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March 7, 2017

Expert League Auction Recap

American League LABR

by Mike Gianella


It is one thing to study a fantasy auction from afar, it is another thing entirely to participate in it. This is especially true for a league like the League of Alternative Reality (LABR). After three years partnering with Bret Sayre in the Mixed League (with one title to show for it in 2015), I had been invited to fly out to Arizona and compete in the American League auction on March 4.

For the last few years, I have reviewed LABR AL and LABR NL and presenting my general impressions of both auctions. The LABR AL auction has historically been an extremely disciplined auction on price. My observations from last year's AL auction were instructive and helped me come up with a broad plan. As my regular readers know, while I do devise broad strategies, I build the bedrock of all of my fantasy teams on valuation. I might push a player a dollar or two above his price to fit a strategy but I don't say something like "I'm going to buy Mike Trout for any cost because Mike Trout is the center of my strategy and if I don't get him I'm going to curl into a ball and die." Beyond the valuation bedrock I always use, these were my goals at last Saturday's auction:

  • I wanted to get Jose Altuve. Yes, I know that this completely contradicts what I said above. But I had noticed that while the top players in LABR are usually a dollar or two overvalued, Altuve has come at a relative discount because his batting average isn't properly valued by the expert market. I was willing to push him to $40 or $41 and thought that would do the trick.
  • I would not spend more than $85 on my pitching staff. In the past two years in Tout Wars, I have spent between $90-100 on pitching. While I won with this approach in 2015, it is historically difficult to compete on offense with a $160 budget.
  • I would not spend more than $30 on closers. The prices for closers are typically cheap in expert leagues, and it is easy to quickly buy two closers at $30-35 early. The two problems with this approach are that all bargains are relative (if everyone is a bargain than no one is a bargain) and buying three or more closers just because they are cheap is a surefire way to get absolute value but lose ground in nearly every other category.

Naturally, the first player called out was Altuve. He went for $45. So much for my plan. I wasn't sure who my bedrock was going to be. It turned out that I wouldn't have one at all.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. It's easier to break the auction out into a few phases, and see what happened and why I did what I did.

The waiting game sucks, let's play Hungry Hungry Hippos

Altuve set the phase for a very expensive first 3-4 rounds of the auction. Not only were there no bargains, but prices were even higher than usual. There were a few pitchers who came close to my price, but the top hitters were going for a premium. I didn't know it at the time, but this was going to push me into a balanced roster with no player over $23.

As any regular reader of my recaps knows, this was fine, and not just in the cartoon-dog-sitting-in-hell-drinking-a-cup-of-coffee kind of way. As long as I had budgeted $3,120 for the top 276 players available at the auction, I knew the bargains would come later. I could live without Altuve.

Oh hey, look, a pitching staff!

Finally, after passing on the first 42 players, I bought Rick Porcello for $17. This was quickly followed by J.A. Happ ($8) and Masahiro Tanaka ($17). I nominated Tanaka in an attempt get money off the table but instead wound up with a decent bargain. With most of the top starting pitchers going a little bit over where I had them slotted, I was happy to get Porcello and Tanaka for a combined four dollars more than Chris Sale and Yu Darvish had each cost.

Some offense! And a closer! Aren't exclamation points fun?!

Ian Kinsler at $23 was my first hitter purchase. He was followed quickly by Hanley Ramirez ($20) and Craig Kimbrel ($17). I loved the Hanley buy and Kinsler and Kimbrel were fine at those prices. I needed a lot more offense, and after getting outbid by a dollar on Jean Segura, I knew that this was going to be a balanced roster where I needed to fill every slot on offense with as much production as possible.

More waiting.

Now I had $158 to spend for 17 players, but the auction hit another pocket where the other teams got aggressive. I pushed on a few players, but didn't like most of the players or the prices after Kimbrel. One hundred players into the auction I got Jackie Bradley ($17) and then Sam Dyson ($12) immediately after. With 165 players left for the 12 experts to buy, I had $129 to spend on 15 roster spots. I thought I was fine, but I could tell that the peanut gallery - primarily in the form of people watching the auction on Twitter - was wondering what I was waiting for, particularly when I passed on Byron Buxton at $19. I did buy Kevin Kiermaier for $20 a round later (115 players in) but still had $109 left. I was one of only two fantasy managers with over $100 left to spend. Many were wondering if it was possible to build a decent team with the talent pool starting to dwindle.

The waiting isn't the hardest part, listening to people talk about the waiting is

The LABR auction is held in a beautiful, 10th floor conference room at the Arizona Republic in Phoenix. There is a large conference table where all the auction participants sit and a patio outside the conference room where the Sirius XM hosts describe the auction. My seat was as close to the Sirius XM hosts and my auction was the biggest storyline. The conversation revolved around whether there was enough talent on the table for me to build a good team. At this point, here was my roster:

Pos

Player

Cost

C

C

1B

Hanley Ramirez

$20

2B

Ian Kinsler

$23

SS

3B

CO

MI

OF

Kevin Kiermaier

$20

OF

Jackie Bradley

$17

OF

OF

OF

DH

P

Rick Porcello

$17

P

J.A. Happ

$8

P

Masahiro Tanaka

$17

P

Craig Kimbrel

$17

P

Sam Dyson

$12

P

P

P

P

$109 left/14 players


In retrospect, I didn't have a problem at all. Trying to spend an average of $7.79 per player with the talent left on the board wouldn't be too challenging. But there were two things I was cognizant of at this juncture and where I knew I would have to make an adjustment:

  1. I wanted as many regular at-bats as possible. I wouldn't buy any pitcher over $12.
  2. I needed to make sure I purchased catchers and middle infielders who would get regular playing time. This meant I might have to pay a par price for one or two hitters.

This is where all my hard work on valuation pays off in auctions. Where others are worried, I feel confident that I will be able to fill out my team capably. Logic dictates that if there are overpriced players early, there will be bargains later. And sure enough, that's exactly what happened.

The bargains came and I spent wildly
Just before the midway point of the auction, the predictable lull came and with it the bargains. I got Dylan Bundy ($8), Russell Martin ($11), Corey Dickerson ($9), Victor Martinez ($12), Shin Soo Choo ($10), and Alcides Escobar ($12). I bought six players in a 10-player span for a combined $13 dollars below my published bid limits. This may not sound impressive, but in an auction where nearly every player was going for a par price or higher it most certainly is. Not only did I get a core group of players who were bargains, but I managed to slip past a large group of experts who now had more money to spend than I did on a rapidly dwindling pool of talent.

Navigating the end
There were still 133 more players left to be nominated, but this was the part of the auction where I had to concentrate less on value and more on roster construction. This process began with Escobar but would now continue throughout. I couldn't buy an entire team of overvalued players, but my bid limits would now take a back seat to roster construction.

Here is what the final roster looks like. The players I purchased at the end are in bold.

Pos

Player

Cost

My Bid

+/-

C

Russell Martin

$11

12

1

C

James McCann

$7

5

-2

1B

Hanley Ramirez

$20

24

4

2B

Ian Kinsler

$23

25

2

SS

Alcides Escobar

$12

12

0

3B

Yulieski Gurriel

$16

15

-1

CO

Chase Headley

$7

9

2

MI

Yolmer Sanchez

$1

2

1

OF

Kevin Kiermaier

$20

22

2

OF

Jackie Bradley

$17

19

2

OF

Melky Cabrera

$10

14

4

OF

Shin Soo Choo

$10

14

4

OF

Corey Dickerson

$9

15

6

DH

Victor Martinez

$12

14

2

P

Rick Porcello

$17

18

1

P

J.A. Happ

$8

11

3

P

Masahiro Tanaka

$17

20

3

P

Craig Kimbrel

$17

19

2

P

Sam Dyson

$12

14

2

P

Dylan Bundy

$8

10

2

P

Chris Tillman

$4

7

3

P

Huston Street

$1

4

3

P

Andrew Bailey

$1

3

2

260

308

48


Sure enough, I had to go over my prices on Gurriel and McCann. This is where I could look back at earlier prices and grit my teeth if I were so inclined. I would have preferred Mike Napoli at $15 to Gurriel. There were three or four catchers between $5-8 I would have taken over McCann in retrospect. But there were far more positive than negatives at the end.

It's a boring team. But because I had price discipline, I managed to leave the auction with value. This despite the fact that I had to abandon my usual price discipline and go over my bids on Gurriel and McCann. There are a few players I would have been better off buying earlier, but I was better off shaking that off and making sure I bought the stats I needed as opposed to getting obsessed about the value(s).

So that's the team. How did I do?

The primary weakness categorically is speed. I don't have enough, and would have been better off with a big power hitter instead of Kiermaier. But the offense overall appears to be strong. Getting full time at bats from 13 players is significant in an AL-only league.

The starting pitching is a little thin, but that will be true for any AL-only team. I like the rotation on the whole, however, and while there is risk in Bundy and Tillman, there is risk on any mono league staff. The potential for three closers with the Street/Bailey combination at the end was a nice bonus.

It is typical to leave these auctions not having much of a feel for your team either way. But I dig the balance on this squad, am happy about the mix of steady performers like Cabrera and Bradley to go with the upside in players like Choo and Gurriel, and believe that this team is a contender. As always, the season must play out and there are no guarantees for victory in a room of 12 tough experts. The main takeaway for me is that while following price discipline pays off overall sometimes you must be a little less doctrinaire and make sure you purchase the best team and not just the best values, something I will admit I have been guilty of this sin in the past. Roster construction trumped value for me at the end, and as a result I improved my chances to win LABR.

AL Results - Team by Team

AL Round by Round Results

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:  Fantasy,  AL-Only,  Expert Leagues

3 comments have been left for this article.

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