MASTER NOTES: Last thoughts on Tout...

The thing about an intense fantasy baseball weekend is that it really gets you thinking about the game. I scribbled some notes during Tout Weekend 2017, and here are some last thoughts...

Huh? What?

The Tout weekend got off to a rocky start when the Head-to-Head (H2H) Mixed League auction had to be moved just a few minutes before it was scheduled to start. The drafts were all being held at Rock ’n’ Reilly’s, one of New York’s newest and most popular sports bars, and it was very busy. Who woulda guessed? A Friday night during March Madness, with tournament games being played a block away at Madison Square Garden.

Now, when I say it was “very busy,” I mean it was “about as quiet as sticking your head into a General Electric GEnx dual rotor/axial flow/high-bypass turbofanturbofan engine.” It was apparent pretty quickly that the only way an auction could work is if all the league members quickly developed semaphore skills or Chicago Board of Trade pit-signalling abilities. After some quick discussions between the venue management and Tout head Peter Kreutzer, who was actually in the draft, they moved everything up one floor to a conference room and got it going. The only drawback was that the hotel hadn’t expected to use the room that chilly New York night, and it was quite cold in there. One picture making the social-media rounds showed Paul Sporer huddling in a jacket and hoodie, and looking a lot like a guy waiting for a bus. In Greenland.

The rest of the auctions were held in the bar, before the crowds started filing in, and went off without a hitch.

Punting in H2H

Among the approximately 800 commentators and analysts hovering over Tout Wars weekend, one of the hot topics was the overt punting strategy embraced in Friday night’s H2H auction. At least two teams took a seemingly radical approach by punting multiple categories, and spending crazy loot on subsets of players outside the punting zone. Paul Sporer spent $41 apiece on Votto and Arenado, $44 on Bryce Harper, and $50 (!) on Trout. His pitching exploits the rule that replaces strikeouts as a counting stat with K/9: He got a $23 Chris Archer, a $9 Michael Pineda, four $1 starters and three $1 relievers.

Kreutzer, meanwhile, was also taking advantage of the K/9 category—introduced in last year's Tout H2H—but punted power and loaded up on bags, runs and OBP. He spent $28 on Jonathan Villar, $23 on Francisco Lindor, $32 on Trea Turner, $28 on Andrew McCutchen, and $12 on Jose Ramirez. He also invested $43 on Clayton Kershaw and $24 on Stephen Strasburg, and rounded out his staff with a $12 Rich Hill plus bunch of $1-$3 LIMA high-K/9 relievers, mostly closers-in-waiting with saves upside.

In the immediate aftermath of the draft, I was asked on a radio program about what I thought the plan was, and I said I thought it was a strategy designed to win six categories out of the 10—not a viable approach in straight Roto scoring, but one that makes a lot of sense in H2H, where 6/10 wins the week.

Later, I talked with Kreutzer and he confirmed the plan to dominate speed, OBP and runs and to compete in pitcher decimals and k/9.

I have to say I admire the planning and the thought process. But I’ve always been a little reluctant to endorse such obvious “gaming the system.” This might be something that needs further study.

Gianella’s W/K punt in NL-only

In the NL auction, Mike Gianella was also punting, only he was punting wins and strikeouts. He bought only three starters, Johnny Cueto ($23), Kyle Hendricks ($18) and David Phelps ($2), to get a solid base in pitcher decimals, and rounded out with two cheap closers (Jeurys Familila and Tony Watson for $21 combined) and four $1 LIMA relievers with saves potential (Bruce Rondon, Joaquin Benoit, Mauricio Cabrera, Juan Nicasio). His whole pitching staff cost $68.

With the remaining $192, Gianella got a balanced offense, with Starling Marte the top guy at $30, but only two $1 guys.

He said later that he plans to get 12 points in each ERA and WHIP, high points in saves, and 1 point each in wins and Ks. That’s 26 so far. Add 9-12 in Saves, and he's 35-38 in pitching, which is a little less than halfway to the usual winning score of around 80. Worst-case, he needs about 45 from offense, which is nine per category or fourth in each. With his balanced offense, it’s certainly possible.

The difficulty might be the Tout IP requirement of 950. Assume 400 total from Cueto and Hendricks and 140 from Phelps, that’s 540, leaving 410 for the other six pitchers, about 70 apiece. Most relievers are right around there, so maybe Gianella has this neatly calibrated. It's possible Phelps could step up to 160, which would make it a pretty easy coast to the finish. If there's a shortfall looming, Tout uses a “swingman” position that can be switched from a second UT hitter to a 10th pitcher, which he could use to get to the minimum. He’ll have to watch it carefully, though—especially if Cueto or Hendricks misses any time.

Points to win

This is not completely about Tout, but does anyone actually know what it takes to win a league? I looked into a few past leagues, inside and outside Tout, and it seems like a decent rule of thumb is that it takes 75% of the maximum points to have a chance of winning a league. Post a comment or e-mail to if you think normal winning points levels are different, especially if you have or know of an actual study.

Who’s on third?

My former home league, the long-running Regina Rotisserie Baseball League, has a Facebook presence where they put up some pictures and commentary about my Tout efforts. Very flattering.

At that same Facebook page not long ago, a debate erupted over whether Nolan Arenado or Manny Machado is the best 3B in the game. One of the debaters put up Arenado’s stats from 2013-16 as evidence that he’s the top guy. So I looked into it, and on offense at least, out of Arenado and Machado, the best 3B is ... Josh Donaldson:

        Arenado  Machado  Donaldson
BA       .285-2   .287-3     .284-1
HR        111-2     98-1      131-3
RBI       376-2    285-1      413-3
HIT       613-1    649-2      677-3
SB          8-1     28-3       26-2
RUNS      320-1    333-2      426-3
OPS      .851-2   .817-1     .893-3
TOTAL (Roto) 11       13         18

Anchors away! (Yes, I know it’s “aweigh.” I’m no landlubber.)

Just before heading to Tout weekend, I read Michael Lewis’ latest book, The Undoing Project. It’s about discoveries by two Israeli psychologists, Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, who basically invented much of what we now know as “behavioral economics.” Its basic premise is that people are not the rational decision-makers beloved in classical economics, but emotional and mistake-prone, with quite poor skills at figuring out the best choices.

Lewis wrote the book after a review of his great baseball book Moneyball. The reviewer said that Tversky and Kahneman had pointed out most of what the Oakland A’s were doing years before they were doing it. Intrigued, Lewis looked into their story.

Among many other decision-making faux-pas we make is a phenomenon called “anchoring,” which means we tend to “anchor” our price expectations to some handy figure—and the number can be completely random and a totally irrational way to price anything.

They tested this idea by having roomfuls of university students write down the last three numbers of their Social-Security numbers or their student IDs, and then asking them to set the prices they would pay for various objects with whose prices they were not already familiar. Remarkably, the students whose random three-digit numbers were on the low end almost always set lower prices, and those whose random numbers were on the high end set the highest prices! And remember—the "anchor" numbers themselves were entirely random.

So, what does all this have to do with fantasy baseball? I was thinking about how auctions work, and the long-running debate about where to start the bidding when nominating a player. If Tversky and Kahneman are right, then maybe there’s a sliver of advantage to be gained. If you want the player, always start him at $1, because in that way you set a low “anchor” for the player, and bidders will get more reticent as the price climbs further from the anchor. Might save you a buck or two! Conversely, if you nominate a player to force money out, start him higher, near his value. The anchor is higher, so the bidders might feel more comfortable bidding more.

Also, as far as whether to wait until “going twice” or to bid quickly, Tversky and Kahneman also identified several phenomena about what motivates decisions. One of those phenomena says we fear loss more than we get excited over gain. That made me think that you shouldn’t wait until the last second on a player you want, because your opponent now fears the loss of a player he nearly owned and might be more likely to re-bid. Instead, bid right away, before he gets in his head the idea that the player is his.

I might be out to lunch on all of this, but it costs you nothing to try!

The Undoing Project is an excellent read. Read an excerpt here.

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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.