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March 3, 2014

LABR Recap

Part One: AL-Only Auction

by Mike Gianella


This past weekend, 24 of fantasy baseball’s sharpest minds gathered in Phoenix, Arizona, for the 21st annual League of Alternative Baseball Reality fantasy baseball auctions. That’s known as LABR to you and me, and it’s exciting because LABR unofficially kicks off that exciting time when the season feels like it’s just around the corner. Today, I’ll cover the AL-only auction. Later this week, I will take a look at the action in the NL.

If you are interested in every pick from Mike Trout down to the last $1 player, the results can be found here. Dissecting every player purchased and every team’s roster is beyond the intended scope of this article. Rather, I’ll take a look at a few spending trends, both on a handful of individual players as well as on types of purchases the experts made on Saturday night.

So what happened?

Pitching will cost more this year
On February 18, CBS held their AL-only expert league auction. I noticed that for the first time in a few years, the experts in CBS spent more on the aggregate in pitching than they had in a while. I wondered if this trend would carry over to LABR.

Table 1: Hitting/Pitching Dollar Allocation 2013 vs. 2014

League

Year

Hitting %

Pitching %

CBS AL

2014

68.3%

31.7%

CBS AL

2013

70.8%

29.2%

LABR AL

2014

68.6%

31.4%

LABR AL

2013

71.0%

29.0%

Tout Wars AL

2013

70.7%

29.3%

CBS NL

2014

67.0%

33.0%

CBS NL

2013

68.4%

31.6%

LABR NL

2013

69.7%

30.3%

Tout Wars NL

2013

69.5%

30.5%

Despite LABR having a completely different pool of AL experts, the trend held. Expert owners are spending more on pitching this year than they did last year, which leads me to believe that regular Joes and Janes in home leagues will follow.

In CBS, the spending spike on pitching came in the $8-18 range for pitchers. LABR was a little more conservative, with the spike coming between $7-14. Regardless of where or when the jump in prices came, the experts in LABR mirrored their counterparts in CBS and paid a premium for young pitching talent.

Table 2: Pitcher Pricing Comparison: AL CBS vs. AL LABR, 2014

Pitcher

CBS

LABR

My Bid

2013

Danny Salazar

18

19

13

$6

Alex Cobb

18

18

17

$18

Sonny Gray

15

17

13

$9

A.J. Griffin

15

15

11

$19

Chris Archer

10

14

12

$14

Corey Kluber

16

13

11

$12

Dan Straily

11

13

7

$11

Drew Smyly

12

12

7

$13

At first blush, you might look at the expert-league prices, look at what most of these pitchers earned last year, and think that I’m the one who is out of line. Only Salazar and Gray stand out as pitchers getting paid far more than what they have ever earned. Kluber and Straily’s prices are close to their 2013 earnings, while the rest of the group match or exceed what they were paid. So am I overreacting to this trend?

Perhaps. However, keep in mind that the market typically doesn’t pay even the best pitchers what they earned the year before.

Table 3: Top 10 AL-Only Starters in 2013

Pitcher

CBS

LABR

My Bid

2013

Max Scherzer

29

27

29

$35

Yu Darvish

32

28

29

$30

Hisashi Iwakuma

16

13

17

$30

Chris Sale

27

25

23

$26

Anibal Sanchez

19

21

19

$25

Felix Hernandez

26

27

22

$24

Bartolo Colon

NATIONAL LEAGUE

$23

James Shields

21

21

19

$20

Clay Buchholz

10

10

11

$20

Justin Masterson

12

13

13

$20

The discount on Iwakuma is understandable given his health. But for the rest of these pitchers, are you sure you want to let them go at these prices when the younger, far-less-proven crop of pitchers is going for so much more money? I get the concerns about Buchholz, but I’ll take him at $10 or Masterson at $13 over any pitcher in Table 2 at these prices any day of the week.

Another area in which LABR mirrored CBS was paying more for closers in 2014 than they did in 2013.

Table 4: AL Expert Closer Prices 2014

Pitcher

CBS

LABR

My Bid

Greg Holland

19

23

21

Joe Nathan

17

20

20

David Robertson

18

19

16

Koji Uehara

19

19

21

Glen Perkins

19

17

18

Grant Balfour

16

16

13

John Axford

14

14

14

Ernesto Frieri

16

14

13

Casey Janssen

16

14

15

Jim Johnson

18

14

13

Neftali Feliz

17

13

14

Fernando Rodney

17

12

16

Tommy Hunter

13

10

9

Nathan Jones

14

9

10

Josh Fields*

8

8

2

Total

241

222

215

*highest priced Astros reliever in LABR

LABR didn’t push the stoppers quite as high as CBS did, but the fear of paying for a closer because of what happened in 2012 has disappeared. Holland, Nathan, Robertson, and Uehara all cost more than any closer did in LABR in 2013.

One thing the experts did on Saturday that I disagree with was open up their wallets (relatively speaking) for set-up men. Besides Fields—who went for more than presumed closer Jesse Crain—here are some additional reliever prices:

From an earnings perspective, there is nothing wrong with these prices. In -only leagues, non-closers can earn well into double-digits, with 12 American League relievers turning the trick in 2013. However, most of these relievers can be had for free; nine of the 12 best non-closer relievers in the American League were not purchased on auction day in LABR. Chasing saves with your finite auction cash isn’t a good play either. Two of last year’s most successful setup stories—Koji Uehara and Danny Farquhar—didn’t even go for $1 in LABR. Joaquin Benoit at $5 was a good investment, but he was behind a shaky “closer” in Bruce Rondon at $7. If you are going to go this route, I prefer making a play on a reliever like Crain/Qualls in an unsettled bullpen.

Because of the push toward pitching, LABR spent $77 less across the board on hitters—or an average of $6.4 less per team. One area in which hitting spending didn’t drop was on the top hitters.

Table 5: 10 Most Expensive AL LABR Hitters 2014

Pitcher

CBS

LABR

My Bid

Mike Trout

43

45

43

Miguel Cabrera

43

42

42

Jacoby Ellsbury

34

35

31

Edwin Encarnacion

30

34

29

Robinson Cano

34

33

32

Prince Fielder

33

33

27

Adam Jones

34

33

30

Jason Kipnis

26

33

27

Chris Davis

32

31

32

Evan Longoria

29

30

27

Fear of Mike Trout regressing and turning into a pumpkin has evaporated, at least among the experts. The experts in LABR haven’t paid $45 for a player in years. But the bigger surprise isn’t the prices on Trout or Cabrera but on some of the other hitters who cracked the $30 barrier.

Encarnacion and Fielder in particular jump out as potential overspends, not so much based on my opinions of their abilities but rather on how much they can potentially earn. A 40 HR, 120 RBI, 100 run, 1 SB, .300 BA in 624 at-bats effort is what Fielder would need to put up to earn $33. In Encarnacion’s case, he has never posted a batting average over .280; a $34 price is a strong bet that he’ll buck the trend and hit .300 or better.

With money being pushed to pitching and to the top-shelf hitters, the bargains had to come on the cheaper hitters… and they most certainly did.

It’s easy to sit on the sidelines and nitpick about the players you don’t like. Below are some of the non-endgame buys I liked. While I’m not a believer in “tiered” pricing, I reviewed LABR exhaustively and provided a good buy or relative bargain in every price bracket over $5.

Chris Davis $31, Larry Schechter, Winning Fantasy Baseball
I wasn’t enamored with any of the prices at the top, but Davis was a relative bargain compared to the other hitters at the top of the heap. Fifty-plus home runs might not be realistic, but 35-40 home runs aren’t impossible. I like that Davis price better than what Fielder/Encarnacion went for in LABR.

Elvis Andrus $24, Tristan Cockcroft, ESPN
In a mixed league, I might not like paying this much for a mostly one-category player, even at middle infield. It is a different story in an only format, where getting all of these steals locked up at a middle-infield position is worth the investment.

Ian Kinsler $19, Tristan Cockcroft, ESPN
I get the concern about Kinsler’s decline and the move out of Texas, but at this price he would have to fall off the map entirely not to at least break even. Cockcroft put together a middle infield I’d be happy to have in AL-only.

Michael Bourn $17, Tristan Cockcroft, ESPN
Bourn’s drop-off last year is concerning but not alarming. I anticipate good health and a moderate bounce-back in steals.

Michael Brantley $15, Perry Van Hook, Mastersball
Brantley doesn’t seem like much at first glance, but he does a little bit of everything in 5x5.

Jason Castro $14, Perry Van Hook, Mastersball
Here is a case where the price might be too high but I really like the player. I believe Castro will maintain his health and strides he made last year. He offered nearly as much production as Salvador Perez did in 2013 and has consistently been getting drafted/purchased for less.

Oswaldo Arcia $10, Chris Liss, Rotowire
Arcia hit 14 home runs in 351 at-bats last year. Even if the batting average doesn’t progress, he will more than earn his keep at $10.

Josh Willingham $9, Greg Ambrosius/Shawn Childs, NFBC/Stats, Inc.
Willingham had a down season in 2013 but hit 30-plus home runs as recently as 2012. With power dwindling across the board, $9 is a very safe price even if Willingham is in decline.

Max Scherzer $27, Chris Liss, Rotowire
Whether or not you believe this is a good price depends on your philosophy about paying for an ace. If you think $27 is too high for Scherzer, that’s fair—but given the market on the second-tier pitchers, he was a relative bargain.

Koji Uehara $19, Dave Adler, Baseball HQ
Some of my colleagues are down on Uehara because he’s a risk to get hurt or lose a significant number of innings, but I really like the buy on the rate stats under $20 to go with the saves.

Matt Moore $15, Greg Ambrosius/Shawn Childs, NFBC/Stats, Inc.
Many don’t like Moore for 2014, but those strikeouts provide a significant chunk of Moore’s value. Even if he falls off of a cliff, the high whiff totals give him a much higher floor than a non-strikeout pitcher would have.

Hisashi Iwakuma $14, Brandon Funston, Yahoo! Sports
Yes, the finger is a concern but even five healthy and productive months of Iwakuma will be a bargain at $14.

Fernando Rodney $12, Larry Schechter, Winning Fantasy Baseball
I have little love for Rodney, but he has the contract and the job in Seattle, and was one of the cheaper closers on the board.

Jarrod Parker $8, Chris Liss, Rotowire
While all of the other A’s starters went for a big pile of cash, Parker slipped under the radar. The high HR rate concerns me, but pitching in Oakland should mask that somewhat.

Ubaldo Jimenez $7, Ray Flowers, Sirius XM
See Moore above. Jimenez’s high strikeout totals make him an asset if he does well and a relatively low risk candidate if he doesn’t. This holds even more in the AL, where the league-average ERA is somewhat higher than in the NL.

Jesse Crain $6, Nicholas Minnix, KFFL.com
At $6, I don’t have to believe that Crain will be the closer from pole to pole. 15-20 saves for a single-digit bid would make him a bargain.

Mike Gianella is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Mike's other articles. You can contact Mike by clicking here

Related Content:  LABR,  Fantasy,  AL-Only,  Auction,  Experts

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