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Wednesday 26th Oct 2016

I don’t care what anyone says about the inherent benefits of being the underdog, the ignored or chronically overlooked. I don’t care if it is July 21 or October 1; I want to be in first place.

There is one key reason why I am not there in either of my National League-only industry leagues – LABR and Tout Wars. Derek Carty of ESPN leads in both competitions, each consisting of 12 teams and 5x5 scoring.

In NL LABR, with 98 points, Carty holds a seven-point lead over my second-place roster. In Tout, Carty’s squad has amassed 94 points, again with a seven-point edge over the next-closest squad, managed by Mastersball’s own Lord Zola. I reside in a tie for third, 10 more points down in the scoring.

I am a big believer in looking at the past to learn for the future, whether it be in free agent bidding, trades, waivers and the like. Look for patterns, good moves, and mistakes alike. Consider not only my behavior, but that of my peers, some of the better players around.
Of course, that includes draft day.

To that end, let’s look at Carty’s teams and see what we can glean about his success.

Balance: In Tout, Derek leads in two hitting categories and is second in another. On the pitching side, he is in first place in two categories and is second in two others. Only in on-base percentage (three points) and saves (1.5 points) is Carty not either leading or very close to being on top. He has amassed 47 offensive points and 47 pitching points.

The LABR standings indicate almost as balanced of a performance by Carty’s squad, with 47 hitting and 51 pitching points. Though he has the most points in no offensive categories, he is second in one and third in two others with his “worst” standing still worth eight points. His pitchers are dominant, with the maximum 12 points in four categories. Again, Carty lags the pack in saves only.

Health: Though Carty has eight players on the DL in Tout, one less than my nine, only three are significant contributors – hitters Joe Panik and Dexter Fowler, plus some pitcher from the Dodgers named Kershaw. Obviously, the longer the three-time Cy Young Award winner is out, the less dominant Carty’s staff will be.

In LABR, Derek’s DL is tiny. Of the two injured players, only Kershaw’s absence is painful.

Pitching: With the LABR draft held first, in early March, the Dodgers ace cost Carty just $38. Three weeks later at Tout, the price was $3 higher.

Yet, Carty’s success is driven by more than just the best pitcher in the game. There are other common success threads across Carty’s two first-place squads, both of which include the same four hurlers among the nine total. Dodgers pitching is one commonality, as Derek owns two other L.A. starters in Scott Kazmir and Kenta Maeda. His fourth common pitcher across the two rosters is Junior Guerra of Milwaukee.

While the capabilities of Kershaw and Kazmir were well understood coming into the season, it is clear that Carty was willing to take risk – going all in on rookies Maeda and Guerra. All except Guerra were draft-day additions.

Hitting: Most of the commonality in offense across the two teams is in the outfield, where Nick Markakis, Billy Hamilton and Adam Duvall are on both squads, along with corner infielder Mark Reynolds.

Note that two of the flychasers are members of the Cincinnati Reds, showing us that good fantasy players can be sourced from bad real life teams. Duvall, acquired at just $7 (LABR) and $3 (Tout), was a huge acquisition, leading both of Carty’s teams in home runs and RBI.

Hamilton, who coming into the season looked to many of us as a potential one-category contributor, was Carty’s most expensive hitter owned on both squads at $20 (LABR) and $22 (Tout). But Hamilton was not the highest-priced hitter on either team. In fact, in LABR, he is fourth in price, behind Charlie Blackmon, Freddie Freeman and Maikel Franco. Hamilton’s 27 steals are on target compared to expectations coming in.

The final two common hitters on Carty’s league-leading NL squads are veteran hitters overlooked by many of us here in 2016 in Reynolds and Markakis. With regular at-bats, the two have combined for 14 home runs, 87 RBI and have an on-base percentage of .340. All that for $17 in Tout and $18 in LABR.

My conclusion is simply that Carty did a fine job drafting core players who delivered value beyond their draft day price. As a result, even losing the best pitcher in the game in Kershaw hasn’t eroded his chances significantly.

Link to NL Tout Wars

Link to NL LABR

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.

"Diversity your portfolio" is one of the most basic elements of investment advice, whether in the financial markets or even in fantasy baseball.
In our game, there are many ways to diversify. Ensuring one drafts a balanced roster that provides a chance to lead in all 10 scoring categories (assuming 5x5 scoring) is important.

Making sure that we do not acquire too many injury risks, while balancing the ones we do take with steady, dependable performers, is another wise approach.

There are also risks in drafting too many players from a given Major League team. Not every example is as obvious as Colorado Rockies pitchers, however. Still, the basic thought of getting more players on good teams is preferable to a roster full of players on bad real-world teams.

I strayed from that approach in National League LABR this spring in a big way. I left the draft with a whopping five hitters from the worst team in baseball in 2015, the 99-loss Philadelphia Phillies – catcher Cameron Rupp ($5), first baseman Ryan Howard ($9), shortstop Freddy Galvis ($1) and outfielders Odubel Herrera ($18) and Aaron Altherr ($11) - for a total of $44 of my $260.

It was not my plan, though Herrera was a target if the price was in my range as I liked his combination of power and speed. Sure enough, he leads my roster at the break with 12 steals. The upside of Altherr made him a comfortable buy, but he suffered a serious wrist injury in spring training and is just now starting a rehab stint that could last up to 30 days. Getting two good months from Altherr as a late-season boost would be something, the promise of which being why I did not cash him in for FAAB reimbursement.

A dollar in the end game for Galvis did not bother me at all – if I had been successful at rostering his heir-apparent, J.P. Crawford. Unfortunately, I did not execute the latter part in the draft. While Galvis has been holding on – or should I say that Crawford hasn’t pushed him aside yet? – his 36 RBI does not remove the stench of his .234 average.

Not willing to pay inflated prices for catching led me to have to settle for Rupp as one of my backstops. Though there was spring speculation that his time as a starter would be short-lived, Rupp has hit for average (.287) and is showing decent pop, as well (nine home runs).

Unwilling to pay inflated prices for a first baseman, either, meant I took a well-known liability in Howard, as I feared my remaining roster was short of power. By June, Howard had lost his job to rookie Tommy Joseph and in hindsight, I should not have waited that long to throw him over the side. As bad as Galvis’ average is, it is 80 points higher than the deposed first sacker’s.

Speaking of first base, I filled my other corner positions with two players I had hoped to acquire coming in. The difference is that they play for a team that won 100 games last season – the St. Louis Cardinals.

Matt Carpenter ($25) experienced a breakout 2014 and while his average and OBP were flat from year to year, his slugging improved dramatically last season. I felt there was room for more in 2016 and Carpenter did not disappoint in the first half, with an OPS just under 1.000.

His teammate, Brandon Moss ($10), came to St. Louis from Cleveland at the trade deadline in 2015, but with his back not right, he fell flat. I may be right in my feeling that with the off-season to prepare, Moss would bounce back with 25 home runs. Moss will never win a batting title, but the first baseman-outfielder entered the break with 17 long balls already.

Last week, I was bitten hard by the injury bug, as both Cardinals infielders were placed on the disabled list within a three-day span.

Carpenter may miss a month or more with an oblique while Moss’ ankle injury could allow him back sooner – or not.

Though my corner infield is decimated with Carpenter and Moss out, I still don’t regret acquiring them, unlike Howard. While they were injured literally back-to-back, the fact they play for the same team is nothing more than coincidence.

Even with this rag-tag group of hitters, my offense is tied for tops in the league, with 51 points. While there are other contributors, the two Cardinals are a main reason why. Though not as strong, I really cannot complain about the Phillies - other than my mistake with Howard.

Bottom line, based on what I know now, I would not be any less motivated to get the players I want in future drafts no matter what team’s uniform they wear. In other words, I do not plan to let team diversification concerns get in my way, and you should not, either.


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.

Coming into the National League LABR and Tout Wars drafts this spring, I had decided that I would try to acquire one top prospect pitcher to hold among my reserves until his MLB debut. This is an approach relatively new for me, forced upon me by my very savvy peer owners stashing away the very best prospects long before their call-ups and long before I could get them.

In the NL this year, three young hurlers’ names were on my radar screen – all top 10 prospects in MLB and all close to the majors. One, St. Louis’ Alex Reyes, put himself at the back of the pack due to his suspension for the first 40 games of the season.

That left Tyler Glasnow of Pittsburgh and Lucas Giolito of Washington on my short list. Though both youngsters had their supporters, I expected greater bidding interest in the former, due to the perceived excellence of pitching coach Ray Searage and potentially earlier and greater opportunity with the Bucs.

To make a long story short, I executed my plan, ending up with Giolito in both leagues. I was delighted to get him, though it cost me $2 more ($6 vs. $4) in Tout, which drafted several weeks later this spring. I was content to hold onto Giolito the last three months despite him taking up a precious reserve spot, with hope for an inexpensive performance boost to my rosters whenever he would arrive.

A close friend who has enjoyed greater success in industry-level competition than I, and who happens to live in Nationals territory to boot, felt otherwise. In fact, he advised me as recently as 10 days ago that my keeping Giolito was a complete waste of roster space. With Giolito’s uneven performance at Double-A, a stable rotation in DC, and others ahead of him, my pal did not see Lucas in the bigs until September, likely in very limited relief duty.

The seemingly annual injury to Nats’ ace Stephen Strasburg changed everything. Yet it did not evolve as I had expected, due to unfortunate timing and league rules that worked against my plans.

Even when the news surfaced that Strasburg’s upper back pain was more than a strain (including two dislocated ribs - ouch!), it was not clear if a disabled list trip would be required, and if so, it remained unclear who would replace him.

My best Sunday night assessment was that Triple-A hurler Austin Voth would receive the call. The 24-year-old was lined up to pitch on Tuesday (same as Strasburg and Giolito) and was carrying a 2.99 ERA to go with 75 strikeouts and just 18 walks in 81 1/3 innings for Syracuse.

Here is where it got tricky.

I only own Strasburg in LABR, as I was outbid for him this spring in Tout. However, LABR’s rules do not allow acquisition of minor league players. As of Sunday night, Voth had not been promoted. Therefore, he remained ineligible for weekly bidding.

So, I did all that I could, spending $34 (on a $1000 base) to acquire Voth in Tout. I have to admit that I was concerned when Strasburg’s Tout owner, another DC-area resident who often makes speculative prospect bids, passed on Voth entirely. My worthy competitor did not even make a $0 bid!

Mid-afternoon Monday, things got really interesting with the disclosure that Giolito would be promoted to make Strasburg’s Tuesday night start. Voth would just have to wait longer, it seems.

Of course, I was fine with that, and quickly moved to activate Giolito in both leagues.

In LABR, it was easy. With Strasburg moving to the DL, a roster spot was open for the call-up and I could make the change without incident. Without that injury, however, LABR rules would have required me to drop an active pitcher entirely to clear space for Giolito – a slightly more difficult decision, but one I surely would have made given his upside.

In Tout, I had to bench an active pitcher to make room, hardly a major issue. In all –only leagues, we invariably have no choice but to carry several borderline players on our rosters. In my case, Reds pitcher Dan Straily was the easy call to bench. Not only had he been bombed in his most recent two starts, yielding 10 runs in 10 1/3 innings, Straily had to face the best-hitting team in the game in the Chicago Cubs on Monday night.

Sure enough, Straily went on to be lit up by the Cubbies – to the tune of seven runs in just 3 2/3 innings. I was relieved to have him out of my lineup – or so I thought. After Giolito’s rain-shortened MLB debut on Tuesday night, I checked the league stat site on Wednesday morning. (Only in the final month do I obsess over daily results in full-season leagues.)

To my dismay, I noticed Straily and his 17.17 ERA for the week was still active and Giolito among my reserves, where he had been all season to date. Checking the league transactions, I saw my moves were reflected – but with an effective date of one week in the future!

I had missed one very important fact. This Monday, there was an afternoon game between the Dodgers and Pirates. While it did not affect Straily or Giolito personally, league rules state that all transactions must be completed by the first pitch of Monday’s first game. In other words, I was a couple of hours late – and waited too long to bring my concern forward.

From there, discussion about the situation with league officials moved into interpretations of when exceptions are allowed, intention, and ultimately, integrity – generally unpleasant gray areas that could be avoided entirely with a more reasonable rule.

That is where we get to the lesson to be learned. Not only is this column (usually) about rules, but a common theme is encouragement for you to push to get them changed if they are not working for you.

I am going to take a dose of my own medicine and try this with Tout Wars. I am requesting in future years that weekly moves be allowed until the start of each team’s Monday game, rather than the first pitch of the first game.

In today’s world of instant information, doing it any other way seems really old school. A side benefit is removing potential ambiguity and need for exceptions.

In what is news to no one, the fantasy world has changed. I know that my approach has changed, too. I learn things setting daily lineups that I would use setting weekly lineups, too – but I don’t get serious about daily until late afternoon, when the best information becomes available.

In this particular example, the combination of the Nats’ roster announcement made on Monday afternoon and my digging into Straily’s matchups for the week formed a perfect match. Only the seemingly unrelated Dodgers-Bucs early start time and a rule that I firmly believe needs to be modernized got in the way.

Even if you have yet to run into a Monday activation issue like I did, consider whether you would prefer the flexibility of later deadlines or are content in continuing to do it the way it has always been done.

If you would like the former and your league constitution does not yet allow it, bring your case forward! If it will help, tell them I sent you!

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.

An all-too prevalent action this time of year is for fans to cry foul over their favorite team’s players not being selected to Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game. The only variation is whether the target of their venom is the stupid fans or the idiotic managers, who obviously do not know what they are doing.

A variation on the theme is employed by many a baseball writer – documenting all of the all-star “snubs” based on whatever criteria is chosen, whether realistic, objective or not.

Another dose of that tired whining is not what you are going to get here, however.

Instead, I am going to defend the system that is in place. No, it is not perfect, but it has three separate ways to ensure representative teams are chosen and I think it works ok.

Perhaps the most controversial is the highest profile segment, the fan vote. In it, MLB generates hundreds of millions of clicks on its website despite “limiting” fans to casting a measly quantity of 25 ballots per day during a voting period that begins in April and runs for over two months.

There is a lot of attention generated when a single team’s fans stuff the ballot boxes and skew the vote toward their team’s players as all-star starters, such as occurred with the Royals last year and the Cubs here in 2016. Yet in reality, the fans have a say in just nine of the 34 National League All-Stars and 10 of the 34 representing the American League.

In the Senior Circuit, the internet vote selects the eight starting position players plus the 34th and final player on the roster. The latter is chosen via another internet vote called the “Final Vote” from among five also-rans.

The AL has an additional fan-voted starter due to the designated hitter, and concludes with the same “Final Vote” process as the NL.

At least two-thirds of the rosters remain to be chosen. Based on scores of uninformed Twitter “hot takes” after the teams were announced Tuesday night as well as outraged comments on the Cardinals-themed message board I manage, it is very clear that most fans do not understand the selection process.

The ones who seem to realize that the fans do not select the entire rosters think the World Series managers from the year before are the ones who fill out the remainder of the 34-man teams.

What they are missing is how roughly half the all-stars are chosen each year.

A ballot is distributed to all Major League players, coaches and managers. The top vote-getter at each of the eight positions (nine in the AL) not already voted in as a starter is added to the all-star rosters as the primary position player reserves.

In addition, the top five starting pitchers and three relievers from this “player ballot” make up the core of each all-star pitching staff.

Yet it is the all-star managers who take most of the heat for creating the annual “snubs,” by not righting every perceived wrong across all 30 teams.

The reality is that the skippers have very little flexibility.

Specifically, nine roster spots remain for the NL manager to fill and just seven for the AL skipper. However, their hands are tied to a great extent, since MLB rules dictate that it is up to them to ensure all 15 teams in their league have at least one representative.

This year, there is one injured selection so far in each circuit, giving the managers an extra pick.

Let’s start with the NL skipper, Terry Collins. This year, the leader of the Mets had 10 choices to make, as one of the player-selected pitchers, Clayton Kershaw, is injured.

Even so, six of Collins’ 10 choices were dictated by the fact that the Phillies, Brewers, Cardinals, Padres, Braves and Pirates were not represented by any of the starters or player-selected reserves.

In the AL, Ned Yost had an eighth selection as his pitcher, Wade Davis, is on the shelf.

However, three of Yost’s eight spots also had to be earmarked to ensure the A’s, Rays and Twins have one all-star player each.

In other words, when it came right down to it, one manager had a free reign to choose only four all-stars of the 34 to be on his roster, while the other had five picks under his full control.

That is it.

Collins’ “free” picks are all pitchers and very good ones, indeed – Jose Fernandez, Jon Lester, Stephen Strasburg and A.J. Ramos. Note that not one of them is a member of the New York Mets.

Yost’s five are also exclusively made up of hurlers: Dellin Betances, Brad Brach, Will Harris, Craig Kimbrel and Kelvin Herrera. While the latter hails from Yost’s Kansas City club, it is fair to remember that the man he is replacing in player choice Wade Davis is a teammate.

Of course, there will be alterations to the rosters ahead, such as when injuries occur, as well as when starters pitching the Sunday before the All-Star Game bow out. But the fact remains that there seems a decent checks and balances system in place among the fans, the players/coaches/managers, and the league champion managers.

I am pretty sure that none of the critics have a more workable idea – at least I haven’t yet seen one.

Link to full All-Star rosters

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.

Jake Arrieta is the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner and the recognition was well-deserved. Last season, the Chicago Cubs star’s 22 wins, four complete games, three shutouts, 5.9 hits per nine innings and 0.4 home runs per nine were all best in the game.

Coming into Wednesday, through 14 starts in 2016, the 30-year-old has been even better - on pace to outperform his 2015 with an 11-1 record, a slightly lower ERA (1.74 vs. 1.77) while allowing fewer hits and long balls per nine.

Even Superman has his kryptonite, however. For Arrieta, it appears to be the Cubs’ long-time National League Central Division rival, the St. Louis Cardinals.

In Game 3 of the 2015 NL Division Series, the Cardinals got to Arrieta for four runs in 5 2/3 innings, though a barrage of six Chicago home runs bailed him out.

This season, on May 25th at Busch Stadium, Chicago’s ace had his worst outing of 2016 to date, as he was charged with four earned runs in just five innings.

Just four weeks later, Arrieta would get another shot at St. Louis.

With the juggernaut Cubs looking a bit vulnerable after dropping the first two of their three-game home series against the Cards, manager Joe Maddon looked to his stopper Arrieta to avoid the sweep on Wednesday afternoon.

Once again, Superman showed his mortality.

Patient St. Louis hitters worked up Arrieta’s pitch count to 106 over the first five innings, again sending him to an early shower. The run tally on his ledger was just two, one earned, but that was enough to hang Arrieta with just his second loss of the season. Once the ace was out of the way, the Cardinals were able to have their way with the Chicago bullpen. St. Louis rolled to a 7-2 win and its first three-game sweep in the Windy City since May 1988.

In the bizarre world of statistics, Arrieta’s one earned run in five innings outing Wednesday maintained his season ERA at precisely 1.74. Without the irritation of facing St. Louis, however, his 2016 mark would be just 1.43.

That gap represents the difference from being the MLB ERA leader and being second to the man he unseated as the best pitcher in the Senior Circuit. Having earned the Cy Young Award in three of the prior four seasons, including 2013 and 2014. Clayton Kershaw is in the lead to secure number four here in 2016, according to ESPN’s Cy Young Award Predictor. His 1.57 ERA is currently the best there is.

The similarities between the two don’t end there.

For all of his individual recognition, Kershaw lacks the ultimate in team success, a World Series title. He hasn’t had to wait since 1908 like the Cubs, but the Dodgers star has definitely felt that level of frustration – again with the Cardinals at the root of his pain.

To date, exactly half of Kershaw’s post-season starts, five of ten, have come against St. Louis. The left-hander yielded an unbelievable 20 earned runs in 29 1/3 innings for a 6.14 ERA. Kershaw is still looking for his first playoff win over the Cardinals with four losses and a no-decision.

His regular season results versus the Birds are better – though certainly not Kershaw-esque. In 15 career regular-season starts facing St. Louis, Kershaw has four no-decisions and five losses against six wins. The 28-year-old’s ERA against the Birds is more than three-quarters of a run above his career average.

It may forever be a mystery as to why even superstar pitchers have less success against certain teams. But the reality is that in some cases, such as with Arrieta and Kershaw versus St. Louis, the situation is real.

When setting your daily lineups, if you discover this kind of history, don’t ignore the reality – embrace it!

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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