacement catcher. I accomplished this at the beginning of September, so naturally Iannetta earned the highest fantasy value in any month in the last one when I no longer owned him! Still, he did ensure my OBP remained atop the category standings.

Although Joey Votto finished second in baseball in OBP, he probably earned less fantasy value than I projected for him in this league. He only knocked in 73 runs and that cost me a couple of potential RBI points. I thought I was sitting pretty with a 15th round Kevin “The Greek God of Walks” Youkilis pick in his first full season with the Yankees, but a back injury limited him to just 118 plate appearances and he did nothing in those as it is. That led me to a never ending adventure trying to find a third baseman. I went a couple of weeks with Luis Valbuena, then managed to trade him and ended up with Lonnie Chisenhall. Eventually, I made another trade to shore up this obvious hole and landed Aramis Ramirez, who shortly after went on the DL with more knee issues! So yeah, third base was quite the disaster.

Chris Carter performed almost exactly as could have been expected and was worth much more in this format that counts OBP than in a batting average league. Moving along to the middle of the infield, I was questioned by someone in the comments in my initial draft post about why I took Ian Kinsler in the second round rather than Dustin Pedroia. Obviously looking back, it was the wrong decision. I valued Kinsler a smidge higher than Pedroia and his upside was much greater than Pedroia’s was. Kinsler ended up missing some time due to injury and was a bit of a disappointment when he was on the field. He obviously didn’t earn anywhere near his second round draft slot, but a 13/15 season from a second baseman is still pretty good.

Ugghhh, Derek Jeter. If you thought my third base carousel was bad, wait until you hear what I did at shortstop! I played Alex Gonzalez for 77 at-bats. Then Mike Aviles fell into nearly full-time play and I picked him up for another 126 at-bats. After that, Brad Miller was recalled by the Mariners and he became my shortstop the rest of the way and was a solid contributor. Over the last two weeks of the season when Miller hurt his hamstring, I dropped him and went with Jonathan Villar, who did absolutely nothing for me. Overall, I think I did rather decently with my shortstop replacements and managed to get above replacement level production. As I had hoped when I drafted him, Chase Utley managed to garner the most plate appearances he has since 2009. He was a nice contributor across all categories and provided exactly what I needed.

In the outfield, Matt Holliday rode a strong finish to ensure he was worth his third round selection, while Shin-Soo Choo loved his first year in Cincinnati and took a page out of the Joey Votto Book of Plate Patience, easily posting the highest walk rate of his career, as well as his first OBP above .400. I did end up trading him in early August, but I’ll discuss that in a bit. Desmond Jennings was a pretty big disappointment, primarily because of his lack of steals. Some might consider Carlos Gomez a breakout, but really, this is exactly what he did last year, but extrapolated over more at-bats. Still, he was certainly my best draft pick and earned the most profit. Both Justin Ruggiano and Lorenzo Cain were busts. Ruggiano more so compared to my own expectations, but Cain battled injuries and his power was MIA.

The pitching staff I drafted looks awful! I kept and started C.C. Sabathia all year. I’m one of those stubborn fantasy owners who will never bench someone like Sabathia given his history and the much more respectable SIERA he was posting all season. Tim Lincecum and Dan Haren were busts as well…to me at least. Trevor Bauer was a crapshoot, as I was hoping that he would win a rotation spot out of spring training. He didn’t, which is probably a good thing given how terrible his control was at Triple-A this season and over his four spot starts with Cleveland. Chad Billingsley started two games for me before going down with an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery. And Andrew Cashner, oh dear. When he opened the season in the bullpen, I had no choice but to drop him because of our small bench. When Matt Garza returned from his stint on the DL to open the season, he was excellent for the Cubs, but I probably should have tried to shop him more aggressively when he was traded to the Rangers.

My bench players didn’t help me at all, and historically in my local league that I commish, I always get great value from my reserves. I did trade Drew Stubbs, but Frank Francisco was injured all year and I dropped both Chris Archer and Wily Peralta very early on.

Pickups

Where I think I made a big difference was in my FAAB additions. Brandon Moss was inexplicably dropped in the middle of the season and in need of power, I pounced. He provided me with a .394 OBP, 11 homers and 28 RBI in just 89 at-bats. I also enjoyed 100 at-bats from Ike Davis before his season was cut short by an oblique injury. After he was recalled by the Mets, he was showing much improved plate discipline and I figured the power was going to come sooner or later. He contributed a .447 OBP, 4 homers and 15 RBI. Aside from Brad Miller, I had added Nick Franklin as well, the other rookie middle infielder called up by the Mariners this season. He was solid during his short stay on my team and I was able to trade him away to address another need.

Naturally with a pretty pathetic pitching staff assembled during the draft, you would assume I must have made some impact acquisitions during the season. You would be right. I picked up Patrick Corbin before the season began, but only started him for 45.2 innings of the 86.2 innings he was actually on my team for. He gave me a 2.56 ERA, but posted a sub-2.00 ERA while on my bench! I eventually traded him away and avoided that awful second half. I managed to time Hector Santiago‘s good starts perfectly, getting 55.3 innings of 2.93 ball, while he posted a 4.96 ERA in 16.3 innings on my bench. Brandon McCarthy, David Phelps, Marco Estrada, Danny Salazar, Scott Kazmir, and Rick Porcello all contributed positively to my pitching totals.

In terms of relievers, Danny Farquhar contributed eight saves, while Edward Mujica had to be considered for MVP free agent pickup honors saving 30 games for me with a 2.27 ERA. The Mujica pickup was one of my best calls. When Jason Motte went down with an elbow injury, the speculation was on as to who would replace him. I said Mujica would be the new closer before such an announcement was made and practiced what I preached by picking him up in every one of my leagues.

Trades

There were only eight trades all season in this league. This may sound like a reasonable amount or extremely low depending on how trade happy your league is. I’m not exactly the most experienced of expert league players, but it’s much harder to make trades in such a competitive league, so I would bet this is rather normal.

Of those eight trades, I was involved in five of them. This isn’t normal. I’m not typically a big trader as I find trade negotiations annoying, frustrating and difficult. But I kept finding myself with depth and injury or categorical needs which encouraged me to send out offers, of which several ended up getting accepted. The trades were as follows:

Earl-Jun, Drew Stubbs for Rickie Weeks: Although I valued Stubbs in positive territory and was excited to nab him as a reserve pick, he never appeared in my active lineup. His stolen base attempts disappeared and he didn’t contribute enough anywhere else to convince me to make room for him. At this time, I was dealing with injuries to both Kinsler and Utley and considered this a good opportunity to buy low on Weeks. He actually performed pretty well for me before being relegated back to the bench when my second base pair returned and then he injured his hamstring which ended his season.

Mid-Jun, Patrick Corbin & Nick Franklin for Madison Bumgarner: I was trying like mad to sell high on Corbin, as at the time, he sported a 2.31 ERA. While I did think he would remain a solid pitcher going forward, I figured I would get more value from him than he would produce if I traded him away. Over his next 18 starts, he recorded a 4.40 ERA, though most of the damage came in the season’s final two months. Franklin was expendable when my second basemen got healthy and Bumgarner was one of the many starting pitchers I needed to give me a boost in the pitching categories.

Early Jul, Sergio Romo and Luis Valbuena for Aramis Ramirez: At the time, I was overflowing with closers and was desperate for a third baseman that I was confident leaving in the lineup all season. Ramirez’ power outage and knee issues worried me, but I basically had no other options to trade for. I bit my lip, made the trade, and saw Aramis return to the disabled list for over a month just a couple of days later. However, he did perform quite well when he was actually on the field.

Early Aug, Shin-Soo Choo & Steve Cishek for Giancarlo Stanton: This was purely due to where I stood in the various categories. I may have led the league in OBP every single day of the season, not totally sure. But if not, it was close. I clearly was able to afford to trade OBP and I also didn’t need runs scored. What I did need, however, was RBI and power. In that case, was there any more perfect a swap than Choo for Stanton? Well, perhaps Chris Davis, but my attempt at him failed. I was also still overflowing with closers even after trading Romo, so Cishek was expendable.

Early Sept, Derek Jeter for Ryan Doumit – Jeter had just returned from his 14th DL stint of the season and I was at my wits end with Iannetta. Doumit’s owner was carrying three catchers and so had one to spare. It looked like a perfectly fair trade at the time, but Jeter got injured once again to end his season, while Doumit gave me the extra at-bats and power I craved.

Final Thoughts

Though the “drafted roster standings” suggests I actually did draft the best team, I give a ton of credit to the various pickups I made, such as Brandon Moss, Patrick Corbin and Edward Mujica, as well as being able to make trades to fill holes. Interestingly, the correlation between the “drafted roster standings” and the actual standings was pretty high at 0.77. It’s always fun to argue about how important the draft is compared to the in-season action, and this tiny sample of one season in one league showed us that the draft was pretty darn important. RotoGraphs editor Eno Sarris may have had the best in-season performance, as his drafted roster would have only scored 57 points, while his actual team accumulated 83.5 points.

So what else is there to learn? In an article in early August, I discussed the virtues of trading from depth. In this league, every single time I felt like I had a starting-worthy player sitting on my bench, I ventured out to the trade market. It’s nice to have depth in the case of injuries, but if those don’t come, you’ve missed out on turning those pieces into potential value. It also pays to be lucky, of course, like I was with Corbin, and to pay close attention to players that are dropped for no good reason, like Moss.

Next, it has become a popular strategy to focus on hitting and pay less for starting pitching. I have followed this strategy nearly my entire fantasy player career. I do this because it works. I turned a drafted pitching staff that would have garnered just 43 points, ranking as the 6th best staff in the league, into a 56.5 point earner, ranking 3rd. My offense actually tallied fewer points than in the drafted roster standings. It’s simply much easier to improve your pitching staff, especially in a deeper league, than it is your offense.

Last, make sure you are valuing players for the exact format of your league! In my original write up of my draft, I said, “From the very beginning, it was pretty obvious that a handful of owners were drafting as if it were a traditional 5×5 league that uses AVG instead of OBP.” It shouldn’t surprise anyone then that I won the OBP category. I came into the draft with dollar values using OBP instead of AVG, so I didn’t need to mentally adjust a player’s value to factor in the switch. I think this is one of the biggest mistakes fantasy owners make — relying on generic published rankings that assume a completely different format than yours (such as rankings based on 5×5 roto scoring, rather than H2H points).

Phew, this is perhaps the longest article I have ever published. I know that “nobody cares about your fantasy team”, but hopefully you made it to the end, enjoyed hearing about my path to victory, and at the very least, learned something about fantasy strategy that you could apply in your league next year.




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Mike Podhorzer produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. He also sells beautiful photos through his online gallery, Pod's Pics. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.


24 Responses to “How I Won Tout Wars”

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  1. pryguy says:

    Nice work Mike! I came back and clinched a fantasy title in yesterday’s tiebreaker game over a team that had been in first place for three months. Glad that didn’t happen to you! Thanks for all the great projections and analysis this year.

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  2. jcxy says:

    Congrats! I bought your book the other week and have been anxiously waiting for the season to finish up. Can’t wait to see how much I can improve on my projections from this year!

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  3. Chris R says:

    Congratulations, Mike. No matter what roto.com says, it’s hard to believe you could have won with the roster you drafted. Your win shows the value of perseverance and adaptation.

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  4. slash12 says:

    congrats!

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  5. Chris says:

    I flipped Corbin and Archer in my keeper league for Cespedes back in May. For a keeper league, I still think it was a good move since I think Cespedes has just too much talent not to have a bounce back year in 2014.

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  6. buddyglass says:

    So I won my league at ESPN this year and there are zero players in common between the set of players you drafted and the set of players I drafted. That seems pretty statistically “weird”. Not because we won our respective leagues either; I’d expect any two teams from different leagues to have at least one player in common after their respective drafts.

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  7. My experience is that there is less trading in expert leagues than home leagues, for a variety of reasons that would probably make for an entire article.

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  8. Scott Clarkson says:

    Congrats Mike! I took your Mujica advice and ran with it to a championship in my 16-team 5×5 this year.

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  9. shibboleth says:

    Congrats on the victory! Typically I agree, “no one cares about your fantasy team.” But when you win something as prestigious as Tout, and do it with your draft (which — as you said — doesn’t look like a winning squad at first blush), then there are all kinds of valuable takeaways. Required reading IMHO.

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  10. Joel says:

    I guess I question calling a league an expert league if a handful of the owners did not rate players based on the league scoring rules. Not knowing the league was scored on OBP vs AVG is NOT a mistake you should ever see in expert league.

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  11. Joebreidey says:

    “Moving along to the middle of the infield, I was questioned by someone in the comments in my initial draft post about why I took Ian Kinsler in the second round rather than Dustin Pedroia. Obviously looking back, it was the wrong decision. I valued Kinsler a smidge higher than Pedroia”

    That might have been me. My criticism was rooted in the fact that Posey was available, as well as Pedey, Zobrist, and another pretty good 2B. There didn’t appear to be a material reason to prefer Kinsler over those two, if at all, so why not take a premier catcher at that slot, and pick up anyone of the three 2Bs in the following round? Molina had an excellent year, so it didn’t matter too much. It’s that, just from a value perspective, all things being equal, why not Posey & Zobrist instead of Kinsler & Molina?

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    • Simply because catchers are always valued less in drafts than I value them at so I avoid being the first to draft a catcher. You also don’t know if those 2nd baseman would have been available the following round. It’s tough when the only ADP you have is based on an AVG league, so I had to completely guess how owners were going to adjust values, if at all.

      Let me check back on my values and see how much each pair was worth. Posey $26, Zobrist $22 for a $48 total. Kinsler $24, Molina $19. But, you cannot possibly compare those 2 pairs! Zobrist went in the 3rd round and I got Molina in the 7th. So you’re comparing a 2nd and 3rd rounder to a 2nd and 7th rounder. That’s not fair.

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      • Joebreidey says:

        Yeah, one of the things I mentioned in my original response that I was looking at it with 20/20 hindsight, and there was no way to know who would still be available. There is nothing more fun in Rotisserie than picking someone in the 3rd round, and then seeing someone you liked almost as much, go in the 5th round.

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  12. Joebreidey says:

    Whoops, should have included my congratulations. You somehow managed to succeed without my advice:)

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  13. Ralph Libinski says:

    Nicely done, congrats. Two things really boggle the mind here: that Gomez was available around pick 200 at this level of competition, and that you got anywhere near the top with that starting staff!

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    • Clearly, no one believed in Gomez! I took advantage of lots of starting pitcher drops whose SIERA marks were much better than their ERAs. They turned things around as soon as they joined my staff, which is why I always stress that owners need to look beyond ERA.

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      • Joebreidey says:

        I’m surprised that you could con anyone at that level. Even at my level, not many people panic or pay attention to short-term anomalies.

        And, FWIW, I find just as much success trading away SPs that I think are pitching over peripherals.

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      • You would have been shocked by some of the players dropped in the league!

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      • Joebreidey says:

        FWIW, that’s the basis for a great article. I go through my trade transactions each year to see where I went wrong, or right, and try to figure out if it was pure luck, and did I or someone else make a mistake.

        You should summarize all the major blunders by type, and see if you could draw some common elements between the blunders, like a player with a BABIP of .200 being unnecessarily dropped, or the SP with the 5.00 ERA, but the 3.5 K/W.

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      • It was generally the same owners making silly moves like dropping the pitcher with a bad ERA, but good SIERA. No idea the reasoning behind dropping Moss though and some closers who were sputtering were dropped as well, like Cishek (who I picked up) and Frieri who I couldn’t believe.

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  14. JDW says:

    I am amazed – and very impressed – that you won Tout with those names. That is some DEEP fantasy knowledge. And winning by 5 points is no joke. Really, really well done. You may have forced me to rethink my fantasy acumen.

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