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March 9, 2017

Expert League Auction Recap

2017 LABR Overview

by Mike Gianella


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.

American League
As I noted in my LABR recap, the top hitters were more expensive than they typically have been in past auctions.

Table 1: Hitter Dollar Distribution, AL LABR 2017 versus AL LABR 2016

Group

LABR 2017

LABR 2016

+/-

Actual 2016
(auction)

1-12

416

399

17

$400

13-24

310

309

1

$322

25-37

262

251

11

$272

36-48

227

221

6

$236

49-60

203

201

2

$206

61-72

178

175

3

$178

73-84

142

147

-5

$151

85-96

119

119

0

$127

97-108

96

102

-6

$110

109-120

76

85

-9

$84

121-132

53

60

-7

$46

133-144

30

37

-7

$23

145-156

16

26

-10

$6

157-168

12

13

-1

-$14

Totals

$2.140

$2,145

-5

$2145*

*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

Hitter

LABR

CBS

Diff

2016 $

Trevor Plouffe

13

3

10

$9

Carlos Beltran

8

15

7

$23

Mallex Smith

1

8

7

$8

Starlin Castro

11

17

6

$16

Brian Dozier

24

30

6

$31

Melvin Upton

1

7

6

$20

Chris Carter

6

11

5

$18

Avisail Garcia

1

6

5

$10

Max Kepler

13

18

5

$11

Colby Rasmus

1

6

5

$6

Andrelton Simmons

2

7

5

$13


Table 2 is dominated by hitters who went for nothing or next-to-nothing in CBS but where the LABR experts pushed prices a little higher. I don’t believe anyone is excited to own Garcia or Simmons, but even in an injury marred 2016, both hitters earned double digits. The other phenomenon on display with the cheap CBS players is that LABR put a premium on part-time speed. Smith and Upton were pushed well beyond the $1-3 end game in the hopes that they can be this year’s version of Jarrod Dyson: rabbits who can earn $15-20 by stealing 25-30 bases off the bench. Price discipline in LABR at the beginning leads to higher prices in the middle of the auction, as was the case with Beltran, Castro, and Kepler.

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

Pitcher

LABR 2017

LABR 2016 Comp

Diff

Yu Darvish

30

33

-3

Chris Sale

30

29

1

Corey Kluber

29

28

1

Chris Archer

25

26

-1

Justin Verlander

24

25

-1

Carlos Carrasco

22

24

-2

Cole Hamels

21

24

-3

Jose Quintana

19

22

-3

Marcus Stroman

18

22

-4

Five pitchers tied

17

22

-5

Totals

235

255

-20


LABR’s hitting/pitching split barely changed from 2016 to 2017., LABR spent $970 on pitchers this year compared to $965 in 2016. But this wasn’t distributed to the top starters, who were $20 cheaper, or two dollars cheaper per pitcher. Two teams went with a somewhat low end pitching strategy, which explains the dip on the top pitchers somewhat, as does the late breaking news on David Price. Larry Schechter nabbed Price early in the auction for $14, when nearly every pitcher on the board was still available. Most of the biggest price jumps from CBS to LABR were on mid-tier starting pitchers who generated some mini-bidding wars. Kevin Gausman, Drew Pomeranz, Luis Severino, Jharel Cotton, Aaron Sanchez, and Jake Odorizzi all cost $4 more in LABR than they did in CBS. This combined with two teams budgeting $60 for their pitching staffs led to some very cheap buys at the end.


The LABR experts shifted most of the money they spent in 2016 on elite starting pitchers to closers.

Table 4: AL Expert Closer Prices LABR 2017 versus LABR 2016

Pitcher

2017

2016 Comp

Aroldis Chapman

23

21

Zach Britton

21

21

Edwin Diaz

19

17

Ken Giles

18

17

Kelvin Herrera

17

15

Craig Kimbrel

17

14

Roberto Osuna

17

14

Cody Allen

15

13

Alex Colome

14

12

David Robertson

14

12

Francisco Rodriguez

13

11

Sam Dyson

12

11

Cam Bedrosian

8

10

Ryan Madson

5

8

Brandon Kintzler

4

6

Total

217

202


A full year of Chapman explains some of this (he cost $15 in 2016 after it was announced he would miss 30 games to start the 2016 season due to a domestic violence incident) but on the whole the experts were more aggressive with relievers than they had been in 2016. Eight relievers cost $15 or more in 2017 compared to only five in 2016. Even though two teams dumped saves in LABR this year, there was a near linear progression in pricing from Chapman down to Dyson. Historically speaking, $20 is a difficult number for the experts in LABR to pay for closers, and this year’s auction was no exception. Five AL relievers earned $20 or more in 2016 but the LABR experts only felt comfortable cracking the $20 barrier for Chapman and Britton. One trend that continued was the push for non-closers. Andrew Miller ($14), Dellin Betances ($9) and Nate Jones ($8) each cost more than bottom end closers Madson and Kintzler.

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.

National League
Where AL LABR is very predictable, the NL is a wild affair. Some of this is because the league spends a significant amount of money on hitting every year compared to the other expert leagues.

Table 5: Hitter Dollar Distribution, NL LABR 2017 versus NL LABR 2016

Group

LABR 2017

LABR 2016

+/-

Tout 2016

Actual 2016
(auction)

1-12

$393

$412

-19

$436

$420

13-24

$323

$313

10

$328

$319

25-37

$280

$272

8

$263

$262

38-49

$244

$237

7

$224

$234

49-60

$215

$210

5

$195

$211

61-72

$178

$184

-6

$167

$192

73-84

$157

$155

2

$147

$167

85-96

$133

$133

0

$126

$134

97-108

$111

$111

0

$98

$105

109-120

$79

$80

-1

$67

$83

121-132

$44

$49

-5

$42

$52

133-144

$36

$31

5

$30

$34

145-156

$19

$17

2

$18

$8

157-168

$12

$12

0

$11

-$4

Totals

$2,224

$2,216

8

$2,152

$2,216*

*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

Hitter

LABR

CBS

Diff

2016 $

Matt Wieters

11

2

9

$10

Michael Conforto

12

5

7

$6

Alex Dickerson

10

3

7

$11

David Freese

9

2

7

$12

Adrian Gonzalez

23

17

6

$19

Howie Kendrick

10

5

5

$12

Adam Lind

7

2

5

$9

Eric Thames

22

17

5

Christian Yelich

26

21

5

$26

Several tied at +4

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

Group

LABR 2017

LABR 2016

Tout 2016

1-12

$311

$325

$327

13-24

$180

$196

$203

25-37

$126

$133

$147

36-48

$106

$99

$111

49-60

$69

$61

$77

61-72

$45

$38

$46

73-84

$28

$24

$25

85-96

$17

$15

$12

97-109

$12

$12

$12

Totals

$894

$903

$960


In 2016, Tout Wars spent $960, or 30.8 percent of its overall budget, on pitching. LABR spent a mere 28.7 of its 2017 budget on arms. The spending in the top tier dropped $14, even though Derek Carty spent a whopping $44 on Clayton Kershaw, or nearly five percent of LABR’s overall pitching budget. As has typically happened in LABR the last few years, most of the money the league saves on pitching has come by underpaying the closers.

Table 8: NL Expert Closer Prices LABR 2017 versus LABR 2016

Pitcher

2017

2016 Comp

CBS

Tout 2016

Kenley Jansen

22

20

25

19

Mark Melancon

17

18

24

17

Seung hwan Oh

16

17

24

17

Wade Davis

15

15

21

17

Jeurys Familia

11

14

18

16

A.J. Ramos

11

12

16

15

Tony Watson

11

10

17

13

Raisel Iglesias

10

9

14

10

Shawn Kelley

10

9

15

9

Jim Johnson

9

9

11

9

Neftali Feliz

8

7

15

8

Brandon Maurer

7

5

13

7

Adam Ottavino

7

4

13

7

Fernando Rodney

5

4

10

7

Hector Neris

4

4

8

6

Total

163

157

244

177

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.

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,  Auctions,  Experts Leagues

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