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Monday 27th Jun 2016

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.

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.

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.

Like most of the rest of the fantasy world, I am participating in daily fantasy sports (DFS), and doing just fine. So why do I have an empty feeling about it?

This year, I have been thinking about this a lot and have decided what is missing for me is a staple of roto, the human element.

My fantasy baseball journey began almost a quarter century ago when my brother-in-law convinced me to join his AL-only 4x4 league with his high school and college friends. I had already been following Major League Baseball closely and the competition intrigued me. With a math background to boot, I had a feeling I could thrive.

When all is said and done, I subjected myself to years of painful eight-hour auction drafts - waiting while my brother-in-law flipped through magazines, paralyzed over whether or not to make a $1 bid - for one reason.

I wanted to kick his butt, which not only did I do, but years later, my oldest son did, too.

You see, my motivation was simple. My brother-in-law is younger, stronger and faster than me. No matter the athletic endeavor, his higher level of talent comes to the surface. But, he has still never beaten me in fantasy baseball, and I remain very proud of that fact.

I know I am not alone.

The devotion that we have to our drafts, our teams, trading and trying to win is a common thread that so many of us share. In fact, ESPN's Matthew Berry essentially filled an entire book, A Fantasy Life, with hilarious reader-submitted anecdotes highlighting their often-crazy fantasy passions.

Over the years, I competed in high-stakes games, including the National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC) and its football counterpart, the NFFC. While I did just fine at them, I eventually stopped playing. I had spread myself too thin with too many leagues and these lost out.

To me, the money just wasn'€™t the allure. I really enjoyed the friendships with Greg Ambrosius and Tom Kessenich, who run the games and their playing regulars. Though the leagues themselves had different members each time - for obvious reasons to avoid collusion temptation - the reality was that many of the same people play in the same games in the same cities every year.

One of the most fun parts of my NFFC preparation was to meet friend and former CreativeSports peer Lori Rubinson very early on draft morning at a New York City diner. In what must have seemed to observers to have been some kind of bizarre version of sports speed dating, we spent multiple hours firing names at each other to solicit the opinion of the player's fantasy prospects for the coming season.

My work at CreativeSports, which later merged into Mastersball, led to some of my closest friendships and eventually into invitations to compete in industry leagues. Though I have never yet won the XFL, Xperts Fantasy League, my 2009 National League Tout Wars title has been my career highlight to date. Not a penny changed hands.

Two things are tied for my favorite part of the First Pitch Arizona Forum, held in Phoenix around Halloween each year. One is going to Arizona Fall League games and sitting in the desert sun with my industry friends, talking prospects and whatever else comes to mind. The other is the XFL auction draft, held during the event without supporting materials of any kind.

My springs are not complete without a trip to Spring Training, followed by a weekend of Tout Wars drafts against the backdrop of the Big Apple. It is an opportunity to catch up with several dozen industry friends and competitors in an amazingly fun setting.

For me, the common thread is being with friends and hopefully, beating them. Winners are remembered, and if not, one can rest assured the first-place finisher will remind his/her league mates.

Daily games do not give me the same satisfaction. One faces different players, usually anonymous screen names, each day. Even if one scores a big win, few know it and it is almost sure to be forgotten in 24 hours or less.

Money is nice, but for me, peer recognition is far more important.

Next season, I hope to find the best of both. I am going to seek out a DFS league with friends. A format where we can pick new rosters each day and have daily winners, but keep running standings of the daily results over the course of the season with a big winner at the end.

In 2015, Tout Wars offered a version of this, with a once-weekly DFS game, split into monthly tournaments with a winner's€™ championship at the end. Alas, while I did well most weeks, I continued to fall just short of placing in any of the monthly tourneys. I was among those who successfully lobbied to add a wild card in the future, which had it existed this year, could have been my finals ticket.

Finishing first in a DFS marathon against friends would mean something, giving me the chance for that roto-kind of satisfaction from a series of daily sprints. I am pretty sure that is where I hope to get my DFS fulfillment in 2016.

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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