ROTISSERIE: Tout Wars mixed auction—the Murfino Plan

For me, the question going into this year’s Tout Wars Mixed League auction was whether to adopt the “Murphy Method” or the “Salfino Strategy.”

I chose to go Murfino.

Let me explain.

After a successful trial last year in the Mixed League draft, Tout moved its AL- and NL-only leagues and its Mixed League auction to replace batting average with on-base percentage (OBP) as a scoring category.

In the run-up to the auctions on the weekend of March 22-23, ink was spilled, airtime filled and audiences thrilled by expert drafters discussing how to adjust player valuations and auction tactics for the OBP shift.

My plan going in was to try to use the Murphy Method. BaseballHQ.com Speculator columnist Ray Murphy had enjoyed a successful Tout mixed snake draft by grabbing three ultra-high OBP guys early. His rationale was that OBP is more bunched in the middle than BA, with relatively fewer elite high-side outliers than is the case with BA.

By grabbing top guys, he reasoned, he could set a high OBP floor under his team and not have to worry about OBP at all the rest of the draft. You can read about it in Ray’s recent “Master Notes” column on the site and on the March 21 edition of the BaseballHQ Radio podcast.

Murphy came out of the draft with Joey Votto (.434 the last four years), Shin-Soo Choo (.392 in the last six years) and Joe Mauer (.405 career). That allowed him to grab specialist guys like SB demon (and possible OBP black hole) Billy Hamilton.

Hours before my draft on Saturday morning, however, I questioned my intention to adopt the Murphy Method. While the Tout NL was drafting, I found myself sitting in the waiting area outside the Sirius/XM studio discussing OBP strategy with Ron Shandler, of whom you might have heard, and Michael Salfino, who writes very provocative and interesting stats and fantasy articles for the Wall Street Journal, Yahoo! Sports and others.

Salfino also noted the relative bunchiness of OBP around the median. But his contrarian response was that drafters should simply ignore OBP. There are fewer low-side outliers to pull down team OBP—especially in a shallow mixed-league format, where low-OBP benchwarmers aren’t drafted, so every owner could be reasonably confident his team would have a median-level OBP (and at least middling points in the category) without having to invest in high-OBP guys.

I checked hitters with 400+ PA in 2013. And sure enough, about 18% had BAs 10% or more below the BA median. But only 13% of hitters had OBPs 10% or more below the OBP median. I also saw slightly more hitters clustered around the OBP median than around the BA median.

So I decided to adopt the Murfino Plan: Because I expected OBP to be going for a premium, I would get one OBP anchor a la the Murphy Method, and then try not to worry about OBP the rest of the way, per the Salfino Strategy. Murphy + Salfino = Murfino.

My Draft Plan

I had a draft plan beyond the Murfino Strategy. Its basics:

  • I would not pay more than $29 for any player. I didn’t want to create risk by having a lot of eggs in any particular basket, and I expected from past Tout auctions that there would be bargains aplenty for a guy with wallet power after the madcap gold rush in the first few rounds.
  • I used a $180-$80 (69/31) hitter-pitcher split, allocating $33 for three closers, $23 for an ace starter, $12 for a #2, and three skins apiece for four other starters. Third-tier (and below) starters are a fungible commodity in shallow leagues, easily replaced through FAAB, so there’s no reason to pay heavily for them. In fact, I hoped to fill some of those $3 slots with $1 endgamers and relocate the money to hitting.
  • I would hunt for value, bidding for bargains and dropping out when the bidding went above the value. I used the HQ Custom Draft Guide tool, setting it at the 69/31 split. I chose the “Top Players” option because that’s how Tout usually goes.

And, of course, my Murfino Strategy meant I didn’t plan to focus too much on OBP, although I would try to avoid hitters below the .330 median, and give slight extra preference to anyone .350 and higher.

Execution

My brilliant strategy lasted about as long as the Maginot Line.

The early bidding was wild, with hitters going 10%, 20%, 30% or more above my projections. I maintained discipline, bidding to my target and then passing.

I jumped in on OBP giant Mauer, landing a premium catcher for $27, $5 under CDG value. Good thing, too—Votto and Choo went in the high $30s, borderline bargains (the CDG had Votto at just over $40), but way beyond my self-imposed $29 max.

I also filled my $23 ace pitcher slot with Madison Bumgarner at exactly $23, a $27 pitcher. So far, so good.

Then the first wheel came off. I had David Price as a $22 pitcher, and when bidding stalled at $21, I blurted out, “twenty-two,” badly misreading the bidding momentum at the table. I thought briefly about arguing (“I was thinking of my favorite caliber of varmint rifle!” “I was thinking about how many teeth my Uncle Cletus still has!”), but kept my peace.

I now had an unintended two-ace strategy and an urgent need to completely re-do my budget plan–while the draft was going.

And the draft was really going. It was a furious rate, far faster than any auction I’ve ever been in, including past Tout drafts. Auctioneer Jeff Erickson went straight to “going once” as soon as a bid was made, forcing snap decisions. And there was no respite from “up-the-ladder” bidding; any lowball bid to start a round was immediately jumped to within a few dollars of value and raced to a sale.

It was relentless. At one point we were knocking off three players a minute, and not in the endgame, either.

So not a lot of time to leisurely re-assess the situation.

I decided to stick with my three-closer idea, and got my target with Jim Johnson, Bobby Parnell and Casey Janssen for $32 in total, a dollar under budget but $2 over projected value for the bunch.

But I was skimping and scrimping in the batters, slashing my budget like a European government.

I still got value, though. I picked up a series of bargains:

  • Brian McCann, a $22 CDG catcher, for $19
  • Justin Morneau for $9, with a CDG of $11 and whom I really like for a $15+ season;
  • Ryan Zimmerman and Mike Napoli for $16 each, slot bargains and both $18 in the CDG
  • David Ortiz, a $26 CDG projection, for $17 (nowhere near the bargain that fell when Victor Martinez went for $5)
  • Michael Bourn, a 33 SB $12 guy for eight bucks
  • Daniel Murphy for $9 and Coco Crisp for $11, both $2 under CDG

Even though I also had an early $2 overbid on Dustin Pedroia, I was actually getting back on budgetary track.

Then the second wheel came off, when I stupid-stupid-stupidly went the extra buck on Justin Masterson, spending $7 to fill one of those $3 pitcher slots. Back to the budget scramble.

The worst outcome was filling my SS slot. I had $4 budgeted for the slot, down from $16, and we were down to four starting SS left for bidding: Jimmy Rollins (p$8/.318/22 SB), Jonathan Villar (p$7/.307/38), Alexei Ramirez (p$9/.307/25) and Erick Aybar (p$7/.310/20). Aybar was nominated first, and I bid my $4, thinking the other three shortstops, any of whom I would have preferred, would be bid up more than that.

So I bid $4 and got Aybar. The other three went within about five minutes. All for the same $4.

In the endgame, I tried to build upon a decent SB team, chasing a few more bags in hopes of building a surplus for category success and trade value. I snabbed Carl Crawford for $4, a $6 CDG that seems more like a floor than a ceiling; Michael Saunders for $3, a CDG $5 guy with 13-18 projected and potential 20-20 well within reach if he can stop banging into outfield walls, and a Canadian; and Eric Young, a potential 30+ bagger if he plays, although not a Canadian. I could be in great shape in bags.

In the reserve round, I tried to protect some roster weaknesses. I grabbed Sergio Santos to backstop Janssen, and speculated on Billy Burns in case Crisp got hurt and the A’s couldn’t stomach Craig Gentry as a regular. Around the Tout weekend, Burns was being called, “The Poor Man’s Billy Hamilton,” which was perfect for me, since I was by then a very poor man.

I also grabbed CHW 3B-to-be Matt Davidson and then Jake Odorizzi, who a few days later was named to the Rays’ rotation and could/will be an early replacement for one of my low-dollar endgame starters, fellow Orioles Wei-Yin Chen and Bud Norris, whom I had grabbed for strikeouts.

Conclusion

Overall I was pleased with my draft. I got well over $300 in projected value for my $260, and my team projects pretty well.  Seat-mate Scott Pianowski was tracking the draft using the RotoWire draft tool, and he had me mid-pack in a very tight league. The projected final standings at the onroto.com league scoring site were more optimistic: Its Davenport projections have me winning the league, while its BHQ projections have me third, but just three points from a pennant and the chance to get a corned beef sandwich named after me for a night.

As for OBP, Davenport projects me sixth at .335, with second through 10th bunched from .333 to .337. BHQ has me second at .345, again with a very tight bunching in the category.

Despite the fun and action at the draft itself, the real treat as always was getting to hang with the Touts. We had a great couple of evenings at Foley’s, and the conversations, baseball and otherwise, were great. A tip of my well-worn Reds cap to Peter Kreutzer for setting it all up, and to my HQ Radio pal Todd Zola, who loaned me his laptop when mine blew up.

And it wouldn’t be Tout if the season didn’t officially open with a Fred Zinkie trade offer! The defending champ e-mailed me on Monday to offer David Wright and Matt Joyce for David Ortiz and Coco Crisp. I’m still thinking it over.


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