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Monday 27th Mar 2017

Given my day job is covering the St. Louis Cardinals system, I understand why all eyes around the table at any fantasy draft fall on me when a Cardinals player is nominated. Especially in National League Tout Wars, my peers are conditioned to expect my actions could signal that I possess some “insider” information.

Bid aggressively, and I am high on the player. No bidding at all may mean something is up.

In reality, I have found that over time, I had been more negative than not about Cardinals players, focusing more on their weaknesses than strengths. As a result, I have missed out on some nice bargains over the years.

I resolved for 2016 to be more aggressive about those whom I know best. I just wish it was working out better.

I came into the second free agent period this past weekend with six holes in my NL LABR lineup. They occurred due to a combination of injuries (Aaron Altherr, Ender Inciarte, Tyson Ross, which put $47 of my draft-day spend on the DL), minor leaguers drafted to stash for later (Lucas Giolito and Dansby Swanson) and unexpected demotions to the minors (Andrew Susac).

Due to my missed first week of free agent bidding in NL LABR, the subject of this column last week, I felt like I had really missed out on important opportunities. This week, I was especially motivated to take action to recoup my time lost to inaction. Of course, it all depends on which free agents are available.

As fate would have it, I needed a middle infielder and outfielder most of all and the two top free agents this week are both Cardinals – Aledmys Diaz and NL batting leader Jeremy Hazelbaker. I really like their opportunities for the remainder of this season, especially after they ignited a Cardinals offense that had been flat in the club’s opening 0-3 series in Pittsburgh.

In LABR, it appeared I won both players after bidding $6 and $11 on the two Cardinals, respectively. However, due to snafus with the waiver process this week, my Hazelbaker bid was ultimately trumped by an $18 offer from Steve Moyer of Inside Edge.

After watching St. Louis’ home opener on Monday afternoon, I felt even worse about losing out. In the game, in which Hazelbaker started in left field, the 28-year-old went 4-for-4, including a triple, raising his batting average to .526 on the young season.

Of course, Moyer will not receive the benefit of Hazelbaker’s initial hot streak preceding Monday and certainly, the rookie will cool off. Yet, it does not seem to be a coincidence that I most often come in second place in my FAAB bidding. But that is a topic for another day.

With his recent success, Hazelbaker’s story is being repeated often, so I will just share the basics. The one-time Red Sox draftee was languishing in the Dodgers’ system and one month into the 2015 season, he was released. The Cardinals were the only organization who called - with a need for a Double-A outfielder.

Hazelbaker tore up the 2015 Texas League with a .900 OPS and raised that to 1.000 after his promotion to the Pacific Coast League, despite only touching .800 in his minor league past. Again a free agent last fall, he returned to the Cardinals for 2016 in gratitude for the confidence they showed in him in 2015.

Despite a strong spring, Hazelbaker was destined to return to Triple-A until the last possible moment – when shortstop Ruben Tejada was injured in the final Grapefruit League contest - and he bought more time in the bigs when oft-injured Tommy Pham was hurt during the second inning on Opening Day.

Speaking of openings, an opportunity for regular playing time on an extended basis may have presented itself for Hazelbaker, in part due to Matt Holliday’s winter experiment to learn how to play first base. Every day Holliday is used at first opens up left field for Hazelbaker. The real losers in this scenario could be Matt Adams and Brandon Moss.

Though Hazelbaker has made a few starts in center ahead of Randal Grichuk, it was due to the latter’s poor regular season start after a solid spring. I do not expect Hazelbaker to knock Grichuk out of his starting role. Same with Stephen Piscotty in right.

The stories of Diaz, a 25-year-old Cuban, and regular St. Louis shortstop Jhonny Peralta have been intertwined from the time they joined the organization – each as a free agent prior to the 2014 season. Though both secured four-year Major League contracts, the unproven Diaz began his career at Double-A.

The organization’s hope at the time was that after a year or two, Diaz would emerge as Peralta’s replacement in St. Louis, freeing the aging, mid-30’s version of Peralta to move to third base or left field or become a super-sub.

As it has turned out, Peralta’s offense as a Cardinal has been as good or better than expected. In fact, he led the 2015 club in home runs and RBI at the break and was named an NL All-Star. His defense, never his strong suit, has remained steady, dulling any expected need to move him off the position.

From his side of the equation, Diaz did nothing to push his way into the MLB picture for most of his first two professional seasons. The first year was ruined by a sore shoulder, perhaps aggravated by his pre-signing workouts after mostly being out of action for several years after leaving Cuba.

Last July, after languishing for most of two seasons in the Cardinals system, Diaz was outrighted – taken off the Cardinals’ 40-man roster. Whether it was motivation or sheer coincidence, shortly after, Diaz caught fire at Double-A Springfield, which continued with Triple-A Memphis and extended into the Arizona Fall League.

When Peralta was injured very early in camp this spring and expected to miss the first half, Diaz was thought to have a chance to fill in. Yet with his checkered history and just 17 games of experience at Triple-A, the Cardinals were more comfortable with a veteran - hence they signed Tejada, who had been released by the Mets a few days prior.

Matters changed quickly with the aforementioned injuries to Tejada and Pham, which led the Cards to revisit Diaz. He made his MLB debut just a few days after Hazelbaker, and like the outfielder, Diaz hit immediately. Unlike the Cardinals’ other primary option at the position, Jedd Gyorko, Diaz is a natural shortstop, though his defense has been a bit shaky early on.

Diaz has just a few more days to show he can be an everyday player - until Tejada is ready. As long as Diaz continues to perform, I think the Cards would start him over Tejada. In other words, Diaz is in the driver’s seat to earn starters’ at-bats until at least the All-Star break. Down the road, Peralta’s thumb injury could affect his power upon his return, creating more uncertainly from which Diaz could continue to benefit.

In closing, Tout Wars bidding this past weekend offers an interesting comparison to the prices in LABR. While I wanted both Hazelbaker and Diaz in both leagues, my needs were more pronounced in LABR. In other words, my bids were less in Tout and as a result, I lost out on both free agents there. The outfielder fetched $177 (on a basis of $1000) and the shortstop was acquired for $143 by others.

In the big picture, Hazelbaker’s price was almost the same in the two leagues, but Diaz went for more than double in Tout in comparable dollars ($14.3 vs. $6 on a basis of $100).

In both industry leagues, owners are showing they are not afraid to spend early. Hoarding FAAB in hopes of mid-season standouts changing leagues is becoming a less and less prevalent strategy.

These two acquisitions could offer their new owners almost a full season of production as a result, so if this pair of new Redbirds are still available, take a hard look at them - and if you want them, bid aggressively.

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 17-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.

The very title of this column series, Articles of Configuration, is intended to inform the reader of my interest in writing about the intricacies of fantasy baseball rules and practices and how you might benefit from them in your own leagues.

Unfortunately, too often I find myself using my own missteps as examples of what not to do. Here is another such case, with this blunder having occurred well before the first pitch on Opening Day.

While what follows may sound like an excuse, I am considering it an explanation, instead. If you are like me, your week immediately preceding Opening Day is filled with various league drafts. After all, most everyone prefers to wait as long as possible before picking teams.

Though I am a long-time fantasy industry member, we have our own local leagues as well to incorporate into busy calendars. Many travel to central locales such as Las Vegas or New York for the NFBC Main Event Drafts. And so on.

Yet, one of my industry leagues, LABR, traditionally drafts very early, offering one data point to readers interested in how those who devote long hours to fantasy baseball select our own teams.

Of course, a lot has changed since the LABR drafts held way back on March 5-6. That greatly increases the importance of the first waiver period – not only to fill injured player gaps, but also to seize spring training sensations – in hopes they can stem the tide and actually keep it up when the games really matter.

My week was further complicated by two dead laptops, only one of which was due to my negligence. The anger, confusion and scrambling to try to recover data from a failed hard drive had to have taken a couple of years off my life.

Against this backdrop, I mentally prepared to get through my final drafts on Saturday and use Sunday morning to finalize my approach for waiver pickups in both LABR and Tout Wars.

Earlier, I had analyzed my rosters and plotted out which holes I wanted to fill - along with identifying which players would either be disabled or released from my rosters. I decided to wait until the last moment for the final step – to identify my target free agents and determine my maximum bid prices.

With all MLB clubs not required to finalize their opening 25-man rosters until noon Eastern on Sunday, there could still be some surprises ahead, I assumed.

I knew I needed fill four holes. Not fully well this spring, Giants reserve catcher Andrew Susac was sent down to Triple-A to play every day, so I needed a short-term fill-in. I also hoped to find a better utility player than Pittsburgh’s Matt Joyce and had an open spot. During our reserve draft, I gambled that then-free agent Marlon Byrd would sign with an NL team. Since it did not turn out that way, I had to drop him.

On draft day, I made a stash move for Phillies shortstop J.P. Crawford, then taking as a reserve Alen Hanson of the Pirates to cover. Since then, the Bucs’ signing of David Freese led to a chain reaction that included Hanson going back down to Triple-A. Hence an unexpected opening.

Finally, my early March bet on the Phillies’ closer carousel was Luis Garcia. Though many names were mentioned during March, Garcia was not among them. In fact, he opened the season in Triple-A, making him worthless as my projected fill-in for another stashee, Washington’s Lucas Giolito.

As an aside, one nice touch was applied in LABR to remove the timing challenges and conflicts between when players are placed on the disabled list and fantasy waiver deadlines for week 1. LABR pre-defined and shared with all participants a list of players sure to go on the DL to start the season, then made the preemptive move to designate all of them as disabled on the league’s website well before the first deadline. That wise decision removed randomness and owner angst.

This all would have worked out perfectly for me – except for one thing – my negligence.

LABR also did another smart move, but something that none of my other leagues did. For the first week only, the waiver deadline was moved up to Saturday night, April 2 at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. That way, opening fantasy rosters could be set before Sunday’s games.

I would have loved the approach – had I not waited until Sunday morning to thoroughly read the series of pre-season emails from the commissioner.

There is no one to blame but myself for missing this most important news. At least misery loves company, it appears. Only five of the 12 NL LABR owners entered waiver bids by the Saturday deadline, picking up 10 players. So, six others joined me in inaction.

Being new to LABR this year is no excuse whatsoever. By my inaction, I put myself further behind the curve in a league where no mistakes can be tolerated.

Next week, I will have to be in catch-up mode, looking for nuggets in an already incredibly shallow player pool that will have 10 fewer players in it and almost nothing new to offer.

The message to you is simple – pay attention. After spending perhaps weeks in preparation for the draft, don’t lose your hard-earned edge in the days following.

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 17-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.

To tell the truth, I was far from the most dedicated Led Zeppelin follower even in their heyday, but I do subscribe to the theme of their 1976 concert film. When moving from the National League LABR draft at the beginning of March to the NL Tout Wars draft two weeks later, I stuck to the same basic tune.

Yet, just like a musician constantly altering how a song is performed live, making small adjustments seemingly every time, so it was here. My preparation for the second auction draft was based upon the first, yet unique in its own way.

Normally a spread-the-wealth kind of player in “only” leagues while avoiding the $1 pitching endgame, this year, I moved away from that approach. With the growing concentration of aces in the Senior Circuit, I decided I had to have one to compete. By carefully adding a few $1-$2 pitchers later in the draft, I could still snag my second and third hurlers in the higher and lower teens, respectively.

Which pitchers I would draft depended on where and when I could find value, but my hope was to ensure high strikeouts even at the slight expense of ratios. My thought was that I could mitigate some of the latter with a couple of solid setup men, if necessary. When all was said and done, I had just two common pitchers across the two rosters, or 22 percent.

In LABR, my ace choice was Stephen Strasburg. Lingering injury concerns might have caused a few of my peers to take a dollar or two off the price of the Nationals’ right-hander, but if so, that was fine with me. Strasburg finished the 2015 season very strongly and seems poised for a standout season. I paid $27 to roster him in LABR.

In Tout, however, I had to contend with BaseballHQ’s Phil Hertz, who lives in the Washington, DC area and is often all over Nationals (and his favored Mets, of which he rostered at least six this year).

Sure enough, Hertz doggedly hung in the Strasburg bidding until it reached $29, and I was not prepared to go $30. Hertz told me after the draft that he came in with the objective of getting Strasburg, and so he did. Only Clayton Kershaw ($41) and Max Scherzer ($32) went for more among hurlers.

I was very pleased, though, to acquire Jacob deGrom instead for at least $5 less than Strasburg would have cost. Perhaps the least flashy of the Mets’ three aces, my hope is that the reports of his velocity being down will disappear when the bell rings for the regular season.

My second starter in both leagues ended up being Tyson Ross of San Diego. Though the right-hander cost me a dollar more in Tout compared to my $18 purchase price in LABR, the 200-plus strikeouts should be worth it, even if the breakout predicted by many is less pronounced.

I strongly considered Adam Wainwright of the Cardinals for this spot as well. The veteran is coming off a non-pitching injury (Achilles) that essentially gave his arm a full year of rest at age 33. Of course, he has another good team behind him this season. My only trepidation was trading off strikeouts for Wainwright’s expected improved ratios.

My next two pitchers, around the $10 area, were Cardinals-focused. In LABR, just after going $12 on Jaime Garcia (for the ratios), his hard-throwing teammate Carlos Martinez fell into my lap at just $11. The latter was undoubtedly my best buy of the draft and came as a complete surprise, albeit a pleasant one.

In LABR, my choices were Julio Teheran ($12) and a veteran with a new team and additional upside in St. Louis in Mike Leake ($9). Comparing the pairs, Martinez may outpace Teheran, but Leake could outperform Garcia this season.

My ratio guys in LABR are Tony Watson and Sergio Romo at $2 each, added when most other competitors at the table were down to $1 maximum bids. Perhaps Romo will provide a few saves, as well.

That raises the point – taking this approach meant I was minimizing saves. I prefer not to say I am dumping the category, as in-season closer acquisition opportunities are not that rare. The large number of unsettled situations in the NL increase my odds of finding help later. In fact, Andrew Bailey went undrafted in LABR, but fetched $6 two weeks later.

In Tout, I had gone with a first-half, second-half closer split across two different teams in Fernando Rodney ($4) of San Diego and Arodys Vizcaino ($7) from Atlanta. Interestingly at Tout, the draftee just to my left, Ray Guilfoyle of faketeams.com, took both relievers (for a total of $15). As a result of not chasing saves in Tout, my total pitching spend dropped from $86 to $80, or 33 percent to 31. Not an issue for me.

Along with Ross, my other common pitcher across the two drafts was a definite target in Washington’s Lucas Giolito. All I have seen this spring reinforces my belief that once we get past the Super Two service time hurdle, Giolito will force his way into the majors – and perform well once there.

My fallback was another almost-ready prospect pitcher who is a bit less polished at this stage but also has a high ceiling in Tyler Glasnow of the Pirates. I ended up with Giolito at $5 (LABR) and $6 (Tout), while Glasnow would have required at least $5 as well. (He fetched $4 in both drafts.) I am pleased with my purchases.

There should be footnotes though, due to differences in league rules. In LABR, prospects can be drafted, but not added during the season via FAAB until they are called up to the majors. In addition, LABR has a six-man bench, making it easier to stash a couple of prospects.

Tout also has a swing player instead of the fifth outfielder. In that format, one could choose to start 10 pitchers and just 13 position players at any time or go with the more traditional 9/14.

Tout allows minor leaguers to be acquired at any point during the season, but they require a non-zero bid and must be active the first week after the purchase. Despite Tout thinning the reserves to four per team from six a few years back, the top prospects always seem to be grabbed early. If I was going to tie up one of my precious reserve spots, I wanted one of the very best prospects expected to be ready this season and I think I got my man.

I will reprise my The Song Remains the Same set right here next week when highlighting my NL LABR and Tout offenses.

Click on the highlighted link to see the full results of the Tout drafts, which are all on one spreadsheet. Just click on the tabs to toggle among the various format leagues. The NL LABR draft results can be viewed here.

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 17-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.

Last time, I began a discussion about my shared strategy for drafting in both the 12-team National League-only LABR and Tout Wars leagues, with a focus on pitching. This is Part 2, in which I will cover the offenses.

At an initial glance, having only two pitchers in common across the two leagues would not suggest much of any consistency. Yet, I remained true to a basic approach across the two drafts while remaining flexible enough on individual players to seek out (relative) bargains.

I say “relative” because in industry leagues like these, the participants know very well the market value bandwidths of every player. Really, only when money is tight are there chances for what most would consider real bargains. Even then, and always, pricing is ultimately a matter of opinion.

Anyway, though Tout allows a swing player, a pitcher or hitter, instead of the fifth outfielder, I drafted a standard 14 hitter, nine pitcher roster. This time around, I ended up with five offensive players in common across my two teams, or 35 percent.

I will begin with the most important, Miami outfielder Giancarlo Stanton. A good summary of the lingering concerns from some about Stanton was published by the Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo a few weeks ago, noting that some talent evaluators think the slugger’s nagging injuries in recent years are not going away.

Good. Maybe that scared a dollar or two off his price. I look at Stanton’s maladies the past few seasons and see fluke injuries that should not slow him down in 2016. I acknowledge there is some risk, but one must take chances to win leagues like these and I am all-in on Stanton in 2016.

While my LABR price of acquisition was $37, the head of LABR, USA TODAY’s Steve Gardner, bid Stanton up to $38 in Tout. Gardner explained later that he wanted to own the slugger in one industry league and tried to make it this one. As a result, I went up to $39 to win.

Another reason to snag Stanton is that Tout uses OBP instead of batting average in its 5x5 format. Cardinals third baseman Matt Carpenter is both his team’s best leadoff man and likely its top run producer as well, but he will again be at the top of the order this season. Carpenter’s OBP cost me an extra $4 in Tout ($25 to $29).

Speaking of St. Louis, the club’s first base situation was already cloudy between two left-handed hitters in Matt Adams and Brandon Moss. Now that right-handed hitting Matt Holliday is also working out there, the uncertainty increases.

My take is that Moss is more of a proven commodity than Adams and has the additional flexibility of being able to play a corner outfield position. With the high prices at first base across the board in both leagues, I saved money here, snagging Moss for $9 and $12.

I may like Atlanta’s leadoff man Ender Inciarte better than most. I get that the centerfielder plays on a bad team, but I like the possibility of his club trying to manufacture runs and the resultant stolen base potential. I rostered him at $18 both times.

One of my hopes coming in was to avoid the dregs of the NL outfield pool. As cash got tight, I ended up having to acquire one such player in each league. It looks like I have a hit with Cincinnati’s Scott Schebler for $1 in LABR, but I lost out in Tout as my $3 Rymer Liriano suffered severe facial injuries when hit by a pitch a few days after the draft.

My final common player across my two industry league squads is Andrew Susac of San Francisco. In LABR, catching went for premium prices and with the defending champion Mike Gianella of Baseball Prospectus taking four top backstops (remember that swing spot), I chose to stay out of the fray.

I suspect that Susac ($1 in LABR, $2 in Tout) will see more at-bats than the average backstop since he plays behind Buster Posey. As we have seen, Posey is given a regular turn at first base by the Giants.

The only problem with my plan is that Susac’s spring injuries lingered long enough that the club decided to send him to Triple-A for every-day play. Until he is back, I have a catching hole to fill in each league.

So, that is it. My song did remain pretty much the same as it was in LABR, though I feel I was better able to execute my plan in Tout. Of course, time will tell.

Click on the highlighted link to see the full results of the Tout drafts, which are all on one spreadsheet. Just click on the tabs to toggle among the various format leagues. The NL LABR draft results can be viewed here.

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 17-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.

As another roto season winds to its close, it seems fitting to bring this column back around to its foundation – a discussion of league rules. More appropriately perhaps would be to say the discussion of league rules process.

Sometimes, it is cool to share with others specific new and innovative approaches deployed in our leagues, backed up by supporting rules, of course. Yet many times, these new ideas do not fit the league structure or format or even tastes of other owners who are reading this.

Instead, this is going to be a very basic column with just one key message - consider any adjustments to your league rules now.

Let’s start with the timing question.

No doubt that many have already checked out of baseball and are deep into the football season. I don’t understand those who can only juggle one ball at a time, but that is a discussion for another day.

You are likely not among those who have left baseball behind, however. After all, you are reading this fantasy baseball column in early October.

The 2015 season for your leagues will never be fresher in your mind than right now. Start by writing down those areas of contention that popped up during the season. (In the leagues I run, all year long, I maintain a simple list of such items that is stored on my computer. This helps the recollection process considerably.)

Whether you have an existing list or need to start a new one, your next step should be to review the items. The first question should be whether the issue is real. Many are not. Like any of this, it is a judgment call, though, so if it was important to someone in the league, it should probably get a fair hearing.

Next question is to consider the potential actions to be taken as a result. Is it a simple item such as moving a key deadline or is it a topic that would lead to substantial change and require considerable discussion among the league members? An example of the latter might be going from batting average to on-base percentage or migrating from 4x4 to 5x5.

Unless your league is a dictatorship, the next step is to decide how to elicit opinions from the league members.

My advice is to write an explanation of each proposed change in simple terms and include how the league constitution would change as a result. That way, everyone is starting from the same point.

If for some reason, your league does not have written rules, change that ASAP. Find a comparable constitution from another league and modify it to fit. No need to reinvent the wheel.

Now, how do you have the discussion? E-mail is often the fastest and most convenient for many. It also helps frame the evaluation process. Unfortunately, e-mail can also be the most chaotic.

In one of my leagues, a 15-teamer, any league discussion via e-mail is like open mic night at the local comedy club located at the Holiday Inn. There are so many clever comments made that sometimes the issue gets lost.

If your league software has a private message exchange or forum capability, use it. Having a documented history of the dialogue could prove invaluable later. It is much preferred to wading through what could be dozens of e-mails, with potentially different comments on different discussion threads, as replies are invariably not made to the most recent remark. Let your system help you here.

However you do it, do it now. Do not wait until next spring. Sure, the discussion will be a lot shorter, since few will remember the issues. The downside of waiting is that it will be likely that the same problems will be encountered again next year.

Instead, discuss potential changes and decide on them now, update your constitution and look forward to a smoother and more enjoyable league operation next season as a result.

 

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 17-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.

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