This past weekend was the culmination of the annual industry draft season with Tout Wars, held in New York City. I am back for 2017 with the goal of winning my second National League-only title against some very challenging competitors, including defending champion Todd Zola of Mastersball.
I am not going into a player-by-player analysis of my draft. Since I don’t find it all that interesting to recap myself, I am guessing it would not be too enlightening to you, either. (However, you can reference all of the Tout drafts via this Google doc.)
Not unlike many of your leagues, perhaps, most of the NL Tout participants have been at this for many years. Couple that with their strong knowledge of the player base and the fact that a number of industry leagues in which we participate have already been held, it means there really are not that many secrets.
In fact, one of my industry friends told me that because I had already drafted a team in NL LABR, my 2017 strategy, player and pricing preferences were known.
That was not the case. For example, I went with one of the top catchers in Tout, Willson Contreras, for $16, after spending just half of that combined on my catchers in LABR. That required me to spend less on one of my outfielders in Tout. There was some risk here because the under-$10 outfield pool was thin.
Even if that was not the situation, I always try to keep enough cash at the end to avoid dollar days. The main reason is that I want to be able to get the best players in the end game without being repeatedly picked off by others. Of course, as in everything, moderation is needed or one could end up leaving cash (and stats) on the table.
In the late part of the draft, I was pleased to acquire Michael Saunders ($7) and Andrew Toles ($6) to complete my outfield. This part of my plan worked especially well as I had $3 remaining for my final player, which I successfully bid on who I consider the best power prospect who should come up this season, Cody Bellinger of the Dodgers.
Looking back, one wouldn’t have learned much about my supposed favored players. I have just five common names across both Tout and LABR and none are what I consider core players – Jose Reyes ($14), David Peralta ($16) and Toles along with pitchers Jon Gray ($13) and Tyler Anderson ($2).
While there are always players I like better than others, there is no one I would pursue at all costs. For example, I had hoped to acquire Carlos Martinez to anchor my staff, but I backed out of the bidding when it became clear I would have to pay at least $27 and perhaps even more.
My primary strategy is to establish a core group of players from among a group of candidates and then look for value the rest of the way. I do not come in with the intention to punt any categories, though my OBP may require intervention.
Another tenet I follow is to avoid the peak-price players (generally over $30). Even so, my core as drafted is solid. They include a steals leader, Dee Gordon ($26), an OBP and power threat in Christian Yelich ($28), an ace in Jake Arrieta ($22) and a top closer in Mark Melancon ($20). This gives me a good start at a balanced performance.
Another important factor in an only-league is to maximize counting stats. On offense, that means getting 14 players with clear starting jobs. Finding hitters via waivers in-season who can contribute can be quite challenging. On the pitching side, I go starter-heavy. I may have to jettison one or two down the line, but my experience is that setup men with good ratios are always available on the waiver wire.
From a budget perspective, I came in with a general plan as to how much I would spend for each position based on potential target players, but use that as a guideline rather than a strict rule. In terms of hitting-pitching balance, I planned for a $182-$78 split and ended up at $185-$75. The league average was $183-$77. However, two of my colleagues were at the opposite extremes.
Defending champion Zola went heavy on pitching, spending $103 on arms, while Phil Hertz of BaseballHQ allocated $201 for offense. I asked each about their respective strategies.
Zola did not plan for this mix, but went where he saw value, keeping a mind toward trading later. (I did the same thing in acquiring steals.)
“I spent an extra $15-$20 on pitching which can be accounted for in two areas: Madison Bumgarner and a third closer,” Zola said. “I budgeted about $20 for my staff anchor, but when MadBum came in a few bucks under where I expected him to land (bought at $29), I decided to take that and not risk the next tier selling higher than expected. The plan at that time was to take away $10 from the rest of the staff, but it obviously didn't work out that way.
“The third closer was taking what the market gave me. I already had Seung Hwan Oh and Raisel Iglesias. After buying Iglesias, my thinking was to nominate every remaining saves candidate so no one would go really cheap. Then I realized if someone does go cheap, why shouldn't I be the recipient?
“There's obviously trading and it's really hard to get a surplus in a category from which to deal. Maybe I have more confidence that Brandon Maurer fends off Carter Capps, but if proven correct, I have a commodity to deal. If no one else trusts Maurer to hold the job, I can even deal Oh and compete in saves with just Iglesias and Maurer,” Zola concluded.
Hertz came in with a plan and executed it.
“I used ‘total control drafting’ in that I decided in advance to spend $205-210 on hitting and $50-55 on pitching,” Hertz said. “I targeted several players, notably Kris Bryant ($37), Billy Hamilton ($26) and Freddie Freeman ($39), as guys I wanted to build my team around. I also decided to neglect catching and in all likelihood saves.
“Regarding Hamilton, I decided that I would get him early -- he was the second guy I threw out -- and if successful, then I could pretty much 'ignore' speed the rest of the draft. I actually got him for less than I budgeted, which allowed me to go higher than my budget on Freeman.
“On the pitching side, my plan was to get two mid-tier starters, two or three upside starters, and then some guys who had a shot at closing at some point this year. I thought that would cost me $50-55. I spent a little more, in part because I wound up with three second tier guys (although one is Steven Matz and that money might be a waste).
“I was also very happy with the upside options I wound up with, including Wily Peralta in the reserve rounds. On the save side, I got what I wanted -- indeed right now I'm projected to get four points in saves, since three other owners wound up with even less in that realm than I,” said Hertz.
So there you have it – a look into how I approached the NL Tout draft as well as a view of two peers who had very different approaches. May you apply that which can help you and ignore the rest. No matter what, here is hoping you have successful drafts this spring!
Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 18-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter @B_Walton.