2023 SABR Analytics Conference Research Awards: Voting Open Now!

If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Any of us who have been to any kind of motivational speaking course or business training have heard that statement enough to roll our eyes when we see or hear it again. It is cliché, but it is still the first rule of any draft or auction.

If you have been following my comments or my Twitter account, you know I have been on the road quite a bit for my main profession and that I can tell you almost as much about the food court offerings of just about any major airport east of the Mississippi than I can about certain baseball players these days. As I boarded the plane to Phoenix for the LABR draft this past Friday, I realized that I had spent 31 of the 62 calendar days in 2012 sleeping in a strange bed. Needless to say, my family is hoping for some regression to the mean so I can actually be home to watch baseball games with them this season, as it is our favorite thing to do together.   

I started formulating a plan for the AL LABR auction about two weeks ago, one that would be a combination of things I had done in past Tout Wars auctions. I am risk averse by nature, so I tend to lean toward the “spread the risk” camp than I do the “stars and scrubs” theory that other drafters (looking at you Ambrosius/Childs & Wolf/Colton) do in drafts. In the 2010 AL Tout Wars draft, my largest pitching buy was Bobby Jenks at $16; the rest of my staff included a $12 Francisco Liriano, $9 David Price, $9 Phil Hughes, $12 John Danks, $8 Rich Harden, and $9 Scott Kazmir. Even though Harden and Kazmir were awful, Liriano and Price far exceeded expectations, which balanced my buys and allowed me to have one of the strongest pitching staffs in the league that season. In 2011, I purchased Joe Mauer at $23, marking the first time in any competitive league that I have spent over $15 for a catcher, but the result was not as fortunate.

Going into AL LABR, my plan was to repeat my 2010 style of filling my pitching staff with a little twist, giving the catcher strategy one more try, and limiting my frivolous spending to just two big and nameless faces of skills.

Since I was determined to stay out of the big dollars for pitchers, I wanted to minimize my risks. You’ll recall from a piece I did last season that I prefer a pitcher with high ground-ball rates, high strikeout rates, and strong strikeout-to-walk ratios. Since 1970, there have been 4,984 instances of pitchers throwing at least 120 innings. I filtered that group down to pitchers with at least a 48 percent ground-ball rate, a 7.0 K/9, and a 2.5 K/BB ratio, and got 215 results. In an all-or-nothing scenario, here is how the groups broke down






All 3 skills





No skills





If you focus on a combination of strikeout rate, ground-ball rate, or strikeout-to-walk ratio, the numbers can actually break out better, especially when excluding ground-ball qualifiers. However, that also opens up more of a financial investment into those players. Simply put, knowing that pitchers with a mix of ground balls, strikeouts, and command outperformed their peers who didn’t showcase all three, I went into the draft targeting a specific list of pitchers who displayed those skills.

My goal was to fill my starting pitching staff with six of the following names: Brandon McCarthy, Ubaldo Jimenez, Justin Masterson, Henderson Alvarez, Gavin Floyd, Matt Harrison, Hishashi Iwakuma, Jeff Niemann, Luke Hochevar, Chris Sale, and Daniel Bard. Floyd, Alvarez, and Harrison did not fit the complete profile, but all three are pitchers whose games intrigue me for 2012. I was able to get five of my targets while also rostering Alex Cobb for $1; Iwakuma went in dollar days three spots before my turn. Hochevar’s price raised some eyebrows on Twitter, but go check out his most recent player card comments from this year’s Prospectus; that was the final selling point for me.

The six starters cost me $63; my bullpen ended up being Joe Nathan at $17, Mark Melancon at $4, and Scott Downs at $1. Even though saves were rather discounted in the draft, I went with the set-up men behind two risky closer situations rather than pay for what is a rather light closer market for the American League.

I hit my goals for hitters. I spent $24 on Carlos Santana because I know he’ll get more plate appearances than the rest, assuming health, since he will spell Casey Kotchman at first base against lefties. Santana’s slugging percentage increased every month of 2011 while he improved his walk-to-strikeout rate. Prince Fielder was my largest hitting investment at $32, and that was as high as I wanted to go to secure power. B.J. Upton at $28 represents my largest multi-talent investment. I liked the changes he made to his swing in September that allowed him to drive the ball with more authority, and it does not hurt that he is in a contract year.

The one thing that stood out in the draft was how quickly the middle-infield pool dried up and how that played out in auction dynamics later. I couldn’t get the likes of Jamey Carroll, Robert Andino, and Trevor Plouffe near the end game when I had $2-3 to spend for the spot. That’s how I ended up with Keppinger and Getz; they were the final two players available at the position once everyone had filled their spots. My one regret was paying $10 for Brent Morel when Danny Valencia went for $6 immediately afterward. I had Morel, Valencia, and Wilson Betemit flagged to fill my third base and corner slots. Morel made some changes in his process late in the season and had some intriguing results, but those accomplishments lose some shine when you look at his home run log and see the collection of roster expansion pitchers he punished.

My outfield filled out rather well; I liked getting Willingham’s consistent power for $14. If he can mash as he did last year in Oakland, he should have no trouble in Target Field and the friendlier parks of the AL Central. Nolan Reimold should finally get the chance for a full-time job this year, and I am banking on his skills being up to the task. Scott at $9 is a risk with him coming off of shoulder surgery, but he will also likely get five games at first base for in-season qualification there. Crisp was the best speed play at that time of the auction.

LABR is unique from other leagues in that you have to play the guys you draft. If you drafted them in the active phase, you can never reserve them for poor performance. Essentially, the player is active or he is cut unless an injury allows you to stash him away. The six players you draft in the reserves are allowed to be moved up and down to cover for those injured. In my case, I will be leaning on a bench of Casey Jannssen, Sam Fuld, Brandon Inge, Charlie Furbush, Jack Hannahan, and Tim Beckham.

My final roster
Santana ($24), John Jaso ($1)
Corners: Fielder ($32), Morel ($10), Betemit ($9)
Middle: J.J. Hardy ($16), Keppinger ($3), Getz ($1)
Outfield: Upton ($28), Coco Crisp ($19), Josh Willingham ($14), Luke Scott ($9), Nolan Reimold ($13)
Utility: Kosuke Fukudome ($1)
Pitchers: Nathan ($17), Jimenez ($16), McCarthy ($14), Masterson ($12), Hochevar ($7), Melancon ($4), Niemann ($8), Cobb ($1), Downs ($1).

Full results from the auction can be found here. To view the bids in the order in which they were won, click here.

Other draft factoids:

  • Average price by position:

    • Catcher: $9
    • First base: $15
    • Second base: $14
    • Shortstop: $12
    • Third base: $17
    • Outfield : $13
    • Pitcher: $9
  • The league spent 29.7 percent of its dollars on pitching and 70.3 percent on hitting.   
  • Number of players by dollar range:

    • $30+> = 11
    • $20+> = 51
    • $10+> = 136
    • $1 = 39

Thank you for reading

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Jason,I'm curious if you looked at comparing the groundball versus the flyball pitchers that met your other two criteria. I read a recent article (that I can't seem to find, sadly) that suggested that while groundball pitchers tended to have lower ERA, flyball pitchers tended to have more strikeouts and a lower whip (since the expected babip on a flyball is lower than a groundball).
All true. It's partially a survivor bias thing where a fly ball pitcher needs more strikeouts than a groundball guy in order to stick around and make up for the extra homers. Also, fly ball pitchers throw more four seam fastballs while groundball pitchers throw more sinkers, in general, which is more useful for strikeouts.
I did, and that is true. I also know that is where the $20 pitchers live so I was trying to maximize on the cheap.
Gentlemen - Will there be an NL version of this story? Are you --or have you already--drafted in similar NL leagues and can post results? Thanks
Shouldn't that greater than sign be >30$+? it looks like it is for less than $30. As in player value is X, so for X > $30; X > $20; X > $1.

But we all knew what you meant.
"...$12 Francisco Liriano, $9 David Price, $9 Phil Hughes, $12 John Danks, $8 Rich Harden, and $9 Scott Kazmir."

This isn't a typo?
Not a typo....
Robotey and anyone else intersted, both LABR auction results can be found at this link.

(there's a toggle at the top left that switches btw the AL and NL spreadsheets...)

Kind of disappointed to see a collective $32 left on the table at the NL LABR this year. Not the kind of draft management one expects to see in an experts league.
I can't remember ever seeing that play out before in a league of this magnitude. Then again, I never would have thought Halladay would go for just 28 or Kershaw 26
I dare say makes you wonder why it's called an 'experts' league if there was that much money left on the table. It's not a keeper league, right? Because I've seen strange economic trends in keeper leagues based on teams strengths carried over from previous year-i.e. fewer teams bidding on SP's, so Halladay sneaks by at $28--otherwise, though, wow. Thanks for the link, I look forward to checking it out.
Upon closer inspection this looks like a PECOTA driven draft -- all players and their values are regressing to the mean. $19 for David Freese? He's one of what, 4 decent 3b?