Yesterday, I had the honor of participating in the Tout Wars N.L.-only expert league for the second year in a row. Once again, I was sitting at the table with 12 of the sharpest minds in the fantasy baseball community in an attempt to bring home one of the most coveted titles in fantasy sports.
Unlike some owners, I don't adopt a specific strategy when I prepare for an auction, especially in a non-carryover league. My general goal is always the same: to walk out of my auction with as much value as possible.
I do like to learn from my mistakes, though. While I bought a very good team in 2010, there were some things I should have done differently. Additionally, there were some trends I anticipated in the N.L. in 2011 that made me adjust some of my prices. Below, I'll take a look at the guiding principles I entered Tout Wars with and whether or not I adhered to them during the auction.
1) Lower my prices on the best hitters...but don't be afraid to spend on them if the price points fall too far down.
Last year, I jumped out of the gate with Jose Reyes ($23), Albert Pujols ($40), Hanley Ramirez ($40), and Joey Votto ($28). While I liked all of these prices, these buys hampered my ability to bargain hunt later on in the auction. I decided to tick my prices down on the stars...but only slightly. If I got Pujols and Ramirez again at my prices, I wasn't afraid to fall into another Stars and Scrubs team.
This was especially true because the National League is thin at the bottom end of this year. Jay Gibbons and Melvin Mora are starting?!? I'm sure if they hang on to their jobs they'll earn their keep, but I don't know if I've ever seen the N.L. pool look so thin. Spending $1 on a back up or two and getting quality at the top is better than spending $8-10 on two players like Gibbons and Mora and taking money from Pujols.
I didn't get Pujols or Ramirez; in fact, they both went $2 higher to Nate Ravitz (Ramirez) and Brian Walton (Pujols) than I spent for them last year. But after buying Brian McCann for $22, I waited some time before pulling the trigger on Votto at $36. He would be my only $30+ buy of the day, but I'm pretty happy having him as my anchor hitter this year.
However, just because I didn't spend on big hitters doesn't mean I didn't spend. After Votto, I bought Chase Headley ($16), Jason Heyward ($26), Garrett Jones ($13) and Brandon Phillips ($26). I had $121 left for 17 players and still hadn't purchased a pitcher. Since I wasn't planning on buying a $9 pitching staff (though at this point of the auction the thought did cross my mind), where was I going to spend my money?
2) Push the reliever prices down
Another thing I noticed last year was that closer prices - which are already depressed in the expert leagues - were even tighter in Tout Wars in 2010. I bought Carlos Marmol ($15) and Matt Capps ($12) early in 2010 and missed out later on some closer prices I liked better. My plan wasn't to dump saves. If anything, I thought perhaps I could buy a cheap closer or two if the prices fell.
It didn't work out that way, though. Brad Lidge was the first closer called out, and at $14 was too rich for my blood. Then Francisco Rodriguez went for $17. While some closers did wind up going at my par price, it was evident that owners in the room were going to push the envelope on these guys. I didn't enter the room intending to toss saves overboard, but that's exactly what I did.
3) Lower my prices on the best pitchers...but don't be afraid to spend on them if the price points fall too far down.
This may sound like a re-run of #1, but with pitchers there is even more of an imperative by the experts not to spend. Even though it might be a fair price, I didn't want to push Roy Halladay to $35 only to see Mat Latos and Cole Hamels go for $17 apiece because no one was pushing pitching prices. I wanted bargains not just in the context of what I thought were bargains, but bargains in the context of this auction.
Halladay did wind up going to another team at $32 (I had the last bid on him). But after buying all of these players above, I still managed to get Tim Lincecum for $28. Then Josh Johnson and Ubaldo Jimenez each fell to me for $22. While I hadn't planned to spend $72 for three pitchers, I couldn't argue with these prices. Even better, many of the pitchers who came up after my big three went for as much or more money because owners were pushing to try to manufacture the ace that was no longer available at the auction.
The problem I had now was the same problem I had in 2010: too many slots and not enough money. So I adjusted on the fly and made two quick decisions.
First, I decided to: 4) Spend $1 on my remaining six pitching slots and allocate the rest of my money to my offense.
To be honest, this decision wasn't entirely made on the fly. Last year, when I found myself with $42 left for 14 players, I should have spent my money when the opportunities arose and worried about the endgame during the endgame. Instead, I froze and wound up killing my chances with mediocrities like Kenshin Kawakami, Paul Maholm, and John Maine. These guys were so bad that I could have just filled in with $1 pitchers and done no worse. So instead of wasting my auction resources on these fungible commodities, I'd try to buy a decent offense.
I finished out my offense with Chris Johnson ($13), Chris Coghlan ($9), Cody Ross ($12), and Chris Snyder ($4). That still left me with four hitting slots to fill with $1-2 players, but having 10 everyday players felt a lot better than having seven or eight regulars with a lot of back-ups caddying the team.
(My hitting endgame: Jeff Baker $2, Edgar Renteria $1, Kyle Blanks $1, Chris Denorfia $1. Baker was a mistake; Ronny Cedeno was sitting out there, and while he's an ugly regular he is - at the moment - a regular. I still think Renteria could get the majority of SS at bats for the Reds. Blanks is a wait-and-see play. I hope he works out, but at $1 it's no big loss if he doesn't. Denorfia is a sneaky option if Cameron Maybin doesn't work out yet again, though honestly I'm not expecting much here.)
5) Buying some starting pitching is OK, but buy some quality middle relief innings, too.
As a pricer, I'm aware that middle relievers are productive citizens in 5x5, yet always wind up buying a lot of starting pitchers because my bids on them are higher. Buying 2-3 cheap $1 starters behind my three aces was OK, but filling in with six cheap starting pitchers would be a mistake; it would increase the odds that I would sabotage my aces and destroy my team. A number of middle relievers earned in double digits in 2010. Getting $30+ of earnings from three middle relievers would be huge, and mitigate the risk on the $1 starting pitchers I did take.
(My pitching endgame: Rafael Betancourt $1, Takashi Saito $1, Sean Marshall $1, Barry Zito $1, Kevin Correia $1, Chris Volstad $1. Betancourt and Marshall both earned double digits last year and could do so again. Saito doesn't pitch too many innings but is money when he is on the mound. Zito earned $9 in 5x5 last year and Volstad earned $5. They could regress, but if they each earn $3 they should still be OK with the aces in front of them. Correia is the biggest risk based on prior year's earnings, but he's an xFIP bounce back candidate. His brother died last year in a tragic accident and my hunch is that the tragedy impacted Correia mentally when he came back. I think his 2011 looks more like his 2009 than his 2010.)
The team in list form:
C Brian McCann $22
C Chris Snyder $4
1B Joey Votto $36
2B Brandon Phillips $26
SS Edgar Renteria $1
3B Chase Headley $16
CO Chris Johnson $13
MI Jeff Baker $2
OF Kyle Blanks $1
OF Chris Coghlan $9
OF Jason Heyward $26
OF Garrett Jones $13
OF Cody Ross $12
UT Chris Denorfia $1
P Rafael Betancourt $1
P Kevin Correia $1
P Ubaldo Jimenez $22
P Josh Johnson $22
P Tim Lincecum $28
P Sean Marshall $1
P Takashi Saito $1
P Chris Volstad $1
P Barry Zito $1
I like my team. I don't love it, but if my second year of Tout Wars taught me anything it's that you're not going to walk out of that room loving your team. I may need to trade for speed later. In an ideal world, one of my $1 starters would break out and I could flip an ace for a big time hitter. More than anything, I feel like my auction was solid and put me in the running to contend. In an extremely tough expert league auction, that's the most anyone can possibly ask for.