2014 Tout Mixed Auction Review

After squeaking out last season’s Tout Mixed League title, I felt like I entered Saturday’s auction with a bullseye on my chest. Competing in a league with 14 of the sharpest fantasy minds in the business, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to sneak through many bargains. Without getting too deep into specific bids at the auction, here are the highlights as I saw them:

  1.        Elite starting pitchers have been inflated.  I wondered if this would happen, because the second and third tiers had been thinned by injuries during Spring Training.  Sure enough, the table decided to add a couple dollars to each quality starter, in comparison to previous seasons. A quick look at past Tout data shows that there were more $25 and $20 starters in this auction than any of the past five seasons. Because of the ace-inflation, I decided to make the unusual move to stay away from those hurlers. This decision could cost me a chance to compete for the title, but I’m very stubborn during an auction, and I won’t pay prices that I don’t believe in.
  2.        It is possible to own the two best players and still build a solid roster. Derek Van Riper had the most interesting auction I have ever seen, when he picked up both Trout and Miggy, and was still able to add studs such as Jose Bautista and Billy Hamilton.  But there was obviously a price for Derek to pay, and he ended the auction without any closers. Punting a category is a risky move, but he could always trade his way into the saves market by midseason. Derek’s team will be very interesting to follow.
  3.        Injured players were a great bargain, and I missed out on the deals.  Cory Schwartz was the biggest beneficiary of the table’s hesitancy to buy injured pitchers, as he bought Cole Hamels, Mat Latos and Mike Minor for a total of $26.  If all three of those starters are in his rotation by May 1, he will have a very dangerous team. If I have one major regret from the auction, it’s that I didn’t push the prices of Latos and Minor up another dollar, to see if I could have landed one of them.

I was happy with the individual prices I paid for my own players, but my overall roster construction leaves me with some work to do.  In my opinion, some of my best moves were…..

  1.        Quickly buying Jason Heyward ($20) and Yoenis Cespedes ($15) in the span of a couple minutes in the second half of the auction when the money was starting to run dry.  Both players are rising talents, and they are both good enough to post $30 seasons. I was able to freeze the table with a $20 opening bid on Heyward.  I was very surprised to land him for that price.
  2.        Getting two of the top five closers, Greg Holland ($18) and Trevor Rosenthal ($16).  It’s a known fact that many closers lose their jobs during the season.  Do you know why many of them lose their jobs?  Because they aren’t very good!  Holland, Rosenthal and Steve Cishek (my third closer) should have the skills to hold their spots all season.  Because I didn’t pay for elite aces, I will look to add to my strikeout total and lower my ratios by having a trio of dominant closers.  Holland and Rosenthal should average about four strikeouts per week.  That’s the same as many one-start pitchers, and the two stud closers will have a great effect on my ERA and WHIP.
  3.        I thought that my purchase of Everth Cabrera for $14 was one of my best buys.  Cabrera is one of a few players who could lead the Majors in steals.  I don’t like the values of many shortstops, and had I not bought Cabrera, I likely would have settled on a $1 player.  I had Cabrera valued at much more than $14, so I was happy to get a good deal at a position of need.

This auction was far from perfect for me.  Here are some of the moves that didn’t sit well on my plane ride home.

  1.        As I mentioned earlier, I lack an ace.  Julio Teheran is my top starter, and I don’t really have a No. 2.  After Teheran I have a group of cheap pitchers that I believe in, such as Scott Kazmir, Dan Straily and John Lackey.  But overall, my starting pitching is among the worst in the league. By not drafting an ace, I was able to stack my offense and own the best group of closers in the league, but I just couldn’t have it all.
  2.        Paying full price for some expensive hitters in the first hour of the auction. I have no problem with the prices I paid for Edwin Encarnacion, David Wright and Matt Carpenter. But had I held back on at least one of them, I would have been able to snag some great deals in the outfield in the later stages of the auction.

 

The first time I participated in Tout Wars my main excitement for the weekend was the auction itself. But after three years in the same league, I found that this year I looked forward to seeing the people more than picking the players.  The chance to catch up with long-term league mates, and meet the new faces in the bunch has become my favorite part of the trip.  I’m looking forward to working with my newly-formed roster for the next six months, but I’m looking forward to my March 2015 trip to Foley’s even more.

The full results of all three Tout auctions can be found here:

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/lv?key=0AsAa9oCjuqbwdGJUMzl5bGlpbnVxSk5wel9VTnE3dHc&f=true&noheader=false&gid=5

A LABR Draft Is A Lot Of Work!

The LABR Mixed League draft is appropriately named, but I felt like I was laboring hard on Tuesday night!  My wife would say that I have no idea hard labor is, but then again she has never had to draft a fantasy baseball team against some of the toughest competition in the business.

There is no chance that an owner will leave a draft like the one for LABR feeling completely happy with their team.  The competition is simply too good. And true to form, I’m not completely satisfied with my team. I accomplished most of my goals, but there is plenty more work to do.  I’m not going to break down every pick, because I don’t think anyone would want to read it, but here is my roster!

C – Rosario, Lucroy
CI – Encarnacion, Castellanos, I.Davis
MI – Prado, Hardy, Infante
OF/U – Pence, Crisp, Pagan, Calhoun, Hart, M. Cabrera
Bench – Kubel, Parra

SP – Darvish, Salazar, Ross, Kazmir, Quintana, Peralta
RP – Kimbrel, G. Holland, Cishek
Bench – W. Chen, W. Rodriguez, Putz, Z. McAllister

In the big picture, I followed almost all of my usual patterns:

1.       I was willing to draft catchers early.  I know they are risky, but I believe that they represent good values at the draft table because many owners avoid them in early rounds.  Rosario and Lucroy will allow my team to potentially have 14 productive hitters, rather than being limited with a player like John Jaso or Geovany Soto.
2.       I was willing to draft pitchers early, especially closers. I had a goal of leaving the draft with three closers, but they didn’t necessarily have to be of such a high quality.  That being said, I seem to end up with Kimbrel often, since many owners don’t want to be the first owner to pay for saves.  I know that Holland and Kimbrel will have an extremely positive effect on my ERA and WHIP.  By offsetting the three-closer plan with high-strikeout starters like Darvish, Salazar and Kazmir, I should be able to stay near the top of the league in strikeouts, saves, ERA and WHIP.
3.       I’m boring!  Most of my early-round picks are pretty safe.  Barring injury, it’s hard to see players like Darvish, Encarnacion, Kimbrel, Pence and Holland being busts.  And some of my middle-round selections were also yawners, such as Lucroy, Prado, Hardy, Crisp, Pagan, Cishek and Infante.  I’m not usually the guy who makes the flashy pick early in a draft, or uses an unusual-but-potentially-genius strategy.  I like to have depth, and productive veteran are the best way to build depth.  I will likely miss out of this year’s big breakout players, just like every year.  But that’s ok – you don’t need those players to win a league, because for every breakout, there are five busts.  I dabbled with some uncertain values late in the draft such as Castellanos, Calhoun, I. Davis and Kazmir, but that’s as risky as I get!

 

I missed one of my targets, and that was with stolen bases.  It has been well documented that steals declined across the Majors last season.  And in hindsight, I should have been more aggressive in my pursuit of speed early on in the draft. My mistake was filling my middle infield with players who run about as fast as I do!  Martin Prado, J.J. Hardy and Omar Infante will likely combine for 10-15 swipes this season.  Since it’s rare to get steals from catchers or corner infielders, my strong recommendation is that all fantasy owners get at least one 25-steal middle infielder this season.  Without speed from the middle infield position, it puts on too much pressure to get two or three speedy outfielders.

There’s only one way to address my lack of speed at this point – make trades!  I may be able to hear the collective groans of my 14 league mates all the way up here in Canada when they read the previous sentence!  If I have one dominant quality as a fantasy owner, it’s that I make a lot (too many) trades.  I make some of the best trades and some of the worst trades that you’ll ever see.  Last season, many of my trades worked out well and I won the league.  In 2012 I traded Miguel Cabrera for four fairly useless bums and watched my team plummet down the standings.  I’m not afraid to pull the trigger on deals, and I will open my store for business right away.  Some fantasy owners don’t understand why someone would want to trade right after a draft, but let’s be honest – from a different draft position my team would have been comprised of many different players.  Had I picked third overall, I would have had 7-10 different players after 10 rounds of the draft. And, there are likely other owners who would have targeted some of my players if they had the chance.  There is also likely an owner who came out of the draft with too many steals, and is looking for power or pitching.  I hope to make a trade prior to Opening Day, or at least to touch base with many of my league mates.  That’s really the best part of fantasy baseball – the back and forth, and the conversations that surround trade talks.  Any owner who closes himself off to trade talks is really missing out, in my opinion!  And it will be really hard for the 2014 LABR Mixed League owners to miss out with me around!

Tout Wars 2013 Auction Review

Last weekend I ventured to the Big Apple to take part in the Tout Wars Mixed League auction.  After winning the league in 2011, I was licking my wounds for this auction, as I slumped to 4th place last season.   I rarely come into an auction with a specific plan.  I set prices for all the players I feel are relevant to the league, and I bid each player up to my maximum value.  That plan generally works pretty well, but this year I decided to be more specific.  I believe that some of my ideas for the auction are useful for anyone to participate in an auction league, so I wanted to share them before I unveil my roster.

  1. I made a rough budget.  I set aside $30 for three closers, $50 for six starters and $180 for 14 hitters. 
  2. With my budget, I decided that I wanted to spend about $40 on two of my starters.  I also wanted to get one of my closer for $6 or less.  I wanted to avoid spending more than $30 on a hitter unless I felt like it was a great bargain.  And, I expected to spend roughly $40 on my two catchers.
  3. There are only a few players who can drastically change how you use your budget in the draft.  Generally, those players are the elite pitchers.  Buying Craig Kimbrel or Aroldis Chapman totally changes your budget for closers, because now you likely have to spend over $30 for a pair of stoppers.  Similarly, starters such as Justin Verlander or Clayton Kershaw will quickly eat up more than half of your starting pitching budget.  My plan was to get those players into the auction as quickly as possible.  I didn’t care if I bought them, but I wanted to know if they were going to be a part of my team so that I knew how aggressive I could be on other pitchers.
  4. After nominating players such as Kimbrel and David Price in the early rounds, I had a different plan for my mid-round nominations.  I decided to nominate all the best players from the positions that I had already drafted.  So, after getting Buster Posey and Yadier Molina in the early rounds, I decided to nominate many top catchers in the subsequent rounds.  That drained money from my competitors’ budgets so that they were less able to compete with me for players at other positions.  Also, after nabbing Kershaw early in the auction I threw out names like Hamels and Cain in later rounds so that many owners had also given up $20+ on a starter.  I don’t believe that nomination order makes a huge difference in an auction, but in a talented field such as Tout Wars it makes sense to use any possible tool to gain an advantage.

I followed my auction plan perfectly, but still didn’t end up with a perfect auction!  I actually think a perfect auction is impossible.  There will always be regrets once the final values for all players have been recorded.  Here’s my roster, followed by my best and worst decisions (keep in mind that Tout Wars uses OBP, hence my acceptance of Adam Dunn and Mark Reynolds onto Team Zinkie).

C: Posey (26), Molina (17)
CI: Dunn (16), LaRoche (10), Reynolds (3)
MI : Hill (19), Altuve (17), Andrus (15)
OF/U : Willingham (15), Granderson (11), Suzuki (7), Crisp (6), G. Jones (3), Pierre (3), Moreland (0), Duda (0)

SP: Kershaw (28), Bumgarner (17), Harrison (7), Holland (3), Milone (2), Lilly (0), Floyd (0)
RP: Holland (13), Wilhelmson (10), Parnell (6), Janssen (6)

My Best Calls

  1. I thought that Granderson for $11 was great value.  He started his recovery process several weeks before Hanley Ramirez and Chase Headley.  I’m hopeful that I will have Granderson by the second week of May.  Mitch Moreland can give me some power in April until I get one of baseball’s best home run hitters back. 
  2. I was able to get plenty of cheap speed.  Suzuki, Crisp and Pierre cost me a total of $16 and should steal 110 bases.  Granted, they leave me with very little power in the outfield, but hopefully Granderson, Dunn and Reynolds can make up for that.
  3. I won’t have to chase saves.  I feel that Tout Wars teams need about 2.5 closers during the season.  Two closers for the full season and a third closer in about half of the weeks.  I could have a closer lose his job and I still wouldn’t need to chase saves.  Closers tend to fetch the highest prices on the waiver wire, and without a need at that position I can spend more aggressively on the hitters and starters that pique my interest.
  4. I always like to get two good catchers.  I know the risks of the position, but playing with a weak catcher is similar to playing a man short.  I would rather work with a weak outfield spot than try to find a catcher who is serviceable. 
  5. I believe in my two aces.  Kershaw and Bumgarner pitch in an offensively-depressed division.  They are talented an (so far!) durable.  By using three closers each week, I will allow my two aces to more heavily factor into my team’s ERA and WHIP.  It will also allow me to roll more two-start pitchers through my active lineup without killing my ratios.

My Worst Calls

  1. I didn’t want to take four closers.  I would have been happy with three.  Early in the auction, I felt that closers were being overvalued.  So, I went to full value on Holland and Wilhelmson.  From there, I wanted to get one more closer for about $6.  Once I added Parnell, I had executed my plan perfectly.  Then, I got a little too cute!  When Janssen was up for auction, the bidding stopped at $5.  I felt that he was more of a $9 player, so I threw out a $6 bid to try to keep things moving.  To my surprise, I ended up with Janssen.  I tend to make a lot of trades, so I’m sure I can deal a closer in short order.  But, the money I spent on Janssen kept me from bidding as aggressively on some mid-tier hitters.  I would have preferred to have a $1 SP in Janssen’s spot, and to have replaced Pierre with a hitter such as Michael Cuddyer or Shane Victorino.  I choked on both players, in part because of a worry about running out of money.
  2. I left a little bit of money on the table.  I hate doing this!  It wasn’t a terrible job of budget management — it was more a result of getting a couple players late for less than I expected.  I thought I would have to go to $5-6 for Mark Reynolds and that I might need an extra dollar for Suzuki and Crisp.   I ended up throwing the extra money on Matt Harrison, who was the highest SP left on the list and the last player I selected.  But in reality, I see Harrison as a $3-4 pitcher.

In the end, I’m happy with my auction results.  I don’t think this is the best auction I’ve ever had, but this roster is good enough to win the league if they stay healthy and I make some wise waiver wire additions.  My starting pitcher depth is poor, but that tends to be the most plentiful position to find on the waiver wire.  With Granderson and possibly Lilly headed to the DL, I will have open bench space in the coming weeks.

The best part of Tout Wars weekend, isn’t really the auction.  It’s getting the chance to hang out with other people who are just as passionate about fantasy baseball.  This year’s festivities didn’t disappoint!  The Tout LLC. did a great job of organizing the Saturday social at Foley’s.  If you’re a baseball fan and you ever end up in NYC, Foley’s is a place that you have to visit.  And Nando Difino from CBS did a great job of organizing a fun night of fantasy conversation and drinks at Diageo Worldwide on Friday.  If you head over to the CBS fantasy baseball site, you can see all the videos and pick up some valuable information.  From Steve Gardner to Ray Flowers to Cory Schwartz, the weekend was filled with fun conversations with a great group of guys.  I’m already looking forward to the 2014 auction weekend.

You can check out the spreadsheets from all four Tout Wars leagues HERE.

Triple Crown AL-Only Auction Review

On Monday, March 11 I participated in the Triple Crown AL-Only auction.  It was my first time in one of Dave Gowron’s Blog Wars leagues.  Dave has a great reputation for operating well-run leagues and I have to admit that I really miss being involved in an AL-Only format.  The stampede towards mixed leagues in the past decade has made AL-Only competitions harder to find.

Before covering my auction purchases, I wanted to note a small tweak in the Triple Crown selection process.  Instead of having a $260 auction cap and then a snake draft to fill reserve spots, this league gives owners a $264 cap that includes the responsibility of selecting four reserve players.  I loved this change.  The appeal of an auction is that it gives owners total control over player selection in comparison to a snake draft, which limits the opportunity to own certain players.  But auction are somewhat limiting in that the entire league has to fill their starting roster before reserves can be picked.  The Triple Crown league gives owners a chance to stack their bench in a certain position.  You’ll see that I used this rule to my advantage during the auction.

With all of that said, here’s my roster:

Catchers

J.P. Arencibia ($12), Francisco Cervelli ($3) – I didn’t feel like I got a deal on Arencibia, but elite catchers went for hefty prices and I didn’t feel like they were worth it.  I needed J.P.’s power late in the auction.  I was happy to get Cervelli.  In a 12-team AL-Only league, there are 24 starting catchers.  That means that nine backup catchers for real AL teams are in active lineups in our league.  I expect Cervelli to exceed 300 at-bats, and that’s worth something in a deep league.

Corner Infield

James Loney ($3), Josh Donaldson ($2), Brett Wallace ($2), Alberto Callaspo ($2)  – Yes, this is an ugly group!  I chose to spend my money elsewhere.  I was very happy with the purchase of Callaspo.  I had him valued at $5.  I’m expecting 500 at-bats in a solid Angels lineup.  With Maicer Izturis far away in Toronto, Callaspo has less competition for playing time this season.  Similar to Callaspo, I had Loney valued at $5 because of the likelihood of 500 at-bats.  He won’t be special, but he will be in the lineup everyday and won’t hurt me.  Donaldson and Wallace should both exceed 400 at-bats, with a chance for 500.  Donaldson has a bit of power but not much else.  Wallace has generally lacked power, but flashed a little bit last season.

Middle Infield

Jose Altuve ($22), Jemile Weeks ($2), Brian Dozier ($1) – This group isn’t much better than my corner infield!  I really like Altuve this season.  He should swipe 35 bases and hit for average.  He is projected to hit second for the Astros.  Combine a move to the two-hole and a relocation to the AL, and Altuve should be able to drive in close to 60 runs, which is a huge improvement.  Weeks and Dozier are wildcards.  I don’t love Dozier’s bat, but it looks like he will be the Twins second baseman, which means 400 at-bats and double-digit steals.  Weeks is a big-time boom-or-bust pick.  If he wins the second base job, he will get me 25 steals.  He could also end up in the Minors.  I’m hoping the A’s go with Weeks at second, with Lowrie and Sizemore forming a versatile, skilled infield bench tandem.

Outfield/Utility

Jose Bautista ($31), Jacoby Ellsbury ($29), Melky Cabrera ($17), Ichiro Suzuki ($18), David Ortiz ($14), Nick Markakis ($16), Jonny Gomes ($4) – This is where I spent more of my cash.  In AL-Only, I don’t believe in position scarcity.  Infielders like Weeks and Wallace can be bought for a couple bucks and I don’t believe they are any worse than the $2 OF.  Because of my theory, I typically spend a lot on outfielders in AL-Only leagues.  Bautista and Ellsbury are injury risks, but both players are talented enough to be among the top five AL-Only hitters by the end of 2013.  Cabrera, Markakis and Ichiro are the kind of steady, skilled performers that help propel a team to a championship.  Ortiz is a risk, but I had him valued at $21 prior to his recent injury setback.  The bad news for Ortiz turned out to be good news for me, as I saved several bucks.  Because of the Triple Crown bench selection rules, I was able to pick up Gomes for a few dollars.  I love have a skilled hitter on my bench.  He will fill in for Ortiz in April and by the time Big Papi gets back to the lineup, I will likely need Gomes elsewhere.

Pitchers

David Price ($29), Fernando Rodney ($15), C.J. Wilson ($14), A.J. Griffin ($4), Gavin Floyd ($3), Lucas Harrell ($2), Joe Blanton ($2), David Robertson ($3), Dan Straily ($2), Ricky Romero ($3) – I like to go with the Stars and Scrubs approach with a deep league pitching staff.  I was determined to get an ace and I was happy to roster Price for less than $30.  To me, he is clearly the second best AL pitcher, after Justin Verlander.  Most closers went in the $13-$17 range, which is fair value.  I was satisfied with getting Rodney, who could pitch a lot worse than in 2012 and still be an effective closer.  I’m not big on Wilson, but I felt like $14 was good value.  I like the back end of my pitching staff a lot.  Robertson may be the best setup man in the AL.  I believe he will get about five vulture saves this year, as the Yankees will be careful not to overwork Rivera.  I’m very high on Griffin, Straily and the rest of the A’s rotation.  I can likely get one start out of Straily before Bartolo Colon comes off suspension and then I’ll need to leave him on my bench until Brett Anderson goes on the DL!  I’m the only one in the world who ever drafts Floyd, but if you look at his stats, they are solid.  Romero was a $15-20 pitcher in AL-Only leagues one year ago.  It was worth $3 to see if he can bounce back to something close to his previous level.  I like Blanton as a fly-ball pitcher in a spacious park with an insanely speedy group of outfielder behind him.  If Harrell pitched for another team he would be a $5 pitcher, but he’s the one pick I’d like to take back.  I can’t see the Astros winning 60 games this year, which means Harrell will be hard-pressed to win 10.  I would have rather used this roster spot on a different pitcher.

Conclusion

I think I had a good, but not great auction.  This team is good enough to win the league if it stays relatively healthy and I make a couple smart waiver claims during the season.  I left $3 on the table, and that’s never a good thing.  If I had it to do over again…..

1. I would have used my extra $3, along with the money I spent on the back end of my rotation, to pick up a second closer.  I would have been happy to put back Floyd, Romero, Harrell and Staily to save $6 on a group of $1 starters.  That would have given me $9 for a second stopper.

2. Since I didn’t get a second closer, my only other regret with my staff is that I bought Harrell for $2.  I would have rather waited and taken Zach McAllister for the same price a few rounds later.  I’m higher on McAllister because he will have better support from his teammates than Harrell.

3. My team is a little light on power.  I choked on Edwin Encarnacion, who went for $27.  I wish I had bid $28.  Who knows, I may not have ended up with EE at that price, but I would like to have tried.

Other than that, I don’t have any regrets.  My five favourite buys were Callaspo, Griffin, Cabrera, Ortiz and Ichiro.

I’ve got an NFBC draft tomorrow and Tout Wars in a little over a week, so it’s time for me to get back to the drawing board!

Time To Think Outside The Box

I’m going to get to the point quickly here.  I’ve done two 2013 drafts so far.  Neither was a mock draft, so the competitors would have been trying their best to build a team they will actually use all season.  In January, I completed the JBL draft.   It is a 15-team mixed league that is full of NFBC participants and veteran fantasy baseball owners.  In February, I completed the LABR draft.  It has an identical league size in format.

I used completely different draft strategies in the two drafts.  In JBL, I used the strategy that most experts would recommend.  I started my draft with three hitters (Pujols, Pedroia and Heyward), then took my SP1 (Wainwright) and maintained a pretty good balance between hitting and pitching in the subsequent rounds.  In the LABR draft I exercised a strategy that was met with disapproval from most onlookers.  After selecting Carlos Gonzalez in round one, I had the audacity to take three pitchers (Verlander, Lee, Kimbrel) before settling in and drafting mostly hitters in the subsequent rounds.

I’ll be honest – I think the fantasy baseball industry has become too cookie-cutter in terms of draft strategies.  On the majority of popular websites, podcasts and publications, the same draft plan is recommended — get a solid base of hitting and then draft pitchers later on.  But selecting a fantasy baseball team (much like selecting a real baseball team – Moneyball, anyone?) is about finding holes in the marketplace and exploiting them.  If no one is willing to take the best pitchers in baseball in the early rounds, then there is potential for one owner to exploit that pattern and emerge from the draft with a better team.

I’m not going to convince you about alternative draft strategies by telling you about them.  Smart fantasy baseball owners need to see the numbers.  Here are the two teams I drafted this winter and their projected statistics.  The projected totals come from my projections for each player on my draft board.  So, both teams were drafted by using the exact same list of projections and rankings.

Position JBL LABR
C J.P. Arencibia Matt Wieters
C Jarrod Saltalamacchia Alex Avila
1B Albert Pujols Michael Cuddyer
3B Kevin Youkilis Will Middlebrooks
CI Freddie Freeman Garrett Jones
2B Dustin Pedroia Rickie Weeks
SS Maicer Izturis Alexei Ramirez
MI Chase Utley Jhonny Peralta
OF Jason Heyward Carlos Gonzalez
OF Shin-Soo Choo Shin-Soo Choo
OF Shane Victorino Brett Gardner
OF Michael Cuddyer Lorenzo Cain
OF Ichiro Suzuki Jon Jay
U Mark Reynolds David Ortiz
SP Adam Wainwright Justin Verlander
SP Roy Halladay Cliff Lee
SP Marco Estrada Wade Miley
SP Matt Garza A.J. Griffin
SP Phil Hughes Phil Hughes
SP Edwin Jackson Jeff Niemann
SP Paul Maholm Paul Maholm
RP Fernando Rodney Craig Kimbrel
RP Jonathan Broxton Jonathan Broxton

Projected Stats:

Category JBL LABR
HR  298  266
R  1090  1066
RBI  1050  1018
SB  201  197
BA  .272  .274
W  102  108
SV  68  76
K  1370  1380
ERA  3.58  3.44
WHIP  1.21  1.18

Conclusions

As you can see, the LABR team comes out better in six out of ten categories.  In the LABR draft I took a hitter, then three pitchers and then 11 straight hitters.  I still leaned heavily towards hitting but I did it at a different point in the draft.   The LABR team isn’t necessarily better than the JBL team, but it certainly isn’t any worse.

I can see others being critical of this plan for the reason of risk management.  There is a misconception out there that early round pitchers are riskier than hitters.  All of my research has led to the conclusion that they are equally risky.  Ask yourself – iS Justin Verlander more likely to get injured than Dustin Pedroia?  Is Cliff Lee more likely to get injured than Jason Heyward?  Take a look at the injury history of all four players before answering those questions.

I’m not saying that all fantasy owners should take several pitchers in the early rounds of their 2013 drafts.  I’m saying that as soon as you close your mind off to some of your options, you lose potential chances to win your league.  After my experience in the LABR draft, I’m going to enter future drafts with an open mind.

2013 LABR Mixed League Draft Recap

On Tuesday, February 12 I participated in the LABR Mixed League draft, hosted by Steve Gardner and USA Today.  Before I get into my draft reflections, I’d like to thank Steve and rtsports.com for organizing and hosting a great draft.

For me, this draft played out in a very unique way.  If you’re a closed-minded drafter then this article won’t be for you.  But if you’re willing to explore other ways to get draft-day value then you’ll enjoy this long explanation of the unexpected turns I took on Tuesday.

My usual draft plan is the same as most fantasy owners.  I pick hitters at least three of the first four rounds and then stay pretty balanced after that point.   Because the LABR league allows trading, and because the league drafts in the middle of February, I decided that my plan for Tuesday was to take the highest ranked player on my board with my first four picks and then formulate a strategy for the rest of the draft.  I held pick number 10 in the 15-team league.  My expectation was that I would end up with a premier first baseman or outfielder in round one and a top middle infielder in round two.  Suffice to say, it didn’t work out the way I planned.  What that said, here we go! (If you’re short on time, skip to round 14 and read my analysis).

Round 1 – Carlos Gonzalez – The start of my draft wasn’t surprising.  I assumed that I would take either Gonzalez, Votto or Fielder, with an outside chance of nabbing Pujols.  The Angels first baseman was scooped up at pick nine and with my other two options off the board, I grabbed CarGo.  I know the injury risk with Gonzalez, but if he can play 135-140 games I will be happy.  Anything more than that is gravy.  I’m expecting something in the range of 28 homers, 22 steals and a .300 batting average.

Round 2 – Justin Verlander – I expected that Verlander would be off the board at pick 21 and I would grab Reyes or Pedroia.  But this group was hesitant to take pitchers in the early rounds and the consensus top starter for 2013 fell into my hands.  Pitchers are usually considered to be riskier than hitters in the early rounds but all the research I have done on the topic suggests that is a myth.  Pitchers taken in the first five rounds meet expectations just as often as hitters.  I decided that Verlander was safer than my hitter options.  Reyes, Pedroia (and Bautista, who I also considered) have dealt with more injuries in recent seasons than Verlander.  The Tigers ace is a lock for 220 innings, 220 K’s and 17-20 wins.

Round 3 – Cliff Lee – This is when things started to get weird!  Remember, my rule was to stay true to my draft board in the first four rounds.  I certainly did that!  As the picks were flowing towards me in round three, I had a few hitter targets.  One by one, I watched players like Castro, Bruce and Adam Jones fall off the board.  I was left with the choice on taking my highest-ranked player (Lee) or reaching on a player that I don’t totally believe in (Zimmerman).  In the end, I decided to go with my gut and take a second ace.  I believe that Lee is going to have a terrific season and should combine with Verlander to keep me near the top of most pitching categories.

Round 4 – Craig Kimbrel – My fellow drafters were polite enough not to laugh when I took my third pitcher with my fourth pick, but I know the folks on Sirius XM radio were having plenty of fun at my expense!  I’ve never taken three pitchers in the first four rounds before.  But I completely believe in the players I selected on Tuesday.  I think Kimbrel is special.  I mean Eric-Gagne-on-the-juice special!  In most seasons, I would never consider a closer in round four. And for 2013, I don’t think any other closer belongs in the first six rounds.  But Kimbrel is going to once again post insane numbers.  Over 100 K’s, a sub-2.00 ERA and a 0.75ish WHIP.   No other closer will touch his numbers this season.  I said I would stick with my draft board for four picks and I did exactly that.  I didn’t plan on taking three pitchers though!  In hindsight, do I wish I took Bautista over Verlander in round two?  Heck no!  I believe in the guys I got.  At this point I made a plan to draft hitters for the next ten rounds.   I was sure that I could make up the hitting stats that I lost early on.  And I was sure that I could craft a pitching staff in the later rounds that would compliment my three stud arms.

Round 5 – Shin-Soo Choo – Time to get some hitters!  Truth be told, Choo was the highest-ranked hitter on my board in round four.   I was pretty confident he would still be around in the fifth frame, which freed me up to take the plunge on Kimbrel.  In his walk year, I’m expecting Choo to have a terrific season with the Reds.  A 20-20-.295 campaign will meet my expectations.

Round 6 – Matt Wieters – The bottom end of the catcher pool is ugly this season.  In a two-catcher league, it’s important to get at least one quality backstop and it’s also likely a good idea to secure a serviceable one early in the second half of the draft.  Waiting until the late rounds this season is really risky at this position.  Wieters is already a quality hitter at the catcher spot and most people would agree that we haven’t seen his best season yet.  I’m hoping for 25 homers and a .265 batting average.  If he can accomplish those numbers, he will drive in his share of runs.

Round 7 – Rickie Weeks –  Weeks slumped badly in the first half of 2012 but bounced back nicely in the second half.  For all the concern about injury risk, the Brewers second baseman has smacked over 20 homers in each of the past three seasons.   Add in double-digit steals and 90 runs, and Weeks will be worth a seventh round pick.  Along with catcher, I’m also not crazy about the late-round options in the middle infield this season.  So, it was nice to get a second baseman early on.

Round 8 – Will Middlebrooks – Poor Will Middlebrooks!  He was the top name on the default draft list for about four rounds.  That led to him being accidentally selected twice when owners had computer mix-ups.  Those mix-ups were followed by screams of “not Middlebrooks!  I wanted someone else!”  As his self-esteem plunged lower and lower, I couldn’t take it anymore.  I had to use my eighth-round pick to put him out of his misery.  I’m a little concerned about his return from a wrist injury, but he’s young and otherwise healthy.  He looked great in his brief rookie season and I have my fingers crossed for 25 homers in 2013.

Round 9 – Michael Cuddyer – For some reason, I like Cuddyer more than everyone else in the world.  Well, probably not his immediate family, but I like him more than everyone else does.  For the past two seasons I have owned Cuddyer in almost all my leagues.  He was my highest-ranked player in round eight, but I put my Cuddyer theory into play.  I figured no one else would want him as much as I did and he would last another round.  Maybe I’m wrong on Cuddyer, but I love him with Coors Field staring him down for half of his at-bats.  I’m expecting 25 dingers and 10 steals.

Round 10 –David Ortiz – Had Ortiz finished the 2012 season, he would be going much higher in current drafts.  He would have easily topped 30-100-.300 and no one would be overly worried about his age.  But, his Achilles injury is definitely a factor in pushing down in draft position.  This is exactly the type of hitter you should target if you go with pitching in the early rounds.  I’m expecting 25 homers and 90 RBIs.   Hopefully I will be pleasantly surprised and get more than I’m hoping for!

Round 11 – Alexei Ramirez – I only had one middle infielder at this point and it was a second baseman, so the time felt right to grab a decent shortstop.  I’m not excited about owning Ramirez but he will be a respectable contributor in all five categories.

Round 12 – Brett Gardner – I was a little light on speed at this point in the draft, so it was time to add a burner.  As long as he’s healthy, Gardner is a safe bet to swipe 40 bags.  He should score more than 85 runs and won’t hurt my team’s batting average.

Round 13 – Alex Avila – Avila was a trendy pick last season but he struggled in 2012 and his current draft stock is much lower.  He recently revealed that knee troubles forced him to change his batting stance last season.  He claims to be feeling better now and I’m hoping for 15 homers and a .265 average.  Those aren’t sexy stats, but they are much better than what I would have received from a late-round catcher.

Round 14 – Lorenzo Cain – He was considered a first-rate prospect a couple years ago but the bloom has come off this rose.  I feel that fantasy owners have been a little too quick to dismiss Cain’s potential.   But forget Cain – let’s take a minute at this point to see how my alternative strategy worked out.  After 14 picks, I have 11 hitters and 3 pitchers.  All other teams have four pitchers and most have five.  At this point, I believe that I’ve made up the hitting stats I lost when I took the pitchers early on.  After the draft, I ran the projections for my team and I hit all the hitting targets I set for myself.  In fact, my team projects out better than the one I picked in the JBL draft, which took place last month.  In that draft, I started with a typical plan and picked Pujols, Pedroia and Heyward in the first three rounds.  I’ve always been a big fan of loading up with hitters in the first three rounds.  But in most seasons one of those hitters lets me down.  I’m starting to think that he fantasy baseball community has gone too far in the direction of hitters.  Elite starting pitchers are quite reliable.  I believe that we have become a product of over-analyzed mock drafts and ADP lists.  We’ve also become a product of cookie-cutter advice, where every expert deals out similar opinions on the way fantasy owners should draft.  If every owner is following the pack and starting their draft with three hitters, there is a great opportunity for a couple owners to buck the trend and build their team in reverse.  We will have to see how this all plays out, but I’m happy with the results right now. To see a detailed breakdown that compares the two draft strategies, click here to read the accompanying blog post.  Onto the rest of the draft….

Round 15 – Jonathan Broxton – I decided to let most of the steady stoppers go off the board during the middle rounds.   There are about 20 closers I’m willing to leave a draft with, and I strongly feel like I need to roster two of them.  Broxton and Casey Janssen were the only two closers left on my acceptable list, so I snapped up Broxton.  I’m not in love with his skills, but I think the Reds are.  They had him for two months in 2012 and they must have liked what they saw because they didn’t take long in the offseason to retain him and promote him to closer.  I’m expecting 35 saves and respectable ratios.

Round 16 – Wade Miley – I hoped to land Marco Estrada in this round but I narrowly missed out on him. Miley will be a decent third starter, who should help keep my ERA and WHIP down.  With Verlander and Lee on board, I don’t need to take a chance on high-strikeout arms.

Round 17 – Phil Hughes – Another solid starter to fill in behind my aces.  Hughes is maturing into a reliable starter and I believe there is still room for growth.   A productive Yankees offense should help him win about 14-15 games this season.

Round 18 – Garrett Jones – I still needed to fill in my corner infield spot and that was a good place to add a power hitter, since I had picked up plenty of steals in the middle rounds.  Jones is what he is.  He can’t hit southpaws but he can rip over 20 homers off right-handers.  Good enough.

Round 19 – Jon Jay – He will slide into my utility spot for week one.  Jay doesn’t offer a lot of power, but he can hit for average, swipe 20 bases and score plenty of runs.  He’s an underrated asset for 2013.

Round 20 – Jhonny Peralta – I don’t love this pick, but there wasn’t much left to finish off my middle infield.  Peralta was a fantasy dud in 2012 but he was very productive in 2011 and he’s surrounded by quality hitters in Motown.  I’m hoping for 15 homers and a respectable batting average.  This is my last projected starting hitter.  I usually like to stay away from finding hitters after round 20.  I would rather use those picks on pitchers.  Late-round pitchers are only part-time players, since they will be rotated based on matchups.  But hitters like Peralta need to be used every week, so I would rather get them first.

Round 21 – A.J. Griffin – I believe in Billy Beane.  And after last season, all fantasy owners should consider any young starter that Beane’s A’s add to the rotation.  Griffin has a good chance to make the rotation out of Spring Training.  He looked great in a short trial last season and I love his upside at this point in the draft.

Round 22 – Mitch Moreland – I often like to use an earlier pick on a bench hitter who can fill in for many of my starters.  Moreland fits the bill.  He covers me in case any of my 1B, CI, OF or U get injured in Spring Training.  The Rangers roster is thinner this season and Moreland could quietly earn more playing time than ever before.  I’m hoping for 20 homers.

Round 23 – Paul Maholm – Similar to the A’s, I believe in the Braves when it comes to pitching.  Maholm pitched very well for the Braves in the second half.  While I don’t expect the left-hander to repeat those stats in 2013, I think he can be a nice matchup play at the back end of my rotation.  Atlanta is poised to win plenty of games this season and Maholm is capable of winning 13-14 of them, while posting a respectable ERA and WHIP.

Round 24 – Dan Straily – I was very happy about this pick, as it will work well with the Griffin selection.  Either Griffin or Straily will make the A’s rotation.  And if something goes wrong with another starter (I’m looking at you, Bartolo Colon) then I might get two starters from one of the AL’s best rotations.

Round 25 – Jeff Niemann – If Niemann could stay healthy he would be picked before round 20.  But, the gentle giant struggles to stay on the mound all season.  In Round 25, I’m not thinking about what a pitcher can do in August.  I’ll take the guy who can help me in April and figure the rest out later.  If he stays healthy all season, Niemann will be my best late-round pick.

Round 26 – Gavin Floyd – I commented during the draft that I don’t know if picks get any more boring than Floyd.  He’s going to post a 4.00 ERA, with a decent strikeout rate and win total.  He belongs on a mixed-league roster but I don’t expect to use him too often.

Round 27 – David Hernandez – More than any other pick, this was a late-round lottery ticket.  I’m not a big fan of drafting setup men in mixed leagues.  Very few closers pitch poorly enough in Spring Training to lose their job.  I chose Hernandez because he sets up for an injury-prone closer – J.J. Putz.  If anything goes wrong with Putz over the next seven weeks, I’ve got a terrific closer in April.  And if Putz survives Spring Training in good shape, I will likely send Hernandez to waivers.

Round 28 – Zach McAllister – I’ve always been a fan of his skills and the revamped Indians roster is capable of winning over 80 games.  I think he will win a rotation spot and I’m happy to let him sit on my bench in April while I figure out what I have here.

Round 29 – Darwin Barney – I likely won’t own Barney on April 15.  But I wanted one more hitter in case my team suffers a rash of injuries during Spring Training.  Barney can fill in for any of my middle infielders, while my earlier pick of Moreland covers the other hitters.  I wouldn’t want to have an empty hitting spot early in the season while I wait for the first transaction period.  In all likelihood, I will drop Barney the first time I get a chance.

Well, there you have it!  An unusual draft but one that I believe can lead me to a championship.  Despite the absence of elite bats, I’m as confident in this team as any that I’ve drafted in recent seasons.

2013 LABR Mixed League Draft Preview

Most fantasy baseball owners are just starting to wrap their heads around a winter that was full of major signings and multi-player trades.  But those of us who work within this industry have been hard at work for the past three months, producing the magazines, podcasts and online previews that drive the world of fantasy baseball.

The majority of leagues will hold their drafts and auctions in late March.  That’s the best time to draft.  It eliminates the possibility of having a well-drafted team ruined by multiple Spring Training injuries.  But in an effort to provide draft prep material for everyone else, fantasy baseball writers will often hold February drafts in an effort to gauge the market for various players.  With that goal in mind, the USA Today LABR Mixed League draft is set for Tuesday, February 12th at 8pm EST.  You can follow the draft live by clicking on the link here.  And you can view the league rosters once the draft has been completed by clicking here.

Expert leagues are terrific because they offer a full slate of tough competition.  Every owner in this league will be tough to beat, as they all work for major fantasy sports publications.  When you see names such as Zola, Collette, Gardner, Murphy and Heaney on the list, you know you are in for a tough ride.  I’m honored to be part of this group for the second time. 

Tuesday night’s draft order was recently released.  I was hoping for a top-three pick.  Most fantasy writers agree that the first three spots offer an exciting place to start your roster this season.  Ryan Braun, Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout have emerged as popular options for the No. 1 pick.  Trout offers the most upside, Cabrera is the most consistent and Braun offers the best balance between upside and consistency.  In over 90% of 2013 drafts, all three of these players will be off the board before pick four takes his first turn. 

I’ll be picking out of slot No. 10.  I don’t mind that spot.  It keeps me fairly close to the middle of the pack, so I won’t miss out on any position runs in the middle rounds.  And after the Braun, Trout and Cabrera are off the board, there isn’t a tremendous difference in the next 6-9 options.

It’s obvious that I won’t have a shot at the “Big Three”, and early 2013 drafts have shown a few other players who won’t be available by pick ten.  In most drafts, some combination of Robinson Cano, Matt Kemp and Andrew McCutchen come off the board in picks 4-6.  So I can kiss them goodbye too!  Albert Pujols rarely makes it all the way to pick 10 and neither does Joey Votto.  There is a slight chance that Votto could slide because of his 2012 injury woes.  But his elite, consistent skills will probably warrant a selection around pick 7-9.  

That makes eight players who should be gone by the time I make my first pick.  But the good news is that I will have my choice of almost everyone else.  The back end of the first round is a jumbled mess this season and there are plenty of interchangeable pieces once you get past the first eight or nine selections.  Here are the players I’m considering with my first pick:

Carlos Gonzalez offers a nice blend of speed and power to start building a roster.  He should be a 20-20 player and he has 30-30 potential.  Having Coors Field at his disposal for 81 games gives Gonzalez a great chance to drive in 100 runs.  But there is some downside with Gonzalez.  He acquires his fair share of bumps and bruises during the season, and usually ends up on the DL at some point.  It’s hard to spend a first round pick on a player who is expected to play 135-140 games instead of 150+.  Gonzalez may also be hampered by a weak supporting cast.  The Rockies didn’t add anything significant to a lineup that struggles to score runs on the road last season. 

Jose Bautista may be the biggest boom-or-bust option in this year’s first round.  His 2012 wrist injury eventually required surgery.  Players coming off wrist surgery are hard to predict in terms of power numbers.  And without power numbers, this right-handed slugger is pretty useless.  But if his wrist is fully healed, then look out!  A healthy Bautista is a lock for 40 homers and could swat over 50.  No player received more help from his organization this winter than Joey Bats. The addition of Jose Reyes and Melky Cabrera will give Bautista a chance to drive in more runs than ever before.   120 RBIs wouldn’t be surprising if his wrist if ready to go.  And with Edwin Encarnacion mashing right behind him, Bautista could cross home plate at least 100 times.  There’s so much potential here, but I typed the word “wrist” four times in that paragraph, so you know the risk.

Justin Verlander is a no-go in the first round for many fantasy owners, simply because of the position he plays.  Many owners would rather become A-Rod’s publicist than start their draft with a pitcher.  But I’m not one of those owners.  I’m willing to spend a first-round pick on a hurler and then load up on hitters in the following rounds.  The hard-throwing right-hander is an amazing combination of skill and durability.  Of all my options, he might be the safest one.  It’s almost a lock that the Tigers ace will toss over 220 innings and punch out roughly a batter per inning.  Verlander also pitches for one of the best teams in baseball, and he is in a division where the second place team may struggle to win 85 games.  18 wins seems like a lock and 20 is still a very reasonable prediction. 

Prince Fielder was very successful in his first tour of duty on the Junior Circuit.   Cecil’s son is a lock for 30 homers and could push his total closer to 40 now that he has had a year to learn about American League pitchers.  Sandwiched between Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez, the California native will have a good chance to drive in and score 100 runs.   He doesn’t have the 30-30 potential of CarGo or the 45-homer potential of Bautista, but Fielder is a safer bet for a 30-100-.300 campaign.

Justin Upton seems like an odd choice for the first round, but that’s where he is going in many 2013 drafts.  On the surface, an outfielder who played 150 games last year and couldn’t manage to smack 20 homers or swipe 20 bags doesn’t warrant a first-round pick.  But Upton oozes potential and he was outstanding in 2011.  Many fantasy owners are hoping that his move to Atlanta will spark a resurgence from the 25-year-old.  We likely haven’t seen Upton’s best season, and it could come as soon as 2013.

Troy Tulowitzki is a rare breed – a shortstop who can post a 30-100-.300 season.   If he can stay healthy in 2013, he could dominate his position as much as anyone.  But his health is a huge question mark.  The 28-year-old logged just 181 at-bats last season and hasn’t played 150 in games in any of the past three campaigns.  The 28-year-old might be too risky for my blood, but his upside is something that can’t be ignored at pick No. 10.

Buster Posey is similar to Tulowitzki, in that he could provide a clear-cut top option at his position.  While many fantasy owners pull their hair out trying to find two viable catchers throughout the season,  Posey owners could be laughing all the way to a 25-100-.300 season.  But the 25-year-old plays the most grueling defensive position in baseball, and he left fantasy owners high and dry when his duties behind the plate caused him to miss over 100 games in 2011.  The track record for first-round backstops isn’t great and I will likely let someone else take this gamble.

No matter who I end up drafting, Tuesday night is going to be a good time and that’s what it’s all about!  What could be better on a cold, February day than to snuggle up to your favorite laptop and start think of the warm, sunny days that baseball brings.  I’ll be back next week to recap the highlights of Tuesday’s draft.

Fantasy Fallout — July 23 Trades

A pair of American League playoff hopefuls bolstered their rosters on July 23.  For those who missed the trade details, the Yankees sent right-handers D.J. Mitchell and Danny Farquhar to the Mariners in exchange for right fielder Ichiro Suzuki.  Meanwhile, the Tigers completed a deal of their own, when they added second baseman Omar Infante and starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez from the Marlins for prospects Jacob Turner, Rob Brantly and Brian Flynn.  Fantasy owners need to be aware of the significant fallout from the two trades.  Let’s take a look at the changing values of fantasy assets on all four clubs:

Yankees

Value Up

Credit: APIchiro Suzuki – The 38-year-old should be revitalized on his new team.  The Yankees score nearly a run per game more than the Mariners, so Suzuki will be better supported by his teammates.  Even though he is expected to hit lower in the order, Suzuki should be able to score a similar number of runs and swipe bases at a similar pace.  Don’t forget, Brett Gardner usually hit ninth during the past two seasons, and he was among the AL leaders in runs scored and stolen bases.  Suzuki will likely drive in more runs, and don’t be surprised if he knocks a few more balls over the fence as well.  Yankee Stadium is much more favorable to left-handed hitters, in comparison to Safeco Field.

Value Down

Raul Ibanez and Andruw Jones – With Suzuki, Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher patrolling the outfield in New York, there will be little playing time left for Ibanez and Jones.  For Ibanez, his time as a deep mixed-league option is over.  He’s strictly an AL-only play at this point.  Jones can hit lefties effectively, so he will likely draw one or two starts per week but he will only receive enough playing time to help in deep AL-only leagues.

Mariners

Value Up

Carlos Peguero, Michael Saunders and Casper Wells – With Suzuki out of the picture in Seattle, additional playing time is available for their three young outfielders.  While Franklin Gutierrez continues to work his was back from a concussion, all three of these players should be in the lineup most nights.  Once Gutierrez takes over in center field, there will still be two spots available.  Wells has been swinging the bat well lately and has hit second in the order in recent games.  He should be owned in deeper mixed leagues.  Saunders has nine homers and 14 steals this season, making him an enticing power-speed combination if he can play every day.  Peguero has the shortest Major League resume of the three, but he may offer the highest upside.  In 188 Triple-A at-bats this season, he swatted 18 homers.  Peguero should definitely be owned in AL-only leagues, and mixed-league owners should keep an eye on him.

Tigers

Value Up

Credit: APOmar Infante – Like Suzuki, Infante traded way up in terms of offensive support.   Unlike Suzuki, Infante will keep a similar spot in the batting order.  The 30-year-old was usually hitting sixth or lower in Miami and will likely fall into a similar spot with the Tigers.  Since 2006, he has hit over .270 every season, so he will help fantasy owners with batting average.  His power and speed are fairly minimal.  After knocking five balls over the fence in April, Infante has hit three homers in almost three months.  And, outside of his surprising seven steals in May, he has three swipes all season.  He can be used in deep mixed leagues and can adequately fill a hole for AL-only owners.

Anibal Sanchez – If Sanchez’s value goes up from his trade, it will do so by the slimmest of margins.  With improved offensive support, Sanchez should be able to improve his 5-7 record right away.  In Miami, he failed to get a win after throwing a quality start nine times in 19 starts this season.  However, Sanchez will have to work hard to maintain his 3.94 ERA and 1.26 WHIP in the American League.   Two of his first three scheduled starts with the Tigers come against the Blue Jays and Yankees, who both rank in the top five in baseball in terms of runs scored.  However, Sanchez should also find life rough within the AL Central. Heading into free agency this winter, Sanchez will be highly motivated to take advantage of his new offensive support and post strong numbers in the second half.

Value Down

Ryan Raburn and Ramon Santiago – With the arrival of Infante, Raburn and Santiago will lose almost all their starts at second base.  They have done a terrible job manning the position this season, at least from an offensive standpoint.  Raburn is hitting .172 and Santiago is hitting .216.  Neither player should be active in any fantasy league going forward.

Marlins

Value Up

Credit: APJacob Turner – It’s safe to say that with a 8.03 ERA, Turner didn’t have much success in Detroit this season.  He will start his tenure with the Marlins in Triple-A but should find a spot at the back end of their rotation at some point down the stretch.  Still considered one of baseball’s best pitching prospects, the 21-year-old could help NL-only owners in September.  Turner will likely arrive in Miami amid little fanfare, and the reduction in pressure could allow him to relax and show his skills in the Majors.

Donovan Solano – The second-base job in Miami could go to Emilio Bonifacio.  But, Bonifacio is also capable of playing center field and Solano is hitting .333 in 57 at-bats this season.  He started at third base and hit second in the first game after the trade of Infante and went 2-for-4 with a stolen base.  Owners in deep leagues should keep an eye on Solano, being ready to scoop him up if he earns regular playing time.

Justin Ruggiano – Solano’s main competition for playing time is likely Ruggiano, even though they line up far apart on the field.  Ruggiano has homered seven times in 112 at-bats.  If Ruggiano can maintain anything close to his .366 batting average, Bonifacio will likely stay on the infield so that Ruggiano can remain in the lineup.  Ruggiano should already be owned in deep mixed leagues and could start climbing onto 12-team mixed rosters if he continues to rake in the coming days.

Wade LeBlanc – LeBlanc takes over Sanchez’s rotation spot.  He may just keep it warm for Turner for a few weeks, but the way the Marlins are going this season, there will likely be starts available for LeBlanc throughout the second half if he can pitch well.  With a 4.39 career ERA and a 1.41 WHIP, the 27-year-old won’t be a hot commodity in any leagues.  But keep in mind that LeBlanc hasn’t been scored on in eight relief appearances this month.  He should be added as a spot starter in NL-only leagues at the very least.

Tout Wars Tornado!

Sorry to those who have been missing my blogs in the past few months.  Having a newborn, a two-year-old and two jobs leaves a guy very little time for blogging (or for anything else, for that matter).

But I had to take a minute and explain the tornado that ripped through my Tout Wars team in the past two weeks.  Staring up at Cory Schwartz, I felt like I needed to make a move to improve my roster and have a chance at first place.  But then one move became two.  And two moves became three.  And by the time I was finished (am I finished?), I had made six trades in the span of two weeks!  Let that sink in — six trades in an experts league in two weeks.  And these weren’t six minor deals.  Players such as Dan Haren, Adrian Gonzalez, Elvis Andrus, Clayton Kershaw, Jason Motte, Matt Holliday, Joey Votto, Adam Jones, Curtis Granderson, Jason Heyward and Joel Hanrahan were all part of my trading madness. I didn’t have a plan, and I didn’t know what I wanted.  I just knew that I wanted something different, and now I have that.  I’m not sure if I won some of these trades, but they all felt right.  When dealing with a group of experts, it’s hard to really “win” a deal.  Hopefully, I did OK (unlike in May, when I traded Matt Moore and Marco Scutaro for Ricky Romero)!

How did I make six trades in two weeks?  Well…
I shopped hard: I had trade talks with nearly every other owner in the league to find out how they wanted to change their team.
I gave people what they wanted:  I didn’t think much about what I would have left behind after a trade.  If someone wanted a closer I couldn’t spare or my only shortstop, that was fine with me.  As long as I liked the overall effect the deal had on my team, I made it.  I wasn’t worried about making more trades or using waivers to fill a hole.
I wasn’t afraid:  I’m not going to track any of the players that I traded away.  There’s no point.  If I saw a trade I believed in, I pulled the trigger and moved on.
I wasn’t cheap:  In most trades, I was willing to throw in little extras to get the player I wanted.  Players like Bobby Parnell, Gaby Sanchez, Darwin Barney and Dale Thayer were of little consequence to me if they helped to sweeten the pot and get a deal done.

Without further adieu, the deals:

Credit: AP1. Fred trades Dan Haren and Gaby Sanchez to David Gonos for Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Thole.
I immediately dropped Thole to waivers.  This trade was made at the end of June, before Haren went on the DL and before the Marlins traded for Carlos Lee.  I was sick of Haren and wanted to make a change, so I looked for an owner who needed pitching and then decided to take someone he was likely sick of, too.  Gonzalez hasn’t set the world on fire for me yet, and Haren may bounce back to help David a lot in the second half.  But for now, I’m happy with this deal.

2. Fred trades Elvis Andrus and Bobby Parnell to Gene McCaffrey for Clayton Kershaw and Dee Gordon.
Of all the owners in the league, Gene is my favorite to trade with.  He gets back to me quickly and he doesn’t mess around.  With Gene there’s nCredit: APo, “Maybe I would consider doing this.”  It’s, “Here’s an offer, do you want to do it?”  Gene’s team is pitching very well, and he had recently lost Gordon for six weeks.  I offered him my best middle infielder for Kershaw.  He wanted to add Parnell for Gordon, so I bent a little.  I love Kershaw and I really need starting pitching help, so hopefully this deal works out well for me.  I spent $25 on Andrus on auction day and I don’t regret it.  But I wasn’t going to get Kershaw without giving up a good player.  I’ll trade to replace Andrus’ steals later on, and hopefully Gordon can eventually help with that.  With Frank Francisco suffering a setback recently, Gene might have picked up a valuable piece in Parnell.

Credit: AP3. Fred trades Jason Motte and Michael Young for Nicholas Minnix for Matt Holliday.
Nick emailed all Tout owners to say that he was willing to part with Holliday if he could get a closer.  Chances to get an elite bat are rare, but with Motte and Chris Perez as my closers, I didn’t have extra saves to spare.  I decided to go for it.  If I felt like the deal improved my team, I’d figure my saves out later.  This league has one of the tightest saves races I’ve ever seen.  Only 23 saves separates second place and 15th place in that category.  Nick got the closer he needed, and I came away happy to upgrade Young to Holliday.  I usually believe in Young, but he has been very ordinary this year.  He could do great in a loaded Texas lineup in the second half, or he could hit .270 with three homers.  I gave Nick his choice of Motte or Perez and his choice of Young, Kyle Seager or Anibal Sanchez as the second piece.  He chose Young. And all of a sudden, I was scrambling for saves.

4. Fred trades Joey Votto, Adam Jones and Darwin Barney to Paul Singman for Jason Kipnis, Mike Moustakas Credit: APand Curtis Granderson.
Paul has been bouncing around between first place and third place for most of the season.  Batting average has been his Achilles heel.  He came calling for Votto, offering Kipnis and Moustakas.  I love Kipnis, but I’m only lukewarm on Moustakas, who hasn’t solved lefties yet.  I asked him to upgrade Moustakas to Lawrie.  He passed.  Wanting a little more for Votto, I asked him to include the swap of Jones for Granderson and that got the deal done.  It was attractive to Paul because Jones gives him even more batting average help.  I was happy to get Granderson because I feel that he’s a little safer than Jones.  Jones hit 10 homers in May but hasn’t been as dominant since.  He’s a top-25 hitter for the second half in my opinion, but I believe Granderson is a little better.  Kipnis was the key to the deal for me.  I think he’s already a top-5 second baseman.  If he hits 20 homers and swipes 35 bases this season, I will have a lot of people joining me on his bandwagon next March.

This trade was made hours before games began in the second half.  A few days later, it was announced that Votto was going to miss a month of action.  While I’m always hopeful of winning trades, I was disappointed to have one of Paul’s new players injured so quickly.  I never like to see that happen to someone I trade with.  I hope Paul still gets two great months out of Votto.

Credit: AP 5. Fred trades Gavin Floyd to Nando DiFino for Marco Scutaro
This one pales in comparison to the others.  It was a good example of keeping open lines of communication.  Nando and I had already made two trades earlier in the season.  He liked A.J. Griffin and emailed me to see if I wanted to send him his way.  I had picked up Griffin for $0 one week earlier.  I decided to keep the A’s rookie but told Nando I might not have room for Floyd anymore (we both knew about Floyd’s injury at the time).  Nando is overloaded with middle infielders and offered to sent his worst one, Scutaro, to me for Floyd.  The Andrus trade had opened a hole at shortstop for me and while Yuniesky Betancourt was doing his best to fill it, I decided to make the switch to Scutaro.  As a Torontonian, I love Scutaro.  And his hot bat last September was a key to me winning this league.  I’ll hopefully use him for five weeks and then turn the spot over to Dee Gordon.  In the end, I mismanaged Floyd all season.  I used him often early on.  He struggled and then he sat on my bench while pitching really well prior to the All-Star break.  I am hopeful that Nando can figure him out.

6. Fred trades Curtis Granderson, Dale Thayer and $5 FAAB to Cory Schwartz for Joel Hanrahan and Jason Credit: APHeyward.
Granderson pulled off the difficult feat of being involved in two of my trades without being in my lineup for a single game!  I was without a second closer since my trade with Nick.  That was bothering me since the race was tight.  Cory has pulled away from everyone in saves, leading by 15.  He was the one owner who could trade a closer, but I knew it wouldn’t be cheap.  I put out a message board post, looking for a closer and Cory came calling.  He was looking for a power bat, and they don’t come much better in that area than Granderson.  I didn’t like the idea of helping the owner in first place, but I only think about my own team but until the middle of August.  Anything could happen to Cory in the second half.  He could end up winning the league by 20 points, or he could suffer through slumps and injuries and move back into the pack.  Heyward won’t be as good as Granderson, but I’m hoping he can hit 10-12 homers and swipe 6-10 bases the rest of the way.

I like my team better after making these moves.  I have a deep group now, even if I’ve lost some of my star power at the hitting spots.  Adding Kershaw to my pitching staff should be a big help, and I tried to obtain plenty of second- and third-tier hitting, with players such as Kipnis, Heyward and Moustakas.  If Holliday stays hot and Gonzalez comes around, my offense could be excellent.

I think I might take a break from trading for a while.  But, I probably won’t!  I’ll likely end up sending out an offer in a few days, looking to make improvements.  I made 15 trades in 2011, and I’ve completed 10 deals so far this season.  I never intend on making so many trades, it just seems to happen!

This is a great group of owners to compete with.  I’m enjoying this league every step of the way.  Mostly, I hope to stay in the race so that I have something to do until the end of September!

Tout Wars Mixed League Review

Heading into my second year in Tout Wars, I felt a lot more relaxed than in ’11.  Coming off a somewhat earned and somewhat fortunate league title in my rookie season, I had more confidence at the auction table but also knew that my competitors would be paying greater attention to my bids, while possibly hoping to sap an extra dollar or two out of me at times.

If you’ve never done a fantasy auction, I’m not sure if I can recommend it.  It’s a grueling process that requires you to be on guard consistently for about 5 hours.  I enjoy it, and so do most people who really love this game.  A draft is a better player selection approach for the casual fan, since it affords many breaks to regroup and plan out strategies (true story – I gave my son a bath between my 4th and 5th picks in this year’s LABR Mixed League draft)!  But, if you’re truly passionate about who ends up on your roster, the auction is the way to go.

I never enter an auction with a specific plan.  I don’t like to be boxed into an concept that takes away the chance to get good values when they arise.  I bring one sheet of paper to an auction – a list of all potential picks and how much I’m willing to spend on each one.  I’ll bid on anyone until they reach my breaking point and then I almost always back out.  This year I had a few ideas of who I might end up with, based on drafts I had done in other leagues.  As usual, I was mostly wrong when projecting my roster! The full league rosters can be found HERE, so I’ll spare the details of all my winning bids.  Here are my thoughts of my favorite and least favorite spots on my team:

The Good

1. Nabbing Grant Balfour for $5 – Most closers went for double-digit prices.  A few risky bets, such as Frank Francisco and Brett Myers, didn’t fetch such a high price.  I don’t view Balfour in that light.  He’s someone who has pitched well enough to close in recent years and now he’s finally getting the chance.  I think he can hold the job.  With closers such as Bailey, Marmol, Nathan and Marshall going for $5-7 more, I was happy to save a few bucks on my second closer.

2. Good deals in the outfield – Last year I spent a lot on my outfield but this year I didn’t like the prices as much.  After adding Josh Hamilton and Adam Jones I looked for cheaper options, while still hoping to stay out of the $1 scrap heap.  Melky Cabrera, Josh Willingham and Alejandro De Aza cost me a total of $11 and I expect them to capably fill my final three outfield spots.  Together, they offer a nice balance of power and speed, and they allowed me to spend more money elsewhere.

3. Josh Beckett as a third starter – When Beckett’s name was thrown out, auctioneer Jeff Erickson from Rotowire accidentally thought the bidding was starting at $10 – which seemed sensible to me.  Turns out it was starting at $2 and when it stopped I was left with Beckett for $9.  After last season’s embarrassment, I expect Beckett to be focused on rejuvenating his reputation this season.

4. Josh Hamilton for $24 – According to my projections, Hamilton was my biggest steal. I expected to former AL MVP to go for close to $30 and I was prepared to go higher than $24.  Two words, folks – contract year.  Hamilton is out to prove he deserves a monster contract and knows that staying on the field all season is key.  I’m quietly hoping for more than 500 at-bats.

5. The boys in the dugout – I have a bad habit of getting sloppy and coming away with very little for my bench at the end of drafts.  This time, I felt like I did very well.  Mike Carp and Seth Smith give me a pair of solid hitters who can jump in the lineup when injuries occur.  And, one of my strongest gut instincts this season is that Joe Nathan won’t hold up as the Rangers closer.  I just don’t think he has it anymore, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s out of that role by the middle of May.  So, I added Mike Adams, who pitches so well that he can be helpful even in a middle relief role.  I’ll use him in the opening week, then stash him on my bench and hope I’m right about Nathan.  Quick tip – this is the year to pick an extra middle reliever at the end of your draft.  Because the season starts on a Thursday, the first week is an abbreviated one in most leagues.  Several starters won’t appear in games that week, so a pitcher like Adams can get you a scoreless inning or two, which is better than an empty active roster spot.

6. Raw power – No, I’m not talking about Shark Week!  It’s always good to know your own tendencies and mine is to draft too many steals and not enough homers.  Even though I won this league last season, I was aware of my failure (second-last) in the home run category.  Picking Joey Votto and Josh Hamilton as my best players was a deliberate plan to spend a fair amount of cash on players who don’t steal a lot of bases.  I expect steals to be my weakest offensive category in April, but I know my natural tendency will be to chase them on waivers and in trades all season.  At least I’ve given myself room to do that.

The Bad

1. The risky catchers – Last season I (over?) invested $40 in Buster Posey and Geovany Soto.  You all know how that turned out.  This season, I promised myself that I would only take one pricey catcher, and the other one would come from the bargain bin.  Because of the physical demands of the position, the injury risk is very real.  Well, that plan flew out the window when I paid a total of $35 for Matt Wieters and Miguel Montero.  In a vacuum, I feel that the price I paid represents good value.  My projections indicated that their total value was in the $38-40 range.  I also like getting good catchers because they protect your batting average.  Most fantasy teams end up with at least one catcher who hits under .250.  By avoiding that fate, I allow myself to roster one of those players at a different position (hello, Mark Reynolds).  I’ll be crossing my fingers on my two backstops all season.

2. Another risk: Matt Moore – I didn’t think I would end up with Moore in any 2012 leagues and I was surprised when the bidding stopped on the future AL ROY at my $14 bid.  I believe that Moore is going to fare well in the Majors right away but I recognize the risk of my number two starter having so little Major League experience.  I would have preferred a veteran such as Ian Kennedy or a young player with more experience such as Madison Bumgarner.  But, I ended up with Moore and it should be an exciting ride!

3. Spending $39 on one player – I was undecided as to whether I would shell out big bucks for any one guy but I ended up taking the plunge with Votto.  I really like Votto and I’m comfortable with owning him, but I know that spending so much on one guy prevented me from nabbing $10-20 players I liked later on.  At least I managed to stay out of the $1 trash bin, which was an area that left me high and dry last season.

4. Mark Reynolds – After picking the two quality catchers, plus Votto and Hamilton, I felt like I had the batting average base to take the plunge on a few swinger like Reynolds.  If the Orioles slugger can hit in the .225 range, his massive power can make him a big asset to any fantasy squad.  There aren’t a lot of 35-homer players anymore, and this is one of them.  But, a .198 season like he suffered through in ’10 will be hard to watch!

Overall, this is a horse I can ride!  The league isn’t won or lost on draft day – that happens through the many roster decisions that are made during the next six months.  This is a tough group of smart fantasy owners and I’m hoping to hang out in the top half of the standings so that I can enjoy another good chase for a championship down the stretch.

PS – It has been well-documented that I made a flurry of deals from Opening Day all the way to the deadline in this league last season.  Well, I’m open for business once again!  Consider this an invitation to my 14 competitors – if you don’t like some aspect of your brand new roster (or, if you regret passing on one of my players on Saturday), send me an email and let’s get the negotiations started!

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