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March 3, 2014
Part One: AL-Only Auction
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
Table 1: Hitting/Pitching Dollar Allocation 2013 vs. 2014
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
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
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
*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
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
Elvis Andrus $24, Tristan Cockcroft, ESPN
Ian Kinsler $19, Tristan Cockcroft, ESPN
Michael Bourn $17, Tristan Cockcroft, ESPN
Michael Brantley $15, Perry Van Hook, Mastersball
Jason Castro $14, Perry Van Hook, Mastersball
Oswaldo Arcia $10, Chris Liss, Rotowire
Josh Willingham $9, Greg Ambrosius/Shawn Childs, NFBC/Stats, Inc.
Max Scherzer $27, Chris Liss, Rotowire
Koji Uehara $19, Dave Adler, Baseball HQ
Matt Moore $15, Greg Ambrosius/Shawn Childs, NFBC/Stats, Inc.
Hisashi Iwakuma $14, Brandon Funston, Yahoo! Sports
Fernando Rodney $12, Larry Schechter, Winning Fantasy Baseball
Jarrod Parker $8, Chris Liss, Rotowire
Ubaldo Jimenez $7, Ray Flowers, Sirius XM
Jesse Crain $6, Nicholas Minnix, KFFL.com