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February 8, 2012

Fantasy Beat

Ruminations on My LABR Invitation

by Jason Collette

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Cruise ships are wonderful getaways from the stresses of life: three or more days out at sea, away from it all—and that includes data coverage, unless you are willing to pay a per-minute fee that is on the level of what a beer costs at most ballparks these days. Couple that with spending time with 13 other guys as we honor the last days of our good friend’s bachelorhood, and the last 96 hours have been quite a blur of inaccessibility, little sleep, and lapses in memory, but today I rejoin the daily grind.

While I was out to sea, it was announced that I had been invited out to Phoenix, Arizona during the first weekend of March to participate in the 19th annual LABR draft, joining our very own Derek Carty that weekend (albeit in separate leagues). LABR differs from Tout Wars in a few ways. For one, there are some participants of LABR that do not play in Tout Wars, and visa-versa. Unlike Tout, LABR does not do mixed leagues.  Most importantly, though, LABR is the first well-known public auction league to draft each year, with its results published in USA Today’s Sports Weekly (and now online, given their recent partnership with Sirius/XM Radio). Admittedly, this is an advantage for those of us participating in Tout Wars because we know how many of our competitors auctioned just a couple weeks earlier in LABR.

(As an aside, if you’re close in age to me, you were likely a loyal Baseball Weekly reader (RIP), and you can vividly remember chasing down the LABR results issues once “The Leviathan” hit the racks in the mid-90s. If you’d allow me to get up on a soapbox for a moment, if I were commissioner for a day, my second ruling after mandating the designated hitter in the National League would be to require USA Today to revive Baseball Weekly. My airplane travels demand it!)

After tracking the results from both drafts for the past four seasons, an overwhelming number of the dollar values for the two leagues fall two or fewer dollars apart. As a result, the benefit of having the LABR results released prior to Tout Wars (up until this year, at least) is that it allows me to start toying around with what I am going to do in my Tout auction by comparing the LABR prices to dollar values that I have created. Am I too bullish or bearish on some players? Which players were being saved as end-game sleepers? How did the dollars values spike once the talent pool at a particular position started thinning out?

These kinds of luxuries disappear in LABR because the only pre-existing auction data drafters have is the XFL auction or mocks from the many published periodicals on bookshelves around the country. The largest issue with these sources is that they are at least two months out of date by the time early March rolls around. The XFL auction happens during the First Pitch Arizona conference in November, while nearly every magazine that publishes auction results were completed in December or very early January due to the rigors of the publishing business.  As a result, when you come to LABR, you’re on your own.

The additional curveball that LABR throws that Tout does not is the uncertainty of rosters when players are drafted. Position battles are ongoing. There are more unsettled closer roles in early March than there are in late March. Hyped rookies may cost more on March 3 than they will on March 24 after they have hit 2-25 with 14 strikeouts during Spring Training. Outside of these types of things, the main reason a guy will go any more than $5 above a published value (or his LABR price) in Tout Wars will be because of position or category scarcity. I paid $14 for Tsuyoshi Nishioka last season because I needed to fill my shortstop role and needed some speed.  That is what can happen when you misjudge the depth at a position and put blind faith into scouting reports without watching the player play.

Despite the uniqueness of an “expert” league auction, the same rules still apply to your own leagues. I find auctions to be imminently more enjoyable than draft formats because I have complete control over which players I can or cannot roster. If I want to pay $45 for Evan Longoria, that is my prerogative. If I want to spent $241 on offense and grab cheap pitchers, I can do that. Larry Labadini first did that in LABR back in the 90s, and it was most recently done by Doug Dennis of Baseball HQ last season when he won the league by 12.5 points.  The “stars and scrubs” strategy also has its roots in LABR, as does the “spread the risk” plan, which was implemented when Irwin Zwilling and Lenny Melnick made it their mantra not to spend more than $25 on any one player. I also watched Jeff Ma of Bringing Down the House and 21 fame come into Tout Wars in 2009 and spend 52 percent of his budget on pitching, leading to a top-three finish while staying in championship contention right up until the end.

The common thread among all of these strategies is the executor’s willingness to stick to their plan. I’ve experimented with each in a redraft league at one time or another (with varying amounts of success), but I have always found more success coming into an auction with a plan rather than coming in and letting the auction dictate my plan. The only thing worse than coming into an auction without a battle plan is coming in with a list of players you have to have. Know the line at each position where the talent-level falls off. Know which players do not hit lefties well; such a deficiency could limit their effectiveness in full-time play or even prevent them from getting to 500 plate appearances. Know which players are on the wrong side of their platoon and will be reduced to facing lefties. If you are targeting closer candidates, see what their splits look like at both the minor and major league level because control, gopheritis, and splits are the three biggest killers of sleeper closers.

While there is merit to regimented strategies, I feel as though it's far more important to be aware of these kinds of things, have a plan, but be flexible if things don't play out exactly as you anticipate. Repeat after me, “You have to have skills, not names.”  If you need to make it your desktop wallpaper or some Gregorian monk chant that you listen to on your way to the draft, do it.

Jason Collette is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jason's other articles. You can contact Jason by clicking here

Related Content:  Fantasy Baseball,  LABR

13 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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Richard Bergstrom

I joined a NL Keeper Scoresheet League and I'm surprised at the lack of infield offensive talent.. Pablo Sandoval ends up becoming a monster because he can switch hit (matters in scoresheet) and he's young and wouldn't go in the first few picks of the draft.

Feb 08, 2012 08:43 AM
rating: 0
 
misterjohnny
(925)

You lost me when you mandated the DH in the NL. For Shame!

Feb 08, 2012 09:04 AM
rating: 0
 
LynchMob

It will be interesting to see how long it takes Astros fans to accept / embrace the AL, and hence the DH ... the 2 fans I know have both already denounced their fanship ...

I hope it takes a long time ... ie. I hope the Astros franchise takes a big hit in attendance and local media interest/revenues ... but I doubt it ...

I think the Astros move to the AL will be a test case for the longer term inevitability of the NL succumbing to the DH ... which will be a sad day, indeed ...

Feb 08, 2012 11:01 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jason Collette
BP staff

I grew up watching the Astros & NL baseball but have since become a big fan of the AL way of baseball.

Feb 08, 2012 13:03 PM
 
Andy McG

I grew up in Ireland, not watching baseball (only discovered the game when I turned 20). Cricket was the summer game. Coming from that background, the DH makes zero sense. It removes the inherently sensible notion of self-regulation brought by a pitcher having to stand in batter's box himself to face the music. Add the strategy aspect and for me it's a no brainer.

However, I wouldn't advocate removing the DH from the AL or adding it to the NL. An anachronism it might be but it makes the sport that little bit more interesting.

Feb 10, 2012 06:12 AM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

I'm in an AL keeper league and an NL keeper league. I like the idea of a team's worth of players and prospects joining the AL, but don't like the idea of losing a team's worth of players and prospects in the NL. Also, my AL league has 10 teams and my NL league has 12 teams which means the NL league will have a shallower pool of talent to draw from.

Feb 08, 2012 15:42 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jason Collette
BP staff

Well, the NL won't miss the Astros farm system since there isn't much there to begin with. Then again, the Astros major league roster isn't in great shape either and you have to believe that Lee and Wandy were goners after this season anyhow making fantasy pickings worse.

Feb 08, 2012 15:54 PM
 
Richard Bergstrom

Think about it though. A 12 team NL keeper league will continue to have 15 major league teams (and their minor leaguers) to pick from. Meanwhile, the 10 team AL keeper leagues will be a bit "deeper" than the NL keeper leagues because they'll have an extra team to pick from.

Feb 09, 2012 10:57 AM
rating: 0
 
davinhbrown

ah the days of the Leviathan. John Hunt reccomending Karim Garcia year after year....

great times...

Feb 08, 2012 18:00 PM
rating: 0
 
kdringg

What about compiling fantasy baseball data by using Tuesday and Wednesday's USA Today sports sections? I remember that one day was NL and AL the next day. They gave you more timely stats than BW - which I agree with you was a major loss to all baseball fans. It also signaled baseball's loss to the NFL as America's favorite sport.

Feb 09, 2012 06:07 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Jason Collette
BP staff

The hot sheet in that section was also a great way to find the new guys to pick up as soon as they were called up. Those were the last days of the true "sleepers" in fantasy baseball before the information age zoomed out of control.

Feb 09, 2012 06:17 AM
 
Sal T

Loved Baseball Weekly, I still have the first 2 editions, but it didn't hold a candle to the old Sporting News when it was the "bible of baseball".

Feb 09, 2012 18:46 PM
rating: -1
 
Robotey

Well said about a plan. In an 11 team NL only league I've found the best 'plan' is actually to start with your dream roster and work from there. If you wanted Kemp or Braun budget $40 and go from there--it's a simple excel sheet to make and plug in the values. Start backwards, plug in $1 for backup catcher 5th and 6th starter, last OF, maybe mid, and then see how much it leaves for your stud outfielders. First time auction drafters don't always realize that by blowing half their payroll on 5 studs in the first hour will leave them with little to bid as the draft rolls on. It's also fun to see how owners tend to recall past drafts and hold their money watching bargains roll by--we saw Halladay go for $25 his first year with Phillies in one case. Of course, even best laid plans go awry. Last year I budgeted $42 for Hanley, got him for 'only' $38 and was thanking my stars until...he delivered a $5 season.

Feb 14, 2012 13:54 PM
rating: 0
 
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