Derek Carty - Fantasy Baseball Writer and Analyst
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There’s nothing better than waking up on the day of my first fantasy baseball draft of the year… unless I’m also waking up next to a supermodel… oooh, or two supermodels… or three… or, eh-hem, umm, my totally amazing girlfriend that definitely isn’t reading over my shoulder as I write this (love you sweetheart!).

Last year in this league, my spending habits (or lack thereof) rivaled those of Scrooge (McDuck, of course, because who wouldn’t rather an adorable cartoon duck with a charming Scottish brogue than a crotchety old man with a flem-accented drawl when visualizing their analogies).  In my recap, I noted how I “effectively left… $30 or $40 on the table.”  That’s something like 15% of the total budget, which will normally capsize any team’s chances of finishing outside the bottom three.

Somehow, though, I managed to take home second place and may have taken first if I was able to find any semblance of a fair offer for one of my closers. (I wound up with 105 saves, nearly 30 above my next competitor.  Talk about wasted value!)

This year, I was determined to spend my all money…

Position Player Price
C Joe Mauer $24
C Chris Iannetta $3
1B Mitch Moreland $11
2B Omar Infante $9
3B Trevor Plouffe $3
SS Stephen Drew $3
CI Lonnie Chisenhall $2
MI Jemile Weeks $3
OF Jose Bautista $27
OF Carlos Beltran $22
OF Coco Crisp $20
OF Torii Hunter $15
OF Melky Cabrera $9
UT David Ortiz $22
BN (UT) Nolan Reimold R1
BN (1B/OF) Tyler Colvin R6

 

Position Pitcher Price
SP Felix Hernandez $26
SP Jered Weaver $21
SP Jake Peavy $8
SP Alexi Ogando $4
SP David Phelps $4
SP Colby Lewis $3
SP Zach McAllister $2
SP Felipe Paulino $2
CL Joe Nathan $17
BN (RP) Sean Doolittle R2
BN (SP) Alex Meyer R3
BN (RP) Joel Peralta R4
BN (SP) Dylan Bundy R5
BN (SP) Mark Appel R7

The initial plan was to get Mike Trout or Miguel Cabrera for $40-ish for a firm, high-priced anchor to my team.  Both went for $43, so that plan was out the window.  That meant securing an extra couple of players in the $20-$30 range, ideally at a $2 or so bargain.  The hitters in this range tend to be inflated by several dollars in CBS AL every year, so even a small bargain is worth fighting for.  I’d need to be careful picking and choosing while also being careful to leave enough money to take advantage of the big bargains at the end of the draft that inevitably result from this kind of spending.

After just a couple times around the (virtual) table, I’d already secured Mauer, Bautista, Ortiz, and Beltran for a projected $14 profit.  Without any speed, I decided to pay full price for Coco Crisp… a decision I would soon regret.  Going full value for a hitter in that range (speed or no speed) after I’d already purchased four of them was a terrible decision in a league like this, and it looks even worse in the wake of a guy like Rajai Davis going for just $3.  This meant that while I was all but assured of spending all of my money, I would have to pass up on several bargains later (and I did, wincing and cursing Crisp each time).

Further hampering me was an accidental purchase of Mitch Moreland in the early going.  Online auctions have the element of practicality in their favor when owners can’t meet in the real world, but boy do they make strategic bidding difficult.  Moreland at $11 was the unfortunate result of an ill-timed “Bid +1″ button-press.  I’d have taken him for a few dollars less, but I only had him valued at $13, and $2 isn’t nearly a good enough bargain for a player at that price point.  As comfortable (and adorable, if I do say so myself) as I was in my rubber duck footie pajamas and big fuzzy slippers, it wasn’t worth a blunder that would have been avoided in a live draft.

Still, I managed to take down a number of huge bargains in the later rounds, most notably Infante, Plouffe, Chisenhall, and Iannetta.  And if Stephen Drew happens to sign with an AL team (the most recent reports have him linked to five AL teams and just one NL squad), he’d be a huge bargain as well.  Chisenhall is a bit risky given Carlos Santana’s potential move to third base, but there’s no guarantee he’d play there everyday, plus the Indians would still have no obvious DH, so Chisenhall is a good bet to get his ABs.

The biggest high of the draft came in the first reserve round, where Nolan Reimold — who I initially planned to auction as my DH before I got a too-good-to-pass-up deal on Big Papi — fell into my lap.

On the pitching side, the elites go for $5+ bargains since people don’t generally like spending more than $30 on an asset so widely considered to be “risky”, even if they’re worth it.  Hello King Felix!  After further anchoring with high-priced purchases of Weaver and Nathan, I rounded out the rest of my staff with low-priced (but relatively high-skilled) pitchers that I will play the matchups with, substituting in my elite reserve round relievers (Doolittle and Peralta) as need be.  But since these guys aren’t without risk, I hedged my bets a bit with three top-notch pitching prospects in the reserves rounds, all of whom figure to be called up by mid-year.

All told, I think I did very well in this draft.  This squad is certainly good enough to win the league and could potentially dominate if I catch a few breaks (i.e. Jemile Weeks, an accidental purchase, winning the second base job in Baltimore or Drew signing with an AL team).  I just wish I hadn’t hampered myself with Crisp and Moreland; I can’t imagine how much I’d like my team with the bargains I missed out on as a result.

That’s a pretty lot of words, and now I’m hungry; all this talk of Coco Crisp makes me want some cereal, but never will someone eat their milk-drenched, chocolate-flavored tiny rice puffs of deliciousness with such inner turmoil and disdain….

(Comments and questions on my roster and/or strategy are welcome.)

After false starts in my first two auctions of the year, CBS and LABR, I came to Tout Wars possessed, determined to spend all of my auction dollars at any cost, willing to eradicate any obstacle or distraction in my path, ready to slaughter baby seals and knock over old ladies if it really came down to it.  Heck, I even knocked one over upon arrival at Penn Station just for practice. (Sorry, ma’am, but fantasy baseball is serious business. I’m famous and have an equally famous-at-this-point dilemma, so you really have no one to blame but yourself.  And I didn’t appreciate the profanity.)

It came as little surprise, then, that I purchased three of the first six players thrown out.  Some asked whether this was intentional.  Others questioned my sanity in spending so much so soon.  To both, I responded, “Mwahaha, I am King Midas; I want not for money!!”.  Then I snapped back to what I realized was reality (possibly proving the latter questioners correct in the process, in part because of the delusion, in part because my response really wasn’t relevant to the former’s question at all) and calmly explained that Ryan Braun, Clayton Kershaw, and Buster Posey just happened to be the three big ticket items that I was targeting, expecting each to come at a significant bargain, and all three happened to be nominated immediately. Between the three I calculated a $21 profit, so I was off to an excellent start.

Of course, shellacking $101 on the table in the first two minutes meant I’d have to sit around picking my nose for a while before I could buy my next player, which was fine, since my issue was never finding bargains (although doing so in Tout Wars is as difficult a task as they come.  There’s actually been evidence, recently uncovered, to suggest Heracles was tasked with doing so as one of his 12 Labours, but then the macho egos of the Greeks — ironic, given their proclivity towards little boys and goats — saw fit to strike it from the history books and replace it with some bullshit story about fighting a hydra.)

Okay, bourbon run, check out my roster until I get back…

Position Player Price
C Buster Posey $28
C Welington Castillo $4
1B Anthony Rizzo $22
2B Cliff Pennington $8
3B Juan Francisco $9
SS Ruben Tejada $7
CI Nolan Arenado $3
MI Mark Ellis $5
OF Ryan Braun $41
OF Gerardo Parra $16
OF David DeJesus $10
OF Eric Young $5
UT Chris Denorfia $3
Swingman Ryan Hanigan $3
BN (Like, everywhere) Brent Lillibridge R3

 

Position Pitcher Price
SP Clayton Kershaw $32
SP Tim Lincecum $14
SP Shaun Marcum $5
SP Mike Fiers $7
SP Brandon Beachy $5
SP Edinson Volquez $5
CL Steve Cishek $12
CL Brandon League $14
RP David Hernandez $2
BN (SP) Tim Stauffer R1
BN (SP) Jason Marquis R2
BN (SP) Kyle McPherson R4

…ah, that’s the ticket.

Overall, I’m very pleased with my roster.  Finding bargains was certainly difficult — some players who I was sure I’d be handing a pinny to slipped through my fingers; others I had to swallow my pride and go the extra few dollars for — but I really like the look of my team on the whole. Perhaps my greatest point of pride, aside from my hair, my abs, my charm, my… oh, yeah, sorry, was that I was able to put together a team with the league’s best hitter, pitcher, and catcher and still not have a single real, Yorvit-Torrealba-sized hole on my roster.  The closest is Nolan Arenado, who will begin the season in the minors, and has excellent skills and a spot waiting for him.  Beachy and Marcum will start the season on the DL, but I’m confident in my ability to stream pitchers in their wake.

Gerardo Parra really rustles my jimmies.  I got him for $8 in LABR but spent double in Tout; I have him valued at $17.  The Adam Eaton injury the day before Tout, however, apparently caused his market value to skyrocket, even if his actual value didn’t change much (he was pretty much a lock for 500 AB and $15 value to begin with).

On the strong side of a platoon and with monster power, Juan Francisco is exactly the kind of player that gets me hard in an AL/NL-only league.  These types of players are perpetually undervalued, and I’m happy to scoop them up for dimes on the dollar (I don’t think I’ve ever heard dimes substituted for pennies in this phrase before, but I’m all about factuality, and pennies would indicate that Francisco was worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $130, so, yeah, deal with it.)

My drafting of three catchers was questioned, but Todd Zola drafted four last year and managed to spin a couple off in-season for solid value.  This wasn’t the plan, but with quality players running out and the Welington Castillo bidding stopping at $3 (I had him valued at $9), I bumped it up a buck and wound up with him.  No regrets, especially if I can one of my backstops to a catching-starved team in a couple months.

I don’t see this team as a runaway champion, but I definitely feel like I’ll be in the discussion come September, especially if I can catch a few breaks.

Questions, class?

I did it again, guys.  I left a ridiculous amount of money on the table (see: $12 Chris Heisey, $12 Nate Schierholtz, $11 Ian Stewart).  After swearing I wouldn’t after doing so in the CBS AL league the week before, I went to Arizona last weekend and did the same exact thing in LABR.  Part of it this time was a mistaken belief that LABR was still using 10 pitchers (the rosters were shortened this year with the Astros moving to the AL and reducing the player pool), meaning I had allocated money to a roster spot that wasn’t there, and part of it was certain guys later in the draft coming cheaper than expected, but mostly I just failed to buy that one extra $20-$30 hitter that I needed.  I can’t count the number of times I lost out one of these guys by $1.  I was in on Ryan Braun, Matt Kemp, Aramis Ramirez, Brandon Phillips, Anthony Rizzo and a whole bunch more.  If I’d just gotten one of them…

Here’s the roster:

Position Player Price
C Travis d’Arnaud $8
C Wilson Ramos $8
1B Adrian Gonzalez $28
2B Neil Walker $17
3B Nolan Arenado $8
SS Rafael Furcal $6
CI Ian Stewart $11
MI Daniel Murphy $12
OF Angel Pagan $20
OF David DeJesus $8
OF Gerardo Parra $8
OF Eric Young $9
OF Chris Heisey $12
UT Nate Schierholtz $12
BN (1B) Carlos Lee R6

 

Position Pitcher Price
SP Clayton Kershaw $32
SP Dan Haren $10
SP Shaun Marcum $9
SP Mike Fiers $5
SP Brandon Beachy $5
CL Jason Grilli $13
CL Carlos Marmol $11
RP Tyler Clippard $3
RP Sean Marshall $5
BN (SP) Francisco Liriano R1
BN (SP) Jason Marquis R2
BN (SP) Wade LeBlanc R3
BN (SP) Jeff Francis R4
BN (RP) Jeremy Affeldt R6

I actually really love my pitching. That part of my plan I executed nearly to perfection (aside from the imaginary 10th spot, which was probably going to be a $1 Liriano anyway).  I didn’t necessarily expect Kershaw, but I wanted an anchor, whoever came at a bargain.  That happened to be Kershaw first, so I was psyched.  I wasn’t expecting Haren at that price, but I love it.  Friendly league, great offensive and defensive support, and the guy knows how to pitch.  A half-season of Beachy would be worth at least that, and in the meantime I can play the match-ups with my reserve squad.  I do really regret Marmol and not just splurging for a few extra dollars on a closer whose team actually likes him.  I think that will wind up as a mistake.

On the hitting side, I really like most of the names, I just wish there was one more $25 guy in the mix.  Because I didn’t get that guy, I took some risks later in the auction on guys like D’Arnaud and Arenado, who probably won’t start the year in the majors but could be serious forces if they get an early-season call-up (same with Ramos if he can re-establish himself as the starter and EYJ if he can get semi-regular at-bats).  This was also the reasoning behind Carlos Lee in the reserve rounds instead of another pitcher.  I regret Furcal dearly, wishing I hadn’t backed out of the late-round bidding war on Zack Cozart or just gone with Ruben Tejada instead.  Yeah, Cozart went for more than he was worth, but there’s no way Furcal will be as good, and I had all that money anyway.  I was in a risk-taking mood given the state of my draft, but this wasn’t the right risk to take.

I actually liked Schierholtz and Stewart, who I viewed as late-round back-up options and potential value picks for a couple bucks.  With different price tags on them, I’d be happy enough to own them.  I loved my prices on DeJesus, Parra, and Murphy, and I think I got small bargains on Pagan and Walker.

Hopefully I’ve now learned my lesson and will manage to put a better team together for Tout Wars NL.

When readers new to auctioning ask me for advice, one of the first words out of my mouth is “patience.”  As in, when overanxious owners are bidding up players early, don’t feel compelled to dive into that cesspool with them.  As exciting as it would be to own Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout and Justin Verlander, exercise excruciating patience.  If people are spending heavily early, there will be bargains late.  Of course, the addendum to this is that you do have to spend some money early, even if you’re only getting even value or “overpaying” by a couple dollars, because if you don’t, you wind up with more money than you can spend later on.  Better to get even value than no value at all.  The other addendum to this is that if people aren’t spending enough early, sack up and spend yourself.

While proper auctioning protocol is completely understood by my brain, it seems as though I haven’t quite internalized it to the point I thought I had.  Auctioning is, in many ways, an art form, and it requires practice to get right.  The more experience you have with it, the better you get.  After four years of playing in auction drafts against the highest level of competition, and after experiencing a great deal of success, I took my auctioning skills for granted today.  In this CBS AL draft, I was a little too laid back, a little too much on auto-pilot, and my brain seemed to pick and choose which pieces of my advice it followed.

Out of the gate, spending was a little lighter than I believed warranted, which was a major shock.  Previous years’ CBS leagues saw heavy inflation early and a plethora of bargains late.  Still, flexibility is key, so I adapted.  I picked up Miguel Cabrera for $39 — what I believed to be a $5 bargain.  Without any big bargains (though without any major overpays either) for the next couple of rounds, I decided to sit back and pick and choose where I’d spend my money next.  After the first couple of rounds, however, the spending really started — at least on hitting.  I thought, okay, great, here’s the inflation I expected, let’s find a guy or two in the $20 range for even value and fill the rest of my roster with bargains as they came.

Then pitchers started getting thrown out.  Low.  I’m still not exactly sure what my reasoning was, but I’m pretty sure I just didn’t want to lock in so much money early and miss on big bargains later.  I was scared to spend big on an elite pitcher after having already bough Miggy and that, if the elite hurlers were underrated, maybe the market just undervalued pitchers in general and I could pick up the same bargains later at multiple lineup spots. So, I passed up a $34 Justin Verlander (a $6 bargain) and a $27 Felix Hernandez (a $9 bargain).  As soon as I let the bidding end on Felix I knew I had made a mistake.  But the damage was done.

I tried to rectify my mistake by getting in on the bidding for Jered Weaver, Yu Darvish, Max Scherzer, and Chris Sale, but the profit margin on each was small, so I passed.  Then inflation smacked pitching over the head with a banjo, as guys routinely started going for $5+ more than I had them down for.  I guess everyone else started to realize that there are very few sure things in the AL pitching pool this year, and after refusing to hold my nose and bid, I wound up with Alexi Ogando and Jeremy Hellickson heading up my staff.  Both are good, but neither is great, and I regret not picking up Felix more than I regret that night with the Taiwanese hooker last year.  Okay, both nights.  Fine, it was an opium-hazed week, get off my back!

Worse still, though, was that I completely forgot to actually buy my “guy or two in the $20 range.”  I got Ichiro and Napoli for $17, but since they cost less than I expected, I really needed another guy or two to make sure I spent my money. I was the cash leader almost the entire way, and while in the end I wound up with quite a few bargains — a few of them huge bargains — I left $14 on the table.  And when you factor in my overpays for Michael Brantley and Ernesto Frieri (and to a smaller extent Matt Joyce and Andy Dirks — not really overpays but not the kind of bargains I’d normally take that late in the draft), I may have effectively left closer to $30 or $40 on the table.  Think how Robinson Cano would look on my team. In the end, my projections have me down for $312 of value (a 20% profit margin), but it should have been much higher.

The moral of this sad tale is to never get complacent.  No matter how many auctions you do, you always have to be on your toes.  Patience is good, but only to a certain extent.  Buckle in right from the get-go and don’t be scared to spend heavy early if the conditions warrant.  And never accept opium from a Taiwanese lady of the night.

Here’s my roster.  Let me know what you think.

Position Player Price
C Mike Napoli $17
C A.J. Pierzynski $11
1B Lance Berkman $10
2B Tyler Greene $10
3B Miguel Cabrera $39
SS Yunel Escobar $5
CI Alberto Callaspo $11
MI Maicer Izturis $3
OF Ichiro Suzuki $17
OF Torii Hunter $13
OF Michael Brantley $15
OF Matt Joyce $11
OF Nolan Reimold $2
UT Andy Dirks $8
BN (C) David Cooper R7
BN (C) Ryan Kalish R6
BN (C) Nick Franklin R4
BN (C) Rick Ankiel R5

 

Position Pitcher Price
SP Alexi Ogando $11
SP Jeremy Hellickson $12
SP Jason Vargas $3
SP Ivan Nova $3
SP Gavin Floyd $4
CL Joe Nathan $13
CL Casey Janssen $12
RP Ernesto Frieri $15
RP Joaquin Benoit $1
BN (SP) Garrett Richards R1
BN (SP) J.A. Happ R2
BN (RP) Sean Doolittle R3

What do you guys think?

Earlier today, I completed my very first non-pretend fantasy draft of the season.  And when I say draft, I mean draft.  Most experts leagues use an auction format to distribute players, but the Fantasy Sports Invitational Challenge (FSIC) uses an old fashioned snake draft.  I can say with absolutely no reserve or remorse that I hate snake drafts.

They are surely the more expedient form of player allocation, but they pale in comparison to an auction draft, which allows for far greater flexibility in roster construction and never informs the participant that a player is unavailable to him because someone else said his name first.  I can’t count the number of times that the player I wanted was picked one or two picks before I was on the clock in this draft.  Yes, everyone faces the same challenges and likely faces this very same situation, but I’d rather avoid it altogether with an auction, where every time a player’s name is brought up, you have a chance to acquire him.

There’s far too much guesswork in snake drafts for my liking, and that guesswork often leads to smaller bargains if you pull the trigger too early or opportunities missed entirely if you wait too long. I’m very much looking forward to a slate of leagues that will exclusively (save the Yahoo! Friends & Family draft) be using the auction format over the next month.  Now, onto my roster:

Position Player Round
C Wellington Castillo R23
1B Adam LaRoche R7
2B Neil Walker R6
3B Ryan Zimmerman R3
SS Martin Prado R4
CI Tyler Colvin R12
MI Cliff Pennington R15
OF Carlos Gonzalez R1
OF Matt Holliday R2
OF Jayson Werth R8
OF Gerardo Parra R14
OF Eric Young R17
UT Chris Denorfia R19
BN (3B) Nolan Arenado R24
BN (CI) Taylor Green R27

 

Position Pitcher Round
SP Roy Halladay R5
SP Matt Garza R9
SP Tim Lincecum R10
SP Brandon McCarthy R13
SP Johan Santana R16
SP Francisco Liriano R20
CL Huston Street R11
RP Tyler Clippard R18
RP Sean Marshall R22
BN (SP) Brandon Beachy R21
BN (SP) Jason Marquis R25
BN (RP) Casey Kelly R26

I was awarded the sixth pick in the draft (11 teams total) through random selection, and my initial target was Andrew McCutchen (assuming the chance of Ryan Braun falling due to steroid allegations was a mere pipedream).  McClucken, surprisingly, went second overall, perhaps due to last night’s news that he’s been studying elite basestealers in an attempt to ramp up his running game this year.  I see Carlos Gonzalez as a similar category in the five-category mold, albeit with a bit less upside.

Matt Holliday was the pick in the second round. I was hoping for Adrian Gonzalez and then for David Wright, but they were selected with the two previous picks.  I also debated Buster Posey and Justin Upton at this spot, but I wanted to mitigate risk (the early rounds rarely warrant taking chances), and Holliday is as solid and reliable as they come.  The venue change isn’t particular favorable for Upton following his trade this winter, and in a league that only drafts one catcher, I decided to pass on Posey.  As a result, I wound up waiting until near the end of the draft to get my catcher, Wellington Castillo, who should get regular at-bats and has quality skills and decent upside.

This reliability concept may seem to present itself quite a bit throughout most of my early-round picks, as I didn’t take chances on players like Adam Eaton or Starling Marte that have high upside but also a high risk of struggling or fizzling out entirely.  This isn’t so much because I’m in love with the concept of reliability, but rather that I tend to think older, unsexy veterans like LaRoche and Werth are often undervalued, so I’m happy to scoop them up during the rounds everyone else is chugging the soup of the day and hoping they don’t get burned.

My pitching staff has a lot of risk, but I’ve found in past years that this is a solid strategy for the FSIC.  I don’t need everyone to throw 200 innings, but if the innings that guys like Garza, McCarthy, Santana, and Beachy are quality, I can plug and play match-ups to eat some innings while they’re on the DL, all the while my elite relievers holding down my ratios.  There’s rarely a lack of (relatively) non-terrible starters on the waiver wire, and the league contracting an owner will continue to assure that’s the case.  The only drawback to this strategy is a lack of DL spots, but it’s not as if bench spots are super valuable in deep leagues anyway, especially once you hit mid-season.

While I don’t consider my roster to be efficiently structured (at least relative to how I would do it in an auction league), I do think I wound up with a very solid club.  Missing out on a number of players was tough and cut into my profit margin a bit (I won’t say who yet, as I imagine I’ll be targeting these guys in LABR next weekend too), but I feel I have a very strong team.  I’ve finished second in this league twice in recent years, so hopefully this is the year I pull out a victory.

What do you think of my team?