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March 4, 2014
Part Two: NL-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. 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
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)
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
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
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
Justin Upton $24, Colton & The Wolfman, Glenn Colton/Rick Wolf
Ryan Zimmerman $22, Bob Radomski, Sandlot Shrink
Will Venable $19, Lawr Michaels, Mastersball
Curtis Granderson $15, Steve Moyer, Inside Edge
B.J. Upton $12, Lenny Melnick, RotoExperts
Peter Bourjos $10, Steve Gardner, USA Today Sports
Marlon Byrd $8, Steve Moyer, Inside Edge
Scooter Gennett $6, Steve Gardner, USA Today Sports
Juan Uribe $4, Steve Gardner, USA Today Sports
Craig Kimbrel $22, Steve Gardner, USA Today Sports
Matt Cain $18, Bob Radomski, Sandlot Shrink
Andrew Cashner $13, Lawr Michaels, Mastersball
Jason Grilli $12, Bob Radomski, Sandlot Shrink
Francisco Liriano $10, Derek Carty, MLB.com
Jeff Samardzija $9, Eric Karabell, ESPN
Bobby Parnell $7, Colton & The Wolfman, Glenn Colton/Rick Wolf
Jon Niese $6, Lenny Melnick, RotoExperts