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March 8, 2016

Expert League Auction Recap

American League LABR

by Mike Gianella

2016 marks the 23rd year of the League of Alternative Baseball Reality. Commonly known as LABR for short, this is the longest-running and best-known fantasy expert league in the game. Bret Sayre and I had the privilege of participating in the mixed-league draft last month. This past weekend in Arizona, it was the AL- and NL-only leagues’ turn. Today, I will take a look at the American League results. On Wednesday, I will look at the NL-only results.

If you want to see how the entire auction shook out, the results can be found here. My analysis is focused on auction trends that will hopefully help you in your own auctions this year. While it is fun to ooooh and aaaah over certain individual picks, it is far more useful to see if there are any significant shifts in expert spending. In my experience, what happens in LABR does have an influence in home league auction(s).

The limited turnover of fantasy managers in LABR from season to season makes the spending allocation fairly predictable.

Table 1: CBS, LABR, and Tout WarsHitting/Pitching Dollar Allocation 2013-2016

League

Year

Hitting %

Pitching %

CBS AL

2016

65.7%

34.3%

CBS AL

2015

67.4%

32.6%

CBS AL

2014

68.3%

31.7%

LABR AL

2016

68.9%

31.1%

LABR AL

2015

69.3%

30.7%

LABR AL

2014

68.6%

31.4%

Tout Wars AL

2015

69.9%

30.1%

Tout Wars AL

2014

70.0%

30.0%

Tout Wars AL

2013

70.7%

29.3%


Table 1 is a comparison of league spending from 2013-2015 for Tout Wars AL (the 2016 auction takes place on March 19) and 2014-2016 for CBS AL and LABR AL. Since 2014, CBS has shifted $77—or over $6 per team – to pitching. LABR has fluctuated a little bit from season to season, but with nothing greater than an $18 difference from 2014 to 2016 the needle has hardly moved at all. Baseball Prospectus’ PFM and other fantasy projection models recommend a $180/$80 split, and LABR comes extremely close to matching that.

Another reason LABR AL is so predictable is because there are no experts who go down a radical path on auction day. No one comes into the auction with the intention of spending $30 total on pitching, there are not four or five experts dumping saves, and there isn’t an expert who decides that spending more than “x” amount on a certain player is taboo. While every team can (and does) have a different flavor, 12 universally vanilla auctions lead to the kind of homogenization you see in Table 2.

Table 2: LABR AL Hitter Spending by Tier, 2014-2016

Tier

LABR 2016

LABR 2015

LABR 2014

2015 $

1-10

339

337

349

$332

11-20

273

285

266

$268

21-30

225

241

231

$232

31-40

199

213

197

$206

41-50

178

191

178

$178

51-60

167

172

165

$165

61-70

148

152

152

$152

71-80

128

123

141

$139

81-90

107

104

121

$116

91-100

94

87

96

$92

101-110

82

79

77

$76

111-120

69

66

62

$59

121-130

52

44

38

$42

131-140

33

28

28

$30

141-150

26

20

20

$13

151-160

17

11

14

-$1

161-168

8

8

8

-$7

2145

2161

2143

$2094



Table 2 breaks out what the LABR experts paid for AL hitters in groups of 10 over the last three seasons. The “2015 $” column shows what the top 168 purchased hitters earned (this column “should” equal $2100 based on my valuation formulas, but sometimes is a few dollars off in one direction or another in any given season). The results are… boring. They’re so incredibly boring that I’d rather listen to a three hour Very Special Episode of Flags Fly Forever where Mike Learns That Puns Are Bad than go on any further about this.

Fortunately, there is very little to say. On a tier-by-tier basis, the experts come extremely close to paying the hitters what they earned in 2015. Yes, there are some blips on the radar from year to year and from tier to tier (hey, that rhymes!), but there isn’t a place where the experts go wild or hoard their money compared to what actually happened in 2015. On a player-by-player basis, there are certainly some arguments to be made for a price being too high or too low, but on the whole this is all predictable, particularly if you are a seasoned veteran of auction-style leagues. One hundred and twenty-one of the 168 hitters purchased at LABR came within a $2 range of my published bid limit in either direction. An argument could be made that there was a little too much money floating around at the end of the auction, but with only a small handful of players in the last two or three rounds who came close to a double-digit price, this was a limited issue.

On the pitching side, the biggest difference between 2015 and 2016 is that the prices for closers fell. Relatively speaking.

Table 3: LABR AL Closer Prices, 2015-2016

2016 Name

2016 Sal

2015 Name

2015 Sal

Wade Davis

21

Greg Holland

21

Craig Kimbrel

21

Dellin Betances

19

Cody Allen

17

Cody Allen

17

Zach Britton

17

Glen Perkins

17

Aroldis Chapman

15

David Robertson

17

Ken Giles

14

Koji Uehara

17

David Robertson

14

Fernando Rodney

16

Huston Street

13

Huston Street

16

Sean Doolittle

12

Zach Britton

14

Francisco Rodriguez

12

Neftali Feliz

14

Brad Boxberger

11

Tyler Clippard

10

Shawn Tolleson

11

Jake McGee

10

Glen Perkins

10

Joe Nathan

8

Drew Storen

8

Brett Cecil

6

Steve Cishek

6

Luke Gregerson

6

202

208


A $6 price drop for 15 closers sounds like nothing, but take a look at some of the names in the 2015 column versus the 2016 column. Only Cishek and arguably Storen are not stable options this season; entering 2015 nearly half of the pitchers on the bottom of the list were entering the year with a share of the job or merely an opportunity to win a job in camp. No one wanted to pay a premium for relatively safe arms like Giles and Robertson, and even K-Rod, Boxberger, and Tolleson were not trusted all that much by the LABR experts. Closer spending is somewhat conservative in expert leagues to begin with; this year, it was even tighter than usual.

At a glance, the starting pitching prices at the top appear to be expensive, but a look at Table 4 indicates that the market was more or less in sync with what happened last year, particularly where the top pitchers are concerned.

Table 4: LABR AL Pitcher Spending by Tier, 2014-2016

Tier

LABR 2016

LABR 2015

LABR 2014

2015 $

1-10

255

232

242

$258

11-20

176

170

178

$194

21-30

142

143

145

$153

31-40

118

117

124

$123

41-50

85

86

90

$96

51-60

65

75

70

$76

61-70

50

56

49

$63

71-80

33

39

36

$47

81-90

23

21

23

$28

91-100

15

12

12

$8

101-108

8

8

8

-$28

Totals

970

959

977

$1019

On a pitcher-by-pitcher basis, I’m skeptical about some of the pitching prices, but when you look at what the AL pitcher pool could potentially earn (the 2015 $ column), the expert market and last year’s earnings are fairly close. There is a shortfall in nearly every tier, but this is because the worst pitchers can produce negative earnings and you cannot bid negative dollars.

The top prices are low compared to 2015’s top salaries, but this is likely more indicative of the market spending too little on the best arms in 2015. Sometimes the numbers look weird simply because the AL pitchers are part of an emerging class of young and unestablished arms. Danny Salazar, Sonny Gray, and Garrett Richards costing $22 apiece looks funny, but while the prices might be somewhat high, where else would or should the experts spend money on pitching if not on this group?

As noted above, the alternative would have been to spend more on closers. This topic transitions beyond valuation and is a philosophical discussion that I believe is outside of the scope of this article. I believe in following the auction where the value takes you, and I have walked out of expert auctions with zero, one, or two closers. Some experts prefer buying a closer at all costs and ignoring price points, while other experts choose to dump saves unless the prices are extremely favorable. LABR AL choose the latter path this year, and while I would have been all over some of these closers at these prices, every fantasy manager’s philosophy is different.

Below is what my “shadow” LABR team would have looked like, using my AL-only bid limits published at Baseball Prospectus’ website.

Table 5: Mike Gianella’s “Shadow” LABR AL Team

Pos

Player

Sal

MG

C

Stephen Vogt

11

13

C

Blake Swihart

11

12

1B

Mitch Moreland

11

14

2B

Ian Kinsler

20

22

SS

Troy Tulowitzki

23

24

3B

Trevor Plouffe

11

13

CO

Mark Teixeira

16

20

MI

Jonathan Schoop

14

15

OF

Jacoby Ellsbury

19

21

OF

Lorenzo Cain

26

29

OF

Jackie Bradley Jr.

8

11

OF

Desmond Jennings

6

10

OF

Cameron Maybin

8

13

DH

Evan Gattis

13

16

P

Ken Giles

15

21

P

Rich Hill

7

9

P

David Robertson

15

18

P

Steve Cishek

7

9

P

Andrew Heaney

7

9

P

Edinson Volquez

5

9

P

Phil Hughes

3

6

P

Danny Duffy

3

5

P

Ubaldo Jimenez

1

4

Totals

260

323


Some fantasy analysts put together shadow drafts in an effort to construct the best hypothetical team they possibly can. My goal is a little different. I want to see what kind of team my bid limits can cobble together in an ultra-competitive environment, but I also want to pretend that I am building my team in the real world conditions of a fast paced expert auction. I don’t intervene on player preference and keep plugging away until I have managed to build a $260 team. The lone exception is that I stop buying closers once I have acquired three. It is also important to note that I didn’t make adjustments for players like Maybin, whose value was impacted by recent news. In LABR, I probably would have purchased Maybin for $8, but I cannot say for sure if I would have hesitated before the gavel fell.

You can draw your own conclusions from the team that appears in Table 5, but based on how the roster is composed, I am planning on making the following adjustments in my next bid limit update (scheduled for March 18th)

  • My pitching prices at the top are too low. I don’t trust a number of the best pitchers on the market but even though they are all bargains, the staff you see here would have difficulty competing in an AL-only. If I had fallen into a team like this on Saturday night, I would have likely stopped purchasing starting pitchers, started buying good ERA/WHIP relievers, and tried an eight and a half category plan (ditch strikeouts/hope for the best in wins). That’s an OK adjustment to make on-the-fly, but it isn’t something I would recommend. A better option would be to make sure you have more money sitting at the top to grab at least one of the best arms.

  • The DH-glut in AL-only is well documented this year, but it is also pushing prices down at first base. Moreland Teixeira, Adam Lind, Logan Morrison, and a few other first basemen in LABR fell well below my bid prices. The CBS AL auction had a similar phenomenon, which tells me that I should shave a few dollars off of some first basemen so I don’t lock in early with some soft bargains.

  • On the other hand, middle infielders are going for a premium this year and should be priced accordingly. I wouldn’t mind grabbing a fantasy stud like Jose Altuve, so I might pump him up a couple of bucks, but the money that I will move from first base and DH will be distributed to more than a few middle infielders.

  • I won’t adjust my closer prices. I believe this is an anomaly for LABR and not something I expect to happen in other leagues.

Overall, LABR AL is a fairly static environment and a good resource to use to attempt to ascertain what your league’s values will look like come auction time. Even if your league’s pricing structure is somewhat different, the way players are broken down at each position and category should give you a good idea of what the bidding hierarchy might look like in your AL-only league later this month.

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,  Expert Leagues

5 comments have been left for this article.

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Winter Is Leaving (03/07)
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Fantasy Article Expert League Auction ... (12/16)
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Expert League Auction ... (03/09)
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BP Boston (03/08)

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