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Tuesday 25th Jul 2017

With less than three weeks remaining in the 2016 Major League Baseball regular season, it is a good time to check on the races for the top pitching awards in the American and National Leagues, the Cy Young Awards.

If the annual recognition was decided by algorithms instead of via the votes of selected members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, what we might get is results similar to a tool that runs on ESPN’s website.

The “MLB Cy Young Predictor” formula, borrowed from sabermetric pioneer Bill James and Rob Neyer, includes innings pitched, earned runs, strikeouts, walks, saves, shutouts, wins, losses and provides bonus points for a division title. The intent is not to determine the best pitcher, but instead to most accurately predict where the voters will land.

It seems to work pretty well, with nine of the last 10 winners over the most recent five years correctly predicted by the formula. The one miss was a second-place finisher in the real voting.

Here in 2016 in the Senior Circuit, three-time winner Clayton Kershaw is out of the race, having missed over two months before returning this past Friday. That leaves a scrum among six players, all within eight points on a basis of 165.

Half of them are employed by the Chicago Cubs, with Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks, currently ranked third, fourth and fifth, respectively. In reality, winning could be a challenge for any of these three. All are worthy, but with none of them standing out over the others, votes could be split.

The current leader, Max Scherzer of Washington, was the 2013 American League winner while with Detroit and also has another pair of top-five finishes. He is closely followed by Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen, just 1.8 points behind.

Scherzer is on track to make four more starts. If he continues his most recent success, he could solidify his lead. Over his last four outings totaling 29 1/3 innings, the 32-year-old right-hander has allowed just four runs for a 1.21 ERA. Scherzer fanned 34 against just four walks.

Jansen isn’t about to concede, however. Since allowing a run on August 26, the right-hander has fired off eight straight scoreless appearances with six saves on just two hits and no walks to go with 13 punchouts. Simply dominating.

I would still make this a clear call for Scherzer except for one thing. His final start would be in Game 162. However, the Nats will have the East Division and the second NL post-season seed locked up long before then. Instead, manager Dusty Baker may rest Scherzer for part or all of the game, or even rejuggle his rotation to maximize his ace’s post-season starts.

While the NL race may go down to the wire, any intrigue over the identity of the American League winner appears to be over.

Ironically, the clear leader is Scherzer’s former Tigers rotation mate, Rick Porcello. The rub for Detroit is neither 2016 Cy Young Award leader is still with the team. They traded Porcello to Boston in the Yoenis Cespedes deal prior to the 2015 season, during the same winter that Scherzer departed as a free agent.

Already logging 20 wins in his first 30 starts, Porcello has a dominating 25 1/3-point lead over Corey Kluber in the projected Cy Young Award race. Cleveland’s Kluber, the 2014 winner, seems too far behind at this late date to make an effective charge. In other words, Porcello would need to pull a colossal collapse to lose his edge.

Who knows? Perhaps the former Detroit teammates could meet on the game’s biggest stage in late October before taking home the top pitching awards the next month.

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.

On late-night television over the past few weeks, I have been inundated by a series of commercials for cheap loans pitched by Ty Pennington. The carpenter was made famous as the screaming, bullhorn-wielding host of a crew of home remodelers on a long-since canceled show called Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.

Well, in National League LABR recently, I pulled my own version of a major makeover in hopes of pulling out a win this season. After leading the league during the first few months, I had settled into a second-place rut, with Derek Carty of ESPN holding a consistent 10-12 point lead.

With a little over a month to go, I once again analyzed the standings. Carty and I were neck and neck atop the five offensive categories, where I had a three-point aggregate edge. Pitching was another story, however, where I was 14 points behind.

With a deep starting staff, I could make up just one point in wins the rest of the way, where Carty was leading the way despite having lost Dodgers star Clayton Kershaw. However, there was enough opportunity to improve my ratios, strikeouts as well as saves to potentially close the gap.

At the time, I had just one closer, St. Louis’ Seung-hwan Oh, but I had a wealth of starters that included Stephen Strasburg (DL), Carlos Martinez, Adam Wainwright, Jaime Garcia, Dan Straily, Tyler Anderson and Ivan Nova. Rookies Lucas Giolito and Jake Thompson were on my bench and on the disabled list were Tyler Chatwood and Tyson Ross, both on their way back. I would have no way to play them all, anyway.

I decided to keep at least two of my best starters plus Oh and add six more closers. That meant I would keep Strasburg and Martinez while leaving my offense intact.

I did not want to send out a broadcast e-mail as Carty also had a starting excess that he was trying to deal, so instead I contacted a series of my peers individually trying to make trades.

I was quickly reminded of an important lesson to remember when assembling teams. Power always seems to have a trade market, but it is more difficult to unload excess speed and saves.

This lesson both helped and hurt me in my endeavors. Had I been willing to part with offense, I could have acquired one or more of the top closers: Aroldis Chapman, Mark Melancon, Kenley Jansen and Jeurys Familia. Sticking to my plan, I could not pry any of them loose.

Instead, I made two trades, adding five closers: Tony Watson, Santiago Casilla, Tony Cingrani, Fernando Rodney and Jeanmar Gomez. The starters I gave up included Garcia, Straily, Anderson, Nova, Thompson and an extra reliever, Enrique Burgos, I had picked up trying to chase saves.

As the trade deadline passed, my team makeover was complete.

At best, I thought I could make a run at Carty, and worst, I would finish third or fourth instead of second. The latter would be remembered only by me, anyway, so I went for it.

Less than two weeks in, early returns indicate that my plan has not taken hold. I have fallen into third, having lost one point in pitching. Worst of all, my offense, which I did not disturb, has dropped five.

There is still almost a month remaining in the season, so I am not panicking yet. Perhaps my six-closer approach just needs more time to click. Either way, it doesn’t matter. The trade deadline is past and I have made my bed.

No matter what happens, I will be fine with it. I saw no reasonable chance of winning and instead took a shot at a radical approach to make a difference. During a time of year when most of us are focusing on football, I took the time and effort to personally contact eight peer owners and made a pair of big trades. If I can somehow pull out a victory, it will be highly gratifying. And if not, I know I gave it my very best.

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.

In last week’s column, I highlighted a major difference when FAAB reclaims are allowed for players won via auction on draft day who are later deemed out for the season, in two key industry leagues – LABR and Tout Wars.

The latter provides 100 percent rebate prior to the All-Star break and 50 percent afterward, while the former goes from all to nothing at the time of the Midsummer Classic.

In fact, Tout rules are significantly less restrictive. Tout allows FAAB reclaim for ANY injured player who was taken on draft day, even ones just out for a short time, on the 15-day disabled list, for example. The protection against funny business is that if the original owner decides later that he or she wants that player back, the new price must be greater than or equal to the draft-day value.

One way is not right and the other wrong – but they are very different.

A second variation is that zero dollar bids are legal for major league players in Tout, but all players acquired in LABR require at least one dollar to be spent.

Also, FAAB can be traded in Tout, but not in LABR. These last two rules combined means that there is no way a LABR team with a zero balance can acquire any additional players via FAAB bidding in the second half of the season. Needless to say, great care must be taken when balances are low.

Yet another difference is in the speculative acquisition of top prospects. One of my favorite features of Tout is that minor leaguers can be acquired via FAAB at any time. The only stipulations are that no zero-dollar bids are allowed and all players must be active for at least the first week.

One rule change made in Tout to help dial this back a bit was the reduction of the size of the reserve rosters from six players to four. That made it more challenging to hold onto a youngster all season long. LABR remains at six.

(I should note that perhaps the most important reason for the change was that in single-league formats, the list of available hitters each week had been short and ugly. Even afterward, the waiver wire candidates are still short and ugly – just a little bit less so.)

On the other hand, if you don’t pick up your prospects on draft day in LABR, you are precluded for bidding until after they actually reach the Majors.

As a result, on draft day this spring in LABR, I acquired pitchers Lucas Giolito and Jake Thompson and I also added shortstop Dansby Swanson after losing out on the bidding for Orlando Arcia and J.P. Crawford.

Theoretically, these differences could mean less FAAB money is remaining in LABR team coffers. Less generous FAAB rebates and more potential bidding wars for callups could be the factors.

Wondering if in fact this may be the case, I looked at the FAAB balances of my two single-league competitions – NL LABR vs. NL Tout – as of August 21.

One other factor has to be taken into account. Tout handicaps teams that finished below 60 points in the standings with a prorated reduction in FAAB the next season. The glass-half-full explanation is to encourage teams to fight for every point until the end. The more prevalent view is that it is being used as a stick.

Seems to me that a better approach would be that if owners stop competing, they would be asked to play elsewhere, but that is a topic for another day.

The relevant point here is to reflect that withheld money for an apples to apples comparison. One other important point is that LABR uses a $100 FAAB base while Tout moved to a $1000 base for 2016.

Here are the relative numbers.

  Budget Dock Original Reclaim Available Spent Current % Remain
NL Tout $12,000 ($330) $11,670 $977 $12,647 $11,363 $1,284 10.2%
NL LABR $1,200 0 $1,200 $39 $1,239 $1,032 $207 16.7%
NL LABR - Rich Hill @$68 $1,200 0 $1,200 $39 $1,239 $1,100 $139 11.2%

We will take them a line at a time.

12 Tout teams x $1000 = $12,000 - $330 taken away from three teams based on their 2015 finishes. Just under $1000, $977 to be exact, has been returned to owners for FAAB reclaims. That increased the total money available to spend this season to $12,647. $1284 or 10.2 percent of that total remained as of August 21.

The math is simpler for LABR with no penalties and just two FAAB reclaims during the entire first half – Devin Mesoraco at $15 and Kyle Schwarber at $24. That total of $39 is just 40 percent of the comparable amount returned in Tout. As a result, 16.7 percent of the available total to spend remains.

However, you may recall that last week, I outlined the trouble NL LABR league leader Derek Carty experienced when trying to acquire new Dodgers pitcher Rich Hill. Had the lefty been available instead of being on the DL, Carty would have spent $68 for him. With that amount added to the LABR total, the difference in FAAB remaining would be within one percent.

So it seems that the respective owners across the two leagues are consistent in their spending, even with different FAAB totals and variances in the rules governing FAAB use.

The moral of the story? Be ready to compete no matter what rules are in place. That is what these industry leaders seem to be doing.

 

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.

Tout Wars is not one league. It is a collection of five different leagues, including draft and head-to-head formats on top of the three traditional auction leagues. In addition, a new game was created in 2015 and continued this year – a once-per-week daily game, held each Friday at RTSports, which allows all of the Touts to compete directly.

Looking back, I have to admit that I did not give Tout Daily my all in 2015 as my time was spread thin and my personal commitment to daily was still developing. By 2016, however, I added this new game to my list of season-long fantasy baseball priorities. The ultimate goal was to win the finals, but to get there, one had to place in the top three of at least one of five different four-week competitions.

While I ultimately fell short, I had a fun journey getting there. I share some of my thoughts to perhaps encourage others reluctant to jump headfirst into the daily waters to try a hybrid approach like this one.

It was definitely a fun and interesting year. I got out of the blocks strongly in April, winning the first of five “Phases” against the initial 46 participants with a total of 233.66 points over the four weeks. That gave me my first finals ticket.

I let down in Phases 2 and 3, barely making the top 20. I knew I needed to take action, so to stay motivated for the remaining months, I set a secondary target to amass the most points over the course of the 20 weeks - even though those who set up the game do not believe that distinction is significant enough to earn a finals ticket. As you can tell, I really disagree. But that is another battle for another day.

In Phase 4, held in July, I rebounded to fifth place, setting up my Phase 5 rebirth. I finished third, second and fourth, respectively, in the first three of the four weeks, but just 11th in the final week of the final Phase. That was still more than enough, 18 points to be accurate, for me to handily take the Phase 5.

That made me the only competitor to win two of the five Phases, a fact that only I seemed to recognize. Since finals tickets were given to the top three performers each month, finishing in first means no more than finishing in third. It doesn’t seem right, but that’s the way it is.

That 11th place finish in the final week cost me my secondary goal of totaling the most points over the 20 weeks. On a base of 1060 points over the season, I finished second by a minuscule 1.03 points, to fast-finishing Todd Zola, my Mastersball partner. Lord Z had won Phase 4 and finished second to me in Phase 5. The other Phase winners were Patrick Davitt of BaseballHQ in Phase 2 and Tristan H. Cockcroft of ESPN in Phase 3.

The finals, a single-week competition held Friday, August 26, consisted of 15 entries, submitted by 12 Tout owners. Jeff Erickson of Rotowire was the third competitor with two finals tickets, joining me and Zola with multiple entries.

The pre-finals banter among my peers served as additional motivation. Zola’s fast finish drew him favored status from several of our industry peers, as it should, but my considerable success was barely noted.

My challenge with two tickets was to come up with an approach to win, of course. Before looking at the matchups, I thought I might lock in on a pair of pitchers and take separate hitting stacks in the two entries.

However, once I saw the starters, it seemed like Chris Sale was head and shoulders above everyone else. Yet, given his steep price of $9400, I was reluctant to handicap my offense in both entries. I settled upon one pitching-heavy entry and one pitching-light one.

Lineup #1 had Sale and Jeff Samardzija ($7300) while lineup #2 sported Mike Montgomery ($4900) and David Phelps ($4400). It was notable that Sale’s price was $100 more than my pair of Lineup #2 pitchers combined.

RTSports limits stacking to four players per MLB team per entry, so I had to choose wisely. For Lineup #1, I took Detroit, which was facing Ricky Nolasco. Lineup #2 featured a quartet of Toronto Blue Jays against a soft-tossing lefty from Minnesota named Pat Dean.

The Tigers only got to Nolasco, now of the Angels, for four runs in 6 1/3 innings. While I hit on Justin Upton, my choices of Victor Martinez and Ian Kinsler were eclipsed by Cameron Maybin and J.D. Martinez, two outfielders not among my starters.

The Jays predictably knocked out Dean after three innings and six runs crossed home and went on to score 15 against the Twinkies. Unfortunately, the three Toronto hitters who did the most damage were not in my lineups – Russell Martin, Josh Donaldson and Justin Smoak.

As a result, despite all the big planning, my highest scoring hitters of the evening were not part of the stacks. At just $2600, catcher Gary Sanchez was 58 percent owned, so it was not surprising that the Yankees rookie was the only player on both of my rosters. He scored 14 points Friday evening.

My other top scorer has been playing out of his mind, my choice for National League MVP, Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant. Despite being red-hot coming in, Bryant was just seven percent owned. Perhaps highly-touted Julio Urias starting for the Dodgers against the Cubbies was a factor, though the rookie ended up going Saturday, with Bud Norris making the Friday start instead. Another factor may have been Bryant’s $6200 price tag, made possible in my lineup by the bargain pitching duo.

I never check on my results until after the early games are done, though I admit I wanted to a few times during the evening. I joined in the scoreboard– and game-watching during the late contests, and with the Cubs and Samardzija still active, hope remained. I finally threw in the towel when Addison Russell flied out to mid right in extra innings at Dodger Stadium. Even the golden voice of Vin Scully was not consoling at that point.

It was 1:32 a.m. on Saturday. Only because of Tout Daily was I still up watching a Major League Baseball contest in the middle of the night – and following every pitch!

Walton DFS results 082616

As indicated above, my two rosters ultimately came in fourth and eighth, respectively. Lineup #1, powered by 37 points from Sale and Shark, fell just 5.66 points short of first. Lineup #2 still finished ahead of all four of the other dual entrants’ rosters.

If I couldn’t win, it was nice to see another Phase winner in Davitt end up on top. Congratulations to Patrick, the 2016 Tout Wars Daily Champion!

You can read more about the competition and the finals on the Tout Wars website as well as dig into the weekly results spreadsheet, but only if you are so inclined. If you have any questions about the rules or format, feel free to post them below. I had a lot of fun with this and hope you might consider something similar with your friends in 2017.

 

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.

This is one of those times of the year when understanding your league rules is especially important. Further, if one or more of those regulations don’t make complete sense and could benefit from adjustment, use your current situation to illustrate the problem, then bring it to your league commissioner.

In each of the last two weeks, differences in league rules between two leading industry leagues, Tout Wars and LABR, have crossed up two owners – including yours truly.

Example 1 occurred in the first transaction period following MLB’s non-waiver trade deadline. The rule in question is whether or not players currently on their MLB team’s disabled list are eligible to be acquired in weekly FAAB bidding.

I have to admit that in my first year in the LABR, I did not know that such a move is prohibited there. I assumed the rule was the same in both leagues – that DLed players can be picked up - as did league leader Derek Carty of ESPN.

After all, there is a penalty built into the Tout Wars implementation. All players added via free agency must spend the first week on the active roster. Seven days of having to take zero stats keeping an injured player active leads to an appropriate level of reservation in some situations.

Carty, with the second-most amount in his kitty, $86, passed on new Dodgers outfielder Josh Reddick, instead going after Reddick’s new-old teammate Rich Hill. Carty thought he used $68 to secure the services of the lefty. The move made a lot of sense, as he earlier lost L.A. ace Clayton Kershaw to injury, so Carty was likely looking for Hill to help fill some of the slack.

Despite MLB rules allowing a player on the disabled list to be traded from one team to another, Hill is ineligible to be selected in LABR until activated by the Dodgers. A finger blister that has kept Hill on the shelf also still keeps him on the league’s untouchable list.

Apparently because his high FAAB balance assured him of getting Hill, Carty did not make any contingent bids. It was a bad break for Carty, who successfully added Hill in National League Tout during the same transaction period.

You have to decide which approach you like, but if your league does not follow the process you prefer, perhaps you can help your case with a Carty-like example.

The second example of a rules “gotcha” occurred to me in this same time frame. The cornerstone of my draft-day strategy and the center of my offense in both leagues – Miami outfielder Giancarlo Stanton – went down with a season-ending injury.

The FAAB reclaim rules in both leagues – which I have always thought are too liberal – allow full FAAB reclaim for players out for the season - if the request is made prior to the All-Star break. 100 percent seems too much in the case of a player injured in early July, for example. After all, the original owner does not have to give back a half-season’s worth of results.

Anyway, where the two league rules differ is after the break. Tout allows a 50 percent rebate until the end of the season, but if an injury occurs one second after the mid-season deadline, the LABR owner is totally out of luck. In my opinion, the razor’s edge difference between feast and famine in LABR is far too extreme.

If I was starting with a fresh sheet of paper, I might consider a rule that allowed 75 percent return for a player out for the season before the break and 25 percent after, or something like that.

Anyway, the current difference between the two leagues’ implementation is considerable. For cashing out Stanton in Tout, I received a welcome sum of $195 – half of my original purchase price of $39 divided by two, times 10. The latter calculation is required since Tout has moved from a FAAB base of $100 to $1000. The $195 represents almost 20 percent of one’s full-season FAAB bankroll.

Knowing that money was coming to help me over the final five to six weeks also enabled me to use my last $7 in the most recent bidding period to acquire Stanton’s replacement, since crediting of FAAB return money always lags a week behind. (I wonder who benefits from the float?!?)

All I could do in LABR is shift Stanton to the disabled list. With an unlimited DL in size, there is no reason to release him. In the highly unlikely event of a miraculous recovery, at least I would still be able to salvage something from Stanton to close the season.

Adding insult to injury, I had to dip into my dwindling FAAB to roster a replacement outfielder.

I guess that one way to look at these examples together is that one of them hurt the first-place team in LABR in Carty and the other inconvenienced my second-place squad. Still, the penalty to the latter is far more severe.

Whenever Hill is finally ready to be activated by the Dodgers, Carty still has his money. With a current FAAB balance over three times that of the next-closest competitor, Carty is assured of eventually getting his man if he so desires. No such relief is coming for my doubly-painful loss of Stanton – no stats and no FAAB reclaim.

When I have the opportunity, I will definitely discuss this rule with the commissioner. Being new to the league, however, I need to understand more about the history and background. How long has this approach been followed? Has a change been considered or tried in the past? And if so, what was learned? But when it gets right down to it, I will get my point across that a change for a more even-handed FAAB rebate process would be welcomed.

If a rule has bothered you, it probably has irritated others as well. If you have an open-minded league leader, he or she will hopefully share that information and be willing to discuss alternatives.

 

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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