Friday, September 29, 2023

2022 Fantasy Baseball: Scott White’s Tout Wars draft demonstrates the importance of being flexible

It didn’t go according to plan, this 2022 Tout Wars draft of mine. Not. At. All.

I would have been thrilled with it last year. Seven starting pitchers with my first 14 picks? Yes, please! Starting pitchers are all that matter, you see. The juiced ball has flattened offense, making it so there’s an endless supply of home runs at every stage of the draft. All that really matters, then, is how your pitching stacks up — well, that and stolen bases.

Such was my thinking heading into last year’s draft. The problem? I finished 10th, by far my worst showing in the vaunted expert’s league, which I had just won the previous year.

I shoulder the blame, of course, but the league did pull the rug out from under me, ditching the juiced ball right when I had seemingly sized it up. Home runs became specialized again, and the middle class returned at starting pitcher, making an all-in approach to the position no longer so advantageous.

As such, it became clear almost immediately that my investment in offense last year was nowhere near enough — apart from stolen bases, of course, which have almost no bearing on any of the other four hitter categories.

Never again, I swore. Never again would I adopt a strategy so vulnerable to influences beyond my control. The script needed to be flipped entirely. Home runs — those were the way to go. Unlike stolen bases, home runs have a direct impact on RBI, on runs, even on batting average. A strong showing in home runs would ensure a strong offense overall.

The key was to avoid getting distracted by stolen bases (being intentionally unintentional about them, I’ve called it) and to avoid overdoing it at starting pitcher, instead relying on the resurgent middle class to form the bulk of your staff.

I’ve written about it. I’ve spoken about it. I’ve beaten my chest for it, ad nauseum.

So how did I end up with a team like this?

My team is shown below. You can find the full draft results here.

Startling lineup (round number in parentheses): 

C – Joey Bart, SF (20)

C – Eric Haase, DET (22)

1B – Vladimir Guerrero, TOR (1)

2B – Jose Altuve, HOU (5)

3B – Austin Riley, ATL (3)

SS – Nicky Lopez, KC (18)

CI – Adalberto Mondesi, KC (9)

MI – Eduardo Escobar, NYM (16)

OF – Bryan Reynolds, PIT (6)

OF – Marcell Ozuna, ATL (11)

OF – Jorge Soler, FA (12)

OF – Adolis Garcia, TEX (15)

OF – Eddie Rosario, FA (19)

U – Robinson Cano, NYM (25)

P – Zack Wheeler, PHI (2)

P – Sandy Alcantara, MIA (4)

P – Charlie Morton, ATL (7)

P – Justin Verlander, HOU (8)

P – Shohei Ohtani, LAA (10) (pitcher only)

P – Ranger Suarez, PHI (13)

P – Adam Wainwright, STL (14)

P – Dylan Floro, MIA (17)

P – Ken Giles, SEA (21)


3B – Jose Miranda, MIN (23)

1B – Seth Beer, ARI (24)

RP – Chris Stratton, PIT (26)

3B – J.D. Davis, NYM (27)  

SS – Kyle Farmer, CIN (28) 

OF – Gavin Sheets, CHW (29)

Context is paramount, so I should note that it’s a 15-team Rotisserie league that uses on-base percentage instead of batting average. I had the eighth pick.

Once again, I’d like to direct your attention to my pitching staff. Seven of my first 14 picks were starting pitchers and five of my first 10. Turns out I didn’t go so heavy at the position even last year, when I was convinced it was the only way to go. If my No. 1 goal in Rotisserie leagues this year is not to shortage home runs, this is no way to go about it.

Where’s Kyle Schwarber? Where’s Nelson Cruz? Where’s Hunter Renfroe, Adam Duvall, Luke Voit or any of those other power bats I’m always touting? About the only one I landed was Jorge Soler. And so much for being intentionally unintentional about stolen bases. Whenever somebody drafts Adalberto Mondesi, you can be sure that stolen bases are the intention.

Who drafted this team, and where was I?

Rest assured, I was in the pilot’s seat, avoiding all the garbage hurled my way. What happened in this draft is that everybody decided to cut back at starting pitcher, instead intent on demonstrating that they knew which hitters gained the most value in leagues that use on-base percentage instead of batting average. I mean, Jesse Winker and Max Muncy in Round 3? Joey Gallo in Round 5? Somebody had to be pushed down with all of those format specialists being pushed up, and it was consistently the starting pitchers.

I won’t lie to you: As I was suckered into drafting one starting pitcher after another, beginning with Sandy Alcantara midway through Round 4 and continuing with Justin Verlander in Round 8 and the pitcher version of Shohei Ohtani (he’s two different players in Tout Wars) in Round 10, I got a sinking feeling that I was repeating all of last year’s mistakes. The difference, though, is that I was reaching for the pitchers I thought I needed to compete then, such as Kenta Maeda in Round 4, Dylan Bundy in Round 9 and Corey Kluber in Round 12. This year, I just took what came to me.

And it’s hard to argue the value. Consider …

  • Charlie Morton, my seventh-round pick, was the No. 12 starting pitcher last year doing basically what he’s done each of the past four years.
  • Verlander, my eight-round pick, had 21 wins and 300 strikeouts when last healthy in 2019. I’m not expecting quite those numbers in his first year back from Tommy John, but he’s a pitcher out of his time and capable of heights unreachable by most.
  • Ohtani, my 10th-round pick, was a no-questions-asked ace for the 23 starts he made last year, consistently delivering six-plus innings with a 3.18 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 10.8 K/9. His dual role might prevent him from making much more than 23 starts, but for goodness’ sake, Shane Baz went a whole round earlier.
  • Ranger Suarez, my 13th-round pick, had a 1.51 ERA in 12 starts last year and a 1.36 ERA overall. His superlative ground-ball skills should ensure he remains an ERA standout, even if not to that excessive degree.
  • Adam Wainwright, my 14th-round pick, was the No. 9 starting pitcher last year, and his numbers were virtually identical during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.

In each of those cases, I wasn’t just intrigued by the value. I was floored. Maybe in retrospect, it would have made sense to pass up Wheeler in Round 2 or Alcantara in Round 4 for another big bat, but how could I have known what was to come? Usually in these 15-team drafts, it’s a struggle just to draft five starting pitchers you feel pretty good about. Here, I have seven I feel great about. Even if only five pan out, I still probably dominate the pitching categories in the way I so desperately wanted to last year. 

It may not have been my intention this go-around, but I should take what’s offered, right?

That’s what happened with the Adalberto Mondesi pick as well. Of course selecting him goes against my intentionally unintentional approach to stolen bases, but my main reason for eschewing them is because it’s normal to overpay for them at the expense of everything else. When the single best base-stealer, who normally goes in Round 5 or 6, lasts to Round 9 and taking him legitimately means I can conduct the rest of my draft without giving another thought to the category, I have to do it. I mean, I didn’t invest anything in stolen bases before then, and just like that, I was poised to finish in the middle of the category.

The Nicky Lopez pick later on gives me a chance to finish even higher. Again, it wasn’t my intention to draft him, particularly after already making the investment in Mondesi, but he was literally the last remaining shortstop who I could justify as a starter. I got boxed out at the position early, with a number of teams doubling up on studs, so after Willy Adames went at the end of Round 8, I was content to wait as long as possible. Once Brandon Crawford went early in Round 18, that was it: Lopez or bust.

The way that position played out is probably my single biggest regret of the draft. I’ve now resigned myself to zero power there after already shortchanging the rest of my lineup in that regard.

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But is it really as bad as I’m letting on? I did get Marcell Ozuna. I did get Soler. I did get Adolis Garcia, who hit 31 home runs last year, and of course, my first-round pick was Vladimir Guerrero, a guy who hit nearly 50. Jose Altuve is one of the best bets for home runs at his position, as is Austin Riley at his. If catchers Joey Bart and Eric Haase are going to provide anything offensively, it’ll be home runs. Even Eduardo Escobar and Eddie Rosario, two of my fringiest starters, are liable to hit somewhere between 25 and 30 homers.

That’s what gives me a fighting chance. Apart from Mondesi and Lopez, I didn’t divert from my mission of loading my lineup with sluggers. They may not be the most predictable or reliable sluggers, but slugging is what they do. I didn’t get sidetracked by some cutesy OBP specialist or jack-of-all-trade type who’ll likely top out at only 15 home runs. The ceiling is there even if the floor isn’t.

Same goes for the bench, which is comprised of players who not only have the power potential but may also have an opportunity to make good on it right away, if not on opening day then soon afterward. (The one exception is Kyle Farmer, who has the playing time but not the power potential. I had to give myself an off ramp at shortstop in case Lopez spontaneously combusts. I mean, there’s nothing more to be found there, and Farmer was at least pretty good in the second half.)

When I compare my lineup to the rest of the league, it mostly stacks up. Yeah, a few are clearly better, but then you look at the pitching staff and understand why. My team may not have adhered to what I consider to be the optimal build — i.e., relying on big power to drive all the other hitting categories — but it should dominate the pitching categories and make a bigger dent in stolen bases than I intended. I even gave myself a fighting chance in saves, drafting three guys (Dylan Floro, Ken Giles and Chris Stratton) who may open the year as their teams’ preferred source of them. Last year, I drafted no such reliever.

Maybe all of that, together, can make up for whatever shortcomings exist in my starting lineup, propelling me to a second title in three years.

And if so, then maybe having a plan isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

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