Tout Wars Strategy
January 26, 2011

I no longer participate in Tout Wars (by choice) but I recognize that it still holds tremendous prestige in the fantasy baseball playing community.  Between it and the LABR competition, those two league's draft results pretty much set the standard for draft day values for a majority of leagues nationwide and their participants.  I won the competition in the AL League twice in five years (and came within two points of a third title) so I like to think I've established some credibility in the realm of winning fantasy baseball competitions. 

The reason I bring all this up is that I got an email from a reader asking my opinion about what he should do with his keeper list.  One of his questions concerned whether or not to keep Carlos Lee an $28.  It was an NL-only league and his team had no power so Lee did have some extra value to him.  So I looked over the player pool and... well, let me take a step back before going forward...

The way I won both my titles was to play a strict "spread the wealth" draft strategy and spend like crazy on the early FAAB targets.  For most years that makes the most sense as it limits the damage of what I think is the biggest risk in fantasy baseball - injury.  In looking at this year's player pool, however, if I was playing in an NL-only league, I'd be very tempted to take a "stars and scrubs" approach. 

This year, moreso than in recent years, it seems that there is a vortex of guys coming back from injury or down years, prospects who failed to live up to expectation in 2008-2009 and fell off the radar in 2010 who might be getting playing time in 2011, and some teams who are looking to do some spreading of the wealth when it comes to team at bats.  Teams like San Francisco and  Colorado have more than enough major league capable players to man the 8 positions but very few oustanding ones.  So it may come down to whoever has the hot bat out of spring training gets the benefit of the doubt for the majority of this season's at bats.  What all this means is that there will be a huge number of reasonably productive players who normally would be valued at $10-$15 but won't fetch that at the draft because by the time the draft winds down to them, too much money will be off the table.  Of course, some of them will get that price when they come up earlier in the drafts but there should be a handful who'll end up going for peanuts in the end game.

For example. look at the NL outfield picture.  We have Lance Berkman coming off his worst year as a major leaguer vowing to get in shape, but more importantly, hitting in a line-up where he isn't the biggest bat.  He's not going to go for $10 obviously, but the guy was a consistent $30 player before last year and I bet he will go for less than $20 in many drafts.  Brad Hawpe is likewise coming off a dismal showing but will be back to semi-familar surroundings in the NL West and shuld bounce back a la Pat Burrell in 2010 when he went back to the NL.  Garrett Jones is probably due for some bounce-back as well.  Jordan Schaefer should see significant playing time in Atlanta, Seth Smith the same in Colorado, Ben Francisco in Philadelphia, Xavier Nady in Arizona, Jay Gibbons in LA, Mike Morse in DC... Those guys have almost no expectation, yet could produce 20-homers if given 400-450 at bats.  Even Rick Ankiel deserves a look, depending on how his spring training goes.  There's speed avaialable too, with Tony Gwynn Jr in LA, Roger Bernadina in Washington, Fred Lewis in Cincy and Will Venable in San Diego.  Most people hear those names thrown out and probably stop at $5 or $6 but each of those guys has the potential to return three times that.  Of course, spring training performances will influence how aggressively people bid on these guys, but my point is that there will be a lot of value here to exploit on draft day. 

So go ahead and throw down $40+ for Pujols or Hanley or Halladay or whichever big fish suits your fancy and then fill in your entire outfield for $30 or less.  My answer to the reader?  Drop Lee.  His production has been in decline the last three years and even if he could not get him back for less than $28 on draft day, there were a ton of 20-ish home run power hitters available and he should have no trouble filling his team up with them.   Good luck to you all.