March 8, 2016
Expert League Auction Recap
American League LABR
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
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
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
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
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
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)
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.