The best-laid plans, man ...

I had them going into my second ever Tout Wars draft. You better believe I did. It's one of those rare leagues with an honest-to-goodness following, so while I'm of course trying to win all of mine, I can't deny the heightened pressure for this one. And when you feel the pressure, you think things through.

Besides, the powers that be pretty much forced us to by having us select where we wanted to draft. Seeing as I finished second last year (a-thank you, Aaron Judge), I had the second choice and opted for the 12th pick, believing it was early enough to guarantee me one of the four super aces but late enough to ensure I'd still get a first round-caliber bat with my second pick. 

Let's pause for a minute to make sure we're all clear on the rules. Most Tout Wars leagues are auctions, and so most Tout Wars discussions are framed in those terms. I'm in the only one that's a draft. It's a 15-team Rotisserie league that uses traditional 5x5 scoring with one exception: On-base percentage replaces batting average.

It's an important distinction because it increases the number of viable first-round bats in my mind. Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo are decidedly among them, and while I have my doubts that Aaron Judge is legitimately a .284 hitter, he's clearly an elite walker. Manny Machado is a little more borderline, but considering his impending shortstop eligibility, he still makes the cut.

At Pick 19 -- my second selection in a 15-team league -- I could count on drafting one of those four, which meant I needed to invest my first pick in one of the pitchers I coveted. And I fully intended to. Certainly could have after Clayton Kershaw was the only one of the super aces selected in the first 11 picks. Had my choice of Max Scherzer, Corey Kluber or Chris Sale. It's just that someone who I didn't expect to be there also turned out to be there: Charlie Blackmon.  

The same Charlie Blackmon who was the top overall player in so many formats last year? The same who put together a .331-37-104-137-14 line? The same who plays half his game at Coors Field, who shows up sixth in my own personal rankings and who has a beard with the bushiness of a coast-to-coast-running Forrest Gump?

One and the same.

I couldn't resist. I knew it meant forfeiting one of the big four (the remaining three went with the next three picks) and scrapping my plan before it had even taken flight. And I knew what that meant in a 15-team league: I'd have to take two pitchers from the next tier to give myself that same level of security, and I'd have to do it earlier than I'd like while forfeiting some of the hitters that I love. But in the minute I had to decide, I discarded my precious plans for a romp with the unexpected. Charlie Blackmon, guys!

Let's see how my team turned out (with round number shown in parentheses):

Starting lineup:
C - Evan Gattis (14)
C - Matt Wieters (28)
1B - Anthony Rizzo (2)
2B - Whit Merrifield (6)
3B - Adrian Beltre (11)
SS - Amed Rosario (20)
MI - Scooter Gennett (15)
CI - Carlos Santana (7)
OF - Charlie Blackmon (1)
OF - Brett Gardner (12)
OF - Eduardo Nunez (13)
OF - Mitch Haniger (16)
OF - Austin Hays (19)
U - Matt Olson (8)
P - Luis Severino (3)
P - Robbie Ray (4)
P - Craig Kimbrel (5)
P - Sonny Gray (9)
P - Alex Wood (10)
P - Shane Greene (17)
P - A.J. Minter (22)
P - Tyler Glasnow (24)
P - Jake Junis (29)
3B - Evan Longoria (18)
SS - Gleyber Torres (21)
P - Jimmy Nelson (23)
2B - Jed Lowrie (25)
3B - Nick Senzel (26)
OF - Jose Pirela (27)

So there it is. I got my second first round-caliber hitter in Rizzo and then was pressed into taking Luis Severino and Robbie Ray in Rounds 3 and 4.

And how would it have played out if I had taken one of the super aces -- let's say Scherzer -- with my first pick? Well, I'd have added security at the position with the biggest drop-off, so I probably would have stopped there, as far as early-rounders go, and instead invested my third and fourth picks in two hitters that I especially like in OBP formats, Anthony Rendon and Tommy Pham. Pham's projected steals total would have granted me more leeway in the middle rounds, allowing me to take a Mike Clevinger type instead of, say, Eduardo Nunez.

So essentially, I traded Scherzer, Pham, Rendon and Clevinger for Blackmon, Severino, Ray and Nunez. It's not a decisive victory, but I feel like my pitcher pairing offers more upside and my hitter pairing less downside. I prefer having Sonny Gray as my No. 2 than my No. 3, and like the value I got with Adrian Beltre, who Rendon would have blocked in the alternate universe I've created.

But enough about the Blackmon decision. What about some of my other picks?

  • Craig Kimbrel was the other pick of mine that I didn't at all see coming. Normally, he'd be gone by the 72nd pick, and anyone else who I might have considered taking there (Buster Posey probably being the top choice) felt like a reach by comparison. As stretched as pitching figures to be in a league of this size, I certainly see the value of having a reliever with elite ratios, and I had a feeling the saves scarcity would rear its ugly head sooner than I was prepared to handle. As high as it was, this pick may have been the closest thing to a bargain among closers.
  • Carlos Santana becomes a more interesting player in leagues that use on-base percentage instead of batting average, and to a lesser extent, the same is true of Matt Olson. There's a point when that line of thinking goes too far, though, and it's when Salvador Perez and Evan Gattis drop to Round 14 of a 15-team two-catcher league. I'm just glad I was there to grab the latter when someone finally made a play for the former.
  • Based on Tout Wars eligibility rules, Whit Merrifield and Scooter Gennett can both play the outfield, and I may need them to looking at my back four there. It's why I appear to have an excessive number of middle infielders. There's a scenario in which I can start all of Merrifield, Gennett, Eduardo Nunez, Amed Rosario, Gleyber Torres and Jed Lowrie, provided I wanted to.
  • Speaking of Rosario and Torres, they were part of a concerted effort to target upside -- realistic upside, the kind that either has a job or is on the verge of it -- in the late rounds. It's how I wound up with Michael Conforto and Judge in Rounds 21 and 22 of this same draft last year, and they more than made up from my missteps earlier in the draft. I'm not saying all of Rosario, Torres, Austin Hays, A.J. Minter, Tyler Glasnow and Nick Senzel will break through with must-start type numbers, but there's a good chance a couple of them do. Shoot, let's throw Jimmy Nelson in there, too. Different circumstances, but same concept.
  • I especially like the Minter pick because even as I'm waiting for him to take over as Braves  closer (which I suspect will happen sooner than later), his ratios should be studly in the meantime. He's the best reliever Atlanta has developed since Kimbrel himself.

If I have one regret, it's that I didn't use the Nunez pick on another starting pitcher -- be it Clevinger, Garrett Richards or whomever -- who I could trust for respectable ratios. Granted, I wasn't counting on drafting Rosario at the time, but the fact is there's a good chance Glasnow's and Jake Junis' spots will wind up going to middle relievers, making it harder to compete in wins and strikeouts. The good news is all of my upside hitter picks should also provide me with trade bait if it comes to that.

Sights set on No. 1 this year. Let's make it happen.