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It's often been said that the very best time to debut a new fantasy strategy is during your most challenging and high-profile league, in a room full of sharp players, having never mock-drafted using said strategy. Everyone recommends this. It's widely accepted as fantasy law.
The only way to truly surprise the draft room is to also surprise oneself.
No, obviously no one has ever suggested any such thing — nor will they, ever. Because that would be shockingly bad advice. Galactically dumb. Horrendous. Do not do it.
If you're toying with perhaps using some new and different approach in an already-quite-difficult league, you should definitely game it out. Try it in a mock; try it in best-ball. Experiment a bit. You might like a plan in theory, yet hate its actual execution. If so, then ditch it. You'll have learned something valuable without undermining a massively important league.
And this brings me to my Tout Wars mixed league draft, which took place on Tuesday, March 2 — broadcast live on SiriusXM, so as to bring maximum exposure to any odd or questionable choices.
As it happens, I made a questionable choice almost immediately. In 20-something years of playing fantasy baseball, I can't recall the last time I opened a draft with a pair of pitchers. It's possible I've never done it. Maybe back in the day I opened with, say, Pedro-Maddux or Prior-Wood, but I honestly can't remember doing so. It certainly seems unlikely, because I've never advocated that sort of thing.
But that's just what I did from the ninth spot on Tuesday, taking Gerrit Cole with my first pick — the top pitcher on my board — and Trevor Bauer with my second. It wasn't supposed to go down that way, but I talked myself into it as the draft timer ticked down.
Again, to be clear: The ideal time to talk yourself into a new draft approach is not while the clock is ticking on your choice in the second round. But hey, it happens.
What can happen when you draft two pitchers with your first two picks
I'm not trying to suggest that a pitcher-pitcher open is some sort of radical or heretical draft move, by the way. People do it all the time. Pocket aces is a classic Dalton Del Don play. I'm merely suggesting that if you're gonna do it, you should map it out in advance — get comfortable with the implications of passing on the foundational five-category hitters who can be found in Rounds 1 and 2 (and possibly nowhere else).
Prepare yourself pre-draft, so as not to panic mid-draft.
I certainly wasn't panicking in the early minutes of Tout, because Cole was a best-case scenario choice for me at the top, considering the unfavorable slot. I'd expected to land either Christian Yelich or Trea Turner at nine, but they were taken with the two preceding picks. So Cole was an easy call. Had I landed the hitter I'd expected, my plan was to follow with a pitcher from the Bauer-Darvish-Giolito tier in the second round with the No. 16 overall pick. Generally speaking, I like to get an ace somewhere in the first three rounds, then skip the next three or four tiers of pitchers, as that group is usually a minefield. When things unfold according to script, I'll have one pitcher after eight rounds. Pretty sure I've never had two after two rounds.
So, what led to Bauer?
Well, first of all, he's not too shabby...
Trevor Bauer, Beautiful Knuckle Curve...and insta-K Strut is in mid-season form. 🌈 pic.twitter.com/G481hkoThn
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) March 1, 2021
Let's start right there. Whatever else you think of Bauer, the stuff is evil and the numbers are impressive. Over the past three seasons, he's struck out 11.2 batters per nine innings with exceptional ratios. It's hardly a stretch to expect Bauer and Cole to combine for 400-plus innings with 500-ish Ks and a sub-3.00 ERA. It's a respectable pairing.
However, after landing Cole, I was dead-on certain that I was gonna follow with one of the following hitters, in order of preference: Freddie Freeman, Jose Ramirez, Bryce Harper, Trevor Story, or Cody Bellinger. (Tout uses on-base percentage in place of batting average, as all responsible leagues should. It boosts Harper in a significant way.) All five bats remained available, and I just needed one to slip beyond the next six picks. I was plenty confident.
Naturally, all five of my guys were gone in a matter of seconds, along with Shane Bieber. I would have been happy to land Francisco Lindor in a league with standard settings, but OBP isn't necessarily his best format (.335 last two seasons). So, yeah: Bauer. It was an unplanned pivot to an untested strategy in an unforgiving league. It could have gone horribly wrong for my team. In fact, you might argue that it did go horribly wrong for my team.
Despite the wholly out-of-character beginning to my draft, I can report that I am actually overjoyed at the results. Weirdly happy about the roster — like, happy enough to buy Behrens Tout 2021 merch if/when it becomes available.
But I'll also concede that it's possible (even likely) that the only reason I'm so delighted with the roster is because I'm hilariously out of sync with everyone else in terms of player values, which could indicate a problem with my ranking methods. *shrug* So we'll see.
Andy Behrens' Tout Wars Draft Results
Things could have gone entirely off the rails for me following the double-ace maneuver if I hadn't managed to score three preferred power/speed/OBP targets in Rounds 4-6: Cavan Biggio, Randy Arozarena, and Trent Grisham. That group basically saved the draft for me. Or at least, it saved my perception of my draft, to such an extent that I'm willing to discuss it publicly. I'd considered all three of those players in the fourth round, so it felt like a significant win to eventually land 'em all.
Biggio, Arozarena and Grisham are prime examples of players who might be liabilities in batting average, but huge assets in OBP. That single scoring tweak makes a massive difference, and it obviously recognizes a skill with substantially more real-life value than AVG. Biggio already has the Pianowski stamp of approval — and in standard settings, no less — so you shouldn't need a hard sell from me. Arozarena's outrageous postseason binge may not be perfectly reflective of his (or anyone's) future production, but every other thing he's done at the big-league level and in the high minors suggests 20/20 ability, with on-base skills. Grisham just gave us a 10/10 season in only 59 games with Gold Glove defense, and his minor league OBP was .376.
So, I'm collecting those three pretty much everywhere I can get 'em. If you let me draft the full trio in a league that ditches AVG, I'm gonna be irrationally pleased.
Here's my full triumph of a roster, beginning with the starters:
C - Wilson Ramos, Jorge Alfaro (nope, I don't like to chase the luxury catchers)
1B - Carlos Santana (arguably the player who deserves the greatest bump in OBP formats)
2B - Cavan Biggio
3B - Matt Chapman
SS - Dansby Swanson
CI - Jared Walsh
MI - Brandon Lowe (master barreler of baseballs)
OF - Marcell Ozuna, Randy Arozarena, Trent Grisham, Dylan Carlson, Joc Pederson
UT - Nelson Cruz (40-homer power and his OBP over the past two years is .394)
P - Gerrit Cole, Trevor Bauer, Devin Williams, Dylan Bundy, Brad Hand, Marco Gonzales, Giovanny Gallegos, Andrew Heaney, Alex Colome
Consider Saves-Plus-Holds (and Yasiel Puig)
You may have noticed that three of my team's four relievers — Williams, Gallegos, and Colome — aren't actually locked into full-time closing roles. In this particular Tout league, we don't care about closing-vs.-setup status because we've dumped saves as a category in favor of saves-plus-holds. Which I love, fully. If you're a commissioner considering a settings change, I can't recommend this enough.
For one thing, it distances the entire league from the tyranny of saves. We don't have to spend our entire season chasing a monstrously overrated stat and burning all of our free-agent acquisition resources on sketchy closing candidates. It also better reflects the manner in which real baseball is now managed. Increasingly, the smartest teams are deploying their best relief arms in the most critical, no-margin-for-error situations, which may or may not occur in the ninth. Holds can definitely be sourced in-season via the free agent pool, but Williams-quality innings aren't easy to find. A case can be made for Williams as the top relief pitcher in a saves-plus-holds format, yet he was the seventh off the board in my Tout league.
Needing an additional starter or two, I found 'em in the reserve rounds:
BN - Corey Dickerson, Drew Smyly, Kwang Hyun Kim, Jesus Aguilar, Yasiel Puig, Nick Ahmed
One of the great mysteries of this offseason is the apparent lack of interest in Puig, who was stellar when last we saw him in 2019. He's only 30 years old and just one season removed from hitting 24 homers and swiping 19 bags. Someone has to eventually sign him, right? Texas? Cleveland? Baltimore? Colorado?
If Puig should somehow land with the Rockies, I would expect all other Tout managers to concede immediately so as to preserve their honor. We'd still have time to re-draft a more competitive league.
And I'd be willing to attempt the double-pitcher opening yet again.