Tuesday March 31st, 2015

In late January, I received an email inviting me to participate in Tout Wars for the first time. Naturally, as so often happens in 2015, my ebullience bubbled over on Twitter.

I've long wanted the opportunity to rub elbows with, and compete against, the very best in the fantasy baseball industry. Here’s a quick rundown, for those of you unfamiliar with Tout Wars. It was created by fantasy baseball pioneer Ron Shandler as a way for industry experts to compete against one another in various formats. Members have to apply and earn an invite to participate, based on their credentials, which must include at least three years of professional experience in the fantasy industry. Tout Wars features a number of leagues made up wholly of experts. There are mixed leagues, AL-only and NL-only, but I was invited to participate in a league making its debut this year: Tout Wars eXperimental, or Tout Wars X.

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The Tout X draft was unlike any I’ve ever been a part of, mainly because it wasn’t exactly a draft or an auction (we’ve taken to calling it a drauction, because it was a hybrid of the two). All 10 owners had a budget of $300 to fill a roster of 32 players. However, each player had a pre-set auction value, and we filled our teams using a typical snake draft format. That meant owners were presented with questions of value throughout the proceedings. In a normal draft, Mike Trout is an easy No. 1 overall pick. In this format, where Trout carried a $41 price tag, the decision wasn’t that easy. Would you rather have Trout for $41 or Giancarlo Stanton for $35? It was decisions like that one that confronted the Tout X owners all afternoon.

That’s not the only interesting wrinkle of Tout X. The league also combines regular season-long fantasy with the daily formats that are becoming ever more popular. We only have the teams we drafted in New York on March 21 for the first month of the season. During the last weekend of May, we draft again, only this time anyone can own any player, so long as they stay within the prescribed budget, just like daily fantasy leagues. We repeat that process every single month, and then embark on a month-long season with rotisserie scoring. For each monthly period, you get 10 points for finishing first in a category, nine for second, and so on. The owner with the most total points at the end of the year will be crowned champion.

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It would be wrong to say I entered with a detailed plan, only because I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect from my fellow drafters. Instead, I had a one sheet of paper with three columns titled “undervalued,” “appropriately valued,” and “overvalued.” I knew I’d be thinking about the undervalued players earlier than I would in a typical draft, and that I likely wouldn’t go for any of the overvalued guys since the same dollar value applied, regardless of when they came off the board. I expected that the first few rounds would look a lot like a normal draft. It might not follow the exact same script, but I thought owners were still going to try to get the best players first, and then go for value later. Maybe Trout wouldn’t go first, but surely he’d go in the top three or five picks. It wouldn’t take long for me to find out just how wrong I was.

The first pick in the draft was Bryce Harper, who was valued at $15. Next was Adam Jones at $13, Jose Abreu at $30, Chris Davis at $11 and Clayton Kershaw at $40. When it got to me for the 10th overall pick, Trout was still on the board. However, so were my top two targets, Stanton and Anthony Rizzo. Remember that question I posed earlier about a $41 Trout vs. a $35 Stanton? I think Stanton is the pick there. With Rizzo checking in at a ridiculously affordable $25, I couldn’t pass that up. I was also one of the few owners to stick to that roadmap.

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Even as most of my fellow owners were chasing value right away, I stuck to hoarding talent. I grabbed Adrian Beltre, Freddie Freeman, Yasiel Puig, Jacoby Ellsbury and Matt Harvey with early picks, then moved on to value players like J.J. Hardy ($2), Javier Baez ($2), Jake Odorizzi ($4) and Andrew Heaney ($1). The one value play I made early was selecting a $7 Evan Gattis, who I believe could be among the league leaders in home runs playing half his games at Minute Maid Park.

I went for value with my rotation, adding Jacob deGrom, Matt Shoemaker and Phil Hughes for a total of $27. When I had some money to spend later in the draft, I splurged on a $16 Hisashi Iwakuma. He was the last pitcher I took, and he was also the most expensive. Due to the drauction format, that was not unusual.

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There are always going to be bargains in a typical auction because a handful of big-name players will still be available when there isn’t much money left in league coffers. However, when each player has a pre-set value, those bargains disappear. That means that a few star players went undrafted. Michael Brantley, a second-round pick in a normal draft, didn’t find a home, due in part to his $30 price. Chris Sale ($26) didn’t find a home, though that also had to do with his foot injury that will cost him a week of April. Matt Carpenter ($21) and Craig Kimbrel ($16) also headed home without a dance partner. I think this owed more to our lack of familiarity with the format more than anything. If we conducted this exact same draft again, it’s hard to imagine Brantley, Kimbrel and Carpenter wouldn’t be on someone’s roster.

Fantasy baseball 2015 mock draft

Most star players avoided that ignominy, but still went improbably late, even when you consider their values. Felix Hernandez ($34) was a 13th-round pick. He could probably announce his retirement from baseball to sign with the Seahawks, and go earlier than the 13th round in a fantasy football draft based on nothing more than potential. Corey Kluber ($27), Jon Lester ($22), Jordan Zimmermann ($20) and Jason Kipnis ($17) were reserve-round picks, hearing their names called alongside the likes of Brandon Morrow, Jake Marisnick and Dillon Gee. In just about every way imaginable, Tout X was anything but a typical draft.

Here's a link to the participants and full rosters for April. I’ll be providing monthly updates, but you can also follow all season along at www.toutwars.com

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