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2015 marks the 22nd year of the League of Alternative Baseball Reality. Commonly known as LABR for short, this is the longest running and best-known of fantasy expert league in the game. Bret Sayre and I had the privilege of participating in the mixed league draft last month. This past weekend in Arizona, it was the AL and NL-only leagues’ turn. Yesterday, I took a look at the American League results. Today, I will look at the NL-only results. As a reminder, I’m less concerned about individual picks and more looking at the auction

If you want to see how the entire auction shook out, the results can be found here. My analysis is focused on auction trends that will hopefully help you in your own auctions this year. While it is fun to ooooh and aaaah over certain individual picks, it is far more useful to see if there are any significant shifts in expert spending. In my experience, what happens in LABR does have an influence in home league auction(s).

Last year, the big story in LABR NL was staunch pricing conservatism in the early going, which led to aggressive pricing in the middle of the auction. This year, the story was on the pitching side.

Table 1: CBS and LABR NL Hitting/Pitching Dollar Allocation 2013-2015

League

Year

Hitting %

Pitching %

CBS NL

2015

66.9%

33.1%

CBS NL

2014

67.0%

33.0%

CBS NL

2013

68.4%

31.6%

LABR NL

2015

71.4%

28.7%

LABR NL

2014

69.6%

30.4%

LABR NL

2013

69.7%

30.3%

Tout Wars NL

2013

69.5%

30.5%

Tout Wars NL

2014

68.9%

31.1%

Pitching prices plummeted in LABR. There were a few reasons for this.

Let’s start with Doug Dennis of Baseball HQ. Doug—as he almost always does in expert auctions—spent $30 on his pitching staff. By itself, this fact explains only part of the phenomenon. If LABR had spent $85 per team on pitching (which is kind of high, given historical trends), that would still only explain away $55 of the $144 difference between CBS and LABR in 2015. But the impact of Doug not spending on his pitching staff didn’t just happen in a vacuum. It impacted the entire league as well. If Doug isn’t bidding on any pitchers, it pushes the prices on pitching down.

#NotAllPitchers (yes, I’m now resorting to using hashtags in my articles. 2015 is going to blow).

Table 2: 11 Most Expensive NL LABR Pitchers 2015

Pitcher

LABR

Top 11 2014 $

My Bid

LABR 2014 Comp

Top 11 2013 $

Clayton Kershaw

40

$41

40

35

$41

Max Scherzer

32

$38

29

27

$31

Stephen Strasburg

27

$31

23

27

$30

Madison Bumgarner

24

$27

23

24

$29

Matt Harvey

24

$25

22

23

$29

Jordan Zimmermann

23

$25

22

22

$28

Aroldis Chapman

21

$24

21

22

$27

Zack Greinke

21

$24

21

20

$25

Cole Hamels

21

$24

21

20

$23

Craig Kimbrel

20

$23

21

20

$23

Johnny Cueto

20

$22

20

18

$23

Total

273

$304

263

258

$309

Despite the big drop in pitching prices, the top pitching prices went up, not down. Some of this is due to the influx of pitching from the American League, but not as much as you would expect. Scherzer is a big part of this jump, but Jon Lester and James Shields aren’t even sitting for this portrait. It is instructive to consider that in 2014 the 11 most expensive pitchers took up 27.3 percent of the pitching pie ($946 spent). In 2015, the top pitchers took up a whopping 30.6 percent of the pitching pie.

This means that prices were slashed big time in the lower tiers.

Table 3: NL Pitcher by Cost “Tier”: 2015

LABR 2015

LABR 2014

+/-

MG

1-12

292

276

16

283

13-24

188

195

7

207

25-36

146

144

2

173

37-48

108

114

-6

119

49-60

69

90

-21

85

61-72

42

62

-20

57

73-84

23

33

-10

37

85-96

12

20

-8

20

97-108

12

12

0

12

Totals

892

946

-54

993

LABR 2014 is a wild spender compared to 2015, and I look like a man maniacally throwing stacks of cash into a crowd. However, had I been in the room at LABR I would have missed out on many of the top pitchers anyway and still found my landing spot in the $15-17 group of pitchers (and possibly lower).

The spending drop wasn’t just limited to starting pitching. For the second year in a row, LABR cheated the closers.

Table 4: NL Closer Prices, 2015

Pitcher

CBS

LABR

MG

Aroldis Chapman

24

21

23

Craig Kimbrel

25

20

22

Mark Melancon

18

18

18

Drew Storen

17

15

15

Trevor Rosenthal

22

15

16

Steve Cishek

18

14

16

Jonathan Papelbon

14

12

17

Kenley Jansen

18

12

17

Hector Rondon

16

11

13

Joaquin Benoit

17

11

17

Santiago Casilla

11

9

9

Addison Reed

13

8

13

Francisco Rodriguez

4

8

13

Jennry Mejia

12

5

6

LaTroy Hawkins

5

3

7

Total

234

182

222

Rodriguez is the only closer who went for more in LABR than he did in CBS; this happened because he was signed after the CBS auction concluded. Nearly everyone else went for less money. When Jansen and Papelbon went for $12 apiece, I thought that perhaps the trade and injury risks were keeping their prices down. But it quickly became apparent that for the second year in a row LABR wasn’t going to spend for saves.

There was nothing wrong with the prices for the top pitchers (with the possible exceptions of Harvey) but when you are in an auction environment with a known x factor, you have to play to that as a strength. The fact that Doug Dennis throws pitching overboard every year meant that—while Kershaw and Scherzer went for what were fair prices—that the best play on Sunday was to hang back. Starting with James Shields ($15), a host of bargains quickly came through, including Jake Arrieta ($16), Gio Gonzalez ($13), Tyson Ross ($12), Jacob deGrom ($12), Andrew Cashner ($11), Lance Lynn ($8), and Mat Latos ($9). There is a good chance that three of these guys combined will out earn Kershaw. The owners who won on pitching tailed off and put together powerful backend staffs.

With all of the money spent on hitting, you would have figured that the top hitters would have cost more. They cost a little bit more than last year, but not by very much.

Table 5: 10 Most Expensive NL LABR Hitters 2015

Hitter

LABR

Top 10 2014 $

My Bid

LABR 2014 Comp

Top 10 2013 $

Andrew McCutchen

39

$34

38

36

$41

Paul Goldschmidt

38

$34

37

35

$38

Giancarlo Stanton

36

$34

36

33

$36

Carlos Gomez

32

$34

35

33

$35

Starling Marte

32

$31

27

32

$34

Anthony Rendon

31

$30

29

32

$32

Ryan Braun

30

$30

30

32

$31

Freddie Freeman

30

$30

23

31

$31

Yasiel Puig

30

$28

28

29

$31

Anthony Rizzo

30

$27

27

28

$31

Total

328

$312

310

321

$340

Table 5 lists the 10 most expensive hitters in LABR, how much the ten best hitters earned in LABR in 2014, and lists my bid on this year’s most expensive hitters. The LABR 2014 comp column shows what the ten most expensive hitters cost in 2014 and how much the Top 10 NL-only hitters earned in 2013.

At a glance, it may look like I’m throwing a bunch of data at you for no apparent reason. But while these pricing differences may look tiny, in reality they are Pricing Differences. The expert market typically reacts to what happened the prior season, not to what they think will happen this year. So in 2014, LABR gave the 10 most expensive hitters a $19 pay cut. In 2015, despite the fact that the 10 best hitters really flattened out, LABR gave the 10 best hitters a $16 raise.

LABR is betting that the best hitters will improve but isn’t willing to bet that the best hitters are going to return to their 2009-2012 form

Table 6: 10 Most Expensive National League Hitters: 2009-2014

Year

$

Sal

+/-

Prior Year

10 Best Prior Year

2014

$21

34

-13

$28

$31

2013

$22

35

-13

$27

$33

2012

$28

37

-10

$33

$38

2011

$33

38

-6

$33

$35

2010

$28

39

-10

$36

$36

2009

$31

40

-9

$36

$37

It certainly is possible that 2015 will be the beginning of a new trend. Perhaps this is the year that Goldschmidt, Braun, and Stanton all stay healthy, that Rendon and Rizzo not only maintain but take another step forward, and Freeman and Puig finally live up to their immense (and perhaps unfair) expectations. Or perhaps someone who isn’t even on this list will make the leap.

The bids aren’t trying to predict what will happen but are reacting to the evidence. Not only have the Top 10 hitters been weaker since 2013, they also have not nearly been as stable. Cutch is gold (and costs a little more as a result) but otherwise the top 10 seems to shift from year to year. The bidders include Goldy and Stanton in the stable category; everyone else is priced like they could be elite but without the same kind of confidence.

This is a long way of saying that—relatively speaking—the experts didn’t spend as much as they have pre-2014 on the top players but that based on the current market their prices were appropriate.

If the prices at the top were solid, what did the rest of the hitting market look like?

Table 7: NL Hitters by Cost “Tier”: 2015

LABR 2015

LABR 2014

+/-

MG

1-12

$384

$376

8

376

13-24

$311

$305

6

305

25-36

$279

$262

17

265

37-48

$246

$235

11

233

49-60

$217

$209

7

199

61-72

$195

$184

11

180

73-84

$165

$150

15

158

85-96

$128

$121

5

137

97-108

$104

$100

4

106

109-120

$82

$88

-6

62

121-132

$54

$67

-13

42

133-144

$34

$35

-1

30

145-156

$17

$19

-2

22

157-168

$12

$12

0

12

Totals

$2,228

$2,163

65

2,127

There is more spending at the top. But given how little money was spent on pitching, the money for the hitters should have been redistributed even more into the top tiers. Again, there was nothing wrong with most of the prices, but when your league is spending $185 per team on hitting, you have to push your money to the top and—to a lesser extent—into the second tier. If not, this is what happens:

There were some other examples, but because the LABR owners didn’t spend more of their money at the top and because they didn’t want to push the pitchers, the money had to go somewhere so it went to the bottom.

Again, this ties back to league familiarity. If you know that owners like Dennis and owners who dump saves exist, adjust your prices accordingly. The owners who spent big on pitching early are probably behind the eight ball a little bit.

But enough negativity. For owners who use tiered pricing, here are some of the better bargains of the day in LABR NL.

Carlos Gomez $32, Rick Wolf/Glenn Colton, Colton and the Wolfman
Gomez is no longer a one-year flash in the pan and offers four category greatness and a batting average that is no longer a liability. He probably should have sailed into the mid-$30s easily.

Buster Posey $24, Derek Van Riper, Rotowire
Posey is a consistent, mid-$20s earner at a position where there is constantly flux. I don’t like paying big dollars for a catcher, but in Posey’s case I’ll make an exception.

Carlos Gonzalez $23, Erik Karabell, ESPN
2015’s ultimate risk/reward player, Gonzalez’s cost in LABR mitigates a good chunk of the risk. The health issues in 2014 were non-chronic; while I don’t like betting on guys like Gonzalez in a keeper league, he’s fine in a redraft league.

Charlie Blackmon $20, Derek Carty, Fantasy Insiders
My love for Blackmon is well documented, and here Carty got him for two dollars cheaper than I did in CBS. Blackmon doesn’t have to repeat his 2014 to earn $20, and a Coors-influenced player with Blackmon’s skill set plays at this price.

Devin Mesoraco $18, Bob Radomski, Sandlot Shrink
Mesoraco’s average is likely to slip, but power-hitting catchers were already rare before the pitchers got the upper hand. 20 home runs or so in a mono league from one of your backstops is worth at least $20, warts and all.

Martin Prado $15, Lawr Michaels, Mastersball
The $15-17 range was a tough place to find value in Sunday’s auction. Prado wasn’t a great buy, but came at a better price than many of the overpriced players in this bracket.

Wilin Rosario $12, Derek Carty, Fantasy Insiders
Rosario’s problems last year are well documented, but this price seems like an overreaction, especially in NL-only. Rosario will get his at bats and doesn’t even need a power bounce back to earn this.

Curtis Granderson $11, Greg Ambrosius/Shawn Childs, NFBC/Stats, Inc.
Granderson is a batting-average drag, but he should still be good for 20 home runs and a shade under 10 steals. He is a bargain compared to most of the non-Colorado outfielders in this auction.

Brandon Crawford $8, Lawr Michaels, Mastersball
There are a few bargains that I could have used from this tier. I chose Crawford for his position. Relative to some of the more expensive shortstops, Crawford is a sneakily cheap option in NL-only. If he’s healthy, he’ll earn double-digits easily.

Jon Lester $19, Steve Gardner, USA Today/Sports Weekly
Steve, if you’re reading this, take note: there is no way I’m letting you steal Lester for $19 in Tout Wars 11 days from now. Lester earned $30 in AL-only last year. Moving to the stronger pitching circuit should suppress Lester’s earnings, but not by this much.

James Shields $15, Steve Gardner, USA Today/Sports Weekly
Steve, if you’re reading this, take note: there is no way I’m letting you steal Shields for $19 in Tout Wars 11 days from now. In some years, the pitching imports from the other league go for way too much money. This year there was a discount. San Diego’s potentially poor outfield defense is more than mitigated by the Petco effect.

Kenley Jansen $12, Steve Moyer, Inside Edge
Steve, if you’re reading this, take note Oops, wrong Steve! You’re not in Tout Wars NL this year. Sorry about that! As mentioned above, a lot of closers could stand in here, but even with three teams dumping saves, this is a significant overreaction to a non-arm injury. 4-5 months of an elite closer for $12 works for me.

Lance Lynn $8, Steve Moyer, Inside Edge
Lynn is hurt at the moment, but this is yet another non-arm injury and doesn’t even seem as serious as Jansen’s. Lynn should slip a little bit this year, but should still put up a 3.20-3.30 ERA and close to 200 strikeouts. That’s a bargain at eight bucks.

Shelby Miller $6, Steve Gardner, USA Today/Sports Weekly
Steve, if you’re reading this, take note: there is no way I’m letting you…ah, screw that! Can someone else at Tout Wars please help me out so that I don’t have to price enforce Gardner on all of these guys? Please? This price seems like an overreaction to an early spring outing. Miller is likely to have a bad spring as he works on some mechanical tweaks with pitching coach Roger McDowell. This pick could go belly up, but I love the upside here at $6.