If you are a reader who can become grumpy about the preponderance of industry-oriented leagues and related articles written about them by industry participants, you may want to move on, as this is yet another.
No, seriously, I hope I can use them as an illustration and make it relevant to you, as well.
It is the time of year in which it seems like every site and organization is running real-live “expert drafts,” which have taken the place of the glut of mock drafts that predominate much of the December through February time frame.
Like you, perhaps, I graze the results of some of the drafts in which I did not participate. There are lessons to be learned about the perceived value of the player pool, whether snake or auction format.
There are times I even scout my opposition in upcoming leagues. After all, if a drafter likes a player in one league, there is an above-average likelihood that he will go back to that same well again. I don’t get very into this during the draft, however. I am usually busy enough trying to manage myself, without enough additional energy to devote to real-time monitoring of others.
Still, with a bit of down time following my spring training trip and before my National League Tout Wars draft date on Sunday, March 24, I took a look at the results of two prominent NL-only industry leagues – CBS and LABR.
One high-level factor I review at the very start is the balance of funds deployed on hitting versus pitching. At the highest level, there was no significant deviation from the standard 70-30 percent. LABR NL was almost dead on at $181-$79 while CBS NL was at $177-$82 (rounded).
Normally, I would quickly move on from there. However, a few of the individual approaches caught my eye.
As the table above indicates, there was a wide variation in spending across owners in both leagues. Two owners in each draft spent over $100 on pitching with a total of seven additional teams across the two drafts having dropped more than $90 on their arms. That is 11 teams of 24.
One of the top four was our own Lawr Michaels, who picked up his NL LABR pitching with a total spend of $103. Not surprisingly, his staff received post-draft praise from some observers.
What was surprising was Lawr’s approach. Then again, considering his reputation as the “Zen Master” for his drafting style, his response should have been anticipated.
“Truth is at First Pitch San Francisco this year, one early question asked all of us on the panel was what percentage we allocate towards pitching and hitting during an auction and my answer was ‘I don't know, I never checked or thought about it,’” he admitted.
“That is really the truth,” Michaels asserted.
The Zen Master seeks out value wherever he can find it.
“Basically, I try to fill my roster with the best slightly undervalued talent as I can,” he said. “I don't mind a surplus because you can always trade and I don't like to punt.”As Sir Isaac Newton once proclaimed in his third law, “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”
Long-time friend and competitor Doug Dennis of BaseballHQ deployed a common strategy for him, spending just $24 on his LABR NL staff. His top-dollar pitcher was Wade Miley at $6. The next-lowest pitching spender, Bob Radomski of Sandlot Shrink, came in at $66 total.
Over at CBS National League, one of CBS’ finest, Nando DiFino, was one of two owners sticking down in the $40’s for pitching. Nando spent just $47 on his arms.
It wasn’t his original plan.
“I didn't mean to spend so little on pitching,” DiFino disclosed. “But the auction kind of took hold of any strategy and flipped it on its head.”The price of arms were sky-high with three closers fetching $20 or more.
“Pitchers were going for a lot more than I felt comfortable spending - closers, in particular,” he noted. At some point, I just decided to punt saves.”
Like many good drafters, DiFino read the table and adjusted his approach mid-stream to go where he saw value.
“I decided to get value at the hitting spots and worry about pitching through trades or FAAB claims,” DiFino recalled.
Of course, he still needed a staff, coming back around after the core of his offense was in place.
“About 90 minutes into the draft, I decided to target a handful of cheap, high-strikeout pitchers who were calculated risks,” he said. “Brian Wilson, Santiago Casilla, and Antonio Bastardo could get saves at some point, but will have high-K totals out of middle relief. Francisco Liriano, Drew Pomeranz, and Edinson Volquez could have a lot of strikeouts and decent ratios, if things break the right way. I'm not crazy about Nate Eovaldi, but he could pitch 200 innings and be somewhat decent.”
DiFino summarizes his draft and notes his in-season plan.
“I don't necessarily hate this team, but I wasn't going to wildly overpay for players I didn't necessarily like just because everyone else was,” he said. “In a worst-case scenario, I will trade one of my extra bats for some pitching help. But I at least have a shot to make some noise on the pitching side (sans saves) before I have to consider it.”The messages? Well, there are several. First and foremost, don’t be locked into an approach. If the draft goes in a different direction, be ready with a Plan B.
And whether you follow Plan A, B or X, remember that draft day is just the beginning. No one leaves the table with a team that could not be improved. While the draft is still fresh in your mind (and before you move on to the next one, perhaps) is the ideal time to jot down the outline of your in-season game plan.
Special thanks to Lawr and Nando for sharing their thoughts.
My budget approach for NL Tout? I won’t know if I deviate from the norm until it happens!
For those interested in this weekend’s Tout Wars drafts in New York City, all the details can be found on the league website. The AL, NL and mixed auctions will be covered gavel to gavel by SiriusXM. All events will have a live spreadsheet and a live blog linked to at toutwars.com during the event.
Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 14-year history. Though he is the only one to remember or care, he also finished second in each of the two subsequent seasons. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.