Cory’s Mixed Tout Recap
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As the defending Tout Wars mixed league champion I suppose it’s reasonable to assume that I had a battle-tested, winning strategy prepared as I began the defense of my title with this year’s draft this past Saturday at the Sirius-XM studios here in New York City. Well, sure… all I had to do was find this year’s equivalents to Andrew McCutchen, Edwin Encarnacion and Chase Headley and spend $42 or less doing it. Yeah, right!
Well, OK, I actually did have a general strategy in mind, but it was based on more on getting players who I like at what I thought were good prices, and building a balanced team that could be competitive. The difference between winning and 5th place (or worse) has as much to do with luck, health and the wide range of outcomes available to any player, as it does with a strong draft or savvy free agent acquisitions and trades. Rather than drafting for specific statistical targets or to win-or-else, I just want to draft a team that I like, that I can root for, and that I believe in, and then let the players play. It’s about the journey, not the destination… but another Yoo-Hoo shower would be nice, too!
So, I focused this year on players who fit these four criteria:
* Those who I could get at or below my anticipated auction value based on the dollar values produced my own projection system. Of course, there is always a time to “overpay” in an auction, but for the most part I tried to be very disciplined about overspending my projections.
* Those who are in or nearing the prime, ideally between the ages of 25 and 29. Those are the players who are most likely to improve, or at least maintain their current level of performance.
* Those who carry a low or only moderate injury risk, based on Will Carroll’s invaluable Team Health Reports system. (CLICK HERE to visit Will’s Twitter page). Of course, history shows us time and time again that every player is an injury risk, but I’d rather build my team with players whose injuries can more often be blamed on bad luck, as opposed to those who are more predictably “injury prone.”
* Players I like. Of course, that’s a vague term, and I can’t really specify how I define it. But everyone has their pet players and I do too, so you know what I mean…
Based on those criteria, I think I had a pretty successful draft:
* I only exceeded my projected draft cost on five of my 23 auction-purchased players, and each of those five only by a single dollar. Four of them were projected $1 players that I went to $2 for to make sure I got them in the end game. Overall, I spent my $260 on what I projected to be $280 worth of players, the biggest overall discount obtained by any team in the entire draft.
* Only four of my 23 players are in their age 30 or older season this year, and only one – Lance Berkman — is over age 31. Fourteen of the 23 are between the ages of 25 and 28, prime peak years.
* Only three of my 23 were rated red by Will’s system, and two of those were $2 end-game pitchers, Dillon Gee and Jaime Garcia. I’m always going to take more chances on starting pitchers than anywhere else, and these two have strong indicators that made me willing to take the risk on them.
* I was only able to re-acquire three players from last year’s championship team, which was disappointing, but a few others have been on my NFBC teams in the past, and I did get a handful more who were “target” players that I wanted for various reasons.
One last thing… I didn’t target players by position, only salary slots. For instance, I budgeted $35 for my top hitter, regardless of whether or not that was a first baseman, a middle infielder or an outfielder. I didn’t want to be beholden to position scarcity or roster construction, or let that become more important than acquiring talent. All that said, on to the picks…
C – Matt Wieters ($19 vs. $19 projection). Tout Wars is using OBP this year so I would’ve loved Carlos Santana, who I think is due for a breakout season, but I didn’t think I couldn’t afford him and I was right, as he went for $27, well above my $23 projection. But, I had Wieters in NFBC last year so he is one of “my guys,” and as a 27-year-old with a green THR rating, I think he’s also due for a big year. I project him for .262-24-77-2-77, but that’s essentially a repeat of last year, so I think that’s just his baseline.
C – Wellington Castillo ($1 vs. $1). He should be the Cubs’ primary catcher and contribute good power without hurting the OBP too much. He’s 26 and rated yellow so there’s some risk here but also upside; I project .255-12-41-0-45 but in only 372 at-bats, and he easily could top that with increased playing time. I’m very happy with him as my second catcher.
1B – Paul Goldschmidt ($26 vs. $26). This may have been a small stretch, but he was on my Tout Wars team last year and I don’t think my projection for him (.279-25-88-15 with 90 runs) is overly optimistic. Going from last year’s 20 homers to 25 this year would be a big jump as it is, but I don’t think it’s a stretch that Goldschmidt could approach or even top 30. He’s in his age 25 season and rated yellow, but I don’t think he’s a health risk at all. This could turn out to be a small overpay, or potentially a massive value if he has a genuine breakout season.
3B – Brett Lawrie ($17 vs. $21). I coveted him last year like everyone else, but he went for far more than even I thought he would, so I was thrilled to get him this year at what I think is an excellent discount. Lawrie is 23 so his prime may still be a few years away, and while he’s rated yellow he’s also quickly gaining an “injury prone” reputation, so there’s risk here. But I think my projection (.278-18-71-18 with 84 runs) is very reasonable, especially considering the lineup and ballpark, and if he lives up the hype he carried into last season, he could easily return a profit. I love this pick.
CI – Brandon Belt ($7 vs. $9). I love this pick too. Belt was a guy I targeted going into the draft, and given that I had spent plenty in the early going on my big-ticket players, I was fortunate to get him… I had one $11 slot left for my offense before going into dollar days, and Belt stayed on the board much longer than I thought he would, so I was able to hoard that money long enough to get him for a small discount that enabled me to save a few dollars to double the bid on some useful $1 players. I don’t want to fall prey to the trap of spring stats, but Belt is having such a huge spring that a breakout must be viewed as a real possibility. He’s 25, rated green, and has an everyday job to himself for the first time this year. The projection is for .269-15-62-12 with 81 runs but I believe he’ll blow away those numbers.
2B – Ian Kinsler ($28 vs. $31). Another returnee from last year’s team. His poor second half last year may have depressed his value, but in fact his overall numbers for the year weren’t too far from his career season averages, and I project him for something similar this year (.262-22-81-25 with 99 runs). Kinsler will be 31 this season so he’s one of the elder statesmen of my team, but after two straight seasons of 155+ games, I’m not terribly worried about his yellow injury risk rating, either. He’s got two 30-30 seasons on his resume so there’s plenty of upside with this pick, even at the price.
SS – Eduardo Nunez ($1 vs. $1). I spent big at some other positions (more on that next), preventing me from making a better run at target Erick Aybar by the time he came up for bidding. So, I had to go budget shopping and went for Nunez, even though he could end up being worthless if he doesn’t stick with the Yankees after Derek Jeter comes off the DL. But, I took the gamble that he’ll end up seeing considerable playing time at shortstop, third base and DH; I project him for .265-6-31-29 with 54 runs in 372 at-bats, and he’s in his age 26 season, so given that playing time I think those are realistic numbers. There’s plenty of upside here from a value standpoint, but plenty of risk if I end up having to spend the whole season looking for a real shortstop.
MI – Jason Kipnis ($22 vs. 23). I didn’t truly “need” Kipnis, having already purchased Kinsler, but I like the player and like the price and think there’s upside here. I project him for .263-16-63-26 with 91 runs, which is reasonable if you assume (as I do) that his poor second half last year was reflective of his nagging neck injury and regression after a huge first half, rather than a lack of skill or ability. Obviously, I’m a believer, and he’s 26 and rated green, so that’s where I’ll take my chances. To be fair, I probably would’ve been better off with both Aybar and fellow target Howard Kendrick (who went for a very fair $12 to Ray Flowers), rather than Kipnis and Nunez, but that’s hindsight.
UT – Lance Berkman ($7 vs. $8). I was increasingly desperate for power and OBP as the draft progressed, so I had to forego my age and health standards and take a 37-year-old with a bright red THR rating. I project Berkman for .277-20-66-4 with 73 runs (and a .386 OBP) in 417 at-bats, but that playing time is a total dart-throw and frankly probably a best-case scenario. He’s in a great lineup and ballpark, which certainly helps, but then again he only had 81 at-bats last year, so this is obviously a huge risk. I’ll console myself with his upside and the flexibility of being able to go after the “best available” replacement for him if and when the time comes, since he’s only my UT player.
OF – Matt Kemp ($37 vs. $41). I never would’ve expected to wind up with Kemp, given that I projected him for $6 more than my top budgeted spot, and I even exceeded that by $2 to get him. But, having saved a few dollars against my projections on my first couple of purchases (more about that next), I decided to take a shot on what I thought was a great value for an elite player. He’s still in his prime at 28, although his yellow rating is probably a little generous, given the hamstring and shoulder problems that hampered him last year. But, if he’s healthy, he’ll blow away my projection: .292-32-97-24 with 99 runs. This will either be a huge profit or a huge loss, but it’s hard to imagine Kemp playing a full season and not beating those numbers. This just comes down to his health.
OF – Melky Cabrera ($15 vs. $18). I got him early on at what I thought was a nice discount, so I took that savings and used it to secure Kemp. Melky is 28 so he’s right in his prime, although it’s fair to question what his prime level really does look like after his PED banishment last year. But he’s a very low green injury risk, and has a prime lineup spot in what should be an explosive lineup in a great hitters’ park. There’s risk here, but also plenty of upside. I think his projection of .300-16-71-15 with 91 runs is entirely reasonable and realistic, and I should earn a profit even if he “only” matches that.
OF 3, 4 and 5 – Justin Maxwell ($2 vs. $2), David Murphy ($2 vs. $1) and Wil Venable ($2 vs. $1). Having spent big on my infield in the early going, I had to shop in the discount aisle to fill in my outfield. I could earn a nice profit on any or all of these guys, and if they only match their season averages, which are essentially my projections, they’ll be useful contributors. Maxwell (.225-21-64-18 with 69 runs) has the total toolbox, including strong defensive skills that should keep him in the lineup even if he’s erratic offensively. Murphy (.285-14-56-11 with 71 runs) can’t hit lefties, so he probably won’t play everyday, but he’s been a very consistent producer throughout his career so that projection should be a baseline. Venable (.249-11-47-23 with 68 runs) also struggles against lefties, but even if he’s still in a platoon he should reach those numbers. The trio is 29, 31 and 30 this year, with Maxwell rated yellow while Murphy and Venable are green. I might not earn much profit here, but these won’t be sinkholes even if I can’t upgrade them during the season. My outfield depth was also a weakness last year coming out of the draft, due to flops by Brennan Boesch, Chris Heisey and Alex Presley, but I think this year’s trio are better than those three.
Overall, I think my offense has a ton of speed and I did a good job of protecting the on-base percentage. I have a good group of table-setters and should be strong in the runs category, but I’m a little shy on power, especially if I don’t get some the breakouts beyond the stats I’m projecting.
SP – Yovani Gallardo ($15 vs. $17). I felt at the time like I got a good discount here, but given how many other quality starters went for a dollar or two — or even more – less than I expected, I’m happy but not thrilled. I would rather have bought Jordan Zimmermann for $13 instead, which is a great value for Paul Singman. Anyway, Gallardo is in his age-27 season and the rare starter with a clear green rating, and has been very consistent in his young career. I project him at 15-0-3.56-1.26-208, but if he can finally cut down on the walks, he could emerge as an ace.
SP – Marco Estrada ($7 vs. $10). A key member of last year’s team, I was very surprised to get him so inexpensively given his strikeout potential. He doesn’t have great stuff, but he does have outstanding command and cut down on the longballs in the second half last year, so if that growth is real I could earn a huge profit here. Estrada is 29 and rated yellow, so there is some risk with him, but his projection is for 11-0-3.67-1.20-170, which I expect he’ll surpass across the board.
SP – Jarrod Parker ($7 vs. $8). I targeted him and was thrilled to get him at a nice price. He’s 24 and rated yellow, so there is some regression and injury risk, but he’s already had Tommy John surgery so I actually think he’s relatively safe from a health standpoint. I project him for 14-0-3.57-1.29-152, but I think he’s got major strikeout upside beyond that… his changeup is a near-elite pitch. He’d be better suited as a #4, but based on how I like to build my teams, I’m happy with him as my #3.
SP 4 and 5- Jaime Garcia and Dillon Gee (both $2 vs. $1). Both put up good strikeout numbers, are stingy with the walks, and get a lot of ground balls. Gee is 27 and Garcia is 26, both at prime ages, but both are coming off injury-shortened seasons and rightfully rated red. Still, I’m a big believer that starting pitching is the easiest position to fill during the season, so I’ll gamble on these guys’ skills. I project Garcia for 11-0-3.50-1.29-129 and Gee for 12-0-3.84-1.28-145, although that’s based on the optimistic assumption that they’ll both make 27-28 or so starts.
CL – Aroldis Chapman ($21 vs. $20). I went into the draft fully expecting to buy Craig Kimbrel for $21, considering I got him last year for $19, but Dave Gonos went to $22 on him and I didn’t want to chase so early in the draft. This was especially so since I knew then that I could get Aroldis for that same $21, which I was happy to pay since he’s apparently entrenched back in the closer role. There’s definitely risk here, and he’s rated yellow, but he’s in his prime at age 26 and coming off an elite season, so my projection (5-36-1.94-1.04-102) looks relatively conservative next to last year’s stat line.
MR – Kenley Jansen ($9 vs. $9). Unlike starters, most closers were going for $3-4 more than I expected so I decided to stay disciplined and wait for the prices to come down. Well, they didn’t, so I decided to pull the trigger on the pitcher with the best closer skills behind Kimbrel and Aroldis, even if he’s not opening the season as the closer. Of course, Kenley didn’t open last season as the closer either, and still got 25 saves, so I don’t think my projection of 16 saves (4-16-2.43-1.01-95) is unrealistic. He’s in his prime at 25, although the yellow health rating and offseason surgery could conspire to keep him out of the closer role… but I certainly don’t think Brandon League will.
MR – Ernesto Frieri ($7 vs. $7). With only Aroldis and Kenley in tow and all of the clear-cut closers gone, I targeted Frieri as my third reliever and was fortunate that he stayed on board long enough that I got him at my target price. I actually had an $11 pitcher spot left in my budget, but Frieri went so late in the draft that, like with Belt, I was able to make the max bid at the table to clinch getting him without spending it all on him. I project him for 4-16-3.04-1.18-87 and, like Kenley, he could provide half that many saves, or twice as many. But, he’s 27 and rated green, with great skills and with Ryan Madson still trying to get healthy, so there’s plenty of upside here.
MR – Mitchell Boggs ($4 vs. $6). The Jason Motte news broke the morning of the draft, so while it’s still uncertain how long he’ll be out, the Cards did us a favor by immediately proclaiming Boggs to be his stand-in. I was able to use the savings from Frieri ($7 cost vs. $11 budget) to get Boggs with the max bid at the table late in the draft, and while Trevor Rosenthal may end up as their closer if Motte’s absence is long-term, the road to fifth place is littered with closers of the future and Boggs is the man for now. I project him at 4-8-3.35-1.24-55, but even if I only get a few saves he’ll be worth the bid. I could’ve had Michael Fiers for $4 with my last pick and may regret not taking him, but opted for Boggs’ saves instead.
Note that even though I didn’t spend much on my starting pitching, the outstanding ratios and strikeouts produced by my three main relievers should enable me to churn through plenty of in-season pickups to build the requisite depth. This approach worked well for me last year so I’m traveling that same road again.
As for my reserve picks, I took starters Wily Peralta (9-0-4.02-1.35-135) and Hyun-Jin Ryu (11-0-3.88-1.31-137), a pair of lottery tickets with plenty of upside… reserve target Kyle Kendrick actually went for a buck in the endgame after I had closed out my roster with Boggs, which was surprising and disappointing. I also took Logan Morrison (.257-18-65-2-71) and Delmon Young (.273-16-59-3-61) to stash on my DL for now and ultimately to provide additional outfield depth.
All in all, I don’t have a perfect team, and based on the roster I’ll field on Opening Day, I’m not sure I can win. But, my own projections last year put me in fifth place coming out of the draft, and I did win, so this year’s projected second-place finish is not at all disconcerting. There’s a lot of upside here and I’m very happy with the players I got and the prices I paid.
You can view the complete auction results here
Next up, the 411 listener league, then NFBC!