Lessons learned from Tout Wars fantasy baseball draft

In a few hours, I’m flying to New England, a weekend flush with old friends, great food, live music, and a fantasy baseball league that dates back to the 1990s. It’s one of the best weekends of the year.

Last weekend was lovely, too, with the yearly ride into the Tout Wars Mixed-League salary cap draft. It’s a 15-manager dance, and we divvy up the players through a salary cap (auction) draft.

I didn’t love my result from last week, and I didn’t hate it. Here’s a quick look at how I filled each positional group. Note that this league uses OBP instead of batting average; otherwise, it’s your usual 5×5 dance. FAB bidding is once a week, and we set lineups on Mondays.

Catcher: Christian Vazquez $4, Ryan Jeffers $2

I went bargain bin with this position, though I give Vazquez a fair chance to be a Top 12 backstop. Jeffers has some pop but could be an OBP sinkhole; you can say that about most of the catcher pool. I was hoping to land Elijah Diazthe rare underrated Colorado batter, but he went for $8 and it didn’t fit my shape at the time.

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No stars, just talent. Muncy’s stock is on the rise with his elbow on the mend and the season starting an eyelash late. Arenado was the first player I procured; he it was n’t a target, just a case of holding the final offer at a number I could stomach. Cron for 10 bucks in the thin air feels like a gift.

This is a group I’m happy with. Cronenworth fits the profile of an underrated player — he’s versatile and good at many different things without holding one outstanding skill. He’ll also likely start the year slotted third, and you want to collect at many at-bats as you can in a mixed league (getting good batting slots is a simple way to accomplish this, and the players hitting high in a lineup are usually good hitters anyway). Semien is being docked by the Regression Police, but he was also a superstar in 2019. McMahon might lose some short-side platoon time — the great Gene McCaffrey always laughs that the Rockies can’t wait to get their best players off the field — but so long as he hits third against righties, I can make par or birdie on nine bucks.

Regression is possible with Marcus Semien, but he’s still going to be a valuable fantasy baseball asset in 2022. (AP Photo/Matt York)

There’s no alpha in my outfield, just a lot of boring but steady veterans, forever my jam. Grossman and Baddoo could easily combine for 40 homers and 40 steals, and Gurriel is neatly screened by the bigger names in Toronto. Benintendi and Rosario are similar to Cronenworth, broadly-skilled players without anything that knocks your socks off. The salaries made sense.

Lux was a mistake, a dumb play given that he’s not currently a starter and my goal was to have an offense of full participation. Usually I’m aware in the endgame and don’t get involved with players I don’t really want, but somehow Lux ended up on my team and there were plenty of outfielders at his offer point (or cheaper) that I’d trade Lux for in a second. On the plus side, almost any injury to an LAD starter would likely lead to Lux getting a chance. But my expectations are low, and I view him as a flat-out error.

I would have bet anything that Bryan Reynolds would be on my roster, but Jeff Zimmerman landed him for $20 at a time when it didn’t make sense for me to cut a check. Jeff had a heck of a draft; he spent early, and had monetary control late when the player pool still had plenty of useful players remaining. Tony Kemp for $2 and Max Stassi for $1 are two transactions I especially liked.

Offensive Evaluation: According to the Baseball HQ projections — which are run on the website and I considered after the draft, but not during — this is an average offense. We’re projected to score nine in runs (15 is best in any category), 8.5 in homers, 11 in RBIs, 6 in steals, 5 in OBP. My goal with most mixed-league rosters is to be dynamic in runs, which means I addressed participating and batting slot.

Five of my six bench picks were hitters, hopefully finding answers if Lux isn’t starting or someone else gets hurt early. Thatgroup: Nick Madrigal, Jose Iglesias, Patrick Wisdom, dom smith, Anthony Santender. Only Madrigal is projected to have a strong OBP. Iglesias at least has the elements on his side of him. Smith’s poor 2021 season might come under the category of excused absence.

With this offensive group as a whole, I better have a strong pitching staff. I think I do, but pitching is also more volatile — ideally, I’d prefer to love my hitting and be less sure — but at least intrigued — by my pitching.

Starting Pitchers: Walker Buehler $36, Julio Urias $31, John Means $6, Anthony DeSclafani $4, Cal Quantrill $2

I have two frontmen, which is nice. You’re not trying to be a hero with your big-ticket items, you merely want pars. I have two young starters tied to the best roster in baseball. I’ll have plenty of Dodgers games on the telly; I just wish Vin Scully were still describing them.

There’s no depth in my starting rotation, something I screwed up at the draft. I maintained my own spreadsheet separate from the online draft room (not Yahoo) that we used; I wanted my own player ordering and didn’t want to get caught in the weeds of the forced player queue. Unfortunately, when I tried to queue and bid a needed Mark Gonzalez late in the proceedings, I was tripped up by Mark Gonzalez, a nondescript prospect in the Cleveland system who I honestly had never heard of. Thus, I wound up with an unwanted Will Smith instead of a final starter. I’ll look to fix this later.

I do like the rest of my staff for what it is, but you need depth. Means beat the Baltimore park last year and now it’s a much bigger park. Disco is tied to a San Francisco organization I have a lot of trust in. Quantrill is a pan for much of the analyst community, but he can give back much of last season’s gains and still be playable in a 15-team mixer.

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Bullpen: Jordan Romano $18, Corey Knebel $11, Will Smith $1, Michael Fulmer $1, Drew Steckinrider (reserve pick)

We all know the save chase is volatile and chaotic, but I assembled the type of handshake group I like. Romano was a second-tier pick who could be a top-tier return, Knebel looks like a minted closer in Philly, and I give Fulmer a good chance to topple the control-challenged Gregory Soto. Smith was a timeout mistake, but maybe he’ll be useful in a Chad Green sort of way (I wanted Green, incidentally, but others did, too). Steckinrider is one of a cast of thousands in a crowded Seattle bullpen.

Pitching Evaluation: The projections like the staff, giving me 9.5 for wins, 14 for saves, 15 for ERA, 14 for WHIP, and 5 for strikeouts. Unfortunately, there’s so much variance in ratio stats, it’s folly to expect anyone’s ERA and WHIP to reliably resemble what we expect in March. I need to balance out this roster with more starting options, and I’d also like to grab a useful non-closing reliever or two, someone tied to a winning team. Thankfully, this is the easiest thing to find in-season — look for a zesty K/BB rate about 3-4 weeks in and name your price.

Final Evaluation: The HQ projections have me slotted for a second, but again, that’s tied to my pitching grading very high (hard to trust that). I’m not surprised to see Brent Hershey projected for first, given that he’s an outstanding player and he’s also an HQ guy (so he’s likely in step with many of their evaluations). My nature is to favor being realistic over being optimistic; I think I can contend with this team, but I’m not in love with it, either. Then again, I don’t hate the start, either, so there’s that.

I used to play in the AL and NL-only versions of Tout — I came in second in back-to-back NL seasons, once upon a time — but I opted for the mixer a decade ago because of the playability. I like that the waiver wire will have interesting options every week. I like knowing all 30 teams are relevant all season. It’s time to get to work. Let’s see if we can make good decisions in-season.

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