Note: This analysis is from a draft which was conducted on Tuesday, March 3. It took place in a decidedly different atmosphere, before a worldwide pandemic completely changed all manner of social activity in this country. At this point, who knows when baseball will actually be played, but we all have to do our best in order to pass the time in a safe manner. Here’s one way I tried to do that. Take care of yourself and be smart out there.
Following up on a series I did last year, this is my first article for 2020 chronicling my experience in the Tout Wars Mixed League Draft. This league is always a fun challenge and it’s even more interesting this year now that three Rotoworld writers are in the same league. We didn’t plan that, I promise. I’m coming off my second straight fifth-place finish and would sure like to finally find the top of the standings. Ray Murphy won the league last year, essentially clinching the right to draft first this year.
The one major caveat with Tout Wars is that they use on-base percentage as a category instead of batting average, but otherwise it’s a 5x5 format. Of course, this throws standard average draft position (ADP) out the window in some cases. So it was no surprise to see Mike Trout go first or George Springer come off the board in the third round.
Before we get started, here’s a list of the other participants and their affiliations:
Ray Murphy - Baseball HQ
Adam Ronis - Fantasy Alarm
Seth Trachtman - Rotoworld
Rudy Gamble - Razzball
Tim McLeod - Prospect 361
Scott White - CBS Sports
Greg Ambrosius - SportsHub Games Network
Perry Van Hook - Mastersball.com
Michael Beller - The Athletic
Anthony Perri - Fantistics
Tom Kessenich - SportsHub Games Network
Charlie Wiegert - CDM Sports
Tim McCullough - Rotoworld/Baseball Prospectus
Dan Strafford - Awesemo.com/SportsGrid
You can see the full Tout Wars mixed league draft board here, but what follows are my picks and relevant commentary. Be sure to check out Page Two for my reserve picks and analysis from my Rotoworld colleagues — and Tout Wars competitors — Seth Trachtman and Tim McCullough.
1st round: Juan Soto OF, Nationals
I got teased by thinking Ronald Acuna, Jr. would potentially be available. However, it wasn’t to be, as Seth Trachtman didn’t try to be cute out of the third spot. With Acuna off the board, I went with the player I expected to get in this spot. It might seem bold to take Soto over the likes of Cody Bellinger and Mookie Betts, but this is a reflection of the importance of on-base percentage. Still, just 21 years old, Soto holds an impressive .403 on-base percentage through his first 266 major league games. He made tangible power gains last year and even swiped 12 bags. Assuming Mike Trout doesn’t run as much as he used to, is there a huge difference between Soto and Trout? What if the best of Soto is still to come?
2nd round: Yordan Alvarez UTIL, Astros
Protect this man’s knees at all costs. I considered taking Starling Marte here, but Alvarez fit nicely into my plan, as I wanted to prioritize on-base percentage early and round out category needs later. His UTIL-only eligibility wasn’t a concern this early. The 22-year-old was out of this world in his rookie season, blasting 27 homers with a .313/.412/.655 batting line in just 87 games. In addition to the massive power, only 15 hitters (min. 350 plate appearances) walked more often. Alvarez struggled in the postseason, so maybe you worry a bit about the league adjusting to him, but he was elite across the board in terms of average exit velocity, barrel percentage, and hard-hit percentage. His status is a bit more cloudy now that it was when I made this pick two weeks ago, but we’re probably at least eight weeks away from regular season games, anyway. He has earned this lofty standing, at least assuming his knees hold up.
3rd round: Clayton Kershaw SP, Dodgers
Speaking of holding up, Kershaw managed to do exactly that last year after getting a late start due to a shoulder issue. The veteran southpaw saw his velocity continue to decline, but that didn’t stop him from posting a 3.03 ERA with 189 strikeouts and 41 walks in 178 1/3 innings. The homers and walks were up, but so were the strikeouts at least. Justin Verlander, Mike Clevinger, and Blake Snell both have some health questions of their own, so I was fine with getting Kershaw here, especially with the news that he was one of the pitchers who went to Driveline this past offseason.
4th round: Yoan Moncada 3B, White Sox
How does someone go from being a .235 hitter to a .315 hitter? Well, a .406 BABIP helps. According to FanGraphs, it was the highest BABIP by a qualified hitter since Rod Carew’s .408 mark in 1977. So I didn’t take him here with a full repeat in mind, but Moncada was a different hitter last year, attacking earlier in the count. While the walk rate went down, he also decreased his strikeout rate from 33.4 percent to 27.5 percent. I still think he’ll be an excellent contributor in counting stats even with the expected batting average correction.
5th round: Max Muncy 1B/2B/3B, Dodgers
You might be surprised to learn that Muncy ranks 12th among qualified hitters in on-base percentage (.381) over the past two seasons. That’s why I was thrilled to see him here. The idea is to plug him in at first base, but obviously he can be used at other spots. You’ll notice that flexibility was an important part of my strategy.
6th round: Jeff McNeil 2B/3B/OF, Mets
Back-to-back players who are eligible at three different spots. Me likely. McNeil was 13th in the majors last season in on-base percentage, though he isn’t exactly known for taking walks. Hacking on the first pitch is his thing and hey, it’s working for him. McNeil experienced a power surge during the second half, so it will be fascinating to see how that translates going into 2020.
7th round: Frankie Montas SP, Athletics
Montas certainly looked the part of a potential fantasy ace before his PED suspension last year, compiling a 2.63 ERA and 103/23 K/BB ratio over 96 innings. Left-handed batters ravaged him in the past, but the introduction of a splitter last year proved to be an equalizer, as he saw his strikeout rate climb from 15.2 percent in 2018 to 26.1 percent. He got more hitters to chase and also increased his ground ball rate. Sure, maybe the PED situation is in the back of your mind, but he could be value if he picks up from where he left off.
8th round: Tommy Edman 2B/3B, Cardinals
I pivoted to Edman after Amed Rosario fell off the board two picks earlier. The added versatility was nice, but grabbing Edman was my first real attempt to secure some speed. And Edman surely has plenty of that. He went 15-for-16 in stolen base attempts through 92 games as a rookie last season while ranking in the 97th percentile in sprint speed, per Baseball Savant. He was tied with Ronald Acuna, Jr. and Mallex Smith, who led their respective leagues in steals last season. Just something to think about. The only question is how much Edman is going to play.
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9th round: Brad Hand RP, Indians
With a closer run well underway — Taylor Rogers and Kenley Jansen were taken just before me — it was time to settle on someone. I ultimately opted for Hand over the likes of Edwin Diaz and Ken Giles. I’ll concede that Diaz has more upside, but I’m a bit spooked after last year. Maybe I should be spooked with Hand as well after his arm issues late last year, but I’m more willing to give him the benefit of the doubt at this time. Regrettably, I was unable to secure James Karinchak as a fallback later in the draft.
10th round: Elvis Andrus SS, Rangers
I waited and waited and waited on a shortstop before finally grabbing Andrus here. It’s funny, as Andrus checked in at No. 19 on my recent shortstop ranking list, but he became one of my primary targets as my roster needs came into focus. Like Edman, Andrus provides additional speed, having swiped 31 bases last year. That was his highest such total since his age-24 season in 2013. I’d be surprised if he runs at a similar level this year, but he’s at least bankable in that category.
11th round: David Price SP, Dodgers
It came down to Price or Matthew Boyd here and I settled on the former. The two big keys in his favor are the switch to the National League and the benefit of one of the best lineups in the sport. Boyd, meanwhile, isn’t likely to get much in the way of run support in Detroit. Maybe that changes if he gets traded, but combine that with his issues with the home run ball last year and I was content to go with Price.
12th round: Carson Kelly C, Diamondbacks
It would have been nice to get one of the elite catchers, but Kelly was quietly very good last year. In addition to amassing 18 homers with an .826 OPS in 111 games, his .348 on-base percentage ranked sixth among all catchers with at least 250 plate appearances. Only Yasmani Grandal had a higher walk rate. I considered myself fortunate that he fell to me.
13th round: Sean Doolittle RP, Nationals
Amid the second wave of closers, with Alex Colome, Ian Kennedy, and Keone Kela all being selected, I was a bit surprised to see Doolittle still available. The health concerns are understandable, but Colome’s peripherals were shaky last year and Kennedy and Kela could eventually be trade chips for their respective teams. The Nationals’ bullpen looks to be in better shape this year than it was last year, so perhaps they won’t lean as heavily on Doolittle. In turn, we could see better numbers.
14th round: Marcus Stroman SP, Mets
I’m looking at Stroman as my fourth starter here, which sounds about right in terms of where he should fit on a mixed league roster. By switching up his pitch mix a bit last year, Stroman actually induced fewer grounders last year while picking up more strikeouts. The Mets’ defense remains questionable, so trying to miss more bats sounds like a solid plan moving forward.
15th round: Kevin Newman SS/2B, Pirates
I’ve said this in a couple of places this spring, but I don’t view Newman and Elvis Andrus as all that different. ZIPS projections would seem to agree with me on that one. That being said, I was happy to land Newman five rounds later than Andrus. Newman gets all the volume of hitting leadoff for the Pirates and boasts excellent speed and multi-positional eligibility. Adding Newman also gives me the option of using Jeff McNeil in my outfield.
16th round: Yandy Diaz 1B/3B, Rays
Diaz returns to my Tout Wars squad after an abbreviated 2019. What we did see was encouraging, as he began to see some of that raw strength translate to power production. He increased his fly ball rate from 23.3 to 32 percent compared to 2018 while continuing to rank among the game’s elite in terms of average exit velocity. The Rays’ roster is as frustrating as a 500-piece puzzle, but I’m hoping we see continued progress over the course of a full (and hopefully healthy) season.
17th round: Anthony DeSclafani SP, Reds
It’s easy to go overlooked on a staff which features Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray, and Trevor Bauer, but DeSclafani was pretty good last year. After a rough first two months, he compiled a 3.36 ERA over his final 20 starts. Should we expect that over a full season? No. The home run ball hurts him and pitching in Great American Ball Park doesn’t help his chances. But rounding out a mixed league staff should work just fine.
Nimmo owns a .387 on-base percentage through 310 games in the majors, so not much more needs to be said here. He just needs to stay healthy. That also applies to Richards, who made his return from Tommy John surgery late last year. Alfaro is a drag on a team’s OBP, but at least I balanced things out with Carson Kelly as my No. catcher.
Happ became a forgotten man with the Cubs for a while, but he put up 11 homers with an .898 OPS over 156 plate appearances last season while making progress with his contact rate. He could take off with semi-regular at-bats in center field. Tauchman surprised everyone with the Yankees last season and should see more chances with Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton both sidelined. Montgomery should be back on the map in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery.
Reserve round picks:
Coming off a disappointing year which saw him non-tendered by the A’s, Treinen is a bit of a dice roll in case Kenley Jansen falters. Howard is one of the better pitching prospects in the game and should be major-league ready at some point soon. Lopez put up a 5.09 ERA last season, but he showed flashes prior to going down with a shoulder injury and his changeup is a legitimate weapon.
I’m not convinced Inciarte will have a job all year, so he’s mostly a late-round speed gamble. Turnbull went 3-17 last year (really!), but he’s obviously a better pitcher than that. Like Tauchman, Frazier is a worthy flier given the Yankees’ injury situation.
My quick lineup takeaways:
Picking fourth, I figured none of the big three (Trout, Acuna, Yelich) would be there. So my plan was to take Juan Soto and hammer OBP early. I managed to do that with the likes of Yordan Alvarez (please be healthy) and Max Muncy. I was also thrilled to get Brandon Nimmo very late. OBP is going to be my lineup’s biggest strength. The other strength of my roster is the versatility, as Muncy, McNeil, Edman, Newman, and Diaz are all eligible at multiple positions. I’ll be prepared if/when injuries inevitably strike. I was also able to address speed despite largely ignoring it early on. Zooming out, my biggest concern with my lineup is power, especially if Alvarez needs to miss some time. I might have gotten *too* carried away with OBP. I’ve fallen into that trap before, but obviously I can deal from my strength to address other areas of need during the season.
My quick pitching staff takeaways:
With Kershaw and Price, I’m not concerned about the win potential on my squad. If healthy, they should be in great shape with that deep Dodgers’ lineup. There’s some risk with ratios, as DeSclafani and Montgomery both pitch in hitter-friendly home stadiums. Marcus Stroman isn’t really a strikeout guy, even though he missed a few more bats after joining the Mets. My squad could really hinge on whether Montas’ 16-start sample from last season is the real deal. Richards staying healthy and dominating would make me feel a lot better about my chances. Hand and Doolittle come with health concerns, but they are closers on good teams and that’s all you can really ask for coming out of a draft. Who the heck knows with closers anyway?
My quick league takeaways:
There were definitely some interesting strategies here, as Scott White and Dan Strafford both attacked the pitching side. White used his first two picks (Gerrit Cole and Shane Bieber) and three out of his first six on pitchers. He selected five starting pitchers before securing a closer. This approach was even more stark with Strafford, who used five out of his first eight picks on pitchers, including two closers. Strafford still set himself up pretty nicely from a speed perspective (with Jose Ramirez and Jonathan Villar), but both teams lineups’ appear to be lacking on the whole. Michael Beller was on the other extreme, loading up on bats while going a little light on pitching. I’m fascinated to see how it all plays out, but my approach is usually to have a well-balanced roster.
After a third-place finish last year, my sense is that Seth Trachtman will be right in the thick of things again this year. There’s a nice advantage to drafting third overall in a snake draft this year and he certainly took advantage of that. I do have some concerns about his rotation depth beyond Patrick Corbin and Zack Greinke. Anthony Perri’s team also looks very strong, even if Aaron Judge has to miss some time. The delayed start of the season could work to his advantage.
Good value: There's something to be said for taking veteran players when exciting, young players come off the board early and I think Scott White did a great job with his back-to-back picks of Jose Altuve and Charlie Blackmon. I found the Blackmon pick to be especially strong given his proven on-base ability with the backdrop of Coors Field. Who cares if he doesn't run anymore? He does literally everything else exceptionally well. Let's just hope he stays in Coors Field.
Reach: Eddie Rosario is a fine fantasy option, but he's a flawed hitter, especially in this format. He was more aggressive than ever before last year while walking in just 3.7 percent of his plate appearances. He holds a .309 career on-base percentage, which has the potential to really drag down his value. He's a good power bat, but not a great one, which is why waiting on names like Franmil Reyes and Max Kepler could have made more sense.
Seth Trachtman’s quick takeaways:
Your first-round pick can set the tone for the rest of the draft, and the advantage of getting a five-category player like Ronald Acuna Jr. helped form the remainder of my draft. I feel very comfortable with my offense in all categories with Acuna as the foundation, and for the most part, very few of my hitters are one-dimensional. My pitching, on the other hand, could cause some anxiety as I rely on bounce back seasons from German Marquez and Chris Archer, as well as comebacks from Miles Mikolas and Michael Pineda later in the year. I was comfortable with that strategy because pitching is usually easier to find in free agency than hitting in mixed leagues if something goes terribly wrong.
Good Value: James Paxton- Adam Ronis took Paxton one pick before I could get my hands on him in Round 15. Paxton could miss at least the first month of the season after back surgery, but the price is right at that point for a pitcher who can produce an elite strikeout rate and add easy wins on a great team. The discount was more than adequate.
Reach: Chris Sale- The draft took place on Tuesday, March 3, the day in which Sale was getting a third opinion on his elbow injury. Prior to Sale's injury, his ADP was in the 25-30 range, and given the likely downside I didn't see pick 53 as enough of a discount for the risk. At this point, I would be very surprised if Sale pitched half the season given the diagnosis of a flexor strain and Boston's status as a team that probably won't compete in the AL East.
Tim McCullough’s quick takeaways:
Since the first 10 picks of the draft form the foundation of your team, I always try to anticipate the way those first 10 rounds will play out and set a few goals for myself. I wanted to come away with at least one high-inning starting pitcher, two if I could make it happen, with Zack Greinke circled as a favorite target. Unfortunately, I chose Justin Verlander with my first pick (14th overall) and Greinke was sniped by Seth Trachtman early in the fifth round. So, my starting pitcher goals went unmet, an issue that may haunt me unless Verlander miraculously heals faster than anticipated.
The other goals I had for the early rounds worked out a bit better. My stolen base category target was met with draft picks Victor Robles, Whit Merrifield, and Tim Anderson. Plus, Alex Bregman should provide power and some speed with a .280-.290 batting average. Nick Castellanos, Jorge Soler, and Eugenio Suarez rounded out the hitters I drafted among the first 10 picks. If all these guys can stay healthy, I should have a solid power base to work from.
The ninth round began with a run on closers that ended up exhausting my short list of favored targets. Instead, I rolled the dice with two guys I’m expecting to beat rather long odds to surprise everyone. Craig Kimbrel just can’t be as bad as he was last season, so I’m anticipating a bounce back effort from him this season. Red Sox closer Brandon Workman was very effective against both right-handed and left-handed hitters, and I believe he could save a bunch more games this season.
Good Value: Ian Happ has put together an incredibly good spring training stat line so far, batting .481/.500/.815 over 30 plate appearances. He’s a virtual lock to be the Cubs’ starting center fielder whenever the season begins, and D.J. Short drafted him in the 21st round. If Happ has truly returned to the aggressive approach he flashed in 2017, his combination of speed and power could end up being one of the draft’s best bargains.
Reach: Cavan Biggio was drafted in the fourth round (52nd overall), which is around 80 picks earlier than his ADP of 132 in NFBC drafts. While Biggio flashed a nice speed and power combination with 16 home runs and 14 stolen bases over 430 PA, he did so with a .234 batting average. Biggio struck out over 28 percent of the time last season, which lowers the floor on his batting average and could cap his OBP upside. I like Biggio to eventually be a big star but not this season.