March 9, 2017
Expert League Auction Recap
2017 LABR Overview
This past weekend, some of the best and brightest minds in the fantasy baseball universe did battle in the League of Alternative Baseball Reality (LABR) AL- and NL-only auctions in Phoenix, Arizona. I participated in the LABR AL-only auction for the first time. If you missed the recap of my auction, you can read it here.
The idea behind today’s article is not to oooooh and aaaaah over every individual pick but rather to look at the auction from a broader perspective to try and help you in your upcoming auctions. This is an imperfect exercise, because new information will alter more than a few individual player prices over the next few weeks. However, the overall trends often do help in planning and preparation for your leagues.
For many, the LABR AL and NL auctions kick off the beginning of their auction preparation. It is the second of three established industry auctions. CBS holds its auctions in February, LABR is in early March, and Tout Wars is in late March. What happens in LABR can often be a reliable barometer for what happens in your home league auctions later this month or in early April.
Table 1: Hitter Dollar Distribution, AL LABR 2017 versus AL LABR 2016
*adjusted for 2016 LABR budget. My formulas use a $2,100 baseline for hitters.
Perception and reality often do not converge as neatly as we hope they would. A $17 difference on the top players from 2016 to 2017 certainly isn’t nothing, but it only averages out to $1.42 per player. The LABR experts were more aggressive in 2017, but all of that money and then some was pushed to the top five players in the auction. 2017’s top five – Jose Altuve ($45), Mike Trout ($42), Mookie Betts ($39), Manny Machado ($38), and Carlos Correa ($37) – cost more than 2016’s top five – Trout ($42), Miguel Cabrera ($36), Betts ($35), Correa ($35), and Josh Donaldson ($34) – by a total of $19.
The CBS auctions are typically more aggressive on the front end than the LABR auctions are. Typically, this pushes the prices up during the middle of the auction. Was this the case in 2017?
Table 2: Biggest Hitter Price Differences, AL LABR greater than AL CBS
Despite this, the prices at the bottom of the heap were much cheaper in 2017. The 60 cheapest hitters in LABR AL were $34 cheaper this year than they were in 2016. Steve Pearce, Jurickson Profar, Logan Morrison, Luis Valbuena, Nori Aoki and Hyun soo Kim all cost three dollars or fewer and cost at least four dollars fewer than my published bid prices from March 3.
If the market was excited about the best hitters, it was extremely cautious about the top-tier pitchers.
Table 3:10 Most Expensive Starting Pitchers, LABR 2017 versus LABR 2016
Table 4: AL Expert Closer Prices LABR 2017 versus LABR 2016
The biggest takeaway I had from LABR is that infielders might be difficult to come by while there was a glut of outfield talent. I picked up some nice bargains in Melky Cabrera ($10), Corey Dickerson ($9), and Shin Soo Choo ($10) but the bargains below this price threshold were better in more than a few cases.
Table 5: Hitter Dollar Distribution, NL LABR 2017 versus NL LABR 2016
*adjusted for 2016 LABR budget. My formulas use a $2,100 baseline for hitters.
I included the Tout NL column to provide context. LABR NL didn’t spend much more than it did in 2016 on hitters but compared to the other expert leagues, it spends significantly more on hitters.
Curiously enough, despite spending eight dollars more on hitters this year, the LABR experts paid the top hitters less. Given what the best NL hitters earned in 2016, the NL experts paid too little for the best guys. I was only able to attend the first hour and a half of the auction because I had to catch a flight (ok, I had dinner too) but I could see this reflected in the early purchases of the day (captured here). If I had been invited to LABR NL instead of LABR AL, I would have probably wound up with a Stars and Scrubs team.
In LABR AL, Ian Kinsler was the only player (out of 20) who I had priced at $25 or higher who cost two dollars or less than my bid limit. In LABR NL, there were five players like this (out of 22). I certainly would not have purchased all five, but given my price enforcement philosophy I would have purchased at least two. My conservative auction approach often gives the mistaken impression that I do not believe in Stars and Scrubs, when the reality is that I will employ it if the prices across the board are low.
Given the $95 price difference on hitters between LABR and CBS, you would expect there to see a lot of auction pricing variance among the hitters on the next table. There is, but none of it occured in the highest tax bracket.
Table 6: Biggest Hitter Price Differences, NL LABR greater than NL CBS
This year, CBS NL behaved more conservatively than it has in the past, which his is why no $30+ players appear on Table 6 and Braun is the only $30+ player who is in the crowded “several tied at +4” row. The lack of spending on the top hitters in LABR had a sizeable impact on the data above. Wieters doesn’t count because he was a free agent when CBS convened last month, but everyone else in the $7-12 range is a bit of a head scratcher. The league gets a pass on Conforto because of his youth and potential. But I don’t get the Dickerson, Freese, and Lind prices.
The other phenomenon you can see on display is the inflated prices for first basemen. After the market paid fair value for the first six first basemen called out, there was a bidding war for Thames. After that Brandon Belt ($22), Gonzalez, Tommy Joseph ($18), and Josh Bell ($19) all went for prices that were well past my bid limits and comfort level. Joey Votto ($30) and Freddie Freeman ($29) were much better buys earlier in the auction.
Because LABR NL barely spends little on pitching, this is also a difficult place to make judgments without seeing auction prices within the context of previous years and other expert auctions.
Table 7: Pitcher Dollar Distribution, NL LABR versus NL Tout, 2016
Table 8: NL Expert Closer Prices LABR 2017 versus LABR 2016
It turns out that CBS – not LABR – is the outlier in expert leagues. My guess is that history will repeat itself in 2017, and the closer market in Tout will adhere far more closely to LABR than it does to CBS. Two teams ditched saves in LABR, but when closers are for an average salary of $10 it is easy to buy at least one and hope for the best. One team bought the combination of Hector Neris and Jeanmar Gomez for six dollars, which I thought was a terrific strategy.
Aces weren’t quite at the same premium in LABR either. In both 2016 and 2017, 11 starting pitchers cost $20 or more. However, where 10 of those 11 pitchers cost $25 or more in 2016 only four pitchers – Kershaw, Noah Syndergaard ($31), Madison Bumgarner ($30), and Max Scherzer ($28) – passed that barrier in 2017. Even though there has been a higher earnings ceiling in the NL over the last few years than there has been in the AL, fantasy managers in the NL are reluctant to spend big money on the top pitchers. Some of this is tied to the fact that Doug Dennis of Baseball HQ’s annual commitment to spend only $30 on his entire pitching staff, but more than anything else there is a general fear of being too aggressive when spending on pitching.
It’s easier to adhere to price discipline in a league like AL LABR, where pitcher costs were relatively predictable and the closer market did not collapse. In the NL, the reluctance to spend on closers specifically and pitching in general is a valid reason to push your prices on pitching down across the board. Scherzer, Jake Arrieta, Johnny Cueto, and Kyle Hendricks were all big bargains in my opinion, but if you purchase three of these pitchers it is easy to blow your pitching budget early and create difficulties for yourself on the hitting side. This is where monitoring what the second and third tier starting pitchers cost is vital to your chances. Bargains in a market like this are relative, and while I’m a big believer in getting value where you can, it is dangerous to fall into the trap of misjudging a volatile and unpredictable market like NL LABR.