If quality pitching is becoming scarcer in this increasingly matchups-driven game, the results of this year's Tout Wars NL-only draft didn't reflect it.
Elite starting pitching went for a substantial discount, at least according to my projections, with the top eight going for a combined $22 beneath my own values. Overall, Tout Wars managers spent a mere 31.0% of their budgets on pitching, with four of the 12 spending less than 30%. Meanwhile, the $94 I spent, or 36.2% of my budget, was the most among the 12 teams.
It started with the opening nomination, Jacob deGrom. A $39 player on my draft sheet, deGrom's price stalled at $38, with my bid. Considering three major projection systems suggest he'll earn more than that in 2020, I thought -- and still think -- it was a wise bid, not to mention deGrom fit one of the four key parts of my strategy: Get an anchor.
The problem: Jack Flaherty, nominated five players later, sold for $27, such a great price that I considered bidding and locking up more than one-quarter of my budget in starting pitching. Ah, the age-old feeling of regret, almost immediately after one of your buys. Then Max Scherzer sold for $31. Then Clayton Kershaw for $24. Then Stephen Strasburg for $23 -- but at that point, the price was so unbelievable in my estimation that I finally did lock up that big chunk of my budget by securing Strasburg's services.
Was deGrom -- or my pitching strategy in general -- a misstep?
I'm going with "no," even though the results of the League of Alternative Baseball Reality (LABR)-NL auction two weeks earlier saw pitching on the whole go even cheaper than in Tout Wars. Both leagues are underrating the pitching landscape, especially on the top end, and in examining the available player pool during the endgame of the Tout Wars auction, the hitters generally available were both more appealing and more reasonably priced -- players like Sam Hilliard ($5), Luis Urias ($4), Dexter Fowler ($3), Adam Haseley ($2), David Bote ($1) and Dominic Smith ($1), two of whom I wound up rostering.
On Strasburg and knowing when to pounce: For the second time this preseason, I chose to build around an ace starting pitcher, under the assumption that the pitchers from the next tier would cost too much of a premium by comparison. The first time was in The Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational (TGFBI), when with the fourth pick in a 15-team draft I selected Gerrit Cole, figuring that neither Flaherty, Walker Buehler nor Strasburg would remain by the time my second-round pick, 27th overall, came back around. Strasburg wound up making it back, but I passed him up in that draft for Austin Meadows.
Here, I couldn't let Strasburg go for a cheaper price than Yu Darvish ($24) or the same as Aaron Nola ($23). It meant going dirt-cheap with the remainder of my pitching staff, outside of the one other essential piece of my pitching puzzle...
The closer: After watching Josh Hader sell for a bargain-rate $21 in the LABR auction two weeks prior, I thought when he was nominated seventh overall that I might actually roster both the most expensive starting and relief pitchers. He wound up going for $23 here, though, forcing me to pivot to one of the four other closers who were part of my strategy -- that being to lock down saves in a front-line closer -- Kirby Yates, Edwin Diaz, Kenley Jansen or Hector Neris. Fortunately, the non-Hader closers all cost less than my projections, with Diaz ultimately my pick for $16. We'll see whether that works out better than when I paid $21 for his 7 blown save, 5.59 ERA 2019.
I felt the need for speed, as my plan to address stolen bases early went a bit ... haywire. Trea Turner, the 15th player nominated, stalled in bidding at $34, a price far too good to pass up for a player who should fill half (or more) my team's needs on his own. Strangely, though, as I shifted my nomination strategy to the remaining elite speedsters, few of my competitors were biting. Speed apparently came at a relative discount in the early rounds, which is how I wound up with a $26 Jonathan Villar as well. No matter; with the dearth of stolen bases around the league, that should be an easy category from which to trade excess.
Kevin Newman ($14) was one of the pricier late-round buys, but at that stage of the auction, with so little reliable power and after I had fallen short in my quests for Kyle Schwarber ($24) and Nicholas Castellanos ($23), I shifted my plan towards accumulating more speed for categorical excess.
Where's the power? It's a question asked by many after the auction, as the majority of my power will come from a somewhat pricey Josh Bell ($27) -- though those who read my "Tristan's Twenty" knew I'd like that price -- Joc Pederson ($17) and potentially Austin Riley ($7). The danger is that if the baseball is as springy as it was in 2019, I could find myself in a considerable hole in the home runs category, but the aforementioned stolen-base excess should help with addressing any shortcoming.
In the endgame, I secured four names I particularly wanted for either $1-2: Joey Bart ($1), David Bote ($1), Freddy Peralta ($2) and Austin Voth ($2). Bart's selection was about avoidance of the low-on-base percentage catchers in that area of the player pool, such as Yan Gomes ($3) or Austin Hedges ($1). Be aware that, unlike in LABR, Tout Wars replaced batting average with on-base percentage as a category several years ago, and catcher is one place where you can really drain your performance in that department. Bart might not see a game in the majors this season, but he's a blue-chip prospect with a good batting eye, is 23 years of age and handled a brief Double-A audition well last summer. Why can't he surprise and make the leap midseason? The biggest risk is that I'll either have to ride with an open second catcher spot or dive into the free-agency pool at the position in the early weeks, but I'd rather make that decision when I get a better read on the Opening Day rosters than now.
Bote is a patient, multi-position, can't-hurt-you type for a league like this. He might not return a hefty investment, but the roster flexibility he'll provide is a big help, considering I think he'll factor in the outfield as well as his current second/third base.
Peralta and Voth were frustrating to see cost $2, but I held back a few bucks specifically for them knowing that I wouldn't be able to make every nomination while filling out my roster. Peralta's strikeout ability is appealing, as he's capable of making an impact as either a starter or high-leverage reliever, and Voth is another of the names from my "Tristan's Twenty."
So far, so good on securing many of the names I projected I would!