Welcome to my 2023 Tout Wars 15-Team Mixed Recap.
The origins of Tout Wars date back to 1998 when Ron Shandler formed the organization to bring together what was then a small community of fantasy baseball writers, experts, and site owners to participate in two mono-auction leagues, one each comprised of American and National League players. During the ensuing 25 years, as the fantasy baseball expert universe has grown, Tout Wars has expanded to eight total leagues of various types and sizes.
I have been honored to participate in the 15-team mixed league, which conducts its draft online for those of us unable to get to New York City for the annual Tout Wars draft weekend. You can find much more information about the origins, participants, and results of past Tout Wars leagues at ToutWars.com.
2023 Tout Wars 15-Team Mixed Recap
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Rules and Roster Requirements
The 15-team mixed league uses a traditional 5X5 structure with one notable difference. The five hitting categories are Runs (R), Runs Batted In (RBI), Home Runs (HR), Stolen Bases (SB), and on-base percentage (OBP) instead of batting average. The five pitching categories are Wins (W), Saves (S), Strikeouts (K), Earned Run Average (ERA), and composite Walks plus Hits per Inning Pitched (WHIP).
There are 23 players required for the active roster comprised of 14 position players and nine pitchers. Each team is also allotted six bench spots. The breakdown of position players is as follows:
2 Catchers, 1 First Baseman, 1 Second Baseman, 1 Shortstop, 1 Third Baseman, 5 Outfielders, 1 Corner Infielder, 1 Middle Infielder, and 1 Utility Hitter.
Waivers are conducted weekly on Sunday evenings with each team allotted a $1,000 Free Agent Acquisition Budget (FAAB) for the season. Zero bids are permitted. Priority for bid awards go in reverse order of the standings with teams going to the bottom of the priority list when a player is awarded. The complete listing of Tout Wars league rules can be found here.
Rather than break down a lot of my player choices, I thought it would be most helpful to readers to discuss my strategic thinking for this draft. I will discuss some of my player choices but in the context of draft strategy rather than expected production in most cases. Specifically, I’m going to concentrate on the core of the team, which I consider to be the first 15 rounds.
Sometimes it’s because of changes in the game of baseball itself, the most obvious ones being the trends in pitching. Starting pitchers have been working fewer innings but putting up higher strikeout rates just about every season for the last decade or so. Relief pitchers rarely work more than one inning per game, and the vast majority of them regularly throw fastballs at 95 miles per hour or higher, with an increasing number of them able to hit triple digits. This has contributed to the higher overall number of strikeouts, a reduction in the number of hits, and a significant decrease in both OBP and batting average as a result.
While you should always have a plan for your draft, you can’t be afraid to deviate from the plan if need be. For instance, if there is a run on a particular position or if there is a sudden dearth of players who provide a certain statistic of need, then you have to be prepared to pivot to a different strategy and perhaps reconsider your roster construction plan. In a very deep league, it’s not unusual to have to rethink your pathway forward based on what the rest of the league is doing.
Early Round Strategy
My strategy this year for the first 10 rounds of the draft was to pick up two front-line starting pitchers along with two closers. It wasn’t that long ago that closers were generally drafted in the middle-to-late rounds. However, the paucity of pitchers reaching 25-30 saves and the sheer number of relievers getting 5-10 saves has elevated the draft cost for the very best closers into the top 5 rounds in most formats.
On the hitting side, I had four specific items I wanted to achieve in the first half of the draft. First, it was abundantly clear that third base was extremely thin in terms of reliable solid production, so there was no question that I would draft that position as early as possible. Second, I placed a premium on players that could provide a foundation of statistics in all five categories, in particular home runs and stolen bases. If two hitters were similarly ranked in both power and speed, the tiebreaker was OBP.
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The third agenda item was to pick up at least two of the three middle infielders I would need. Between shortstop and second base, there are only 14 players who met or exceeded the threshold I had decided on for OBP (.330), which underscored the need for me to draft those positions as early as possible.
The last guiding principle was perhaps the easiest – upside. Everyone defines upside differently but for my purposes, it’s players who are perhaps a little undervalued. I look for players who have some history of solid production but are coming off a less-than-productive 2021 season, whether it’s because of injury, or lack of playing time, or just sheer bad luck. Among the players I picked up in the first half of this draft, I would say that just one of them was taken just for his upside.
Laying the Foundation
Regardless of the format, the first 10-15 rounds of a Fantasy Baseball draft are where you’re building the foundation of your team. Player production is as close to predictable as you’re ever going to get. Although, you should never delude yourself into thinking that baseball statistics are anywhere near predictable. Even the very best projection systems rarely approach anything higher than 65-70 percent accurate.
So, let’s dig into the first 15 rounds to see if I at least achieved my initial strategic goals.
|3||OF||Ronald Acuna Jr.||Ronis|
|6||1B||Vladimir Guerrero Jr.||Verougstraete|
|12||1B||Freddie Freeman||Dr. Roto|
|15||SS||Fernando Tatis Jr.||White|
As far as I’m concerned, the primary consideration in the first round is mitigating production risk. There is no reason to take on a risky player in the first round whether there are questions about production or an extensive injury history in the player’s profile. Mike Trout, my first-round pick in this draft, is a good example of how to avoid production risk, so let’s set the stage with some statistical research.
Over the past 10 seasons there are just 30 players who have garnered a minimum of 5000 plate appearances. The table below shows the total accrued statistics in the five hitting categories used in this league along with where players rank in each during this time period.
|Player||OBP||Home Runs||RBI||Runs||Stolen Bases|
|Mike Trout||.420 (1)||315 (2)||797 (9)||903 (3)||151 (7)|
|Nelson Cruz||.352 (19)||329 (1)||889 (3)||726 (20)||23 (27)|
|Nolan Arenado||.346 (21)||299 (3)||968 (1)||803 (9)||23 (27)|
|Paul Goldschmidt||.395 (4)||287 (4)||934 (2)||935 (1)||125 (9)|
|Starling Marte||.347 (20)||137 (26)||548 (28)||738 (16)||302 (1)|
If Jose Ramirez had dropped to me picking tenth in this round, there is little question that he would have been my choice. He doesn’t appear on the list anywhere but that’s only due to the lack of plate appearances over the time period. Drop it down to 4500 PA and suddenly Ramirez shows up everywhere. Otherwise, Trout is clearly the best player with the longest track record of excellence here.
I could have taken Paul Goldschmidt with either my first or second-round pick and done just as well, if not better, overall. But I didn’t even consider Goldschmidt simply because he is coming off a “career year” that sent his value skyrocketing this draft season. Just one season ago he was a fifth or sixth-round pick. One adage of fantasy baseball that I learned from Ron Shandler many years ago was to “never pay for a career year". Besides, third base was a priority Goldschmidt will turn 36 this season!
|19||3B||Rafael Devers||Dr. Roto|
Of course, my second-round pick goes against the grain of my logic in the first. If statistical track record means more than expected production, then the appropriate pick for a third baseman should have been Nolan Arenado with Manny Machado and Rafael Devers (along with Bobby Witt) off the board.
Call it a hunch based on this being Riley’s third “full” season (ignoring 2020 because…duh!). Call it age bias. Or just call me a crazy hypocrite. I believe Riley is headed for a monster season in a lineup that is better and deeper than that of the Cardinals in support of Arenado. We’ll see if I’m vindicated or just plain stupid come October. Hah!
The Rest of the Foundation and First Half
|OF||Mike Trout - LAA||1||10|
|3B||Austin Riley - ATL||2||21|
|P||Max Scherzer - NYM||3||40|
|P||Carlos Rodon - NYY||4||51|
|P||Josh Hader - SD||5||70|
|OF||Starling Marte - NYM||6||81|
|SS||Willy Adames - MIL||7||100|
|MI||Tim Anderson - CHW||8||111|
|2B||Brandon Lowe - TB||9||130|
|1B||Ryan Mountcastle - BAL||10||141|
|OF||Riley Greene - DET||11||160|
|P||Pablo Lopez - MIN||12||171|
|OF||Cody Bellinger - CHC||13||190|
|C||Danny Jansen - TOR||14||201|
|P||Eric Lauer - MIL||15||220|
Drafting Trout gave me an OBP anchor that allows me to pursue a broader universe of player, including a few that aren’t typically considered good targets in the OBP format. Adding Riley in the second round gets the extremely thin third base position out of the way nice and early, freeing me up to pivot my draft as needed. At this point, I began taking a hard look at what the rest of the league was up to.
In years past, starting pitchers were often drafted heavily in the first four rounds. As we entered the third round, only Gerrit Cole, Jacob deGrom, and Corbin Burnes were spoken for, but Justin Verlander, Spencer Strider, Aaron Nola, and closer Edwin Diaz were all drafted during the nine picks before me in the round. I drafted Max Scherzer with the 40th overall pick and watched as six more pitchers were taken before my turn came up again at 51. Ten more pitchers would fly off the board before my turn came up again, so I added Josh Hader with the 70th pick to make it three consecutive rounds of pitcher picks for me.
Now that pitchers were trending, I shifted back to the hitting side of things, specifically looking for power and speed options. My last five picks to round out the top 150 included a pair of power/speed players in Starling Marte and Tim Anderson, a pair of power-hitting middle infielders in Brandon Lowe and Willy Adames, and power-hitting first baseman Ryan Mountcastle.
The prevailing hope is that those five players can add about 50 stolen bases and 120 home runs, along with decent run and RBI production to go with OBP numbers somewhere between .330 and .350.
The First Half Finish
Once you get past the first 150 picks the player pool changes dramatically in that the amount of variance in performance begins to widen rapidly. In other words, the difference between projection and actual production increases quickly. Therefore, the search for real “upside” becomes much more difficult. Oddly enough, it is at this point in the draft where the difference between a winning team and one that ends up somewhere between the middle of the pack down toward the bottom of the standings is usually forged.
The final five picks of the first half of this draft are where I began to search for that upside in earnest. I chose to split these picks between two hitters and two pitchers, and finally grab my first of two catchers, a position I had completely ignored to this point. Catcher is one position that has been a thorn in my side over the last few seasons. I’ve been beset by injuries, for the most part, to the point where I took to streaming catchers last season.
Danny Jansen was who I ended up with as my primary catcher. Injuries torpedoed most of his performance in 2022, but when he was able to stay healthy and on the field, he actually put up some decent numbers. With Alejandro Kirk expected to DH almost as often as he catches, there is a good chance that Jansen gets a decent amount of playing time. Hopefully, I’ll get some decent numbers from Jansen, who will be hitting in the middle third of one of the best lineups in the game.
Pablo Lopez has found his way onto at least one of my fantasy teams just about every season. He offers good, but not great, strikeout numbers along with very stable ratio statistics that make him an attractive middle-round draft pick. His solid floor and potential high ceiling offer just the sort of upside you want from a pitcher at pick at No. 171.
Eric Lauer isn’t a big-time strikeout pitcher, but he does produce a steady stream of strikeouts and does so with excellent ratio stats. He made 29 starts last season with an ERA of 3.69 and 1.22 WHIP. He throws four better-than-average pitches and is just a tweak or two away from taking a step forward at age 28. Lauer looks like the personification of upside to me.
Riley Greene is a potential threat to put up a 30-bomb season, I’m just not sure he’ll get there this season. He hits the ball extremely hard and has strong plate discipline skills. However, he needs to elevate the ball better and reduce the number of balls he hits into the ground. Greene is just a swing adjustment away from being a fantasy monster but I’d be delighted with a 20/20 season in 2023.
The hunt for upside often leads to players that will bring with them a bit more risk. That’s certainly the case with Cody Bellinger who, despite entering his seventh season, will turn just 28 years old right around the All-Star break. Bellinger suffered a series of injuries beginning with a dislocated shoulder during the 2020 postseason, followed by two leg injuries and cracked ribs 2021.
While all of Bellinger’s injuries should have been fully healed at some point last season, they all could have contributed to changes in his swing mechanics and the production swoon of the last three years. I’m hoping that the change of scenery and the Cubs coaching staff can help him regain the swing that made him a .278/.369/.559 hitter who averaged 37 home runs per year from 2017-2019. Heck, I’d be happy if I could get 20-25 homers out of him.
Assessing the Core and the Rest of the Draft
Once you get past the first 150-200 players, the variance in statistical performance becomes wider and wider. You can end up with anything from an All-Star breakout performance to a once-reliable veteran whose production falls off a cliff and lands with a hard thud. In other words, most of the picks beyond this point are really speculative and unpredictable. That’s why I refer to the first 15 rounds as the core even though there are still nine active slots that still need to be filled.
Aside from failing to draft two closers within the first 10 picks, I managed to achieve all of my initial goals for the first 15 rounds. I did manage to nab Seranthony Dominguez in the 17th round, Alex Vesia in the 22nd, and Jonathan Hernandez in the 26th. Dominguez will likely get the first shot at saves for Philly. Vesia might be the best pitcher in the Dodgers’ bullpen and is more than capable of closing games. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts says he will go with a matchup approach, but he’s always preferred to have a dedicated closer in the past.
If Evan Phillips or Brusdar Graterol don’t end up with the job, then Vesia will. Right now, Jose Leclerc is the closer for Texas according to GM Chris Young, but I’m betting that manager Bruce Bochy will tab Hernandez once the season gets rolling. If those speculation picks don’t move the saves needle enough for my team, I’ll just have to aggressively pursue saves on the waiver wire or make a trade.
The deeper the league, the more important pitching depth becomes! This is especially true in Tout Wars. My worst finishes in Tout Wars have come in seasons when I didn’t draft enough starting pitcher depth. That’s why seven of my final 14 picks, and three of my six reserve-round picks, were pitchers. Had I been able to draft a second closer among the first 10 picks, I would have drafted another starting pitcher in the reserve rounds instead of Hernandez.
Still, I am quite pleased to have added Hunter Brown, Jose Urquidy, Corey Kluber, and Braxton Garrett to round out my starting staff. Urquidy and Kluber should provide a steady diet of strikeouts and decent ratio stats, while Brown and Garrett are more speculative. Brown will likely start the season in the Houston rotation and could pitch well enough to keep his spot. Not to mention the fact that Lance McCullers has more than 22 starts and thrown more than 128 innings exactly once during his seven seasons in the majors. He also missed all of 2019 and followed up his one full-season campaign with just 47 2/3 innings the following season. Woof!
The rest of my picks in the second half were to either fill holes, back up positions that I thought might be thin on waivers, or speculate for one reason or another. For example, I took Austin Nola in the 23rd round because I needed a second catcher, a position I largely ignored since the catcher pool is so awful. I may end up streaming catchers again for the second season in a row. I actually had some success with this approach last year. We’ll see how my catchers perform over the first two months.
Chris Taylor rounded out my outfield and added some positional versatility that was lacking among my core group. Manuel Margot and Gavin Sheets will compete with Yoan Moncada for my utility spot. Margot can be sneaky good when he’s playing well. If he’s getting the playing time I could do well with him. Sheets is in the same boat as Margot. If he plays often enough he could hit 20-25 home runs.
Moncada, Adalberto Mondesi, and Nelson Cruz were all speculation picks. Moncada was just dreadful last season and health has been an issue for a couple of years. I’m thinking he could be primed for a bounce-back season now that Tony LaRussa has been replaced by Pedro Grifol. Mondesi is coming off knee surgery and a career full of injuries. I have doubts about whether he’ll ever be the player he has the talent to be, so he’s a true longshot for my team. I drafted Cruz just in case he has something left in the tank that gets a chance to shine in the stacked Padres lineup.
And there you have it. If you stuck with me this long you deserve a medal. Here’s hoping I’ve built a team worthy of one of the toughest and most talented groups of fantasy managers you’ll ever see. Present company excepted, of course. I hope you all have a great season. I will keep you updated on my progress in Tout Wars.
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