March 7, 2017
Expert League Auction Recap
American League LABR
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:
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.
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:
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
Navigating the end
Here is what the final roster looks like. The players I purchased at the end are in bold.
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.