February 20, 2014
Mock Auction Analysis
AL- and NL-Only
Mock drafts are a staple of pre-season fantasy baseball coverage, and no magazine or website would be complete without them. It is more rare to see a mock fantasy auction, but there is still a healthy portion of fantasy players who play using the auction format. In response to this, Baseball Prospectus decided to hold mock auctions for our readers who play in auction leagues.
Since auction leagues often dig deeper, Baseball Prospectus held two auctions: an AL-only and an NL-only. Both leagues used the “standard” $260, 23 player roster (14 hitters and nine pitchers) and familiar 5x5 format. The auctions were hosted online using CBS Sports’ auction room feature.
The Starting Lineup
On the whole, the room was “tight.” Only eight players cracked the $30 barrier, with Mike Trout predictably leading the way at $45. One surprise was that starting pitching was at a premium. Expert leagues typically don’t spend on pitching, but that was not the case here. Yu Darvish ($34), Chris Sale ($29), David Price ($27), Max Scherzer ($27), and Felix Hernandez ($26) all went for $25 or more. These prices weren’t out of line, but were not what I was expecting.
There were not quite as many reaches on the hitting side. Prince Fielder ($34) and Joe Mauer ($29) stand out, but once again the room was fairly judicious in looking for value. Carlos Pena went for $10 late, but this was more a product of a good amount of money floating around in the end game.
One of the biggest mistakes I made all day had nothing to with strategy. An owner accidentally bid $145 on a player so I backed out the bid using the site’s commissioner feature. Unfortunately, I forgot to turn off the commissioner feature (and navigate my own bidding) and couldn’t bid on Matt Moore. I had him higher than $11 in my raw bid prices but didn’t get him. This would impact my team quite a bit (more on this later).
I made one of my biggest mistakes of the day when I bought Brian Roberts for $2 two players after Zobrist (at no. 41). The price on Roberts is fine (it is a very low risk if he crashes and burns), but it locked me out of some better bargains later.
As I expected, I was able to spend my money in short order after some of the early overpays by other owners. Elvis Andrus ($25), Josh Donaldson ($20), and Ian Kinsler ($21) made for a nice infield, with Andrus providing a good deal of speed. I’m ambivalent about buying closers, but Fernando Rodney at $14 is fine. Michael Bourn ($19) provided all the other significant speed I needed, and I added my first catcher with John Jaso ($6).
If you’re playing along at home, you can see the problem that was developing. The offense looked great, but I would need to plug some arms in late and hope to get bargains. Meanwhile, the league wasn’t budging on the pitching prices. So I kept filling in everywhere else. At one point, this was what my team looked like:
With 11 roster slots filled, I had 10 hitters, one closer, and $99 to spend on 12 slots. While this makes it sound like I still could have bought a decent pitching staff, there wasn’t enough pitching left. Without going through every single pick, here is what my team looked like at the end of the day:
There isn’t a superstar in the bunch, but 13 everyday players and Roberts makes for a solid offense. The batting average could have been better, but the variability that typically comes with category I could just as easily finish with four points as I could with 10.
The best news about the pitching was that I got a second closer. The market doesn’t believe in Feliz (his handcuff Joakim Soria went for $9) but assuming Feliz is healthy, he and Rodney make for a formidable duo.
But the rest of the staff is pull and pray. These aren’t bad pitchers, there just isn’t enough quality at the top and there is too much uncertainty in general. Morrow could be a steal, but he could pitch 20 crummy innings and disappear. Peavy has posted an ERA north of four three out of the last four seasons. Harrison is also an open question post-injury. Johnson is a rookie; his path is hard to ascertain.
This brings me back to Matt Moore. You’ll notice that I only spent $247 out of my $260. Had I not messed up the auction room settings prior to re-starting the auction, I probably would have purchased Moore. I would have gone $14 on him if his owner said $13, and Moore instead of Gonzalez makes up the $13 difference in spending. The staff still wouldn’t have been great, but the strong offense plus Moore’s strikeouts would have made a big difference.
The Starting Lineup
Not every owner joined in the spending spree. I followed my pattern in the AL and didn’t spend more than $26 on a single player. McCaffrey and Heaney also seemed to recognize that it was better to hang back, and also stayed under the $30 barrier, both spending $28 on their big buys of the day.
A trend that did carry over from the American League mock was a shift in dollars toward the top pitchers. Kershaw, Stephen Strasburg ($34), Cliff Lee ($30), Adam Wainwright ($30), Jose Fernandez ($29), Madison Bumgarner ($28), Craig Kimbrel ($26), and Zack Greinke ($25) all cracked the $25 barrier.
With all of the spending on the front end, it logically followed that the end game would start earlier in the NL than it did in the AL, and there would be a significantly higher number of bargains. 89 players were purchased for three dollars or less. While some of these buys were merely end game filler, there were more than a few super cheap bargains due to the crazy spending early, as you will see in the chart below (even in an “expert” auction, owners can’t stop saying things like “good buy!” or “what a bargain, even though this was a product of the earlier overspending and everybody at the end was under market value).
The offensive core I bought in the NL was no less impressive than the one I purchased in the AL.
Even with a backup like Recker as my second catcher, this offense projects well. When you spend $209 on your offense, this will happen. The only category where I didn’t clean up was in stolen bases. Marte is a strong start, but Desmond and Venable don’t dominate in the category and a number of the players I purchased offer little if anything in speed. Ray Guilfoyle snagged Jordan Schafer in the end game right before I was due to call out a player; I would have preferred Schafer at that point in the auction to Sweeney due to my needs.
The problem I have in the NL is the same one I had in the AL; if this league were playing out, the pitching would need fine-tuning coming out of the gate.
Cashner, Burnett, and Gallardo make for a solid enough front of the rotation, but I would need at least two of the arms behind them to step forward. I mostly took pitchers with injury recovery upside with Johnson, Beckett, and Anderson, but decided to take someone in Hammel for the innings.
The staff projects badly, particularly in ERA/WHIP. But this would be the beauty of this league if we were playing it out. There is a good chance I would swap out at least two of these back-end guys by midseason; the pitchers you start out with aren’t the ones you finish with at the end.
Despite the lack of pitching, I was satisfied with both of my mock auctions. I still believe that you can cobble together a pitching staff during the season, even in an only league. The CBS projections had me in third place, behind Nick Shlain’s Roto Wire entrant and Ryan Potter’s Dynasty Guru team. As I often do in auctions, I look at the team I built as a framework and not as a finished product. From this standpoint, I like my squad a great deal.