Tout Wars, BABS and the Changing Marketplace

Player projections are irrelevant. What you think players are worth is irrelevant. All that matters is the marketplace. Here is the description that I have used time and time again:

“If you are convinced that a player is worth $25 and land him for $21, you will have overpaid if the rest of your league sees him as no more than a $19 player. Even if he is really worth $30.”

And so it was at the Tout Wars Mixed auction this past weekend in New York City. When Jose Altuve was the first player nominated and went for $49, I immediately knew something was amiss. Altuve went for $42 in 2017 and it would be a tough to argue that he is 17 percent better than last year.

But then Mike Trout went for $56, $5 more than in 2017. Even Mookie Betts – who is coming off a “down” performance as compared to 2016 – went for more than he cost in last year’s draft. I watched as player after player was purchased for more than I expected. My market values – at least in this early stage of the draft – were all wrong.

Based on trends in Major League Baseball’s statistical landscape, early mock drafts and my assessment of my illustrious competitors, I was pretty certain that more roto dollars would be devoted to pitchers this year, and batters would draw less. When the pitchers started coming out, they too were going for big bucks.

Well, when the top players go for high prices, you’d expect that there would some “bargains” later, but at what risk? I did not want a team full of $15 players who’d cost me $10 each. So I jumped in too.

Here is how the previously conservative Touts paid for the top players:

             2017     2018
             ----     ----
Trout         51       56
Goldschmidt   50       40
Altuve        42       49
Betts         42       44
Harper        42       43
Votto         40       49
Arenado       40       44
Freeman       36       41
Kershaw       44       42
Scherzer      34       40
Bumgarner     30       29
Syndergaard   29       35
Jansen        22       25

I’m not sure what happened with Goldschmidt (The humidor?). Harper’s high-priced speculations continue to surprise me. And Syndergaard? I have no idea.

But the players haven’t changed. It’s the marketplace that has.

In truth, this year’s prices were much more “accurate” in terms of the imperfect economy of a mixed league auction. We should be buying the best players for top dollar. We should be spending up. The talent at the bottom of the pool is still very useful.

Given the early spending, you would then think we would be left with a ton of $1 players in the end-game. And you would be wrong:

Number of $1 players
2017:   67
2018:   60

The 2018 Tout Mixed Warriors did a hell of a job drafting this year.

As for me, I went back to the three-tiered approach from last year that bought me a 4th place finish (but one more hit would have moved me into 2nd).

Use the Broad Assessment Balance Sheet (BABS) to draft a few high-end, low risk core players. BABS would help me identify who the best multi-asset, no-liability players are. In my roster below, I’ve labeled these players as (CORE).

Fill in with players on the low end of asset groups that have high upside. This is clearly one of the biggest benefits of BABS, as she can identify where the market is undervaluing skills. BABS arranges players into groups of like assets, ranks the groups, and then sorts the players within each group by their respective market values. The players who are being undervalued just pop right out. I’ve labeled these players as (BABS).

Play for six months. There continues to be a tendency for us to draft as if the current MLB depth charts are fixed, stagnant documents. But the rise in DL days constantly opens up new paths to playing time. MLB teams tend to push the high-end prospects ahead more often these days, too. When we open up our thinking to six months, the perspective changes dramatically. So I will pay for players – usually at a big discount – who might not be fully productive until later in the season. I label these players as (6MOS).

Here is my roster, in order of acquisition cost.

1B – Joey Votto ($49)                      F   (PW,A+*)
(CORE) Votto (pictured) is one of the most valuable players in an OBP league. Last year, his market value was $48; I bought him for $40. This year, his market value is closer to $50. Though I got less of a discount, I was more than happy to start my team here.

1B – Freddie Freeman ($41)        F   (P+,AV* | inj-)
(CORE) Despite the minor injury risk, this is too valuable of a skill set to pass up.

SP – Carlos Carrasco ($28)           F (ER,KK)
(CORE) Starting pitcher scarcity had me willing to pull the trigger on the arm I thought would provide the best foundation – Max Scherzer. But I thought he would go somewhere close to his $34 cost in 2017; I couldn’t make myself say $41. I’m not too disappointed with the $13 savings here.

OF – Byron Buxton ($23)              F (S+ | e)
(CORE) Admittedly, a risky core player. He needs to build on last year’s second half in order to fill that role. BABS is not banking on the power, and that’s just fine; I’ve drafted him for the bags.

OF – Khris Davis ($22)                  F (P+)
(BABS) He is in the same asset group as Aaron Judge, who went for $39. If Judge is really worth $39, then Davis has to be worth at least $32. I’ll take the discount.

SP – Zack Greinke ($18)                F (ER,k)
(CORE) I wasn’t necessarily targeting Greinke, but his spring training woes depressed his price. A better spring in the Chase Field humidor and the bidding pushes $30.

RP – Ken Giles ($13)                      (E+,K+,SV)
(BABS) A few bad post-season performances and he’s suddenly persona non-grata? Unless that completely messed with his head, this is the same skill set as closers like Kenley Jansen ($25), Craig Kimbrel ($22), and even Roberto Osuna ($22).

CA – Mike Zunino ($11)                 M (P+)
(BABS) These are Khris Davis skills in fewer at bats. I was committed to stay out of the catcher bargain bin and Zunino is on several of my teams this year.

SP – Zack Godley ($11)                  M (ER,k)
(BABS) Godley pulls up the rear of the asset group led by teammate Greinke. He was on my target list, so I grabbed him; Greinke was not, but I couldn’t pass up that price. Not thrilled with multiple arms from the same rotation, and that humidor better darn well perform as advertised.

CA – Salvador Perez ($8)               F (p,a)
(BABS) Perez is in the same asset group as players like Evan Gattis ($12), Kyle Seager ($14), Jonathan Schoop ($17) and even George Springer ($32). My $19 catcher tandem hit 52 HRs last year.

2B – Paul DeJong ($7)                    F (PW,a | e)
(BABS) Though he’s not a fully formed commodity yet, early returns put him in the same asset group as Justin Smoak ($12), Nick Castellanos ($13), Brian Dozier ($28) and Edwin Encarnacion ($29).

SS – Tim Anderson ($6)                F (S+,a)
(CORE) Anderson is the only member of this high-end asset group, however his performance to date doesn’t seem to support BABS’ lofty optimism (she thinks he could earn 4-5 times what I paid for him). It’s a gamble, but I am curious what she sees in him.

OF – Victor Robles ($4)                 M (SB,AV | EX)
(6MO) You can look at the Washington depth chart and wonder where his path to playing time is. I laugh. Is he not better than Michael Taylor? Are we confident that Adam Eaton is healthy and productive? Can we count on Bryce Harper for 550 AB? Robles is in the same asset group as A.J. Pollock ($16) and Lorenzo Cain ($19).

RP – Fernando Rodney ($4)          (e,KK,sv-)
(CORE) No, I do not have faith that Rodney will hold down the closer role all year. But I was not going to pay up for risky closers and this $4 investment actually did save 39 games last year. I plan to buy saves as I need them during the year.

OF – Randall Grichuk ($3)              M (P+)
(BABS) Here is yet another extreme power option in the same group as Davis and Zunino. I am accumulating some OBP risk but happy to have banked Votto and Freeman.

SP – Walker Buehler ($3)             (e,KK | EX)
(6MO) If there is one rotation where you can count on DL stays opening up new paths to playing time, it is the Dodgers. Note that Buehler’s skills comps include Yu Darvish ($23), Chris Archer ($22) and teammate Rich Hill ($14).

MI – Brandon Crawford ($2)        F (a)
(BABS) This spring’s promos trumpeted that Crawford had essentially the same skills profile as Didi Gregorius but could be drafted 220 picks later. Perhaps the market has cooled on Didi because Brandon cost only $6 less.

UT – Ryan McMahon ($2)              F (p,AV | EX)
(6MO) The Carlos Gonzalez signing tightened things up a bit in Colorado, but I still trust that the at-bats will come. McMahon shares his asset group with players like Manny Machado ($31) and Anthony Rizzo ($37).

3B – Yangervis Solarte ($1)          M (AV | INJ)
(BABS) This was a positional flexibility play. For a buck, I’ve got a guy who can cover three positions and might even have some upside with the move to Toronto.

OF – Mikie Mahtook ($1)               F (p,SB | e)
I’m not sure where Mahtook falls, but he represents the sole member of an intriguing asset group.

SP – Steve Matz ($1)                        M (e | INJ,e)
(BABS) In dollar days, you always look for upside. There were two dozen pitchers in this asset group who had higher market values, from Marcus Stroman ($7) to Jake Arrieta ($12). I’ll take my chances on his health.

SP – Jack Flaherty ($1)                   M (e,k | EX)
(6MO) Yes, he just got sent down, but this is the asset group with names like Jose Berrios ($12), Gerrit Cole ($25) and even Justin Verlander ($26). He’ll be back.

SP – Brad Peacock ($1)                  M (e,k)
(BABS) Ditto here. While Peacock seems buried in the Houston depth chart, Astros starters have spent their fair share of time on the DL. Worst case, he could become another Chad Green, which wouldn’t be horrible.

Rsv – Michael Kopech                   (e,KK | EX)
(6MO) One of the top pitching prospects in the game, and sharing an elite asset group.

Rsv – Wilmer Flores                      M (p,a | inj-)
(BABS) Multi-positional and 3B insurance. Nice asset group too (see: Salvador Perez above).

Rsv – Ryan Madson                         (ER,k,sv-)
(6MO) I probably should have drafted more closer speculations, but there should be plenty available as the season progresses. Besides, Sean Doolittle’s health doesn’t scare anyone.

Rsv – Brandon Woodruff              M (|inj-,EX)
(6MO) I look up and down the Brewers rotation and can’t find anyone who gives me long-term confidence. Woodruff will get his innings.

Rsv – Andrew Triggs                      M (e | INJ,e)
(6MO) High-skilled pitcher in the minors, but injuries have scuffled him a bit in the bigs. He’s pitched well this spring, despite a 4.70 ERA (thanks to a 46 percent strand rate).

Rsv – Ryan Borucki                        (ER | EX)
(6MO) Borucki’s minor league BABS rating was a cool (E+). Admittedly, he’s a long way from Toronto, but pick #29 is all about deep speculations.

While there is a bunch of potential profit built into this roster, it is not balanced. I will need speed, and OBP will probably be middle of the pack. I’ve sacrificed current at-bats and innings for future speculations, which can be a reasonable approach, especially since I’ve rostered very little injury risk. But there are tradable assets too. We’ll see.

14 thoughts on “Tout Wars, BABS and the Changing Marketplace

  1. Merv

    12 EX/e Liabilities?? Did I count that right? Not that I am against that in this environment of young players getting a chance to make an impact earlier, but that’s hard to square that with the default Liability Targets. I know we’re not bound by anything, but it confirms what i have suspected for a while, the default Liabilities are close to impossible to hit. And the danger there is bypassing players with experience liabilities early on and an hour later wishing you had been in on the early action instead of trying to hit a bar that is set way too low.

  2. Merv

    Correction, several of the players are reserves, but the actives are still over the targets. I’ve gotten many users files in and most show more liability than they had targeted (which was usually the default targets). Not as bad as I thought it was, but I still think we need a little more elbow room to operate in this area.

    1. shandler Post author

      Perhaps, but this is the second draft where I rostered almost no notable injury risk. I noted in an earlier article that the rise in DL stays would be problematic, but I think meeting or exceeding the Health Risk limits is doable. Lumping all risk together may be the question here, as I think the Experience limits may be more flexible.

  3. Mike Jackson

    Love your team but I’m counting only 39 units on your batting side. And that is giving 2 units for a +. Still learning here. Did I count right? I did not count bench players.

    1. shandler Post author

      Not sure where you got 39. Note also, that while we would ordinarily count only active players, I am coming to the realization that you have to view the roster holistically. So any active players who start the year in the minors would have to be replaced by a reserve player, or maybe by a free agent. And in a 15-team mixed league, there are still a good many valuable players in the pool. At quick glance, I see 4 full-time multi-asset hitters who went undrafted, and tons of pitchers (thought mostly relievers). This roster is not fully baked yet.

      1. Mike Jackson

        i could list them all to show how i got to 39, but for example, to make sure i’m counting right, i counted Votto as a 4 unit player (F=1; PW=1; A+=2). And counted each position player similarly with 1 unit for F, 1 unit for anything not a + and 2 units for anything that was a +. And got to 39. My first year in BABS, so i want to make sure. I may be making it harder to hit 50 than it is.

  4. rickyv34

    I’m in two NL leagues and every year the top 20-30 players go for way more than I have figured. I’ve even cranked up the budget toward offense up to 75% and my numbers still are low and it drives me nuts. Like Ron says, it’s about the current marketplace. As for Ron’s team I like it. I wouldn’t be shy about drafting the same “EX” players either. They have the talent just need the playing time which will come this year. Last year I drafted in both leagues Cody Bellinger for my reserve pick knowing he had the talent and just had to wait until he was promoted. With the 10 day DL players are riding the AAA shuttle very often and it’s just a matter of time until that player’s solid play keeps him up for good. That’s especially true if the full time player being replaced has not been performing well and the coach wants to put a spark back into a slumping team.

  5. martin mcgrath

    I am wondering if Ronald Acuna was available and what price (and equiv round) did he go in. He is having and excellent Spring T….and most pundits are talking him to be up to mlb mid april Your thoughts?

    1. shandler Post author

      Acuna went for $16.

  6. lou novak

    Ron are we going to get another Babs updated spreadsheet before this Saturday for rotolab

    1. Herrick Goldman

      please! 🙂

      1. shandler Post author

        The BABS database will be updated tonite or tomorrow. There will be no further spreadsheet updates. Sorry, no time and you can get the same data in the database.

  7. James McKnight

    Good luck in Tout Wars! Thanks for running through your thoughts behind your picks, and I particularly liked seeing Mahtook and Flores in there. Regarding the updates, what would they be based on? I saw Garrett Richards has moved down the pitcher rankings a bit since BABS’ first release and that prompts me to ask. Whether its Richards specifically, or players generally, I’m wondering what gets BABS to change her mind. I’ve seen December drafts differ from those in March, and the tone of various internet articles about players change based on little feedback. It’s normal to change one’s mind, and hearing BABS say “recalculating route” doesn’t shock me, but it has me curious why she would do that.

    1. shandler Post author

      Frankly, BABS rarely changes her mind. We did make an internal technical adjustment in the February update that affected a bunch of pitchers, but that was not her fault. Any real changes in more recent updates are driven by large-scale playing time adjustments – an injury that will cost a player a significant amount of playing time, for instance. But the PT ranges are so wide anyway that the trigger event usually is dramatic.

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