Tout Wars: The only constant is change

Different owners from the Tout Wars expert league will be submitting a guest Fantasy Baseball column to CBSSports.com each week. This week's columnist, Peter Kreutzer, writes for www.askrotoman.com.

Mike Lombardo won Tout NL for the first time in 2005, and for the second time in 2007. He currently leads the second place Glenn Colton/Rick Wolf entry by 15 points, a lead that has been cut in half in recent weeks by Colton's rush forward, not Lombardo's collapse. Three titles in four years would be unprecedented for a Tout Wars single league (Sandlot Shrink's Larry Schechter has won three straight Mixed League championships from 2005-2007, and Ron Shandler won three titles between 1998 and 2000 in the two leagues combined), and despite some serious problems as we enter the second half of the season (Chipper, in particular), Mike has to be heavily favored at this point.

In the Fantasy Baseball Guide, the magazine (available mid January at Barnes and Noble, Wal-Mart and other fine retailers) I have edited for the past nine years, I ask winning Fantasy owners to recount for our readers the strategies that made them champions that year. It is not surprising that these stories demonstrate again and again that there are many different ways to get to the Yoo Hoo. Given his solid lead at this point, I thought it might be interesting to look at what Mike said in the Strategies of Champions pieces he wrote about 2005 and 2007 and see if and how he applied that wisdom to his front-running team this year.

What follows are some of Mike's very own words, along with my analysis of what he did this year to get into such good position to win:

LOMBARDO 2007: "My pitching strategy was to obtain at least one stud starter and to pay for saves."

In 2008 Lombardo took two stud starters, Cole Hamels and Chris Young , and only one closer, Brad Lidge , as well as a flier on Tony Pena . He paid $24 and $18 for Hamels and Young respectively, which is a pretty good foundation at a pretty good price. He paid for half a loaf of saves and that's what he got coming out of the draft.

LOMBARDO 2005: "I rounded out my staff with solid setup guys rather than mediocre starters, who I believe should be avoided at all costs."

I wholeheartedly go along with this sentiment, though too often the inexpensive gem starters I go after turn out to be mediocre at best. Mike's other 2008 starters from the draft were Tim Hudson , Scott Olsen , Shawn Hill and Edinson Volquez . His relievers were Brad Lidge , Tony Pena and long-shot rotation youngster, Chris Volstad .

Scott Olsen's comeback and Volquez's breakout completely offset Hill's struggles and Chris Young's broken face. Mike also added Todd Wellemeyer in the March 29 pickup, sweet, and made a substantial FAAB play for Ryan Franklin on May 17, after Jason Isringhausen went down. Another winner.

He spent 37 percent of his budget on pitching in 2008 after spending 44 percent in 2007, when he bought two closers. Only a couple of teams spent more.

LOMBARDO 2005: "I also kept a few extra pitchers on my reserve squad, to take advantage of home/road splits as best I could."

In 2008 the only pitching reserves he took were Matt Chico (Round 1) and Mark Mulder (Round 6 of 6). Clearly that strategy is situational and perhaps outdated. There just aren't many spare parts out there in the reserve round these days, though with.

LOMBARDO 2005: "I decided not to spend more than the low $20s for any offensive player. Losing a $35 guy for any length of time often spells doom for a Fantasy team, but injured guys often have that risk built into their price."

In 2008 Lombardo bought Chipper Jones for $26. His second most expensive hitters were Brian McCann and Michael Bourn ($18).

LOMBARDO 2007: "I look for at bats as much as stats. I also look for batting average and refuse to pay for power. You can get speed off the waiver wire, but rarely power."

This year he's first in AB by a lot (more than 200 AB ahead of Colton, who has a few more hitting points), second in HR and third in RBI, without paying for big power hitters. He did spend 27 (of 100) FAAB on Clint Barmes , who has provided a bit of power along with a nice average. On the other hand, and in violation of his advice, he paid full price for Michael Bourn in the auction, solely for speed. That has worked out, too.

LOMBARDO 2005: "Cheap catchers are a mistake in leagues that draft deep into the pool."

In addition to McCann, he spent $14 on Chris Snyder , who has been merely mediocre during the regular season. Still, he's been more productive than many.

How do Lombardo's words and deeds add up?

Clearly he made adjustments. Mike spent less on pitchers this year, but then he ended up with Scott Olsen and Edinson Volquez as two of his cheap guys, so he didn't have to spend more. This probably also reflects a commitment to getting a FAAB closer, which he was able to do.

For the most part he spread the risk on offense, though his commitment to Chipper Jones certainly didn't include any injury discount. The Nick Johnson buy did, which is why it probably won't hurt much. Still, how much time Chipper misses may play a big part in how Mike's season ends up.

Finally, aggressive FAABing paid off. Ryan Franklin and Clint Barmes filled in admirably when he needed help, and with Jason Isringhausen continuing problems, Franklin may turn into an asset all season long.

In recent weeks Glenn Colton has climbed the ladder, cutting Mike's lead by some 20 points. In the last four weekly standings Mike has finished 3, 5, 7, 5, which isn't a collapse, but speaks to the difficulty of sustaining dominance. In 2003 and 2004 Glenn wrote Strategies of Champions essays for the Guide as the 2002/2003 LABR winner, in which he described in detail his SMART Plan for roto success. He is a formidable player, but it is perhaps most telling that his approach this year has not hewed to the blueprint he laid down back then.

I suspect in a year or three Lombardo will be on to something different, too. When we look at Tout Wars 10 year history we see that the multiple winners have had their wins come in clusters, even though each league starts over from scratch each year:

Ron Shandler (BaseballHQ): 98-NL, 98-AL, 00-AL

John Coleman (Sandlot Shrink): 99-NL, 00-NL

Scott Wilderman (Rototimes): 03-NL, 06-NL

Mike Lombardo (Wise Guy): 05-NL, 07-NL

Jason Grey (Mastersball): 02-AL, 03-AL

Trace Woods (Long Ghandi): 04-AL, 06-AL

Shandler's big successes came with the introduction of the LIMA Plan, perhaps the most innovative and successful strategy of its type. Not that it matters much any more. The wisdom of LIMA has suffused the Fantasy world. As Irving Berlin nearly wrote nearly 100 years ago, Everybody’s doing LIMA now.

Winning at this game isn't just doing the right thing, it's figuring out what that right thing is even as the game changes. A conceptual advantage lasts only as long as others don't figure out what it is. If Lombardo holds off Colton this year will the price of pitchers rise? Will there be more competition for the handful of helpful catchers available? Is Bud Selig dull?

You can e-mail Mr. Sheehan a question or a comment about this column to DMFantasyBaseball@cbs.com. Be sure to put "Attn: Tout Wars" in the subject field. Please include your full name, hometown and state. Be aware, due to the large volume of submissions received, we cannot guarantee personal responses to all questions.

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