Tout Table: Factors Influencing Draft Plans

Welcome to this week’s Tout Table. With Tout Wars weekend in the books, but several leagues left undrafted, we asked the Touts:

Which of the following affected your draft preparation the most and which influenced it the least?

  1. Reports of MLB using a deadened baseball
  2. Concerns about starting pitcher usage
  3. Saves distributed among more relievers than previously
  4. Stolen bases continuing to wane

Mike Podhorzer (Fangraphs, @MikePodhorzer): In order of most to least influential: 2, 3, 4 all tied, followed by 1. Starting pitcher usage, saves, and stolen bases are all accounted for in my projections and the dollar values I calculate will reflect whatever craziness might be expected this season. In terms of the baseball, it’s all speculation on how it will affect hitters and pitchers, so I didn’t bother to modify any of my projections. Obviously, a deadened baseball will reduce home runs, but it’s going to also have other side effects (more doubles?) and affect each hitter and pitcher differently. Then mix in all the noise and randomness during the season that occurs anyway and it just doesn’t make sense to try guessing who the biggest beneficiaries and losers will be.

Matt Williams (NBC Sports Edge, @MattWi77iams): My prep has been influenced the most by how starting pitchers may be used this season. In 2019, 37 pitchers exceeded 180 innings whereas only 17 were able to eclipse 70 innings in 2020. It is not only a matter of a lower innings ceiling, but about the gap between each pitcher’s workload. If the overall ceiling is lower it stands to reason that players with a perceived ceiling sich as Jesus Luzardo, Corbin Burnes, or Pablo Lopez may be closer to the pack, thus increasing their overall value. Drafting a workhorse will still be valuable, but possible innings limits will definitely impact the game whether its overall innings over the full season or total pitches per game. 6-man rotations, openers, and extensive bullpen use will he something to adapt to all season.

Ryan Hallam (Fighting Chance Fantasy, @FightingChance): Definitely saves being distributed among more relievers impacted my drafting the most. Of my $260 I used exactly $7 on closers. I bid on a few others, but I got Karinchak at $6 and Jordan Hicks for $1. The closer carousel just seems to spin more and more by the year and I couldn’t justify spending $12-$14 on a closer in a points system. I used the reserve round to pick up three guys I thought could get saves (Soria, Bard, Holland) rather than using my auction budget. I can also play the waiver wire for saves during the season.

Brian Walton (CreativeSports2, @B_Walton): 2. On top of the analytics that show lower starter effectiveness the third time through the lineup came the shortened 2020 season. In 2021, some teams will look to limit innings for their starters (see Verducci Effect), having negative fantasy impact on wins and strikeouts.

Fred Zinkie (Yahoo! Fantasy Sports, @FredZinkieMLB): I was most influenced by concerns over SP usage. I still haven’t totally figured it out, so now that we’ve drafted, feel free to give me the inside scoop! I’ve heard all angles on it. Go get workhorses. Don’t be as afraid to draft the 150 IP guys. But I don’t know which approach is the best one. The area that impacted me the least is the baseball. Just so many unknowns there. I tried to draft good players and hope they can hit/pitch whatever ball MLB rolls out this year.

Patrick Davitt (BaseballHQ, @patrickdavitt): All except the baseball one. I’ll believe it when I see it. The pitching—starting and relief usage—are the 1-2 whammy for fantasy managers, and will put a bigger premium on “established closers” and on fantasists’ willingness to stay on top of changes and thereby staying ready to pounce.

Ray Flowers (Fantasy Guru, @BaseballGuys): All four of these categories have been heavily discussed and considered this offseason. For me, I would say that starting pitcher usage has been the biggest mountain to scale. All the uncertainty with workloads, I believe, has caused the middle of the pack to swell. If those 180 IP guys are at 160, then the types we normally peg for 1301-40 innings aren’t falling behind as much as in the past. Even the elite arms might see some usage reduction, be it from a move to a 6-man rotation an early shutdown if a team falls out of contention or if there are a couple of spotty outings in a row. Perhaps even those top end arms will have an outing limited or skipped if one of those situations plays itself out. No one knows how each individual pitcher will perform, so all the plans in March might be chucked out the window come July.

Michael Beller (The Athletic, @MBeller): The flatter distribution of saves affected my draft prep most significantly. I remained loath to spend up for a premium closer, but I put a greater emphasis on getting non-premium guys with a solid track record and/or stable job security. I was much less comfortable taking shots on the bottom tier of closers this season. The change in the ball had no impact on my draft prep. As others have already said, there’s no way for us to know how a supposedly deadened ball will manifest on the field. There are already enough unknowns in the fantasy game. No need to unnecessarily introduce one into the pre-draft process.

Steve Gardner (USAToday Fantasy Sports, @SteveAGardner): It’s a tie for me between starting pitcher usage and a lack of steals. You need to have at least some kind of plan to deal with both going into a draft. I took a variety of approaches with my pitching based on draft dynamics, which is where preparation comes in handy. I had plans for steals as well, but those were much more easily upended, similar to the situation with saves. The deadened baseball may only affect certain hitters/pitchers on the margins — and even then we only know what MLB has said about the ball, so consider the track record there.

Michael Florio (NFL Network, @MichaelFFlorio): I tried to factor in all, but to different degrees. The one I emphasized the most this year was knowing saves would be more spread out (3). In years past I would take one of my Top-12 RPs and then multiple in my second tier. I often would take one of the “elite, safe” closers. What I’ve learned is while some can be elite, none are safe. This year I’ve started loading up on more relievers in the late rounds than ever before. Stolen base scarcity always needs to be taken seriously, but that is not new to 2020. As for starting pitching, I’ve always tended to value it on a per inning basis, so the less IP actually plays into that a bit more now. I considered the ball the least, as we just do not know for sure.

Scott Swanay (FantasyBaseballSherpa, @fantasy_sherpa): I considered all of these items to be noise and spent next to no time adjusting for any of them. Instead, I spent most of my prep time analyzing Mixed Draft Auction results from previous years, trying to find any inefficiencies that I thought could be exploited. Only time will tell whether that was a wise decision or not.

Alex Fast (Pitcher List, @AlexFast8): In terms of what influenced me most: 2. Concerns about starting pitcher usage. It made me move higher floor guys -Kyle Hendricks, Chris Bassitt, Marco Gonzales, etc- up a bit in my rankings. I figured they would help provide me with a stable floor to help me take risks with other pitchers later in the draft/while streaming. I also gave a small boost to guys who typically had injury concerns: if few people will hit 180 because they’ll get more rest, perhaps guys who often miss time due to injury may lessen that IP gap. The item that impacted me the least: saves distribution. Every year I write a piece called “We’re Drafting Saves Wrong” that lets people know they can wait on saves. This year that’s truer than ever. So many RP situations are in flux. Wait until your final rounds and take fliers or just find them on the wire.

Glenn Colton (Fantasy Alarm, @GlennColton1): What influence Rick and me the most in the Tout AL was the distribution of saves and lack of lock down closers. While the R in SMART says get a top reliever, there were so few and they were likely so expensive that we zagged, grabbed Bieber for 35 and went about grabbing #2 guys (Romano, Diekman, Clase) and an injured potential closer in Harvey all for very cheap figuring each would find their way to some saves. While I hate to see anyone get hurt, is anyone surprised that the AL closer pool is in turmoil already? As to what influenced us the least — the allegedly deadened ball. One, we are not sure it will really be deadend and two, there really is not reliable data on who will be affected. So, we basically ignored it.

Todd Zola (Mastersball, @toddzola): The starting pitching landscape is the factor with the most influence for me. As has been suggested, there are multiple means to approach the innings conundrum. my preference in mixed leagues is hitting the tier below the elite pretty hard then avoiding the middle but loading up on streamable arms mid to late. I did the same in NL Tout, but it wasn’t by design, it was more taking what the room was giving me. I’m intrigued by most everyone ignoring the liklihood of a spongier ball. True, we don’t *know* what will happen, but there is a subset of batters more likely to lose a disproportionate number of homers. This is an extension of some research first presented by AL Tout Mike Podhorzer showing HR/FB correlates well to average fly ball distance. I identified 20-30 bats most likely to lose homers and while I’m not avoiding them, I’m trying not to overload in this group. As for pitching, I’m definitely prioritizing guys with solid skills but are more homer prone, assuming if the ball suppresses homers even a little, they’ll benefit the most. As for the least, my approach for saves hasn’t changed – wait in mixed, attack in single league formats. The landscape just leaves even less margin for error.

Toby Guevin (BatFlipCrazy Podcast, @batflipcrazy): Since I generally spend a lot of early draft capital on starting pitching, stolen bases continuing to wane has had the biggest influence on my recent draft preparation. Every year stolen bases get not only scarcer as a whole, but also consolidated in fewer and fewer players. As a result, players who provide any value outside of just their stolen bases find their way at the top of draft boards. This year, it seems like good stolen bases (i.e. in a good hitter profiled, especially coupled with batting average) dry up after the third round, so if you don’t address stolen bases in a big way with your first or second hitter it becomes challenging to make up ground without finding your team deficient in other categories. Whereas in past seasons I felt great about drafting pocket aces and catching up on speed, this year I’m finding it difficult to build a balanced team using the strategy. So it may be a little unique to my own personal draft preparations, but the lack of stolen bases has impacted my draft prep in a very real way. The issue that has had the least influence is the deadened MLB ball. It’s so hard to know what will happen with the ball and to trust MLB to provide accurate information that I’m basically ignoring it, since giving it too much weight and increasing the value of fly ball pitchers, for instance, could really haunt you if the changes don’t have their intended impact. Accordingly, I’m just treating it neutrally, trying to grab pitchers who should be good regardless of the ball and I’ll have to make adjustments in season after reading Rob Arthur’s annual early-season article on how this year’s ball compares to previous seasons.

Chris Liss (Rotowire, @Chris_Liss): Re: 1 and 2. I drafted one team where my first eight picks were hitters, just in case the ball is more deadened than they intended. Tweaking x a little bit sometimes leads to large changes in f(x). Also if IP are lower (and I’m not convinced they will be to a huge extent), you’ll need fewer of them, making SPs a less important commodity. As for three and four, same thing, fewer steals means fewer steals needed to finished with 8-10 points in the category. De-emphasize as a result, go after the stats you need in droves.

Ariel Cohen (CBS Sports, @ATCNY): The deadened ball influenced me the least. I only accounted for it to the extent that it was included inside projections. I made no additional adjustment on top of projections. As for what influenced me the most, it was starting pitcher innings. This year, I paid more attention to pitchers who throw a high number of innings per start. Veteran pitchers who might pitch a larger number of innings relative to younger players moved up slightly in ranking, etc. The other two factors – saves and stolen bases – were a concern, but accounted for as part of the initial draft plan.

Jason Collette (Rotowire, @jasoncollette): Starting pitcher workload more than usage. I maintain at season’s end, Mordecai Brown will be able to accurately count the number of starters with 180 IP with his infamous pitching hand. We don’t have an existing baseline from which to work, but asking creatures of habit like pitchers to take up their workload 100-150% year over year is unchartered waters. Sure, they all may look good and fresh now, but what happens at the 100 IP mark…the 120 IP mark? Just this week, we’ve seen many notable names come up lame and the season has not even begun. I am afraid it will be a war of attrition again this year.

Michael A. Stein (Fantasy Judgment, @FantasyJudgment): I was most influenced by starting pitcher usage by far compared to a deadened ball, save distribution and stolen base scarcity. There is a already a premium on starting pitching with ony a handful of bonafide elite starters. Now with teams using 6-man rotations, openers, and a heavy reliance on multiple bullpen arms, it seems as though the days of pitchers reaching 200 innings are coming to an end. MLB teams want to do whatever they can to give their starters sufficient rest and avoid injuries, so even getting 30 starts in a season is no sure thing anymore. The deadened ball may reduce home run totals, but it will more affect the marginal players who had no business reaching 20-30 longballs. It could also create opportunities for more extra base hits which is still good for batting average and OBP. Closers are always volatile and MLB teams are now constructing their bullpens to have multiple options in the 9th inning. I typucally do not overreach for closers anyway, so this did not affect my strategy except for getting late round steals of set-up guys who may grab a few saves here and there. Finally, stolen bases have been a dying statistic for many years. Even the elite base stealers only put up those numbers for a finite period of time. I did not alter my strategy at all this year for stolen bases as I won’t overpay for them.

Mike Gianella (Baseball Prospectus, @MikeGianella): 2 followed closely by 3 influenced me most. There was a wide range of starting pitchers I avoided in Tout and my other leagues because I see their innings being limited and much of their value comes due to the volume they produce. I also avoided spending a premium on closers and was more comfortable making low-end spec plays as a result. 1. affected me the least. I’m sure the deadened ball will matter, but I feel like this is something that will generally impact hitters across the board as opposed to impacting some hitters more than others.

Ryan Bloomfield (BaseballHQ, @RyanBHQ): 1 and 2, for me. Similar to what MattW said, the concerns about pitcher workload bumps up the “per-inning” starters who might be limited to 150-160 innings this year (i.e. Corbin Burnes, LA rotation, Jesus Luzardo, etc.). The delta between their volume and a 170-180 inning is mostly negligible from a projection standpoint, so the value gap is pretty small. As for #1, I’m a little more willing to roster heavier flyball/lower strikeout pitchers (i.e. Kyle Hendricks, Marco Gonzales, Matt Boyd, Michael Pineda) that have been burned by some gopheritis in the past.

Grey Albright (RazzBall, @razzball): Feel like a Smurf, because I’m going blue in the face saying the same thing, but here goes: Nearly everyone thinks starting pitcher usage is going to be an issue this year, but also this year people are drafting starters higher than any year in recent memory. Less innings from around the league is going to mean starters are less valuable, not more. If you look at the Razzball Player Rater from last year you see how fickle starters were last year. Dinelson Lamet was as valuable as deGrom because they pitched the same-ish number of innings. In a normal year, if a starter like deGrom has 220 IP and someone else has 160 IP, then the spread is so wide it gives a top-end starter the chance to separate himself. This year, if a top-end starter throws 180 IP and someone else throws 160 IP, there’s just not going to be as much an opportunity for the top-end starter to pull away from the pack.

Doug Dennis (BaseballHQ, @dougdennis41): I am concerned about all of these things. I find my response to be league-dependent. In settings like NFBC snake-drafts, I have SPs pushed up. In settings like LABR NL and Tout Wars AL, I have taken the discount on lower IP, stud skills guys, with the idea that I can trade for innings if I have to do that. I have also pushed closers up. I typically get a middling closer and then fish for one in-season. This year I have tried to get one with a reasonable amount of rope in the job and then a middling one as well, with the idea that I might *still* have to fish for one in-season. This comes at a cost to the bats. And what I am finding on my teams is that there is a premium paid for steals, so there is a tough choice, go for cheaper power later and take a corresponding hit in BA, or end up with fewer steals than needed (in NFBC), and in LABR NL/Tout Wars AL, finding that balance was even more difficult. One injury in LABR NL among key bats where steals are concerned can wreck a season. So yes, these things all matter. Deadened ball is the least of these concerns for me; I find it hard to quantify differences and anticipate that while it may not distribute uniformly, it will be more approximate to that than the other worries. Scarcity in the AL/NL auction leagues creates impossible choices, but you can trade, move things around in-season a lot more easily; requirement for balance in a snake draft (NFBC) creates a different kind of pressure because how do you acquire enough of everything and maintain that balanced roster. Different animals entirely.

Phil Hertz (BaseballHQ, @prhz50): The starting pitcher usage was the biggest for me, but even then it wasn’t critical. That factor – and the fact that there’s no minimum innings requirement any more – allowed me to pick a couple more relievers than I normally would in the draft and encouraged me to pick Noah Syndergaard. Half a season of his stats might be more valuable than usual.The saves issue was already factored into the way I draft. I’m not sure how the other two are going to play out, so they weren’t major considerations in my drafting.

Vlad Sedler (Fantasy Guru, @rotogut): Deadened baseball least affected my prep other than a slight regression on my overall home run projections, ever so slight. Closer committees is a big one but I’ve altered my approach throughout season with less reliance on top-end closers. Mostly because we are gaining a better understanding on which later-round relievers will most likely get the most save opportunities. There will be more saves out there on the waiver wire in FAAB leagues than in prior years, mostly guys part of committees. Steep decline in stolen bases is the one I’m mostly preparing for because I innately construct rosters that are light in stolen bases early. It’s a category I don’t want to chase in FAAB.

Chris Towers (CBS Fantasy Sports, @CTowersCBS): I think I’ve probably taken all four into account fairly evenly, though No. 1 is obviously the most speculative at this point. We’ve seen reports that the ball is being used in spring games, but the rate of batted balls turned into home runs is actually higher than any other spring on record so far, so either those reports are off base or they didn’t de-juice the ball much, if at all. For that reason, I’ve made fewer concrete movements in my rankings — though I am more wary of the likes of Cavan Biggio and DJ LeMahieu than I otherwise would have been. The other three have all pretty significantly impacted my holistic approach to the 2021 season, and I’ve approached them like this: I’m more willing to go with a stars-and-scrubs build for my staff, snagging four hopeful innings eaters and then loading my roster with high-risk, high-reward starters or multi-inning relievers like Tony Gonsolin or Alex Reyes; I’m perfectly happy to punt saves and play the wire in pretty much all leagues at this point; and I’m more willing to reach for a steals source than in the past if I think that player can be a true difference maker — i.e. not a 15-steal guy.

Chris Welsh (Sportsgrid, @IsItTheWelsh): The Dead Ball was like End Game to me, and the discussion was like Dr. Strange’s “14 million” scenarios. I just didn’t let it influence me too much. I think the starting pitcher usage was near the top. It’s become a true arms race to get your pitcher that can go six, but the one I don’t think I saw coming was the distributed saves. Just this week we’ve seen closers go down, jobs jump to new names and all the while, it seems like almost 50% of the league is open to a rotating cast. Saves probably affected my later planning in drafts more than anything else from an impact standpoint.

Jeff Boggis (Fantasy Football Empire, @JeffBoggis): I’m not overly concerned with reports of a deadended baseball as that would be counter productive to the game and more importantly, to their audience. Pitcher usage always concerns me, and that is why I draft based on projected strikeouts versus wins. I’m very concerned about save distribution and that is why I never “pay for saves”. If you manage your weekly FAAB you can pick up saves on the cheap during the season. Stolen bases continuing to wane concerns me the most. All things being equal, my draft strategy is to draft as many 20/20 players as possible. Even 20/10 players come at a premium.

Michael Rathburn (Rotowire, @FantasyRath): I did not worry about the deadened baseball because so much of it is an unknown. I was definitely concerned about starting pitcher usage and that made me not want to get too many high priced pitchers and look at the middle tier more. Saves distribution definitely had me spending even less on relievers this year and taking a shot on a few potential closers also. I did not get a big stolen base guy instead I went for a more balanced approach with my hitters.

Shelly Verougstraete (Dynasty Guru, @ShellyV_643): While all of these things were on my mind, the lack of clarity was most on my mind in the offseason. While prepping, it seemed as the closer pool was murkier than your favorite hazy IPA. Knowing that, I pushed up closers we knew had the job. I’d rather pay for the guys in the draft instead of pulling out my hair every week in FAAB trying to find the nest guy. The one area that didn’t ‘really’ affect my strategy was stolen bases. We all know that stolen bases are quickly leaving the league but if you can just find enough to compete in a league, I think you can do okay. You don’t have to ‘win’ every category to win your league. Just be competitive.

Eric Cross (Fantrax, @EricCross04): These all came into play to a degree, but the stolen base trend is something I’m always cognizant of in my drafts so that didn’t change much at all this year. With so few elite SB threats in baseball these days, getting speed with as many draft picks as you can is crucial. Even if it’s 5-10 steals here and there, it all adds up and will allow you to remain competitive in steals all season long. On the flip side, closers have become more of a focus of mine this year due to the uncertainty of roles. Getting a top closer is more important now than ever so you don’t have to chase saves in murky situations later in your draft.

Tim McCullough (Baseball Prospectus, @TimsTenz): Figuring out the starting pitcher situation is easily the primary factor that has influenced my prep this year. To be honest, I’ve almost completely abandoned the idea of waiting until the 4th, 5th, or 6th round to take my first starting pitcher – a strategy I’ve used in most years. I’ve never liked the idea of taking a pitcher in the first 1-3 rounds simply because they so rarely return that kind of value and if they end up falling short of 28-30 starts due to injury etc, using that early pick for a pitcher instead of a stud hitter really starts to hurt. With so many pitchers already penciled in for a reduction in IP this season, and the likelihood that many pitchers will again be injured due to the lack of innings last year and the ramp up to more innings this year, one really has to approach the draft with a different mindset. Rather than try to anchor a team with a couple of high-priced starting pitchers, I’m trying to go for depth. I’m also making sure to take a few well thought out gambles on pitchers who could give me 140 or so quality innings – guys that really aren’t on the radar of the fantasy sharks as players they might target. As for the least important factor on this list – that’s easy! I think it’s funny that MLB claimed they knew nothing about juiced baseballs and that it was a coincidence or unintended manufacturing issue. Now they’re turning around and claiming they can deaden the ball. Who cares about any of it? Total non issue!

Brian Entrekin (Benched with Bubba, @bdentrek): Starting pitcher usage was a major factor in my drafting, even in my Tout draft. I wanted potential innings eaters early in drafts and build around those arms. The overall pitching landscape may be slightly overblown but the aces of stats should throw 170+ innings, with a chance to hit the 185+ range. Grabbing a few of those arms helped me sleep easier at night and work through my draft better. The deadened baseball influenced my drafting the least. There will obviously be some difference in overall production, but how much? No one has an exact answer. Everyone “should” be using the same ball, so I played blind to the issue, which may be a bad idea. When targeting certain hitters I rarely concerned myself if they would lose 2 or 3 home runs with a new ball. Lastly, baseball does not always tell the truth and home runs put people in seats, so let’s wait and see.