Fantasy baseball roundtable: Tout Wars takeaways

Kansas City's Bobby Witt Jr. is a name that keeps coming up as fantasy managers look for the next young star. Ralph Freso/Getty Images

Here are Eric Karabell, Tristan H. Cockcroft, Todd Zola and Mike Sheets to discuss their top takeaways from the Tout Wars drafts they were a part of this season.

Tristan: This year's Tout Wars drafts, just as in 2020, were conducted entirely online due to the pandemic. There's a definitive difference, and it's something fantasy managers need plan for in their own leagues, especially salary-cap formats. The NL-only league zipped through the draft -- we concluded the action portion of it in under four hours (that's right, 324 picks, 276 of which were selected via salary-cap method, in under four) -- which isn't unexpected considering the experienced, longstanding group we have, but that puts a small, additional strain on each during the process. For one, clicks take more time than vocal commands, searching online player lists longer than physical draft sheets, and bidding cadence is simply different. It worked for us, but I would term this year's draft one of the toughest in which I've ever played, and in turn I'd suggest league members engaging in their own salary-cap drafts have a group discussion in advance to discuss their own best plans. Consider: How long to allow for nominations, for initial bids, for subsequent bids? Will you allow pauses for breaks or computer errors? What about internet lag or disconnects? The more you prepare for the inevitable hurdles, the closer to our enjoyable experience you'll have.

From a Tout Wars NL-only standpoint, I was surprised to see closers go for so little this year, even with this group which is notorious for fading the position. Six closers went for as much as $9, and only Josh Hader ($22) and Edwin Diaz ($18) cost more than $13. That probably contributed to what I perceived as massive price tags for prominent hitters, which is why I went the cheaper, mid-range-value route on that side of the ball. This was very much a guess-the-room scenario, requiring one to rapidly adjust to pricing trends midstream -- I entirely reversed my strategy going in -- and it served a reminder that fantasy managers utilizing this format should prepare for (or at least consider) what he/she might do if pressed into a certain scenario midstream. In what's sure to be a weird year, weird happenings in a salary-cap format should be expected, and it's best to brace for multiple routes.

Just as an aside, Tout Wars NL-only was a toughie with both Todd Zola and Derek Carty in the room, considering they both also embraced a wait-on-hitter-bargains strategy. Duplicating another's strategy dilutes your own (plus theirs), and it makes it difficult to steer it to success. It's another of those "had I known in advance" things, I probably would've been a bit more aggressive with the higher-tier hitters in the earlier rounds, so I could've avoided going head-to-head with them constantly when filling out my roster.

Eric: The Mixed Salary Cap version seemed relatively normal to me, with several teams going for balance, several spending big on stars and dollar options and then there are always others with no discernible plan. Managers were willing to spend big on closers so I just sat those bidding fights out and sought more rotation depth. Since this is an OBP format instead of batting average, I thought the prices for potential OBP drains such as Adalberto Mondesi and Luis Robert were fair, so I surely sat those out, but then I got outbid on Carlos Santana and Joey Votto. I got my stolen bases early -- hopefully -- and was pleased when a few late bats stalled at prices I liked, such as Dominic Smith and Ty France. Is this a winning team? Ask again in August!

Mike: The Tout Wars 50-round Draft-and-Hold format, which uses OBP instead of batting average, is a unique animal. The general premise is that there are zero trades and zero pickups throughout the entire six-month campaign, so what you leave with on draft day is what you're stuck with all season. Don't have enough saves? Tough. Running short on speed? Better luck next year. Of course, the fact that you get 50 roster spots means you have plenty of opportunities to build depth and ensure all of your bases are covered. The key for me is finding the right balance between taking shots on pure upside plays in the late rounds, while also grabbing enough known quantities, even if they're somewhat boring, to ensure I have backups who will get at least some playing time if my starters get injured. Practically speaking, this means I threw darts on youngsters like Bobby Witt Jr., Matt Manning, and Jarren Duran, but I also rostered names like Travis Shaw, Mike Fiers, and Yolmer Sanchez. Another focus is building a team with enough flexibility to navigate the injuries that will inevitably strike throughout the season. Because there are no free-agent pickups, rostering players who are eligible at multiple positions is extremely valuable. I was very happy to grab Marwin Gonzalez in Round 29, as he's eligible at four different positions, providing me with plenty of flexibility to move guys around when needed. While I won this league back in 2019, I am coming off a poor 2020 performance where half of my pitching staff either got hurt or opted out of the season. So, like many players who are coming off a down 2020, I'm hoping for a rebound campaign in 2021.

Todd: As the individual primarily responsible for administering the four salary cap drafts over Tout Wars weekend, and the likelihood many salary cap drafts will need to be run remotely this season, the best advice I can give is this -- do everything you can to allow the participants to be comfortable in the remote room. Holding a practice session is recommended, allowing everyone to get used to the bidding and nomination process. Point out all the features such as setting up a queue and accessing the draft board. Having a concurrent meeting where participants can talk is not only fun, but facilitates communication. The person running the league should make sure the settings properly reflect the draft specifications as it may be tricky if not impossible to adjust once the draft commences. Finally, do all you can to make sure everyone has read the rules and is aware of any nuances related to the remote nature of the draft.

As far as the salary cap drafts themselves, I monitored the American League only, Mixed and Head to Head formats and participated in the National League event. The biggest takeaway is be careful using a "+" button, where the price is automatically increased by the set increment, usually +1. Someone else may jump the bid several units, followed by your +1. Several times, participants admitted they were attempting to up a lower bid and got caught.

Watch the early stages of your salary cap draft. While this sometimes occurs in a live setting, the initial set of nominations in a remote draft usually go in the books for reasonable prices as everyone is getting their bearings.

As usual, the 15-team Mixed League and 12-team Mixed Head to Head League were characterized via a stars and scrubs approach. Playing the middle game is possible, but it requires extreme patience, accurate bookkeeping and extra blood pressure medication. Especially in the 15-team format, even in the middle, someone still had ample budget to chase one last player.

The American League draft mirrored my impressions of American League LABR (League of Alternative Baseball Reality, the original fantasy baseball industry league, predating Tout Wars). The budget allotted to the high-end players exceeded book prices. This is a reflection of supply and demand, as there are fewer elite hitters and pitchers in the American League as compared to the Senior Circuit. In both cases, the end game players were especially poor -- and that is with allowing minor league players in the pool. If your league requires players to be on the 26-man roster to be eligible, the end game is even uglier.

The National League draft also mimicked its LABR counterpart in that the prices were chalkier, at least relative to my estimations. Here, the supply of stars is greater in the National League, resulting in lower costs. Even so, I opted to play the middle game with batters as I allocated a higher portion of my budget to pitching than most, necessitating a frugal approach with bats to avoid dealing with the lesser talent in the end game, though it wasn't quite as low as the American League.

Perhaps the biggest general takeaway is no subset of fantasy enthusiasts is immune to chasing the shiny new toy. Players such as Bobby Witt Jr. and Wander Franco were rostered for more than some established players. There are benefits and drawbacks to this approach, all of which need to be considered with league context. How easy is it to replace the player before he gets called up? Can you reserve him if he's struggling? As an example, players acquired in the salary cap portion of the draft must be active in AL and NL LABR, while Tout Wars permits free movement between active and a limited (four-spot) reserve.