Tout Rides Again

I've been remiss for not writing more, fantasy baseball or otherwise, but I've had a pretty busy offseason nonetheless.  That said, the annual Tout Wars draft was held this past weekend in New York City (well, technically it was Queens) and by most accounts, it was one of the strongest fields in the history of the competition.  There were representatives from STATS Inc, USA Today Sports Weekly, Baseball Info Solutions,, Baseball HQ, Baseball Prospectus, Rotowire, Rotoworld,, CreativeSports and several other well-known baseball sites.  With only a few notable exceptions, anyone who was anyone in fantasy baseball was there.  So what was I doing there?  Besides drafting in the AL league, good question. 

I had to laugh after the draft was over because I began with a number of hitters I wanted to stock my team with and came away with almost none of them and a completely different team than I had imagined, at least on offense.  This year, the AL seems particularly deep with good outfielders, so a sound strategy is to spend your offensive money on the top catchers, second and third basemen, then fill in the outfield on the cheap with $12-$18 guys like Mark Kotsay, Jermaine Dye, Bobby Kielty, Michael Cuddyer, Kevin Mench, Luis Matos, Larry Bigbie, Matt Lawton, Jose Cruz, Jose Guillen and Dmitri Young.  Likewise, shortstop (Angel Berroa, Julio Lugo, Jose Valentin, Bobby Crosby) has some reasonably priced values, as does first base (Mark Teixeira, Brad Fullmer, David Ortiz, Paul Konerko and Kevin Millar).   There's no need to spend enormous amounts of money for the top names at those positions for only marginally more production... except for ARod, of course.

There also seem to be an increasing number of very good young pitchers who could be worth as much as the well-known aces, but come at a fraction of the cost: Raphael Soriano, Jeremy Affeldt, Matt Riley, Kurt Ainsworth, Erik Bedard, Ricardo Rodriguez, Cliff Lee and Grant Balfour.  You may notice that there are several Baltimore Oriole pitchers on that list, but they might not be a dangerous choice, even facing the daunting offenses of Toronto, Boston and New York.  The reason why is that Fenway and Yankee Stadium are both quite favorable to lefty pitchers, thus nullifying a good bit of the scheduling disadvantage.  And while Skydome doesn't have a bias, a good portion of the Blue Jay offense - Delgado, Hinske and Catalnotto - is left-handed.  I also like Dan Wright, Zack Greinke, Eric DuBose and Carlos Silva this year.  I'm not convinced they have the same upside as the others, but they are definitely worth a flyer.  And as odd as it may look because their numbers last year were terrible, Colby Lewis and Joaquin Benoit could turn into nice pick-ups; they definitely have that kind of talent.  He's not exactly young, but I'm also one of the few who thinks that Victor Zambrano could be this year's Sidney Ponson-like surprise.  When he throws stikes, he's very tough.

Factor in a number of veteran pitchers who have either changed venues that should aid their numbers (Kelvim Escobar, Miguel Batista, Ted Lilly), or are coming off significant corrections (Freddie Garcia had surgery to repair his eardrums, Derek Lowe's infield defense got a big upgrade, Jose Contreras getting a full-time spot, etc) and it's possible to field an excellent, perhaps even dominating 5x5 pitching staff with just a single "second-tier" ace (like Colon, Vazquez or Santana) plus four or five $3-10 buys.

That said, even though the personnel I came away with was somewhat of a surprise, it's still a solid squad top to bottom.  I did manage to grab a number of the pitchers I liked, including several mentioned above and the hitters that I got "stuck" with weren't exactly waiver fodder: Adam Kennedy, Bernie Williams and Johnny Damon were among the most notable.  Several of the other owners commented that they liked my team, which may or may not be a bit of gamesmanship, but you can decide for yourself here.  Regardless, I ended up with a good-hitting team with a pitching staff that has plenty of upside.  And for my strengths as a fantasy player - finding emerging pitching and useful hitters on the waiver wire - that's about as good a start as I can ask for.