Chatting with the mixed Tout Wars champ

This year, Cory Schwartz took down the mixed Tout Wars championship. In addition to this new title, Cory is a multiple-time NFBC main event winner, an on-air fantasy expert for MLB Network and vice president of the Statistics Department at MLB Advanced Media. He’s also a friend of mine and all-around nice guy. While he’s fresh off a record-setting point total in the 15-team mixed Tout Wars league, I decided to pick his brain a bit about strategy… but first he had to wash the Yoohoo out of his ears.

You can follow Cory on Twitter at @schwartzstops

Do you approach drafts/auctions with a predetermined plan or budget split for pitching/hitting, or do you just follow the value and build as you go?

I prioritize offense first, bullpen second and starting pitching last in all leagues, with the exact distribution of dollars and draft picks determined by the league format. In a 15-team mixed league like Tout Wars I usually maintain a relatively typical 70/30 split during auctions, but the distribution of that 30 is somewhat atypical compared to other clubs. My split at Tout Wars this year was 71/29, with the $79 I spent on pitching only a dollar less than the league average, but only Eric Mack spent as much on his bullpen as my $39, and no one spent more on relievers than we did.

Meanwhile, only Seth Trachtman spent less on starting pitching than I did, underspending me by one dollar, $40 to $39. Starting pitchers are the most volatile and unreliable category of players, and there’s a great depth to choose from in deep, mixed leagues, so it’s unnecessary to spend heavily to acquire them.

Constructing an effective team requires balancing stability and risk; how do you manage risk when building a team?

John Benson, one of the pioneers of using analytics in fantasy baseball, taught me that “strength loves certainty, but weakness loves risk.” As a result, I try to look for reasonably predictable offensive picks, with balanced category value and some upside, while I spend more aggressively and take on more risk in my starting pitching.

My top seven most expensive offensive purchases all returned full value or close to it, as even relative disappointments like Ian Kinsler ($31), Asdrubal Cabrera ($18) and Jesus Montero ($14) provided decent value for their positions. Eric Hosmer ($26) was a bigger disappointment, but even he produced double-digit homers and steals, so Brennan Boesch ($12) was clearly my most expensive flop, and none of my other offensive disappointments cost more than $4.

On the other hand, the discounted upside picks of Edwin Encarnacion ($9) and Chase Headley ($1) paid huge profits, while the reserve selection of Garrett Jones more than made up for the miss on Boesch and low-cost fliers Alex Presley ($4) and Chris Heisey ($1).

Spending less on starting pitching prompted me to take more risks to find value, and for the most part they all paid off in terms in terms of performance, if not health. Brandon Morrow ($13), Jordan Zimmermann ($9), Brandon McCarthy ($7) and Johan Santana ($3) formed the core of my auction-bought rotation, along with the less-risky but still high-upside Max Scherzer ($12), while I earned considerable profit on the risky upside picks of Homer Bailey and Bartolo Colon during the reserve round.

Cory’s daughter helps administer the Yoohoo shower to celebrate Daddy’s victory

What do you think are some of the most common misconceptions about team building/player evaluation that lead to draft day mistakes?

Overspending on any one player is always a risk, particularly a starting pitcher, because it limits flexibility during the auction and leaves too big a hole in a team’s production if the that player is injured or underproduces. Of the top 10 most expensive hitters purchased in Tout Wars this year, only Miguel Cabrera ($41) and Ryan Braun ($40) came close to earning full value, while Carlos Gonzalez ($40), Robinson Cano ($39) and Hanley Ramirez ($39) produced solid seasons but none provided full value. However, Albert Pujols ($43), Matt Kemp ($40), Justin Upton ($40), Adrian Gonzalez ($40) and Joey Votto ($39) all incurred considerable losses on their owners.

The picture was similarly grim for starters, as Roy Halladay ($26), Cliff Lee ($26), Tim Lincecum ($22), C.J. Wilson ($20) and Dan Haren ($19) were high-priced sinkholes at a position where depth and bargains are plentiful.

To me, it seems that corner infielder positions have lost depth over the past few years; have you perceived any recent shifts in positional value? And, do you anticipate anything similar going forward?

I think that’s purely perception, as offensive depth at the infield corners is typically greater than any other position because that’s where MLB teams look for offense first. A run of injuries among third base-eligible players (particularly Jose Bautista, Brett Lawrie, Ryan Zimmerman, Pablo Sandoval and Alex Rodriguez) could fuel that perception, but certainly the talent is there. I was confident enough in corner infield talent this year that I spent somewhat aggressively on it on draft day (Hosmer $26, Paul Goldschmidt $18 and Encarnacion $9), and used my utility spot on a corner infielder (Headley $1), too. Those four were all key players in my offense this season.

What is your favorite league format and why? Draft vs auction. Mixed vs AL- or NL-only, head to head vs. Roto?

I like mixed leagues over unmixed simply because I enjoy having the opportunity to pick players from both leagues rather than being forced to choose from a limited player pool. I’m indifferent on the question of draft vs. auction, as both have their pros and cons and unique appeals, but I definitely prefer roto formats to head-to-head. In my opinion, the team that proves itself the strongest over the entire 26-week season, should win.

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i dont understand this perception that 3B is such a shallow position. i think it could arguably be the deepest position overall, including OF(based on %s and such with 3 OF on every team)…if you really look at it, youve got Wright, Zimmerman, Freese, Frazier, Aramis, HanRam, Panda, Headley, ARod, Middlebrooks, Lawrie, Joey Bats, Longoria, Machado, Miggy, Moustakas, Youkilis(kinda old now though), Seager, and Beltre…along with several up and coming stars like Machado, Olt, Plouffe(not really sold on him though), Arenado(potential star), etc. while all those guys arent studs, they all either have the potential to be studs, or are… Read more »
Derek Ambrosino
Derek Ambrosino
My perception was really more coming into this season. But, truthfully, my thought is that 3B is top-heavy. You throw a lot of names out there. Coming into this year, the picture was a lot murkier – of those you mention only Miggy, Bats, Longo, Wright, HanRam, and Beltre were sure things… and maybe not so much so on Wright. Even Aramis was coming off a questionable season. Panda and A-Rod were injury risks. Headley wasn’t on radars, neither was Seager. Middlebrooks didn’t have a job. Youk was potentially washed up. I personally was not in on Lawrie. Machado was… Read more »
Will H.
Will H.

I get not paying for SP in 5×5 but $9 for Zimmermann is crazy, especially for an expert league. Any explanation from 14 other managers why they wouldn’t pay 10 for him?