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March 4, 2014

LABR Recap

Part Two: NL-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. On Monday, I covered the AL-only auction. Today, I will take a look at the action in the NL (complete results can be found here).

Prior to the LABR NL auction, the expert league auctions that had been held to date had been relatively predictable. The CBS expert league auctions—held on February 18 (AL) and February 20 (NL)—showcased a few spending trends that I anticipated holding for the LABR auctions this past weekend. The experts on the American League side of LABR obliged. The National League experts threw everyone watching on Twitter or listening on Sirius XM a curveball.

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

2014

69.6%

30.4%

LABR NL

2013

69.7%

30.3%

Tout Wars NL

2013

69.5%

30.5%

Table 1 has been a prominent feature in every one of my expert league recaps to date. In every instance, the trend on display has been that the experts are opening their wallets a little bit more for pitching than they have in the past. Depending upon your perspective, the LABR-NL experts either bucked a trend (this year’s spending) or remained consistent (last year’s spending).

Did the LABR experts see the light and actively decide to spend less on pitching? Or were there other workings afoot?

Table 2: Top 10 Price Differences: CBS NL/LABR NL 2014 (CBS higher)

Pitcher

CBS

LABR

Difference

My Bid

Bobby Parnell

15

7

8

13

Patrick Corbin

16

9

7

12

Adam Wainwright

31

24

7

24

Steve Cishek

16

10

6

12

Rex Brothers

11

6

5

8

Latroy Hawkins

7

2

5

3

Jim Henderson

15

10

5

16

Cliff Lee

28

23

5

23

Francisco Liriano

15

10

5

13

Trevor Rosenthal

21

16

5

20

Rafael Soriano

17

12

5

13

Huston Street

15

10

5

13

Totals

207

139

68

170

Closer prices are always low in expert leagues relative to home leagues, but in LABR this year four experts decided they were dumping saves entirely. Since experts generally don’t broadcast their strategies to the world at large, the first few closers off the board were generally in line with expectations. Craig Kimbrel ($22), Aroldis Chapman ($20), and Kenley Jansen ($20) cost a little less than they did in CBS, but these prices didn’t raise any eyebrows. It wasn’t until Rosenthal went off the board (at $16) that the first closer bargain came. By the end of the night, every non-elite closer was a bargain of sorts.

It wasn’t merely the elite relievers where the experts decided to draw a line in the sand. The best starting pitchers were paid like they traditionally have been, as opposed to how they were in both CBS auctions and LABR AL, where they went for a little more. While Clayton Kershaw ($35) got the bump he has been getting in all formats, Jose Fernandez ($27) and Stephen Strasburg’s ($27) prices were more or less in line with CBS, while Lee and Wainwright (listed above) were relative bargains.

This price shift tied into yet another strategic decision by one of the participants. Doug Dennis of Baseball HQ spent $34 on his pitching staff and didn’t spend more than seven dollars on a starting pitcher (Wade Miley). Dennis has executed this plan in LABR in the past, so I’m fairly certain this was by design and not by accident. (Dennis later tweeted that he had planned to buy a closer if one fell into his lap at $9 or less but he decided to take the plunge on Street at $10).

With all of these pitching prices being pushed down by the experts, it would stand to reason that it would be business as usual with the elite hitters, and they would get paid prices consistent with what they had been paid in the past.

Table 3: LABR NL Spending by Tiers: 2013 versus 2014

Type

2014

2013

Difference

Hitters 1-12

$376

$413

-37

Hitters 13-24

$305

$322

-17

Hitters 25-36

$262

$263

-1

Hitters 37-48

$235

$220

15

Hitters 49-60

$209

$200

9

Hitters 61-72

$184

$177

7

Hitters 73-84

$150

$155

-5

Hitters 85-96

$121

$129

-8

Hitters 97-108

$100

$100

0

Hitters 109-120

$87

$75

12

Hitters 121-132

$67

$54

13

Hitters 133-144

$38

$30

8

Hitters 145-156

$19

$22

-3

Hitters 157-168

$12

$12

0

Pitchers 1-12

$277

$283

-6

Pitchers 13-24

$195

$208

-13

Pitchers 25-36

$144

$158

-14

Pitchers 37-48

$114

$115

-1

Pitchers 49-60

$90

$72

18

Pitchers 61-72

$61

$55

6

Pitchers 73-84

$34

$26

8

Pitchers 85-96

$19

$16

3

Pitchers 97-108

$12

$12

0

Hitter Gain/Loss Total

-7

Pitcher Gain/Loss Total

7


It turns out that this wasn’t the case.

While LABR has always been relatively conservative compared to a typical home league, this year they pushed this precept to entirely new levels. Carlos Gonzalez was the most expensive hitter at $36 and Andrew McCutchen ($35) was the only other hitter to go for $35 or more. Perhaps there was some reluctance to spend big this year after the big failures of Ryan Braun (earned $29 less than his average salary in 2013), Matt Kemp (-$26), or Giancarlo Stanton (-$21) but the overall losses by last year’s 10 most expensive hitters were fairly typical compared to prior seasons.

I’m typically conservative at auctions, but in an environment like this I would have pounced early and often. It’s difficult to fill out your roster early and play stars and scrubs even when there are so many good prices, but regardless of whether an auction plays like LABR-AL or LABR-NL, there are always going to be under-priced players at the end, at least by your prices.

It’s one thing if you’re a pricing stickler like I am and don’t pay because you don’t like the prices. It’s quite another if you’re doctrinaire in an auction like this and refuse to pay over $25 on a player based on principle.

Table 4: Significant Overpays in NL LABR

Player

CBS

LABR

Difference

My Bid

Pablo Sandoval

19

23

-4

16

Starlin Castro

18

23

-5

17

Nolan Arenado

15

22

-7

13

Jhonny Peralta

13

18

-5

14

Todd Frazier

11

18

-7

13

A.J. Pollock

6

17

-11

7

Andre Ethier

10

15

-5

5

Zack Cozart

7

15

-8

11

Emilio Bonifacio

8

13

-5

5

Cody Asche

8

12

-4

5

Marco Scutaro

5

12

-7

6

DJ LeMahieu

6

11

-5

8

There were a handful of players below $10 who were overpriced, but right here was the not-so-sweet spot. Perhaps one or two of these players were considered solid buys by their owners, but it’s hard not to look at this group and believe that the experts chased. They didn’t have a choice; they chased because of the conditions they created by sitting back early.

In an environment like this, it’s a little bit easier to choose bargains, but since I did this for my AL-only article, I’ll indulge my NL-only readers by going through the same exercise. Below is a list of suggested buys based on LABR prices using a tiered-auction philosophy.

Paul Goldschmidt $33, Derek Van Riper, RotoWire
I nearly fell out of my chair when I saw this price show up in the online auction tracker. I agree with others that the market might be a tad optimistic about Goldschmidt this year, but at this price, you’re probably locking in $30 worth of stats unless he stops running.

Justin Upton $24, Colton & The Wolfman, Glenn Colton/Rick Wolf
I’m not even an Upton fan and think that Colton/Wolf got a steal here. Upton earns $22-25 in his “bad” years. If he doesn’t have the bounce-back season that some think he might have, so what? I like prices where the floor and the ceiling are this close.

Ryan Zimmerman $22, Bob Radomski, Sandlot Shrink
Zimmerman’s ceiling isn’t elite, but he’s a consistent mid-$20s earner whose injury profile is overblown by many. He’ll earn in the upper $20s at a position that is thinner than it has been in some time.

Will Venable $19, Lawr Michaels, Mastersball
I’ve purchased or drafted Venable in every non-mock I have participated in to date, so maybe I am somewhat biased, but Venable is a poor man’s version of Upton from an earnings perspective. If he doesn’t repeat last year, $15-19 (his range of earnings from 2010-2012) is still realistic. Barring injury, there is not much downside at $19.

Curtis Granderson $15, Steve Moyer, Inside Edge
I liked Moyer’s entire outfield at the time of the auction (Cameron Maybin’s injury happened after LABR), but Granderson was the player who stood out. He is cheap enough at $15 that a complete bounce back is hardly necessary; as long as he runs, Grandy will be a bargain.

B.J. Upton $12, Lenny Melnick, RotoExperts
This is a complete stab in the dark, but I have such a hard time believing that Upton is finished. There is still potential for a 15/30 season, and I’d be willing to take the gamble… particularly in an auction like this where so much money was being spent on middle-of-the-road talent.

Peter Bourjos $10, Steve Gardner, USA Today Sports
Bourjos has lacked either health or opportunity, but this spring it seems that he has both. The speed is still tantalizing, and he could be Michael Bourn pre-2013 edition with a somewhat less speed but more power.

Marlon Byrd $8, Steve Moyer, Inside Edge
Byrd has been pegged as a certain bust due to his age and unlikely performance last year, but at $8, all he has to do is show up for this team to break even.

Scooter Gennett $6, Steve Gardner, USA Today Sports
Gennett should be able to keep Rickie Weeks at bay and offers enough at the position to earn this and more even if he isn’t the most exciting player in the world.

Juan Uribe $4, Steve Gardner, USA Today Sports
Uribe is flying under the radar in auctions and drafts, most likely because of his age. All he has to do to profit at four dollars is not crater in batting average.

Craig Kimbrel $22, Steve Gardner, USA Today Sports
I will have to resist picking a closer as the best bargain in every tier due to the extreme nature of the auction. Kimbrel kind of wins here by default; he is the only clear bargain in the top tier of arms.

Matt Cain $18, Bob Radomski, Sandlot Shrink
I don’t often put stock in second-half numbers, but Cain thrived after making a mechanical adjustment after the All-Star break. I anticipate he’ll be closer to former ace status than troubled first-half of 2013 pitcher.

Andrew Cashner $13, Lawr Michaels, Mastersball
Cashner is an ace-in-the-making thanks to his willingness to use his slider more. He will out earn a number of pitchers who cost more than $13 if the health maintains.

Jason Grilli $12, Bob Radomski, Sandlot Shrink
I could have picked a number of closers to represent a pricing tier dominated by cheap stoppers. Grilli is standing in for all of them here.

Francisco Liriano $10, Derek Carty, MLB.com
Liriano will rack up the strikeouts and since he’ll be pitching in Pittsburgh again has a significant park advantage on his side.

Jeff Samardzija $9, Eric Karabell, ESPN
I’m not sold on the inevitable breakout like many are, but at nine dollars it doesn’t make a difference if I am right or wrong. You are buying a lot of strikeouts for a single-digit bid.

Bobby Parnell $7, Colton & The Wolfman, Glenn Colton/Rick Wolf
I hate to keep including closers among the bargains, but Parnell at seven is too much of a bargain to omit entirely.

Jon Niese $6, Lenny Melnick, RotoExperts
This might look foolish in two weeks or in two days, but if Niese’s health issues are indeed minor, he’ll provide solid, middle-of-the-fantasy-rotation numbers.

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,  Auction,  Experts,  NL-Only

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