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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. Today, I will take a look at the American League results. On Wednesday, I will look at the NL-only results.

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).

Below are the trends that I believe could have an impact on your auctions.

The hitters rallied (a little bit)
2014 saw a bit of a spike in pitching prices compared to previous years. As pitching numbers have improved, owners are spending more of their $260 on pitching than they used to. This is likely tied to perceived certainty on the best pitchers, as opposed to the belief that a 3.00 ERA in 2014 is worth what a 3.00 ERA was a few years ago.

Based on early draft results (both mocks and LABR mixed), I thought that this trend would continue and pitchers would cost even more this year. It turns out that my supposition was a little off.

Table 1: Hitting/Pitching Dollar Allocation 2013-2015

League

Year

Hitting %

Pitching %

CBS AL

2015

67.4%

32.6%

CBS AL

2014

68.3%

31.7%

CBS AL

2013

70.8%

29.2%

LABR AL

2015

69.3%

30.7%

LABR AL

2014

68.6%

31.4%

LABR AL

2013

71.0%

29.0%

Tout Wars AL

2014

70.0%

30.0%

Tout Wars AL

2013

70.7%

29.3%

After a year when LABR pushed the pitching pie close to 32 percent, the experts on Saturday night backed off a little bit. Overall, they spent $18 more on pitching in 2014 than they did this year.

Much of this could be explained away by Yu Darvish’s sudden absence. Hours before the auction, it was announced that Darvish had a sprained UCL and was a possibility for Tommy John surgery. His price dropped from $26 in CBS all the way down to one dollar in LABR.

Table 2: 10 Most Expensive Pitchers, CBS and LABR, 2015

Pitcher

LABR Price

LABR Rank

CBS Price

CBS Rank

LABR – CBS

Felix Hernandez

32

1

30

2

2

David Price

27

2

29

3

-2

Chris Sale

25

3t

32

1

-7

Corey Kluber

25

3t

27

4

-2

Alex Cobb

23

5

25

6

-2

Greg Holland

21

6

21

12

0

Carlos Carrasco

20

7t

18

16t

2

Hisashi Iwakuma

20

7t

19

14t

1

Marcus Stroman

20

7t

18

16t

2

Dellin Betances

19

10t

23

9

-4

Sonny Gray

19

10t

24

7t

-5

Jeff Samardzija

18

12

22

10t

-4

Cody Allen

17

13t

24

7t

-7

David Robertson

17

13t

22

10t

-5

Yu Darvish

1

93t

26

5

-25

Top 10 CBS Total Cost: $262
Top 10 LABR Total Cost: $232

To be certain, there are some fairly significant price differences between the two leagues. However, removing Darvish’s $26 price tag from the LABR top 10 accounts for $26 of the $30 difference.

As far as the other CBS/LABR price differences go, I see some old prejudices between the two expert circuits and some new ones as well. CBS isn’t afraid to pay top dollar for closers, while LABR is. Holland and Betances were the only closers who cost $18 or more in LABR; five closers cracked the $18 barrier in CBS and three cost $20 or more. With the exception of Felix, CBS is a little more open with its purse strings when it comes to top arms. Interestingly enough, LABR was a little more liberal when it came to some young upside arms in Carlos Carrasco and Marcus Stroman; in the past, CBS was the more liberal league when it came to up-and-coming arms.

Across 10 player groups, the price differences between the two leagues don’t look radical.

Table 3: CBS and LABR Pitcher Spending by Tier

Tier

CBS

LABR

Difference

1-10

$262

$232

30

11-20

$189

$170

19

21-30

$153

$143

10

31-40

$130

$117

13

41-50

$103

$86

17

51-60

$70

$75

-5

61-70

$48

$56

-8

71-80

$25

$39

-14

81-90

$14

$21

-7

91-100

$10

$12

-2

101-108

$8

$8

0

Total

$1012

$959

53

CBS preferred to spend its money at the top while LABR waited and waited and spent a little more at the bottom. A $19 difference on a group of 10 pitchers isn’t particularly radical, but a $59 difference on 40 pitchers (players 11-50) most definitely is. CBS owners had a strong preference for spending big on their second best and perhaps even third best pitchers. LABR owners preferred to hang back and have a few dollars left at the end to express their preferences in the end game. CBS spent three dollars or less on 39 pitchers; LABR had 31 pitchers like this. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but those $59 dollars are significant since there was no Darvish type in the non-top-10-tier who lost significant value between CBS and LABR.

There were some LABR-watchers who thought that the prices on the most expensive hitters were far more aggressive than they were last year. While the prices may indeed be too high (more on this a little later) the reality is that this year mirrored 2014.

Table 5: 13 Most Expensive AL LABR Hitters 2015

Hitter

LABR

2014 Comp

My Bid

LABR 2014 Comp

Mike Trout

44

$45

43

45

Jose Abreu

37

$39

31

42

Miguel Cabrera

35

$38

35

35

Jose Bautista

33

$36

30

34

Jacoby Ellsbury

33

$34

31

33

Edwin Encarnacion

33

$32

31

33

Jose Altuve

31

$32

31

33

Josh Donaldson

31

$31

29

33

Michael Brantley

30

$30

27

31

Robinson Cano

30

$29

29

30

Prince Fielder

30

$29

21

29

Adam Jones

30

$28

31

29

Hanley Ramirez

30

$28

28

29

Total

427

$431

397

436

While the unbridled excitement of watching a multicolored spreadsheet being updated in real time may have fooled many of us into thinking that “this year was different”, the reality is that LABR behaved the same way it did last year. The “LABR 2014 Comp” column shows what the Top 13 hitters cost in 2014 while the “2014 Comp” column shows that the actual top 13 hitters in 2014 earned $4 more than what LABR paid the 13 most expensive hitters in 2015

The dour grumpy grump in this portrait is me.

If the 13 best players earned $431 in 2014, why am I only willing to spend $397 on this group of players? Isn’t LABR right? Don’t you hate it when writers lazily revert to the “start writing sentences in the form of a question format”?

LABR is correct that the 13 best hitters are likely to earn $430 or so. But there is almost absolutely no way that they will correctly guess the 13 best hitters.

Table 6: 10 Most Expensive AL-Only Hitters with Prior Year’s Earnings

Year

Sal

$

Prior Year $

Prior Year Ten Best $

2014

34

$24

$32

$34

2013

34

$26

$29

$33

2012

35

$24

$33

$35

2011

36

$24

$30

$34

2010

35

$25

$28

$31

I run this chart ever year in my retrospective valuation pieces, and it perhaps the most instructive piece of data I can give to you, assuming you play in an auction format. Every year, the market pays at least $34 for the ten most expensive hitters, and every year as a group these hitters earn no more than $26. In the last five years, the 10 most expensive hitters have returned approximately 71 cents on the dollar. Yes, a few hitters earn a small profit and a few more only lose a couple of dollars, but this is a failure-oriented group.

Even my modest prediction compared to the expert market is likely to result in failure. My Top 10 projected hitters carry $321 in bid limits. I am more reluctant than CBS ($345) or LABR ($337) to spend on the most expensive hitters, but it is still highly likely that my bid limits will result in an overall loss.

Just like in 2014, there are plenty of potential bargains in LABR at the bottom of the heap:

These are some of the hitters who cost at least five dollars less than my current bid limit. It is possible I might adjust my bid limits down in the next update as a result (there is no reason for me to have a $13 bid limit on Gose if I can easily get him for $8), but many of these players are every day hitters who will conservatively earn $8-10 if they can hang onto their jobs.

Just like I did last year, I will conclude by looking at the purchases I liked in LABR AL. I don’t believe in tiered pricing, but for those of you who do, this is a good guideline for players in every price bracket over five dollars.

Adam Jones $30, Dave Adler, Baseball HQ
As noted above, all of the prices at the top were too high for my tastes, but Jones has been as consistent as you can get in the American League for the last few years. If you are not in an OBP league, he is an easy choice as an AL-only anchor, and his floor is much higher than it is for a number of guys who cost the same or more.

Jose Reyes $24, Ray Flowers, Sirius XM
The second tier is still a little rough, but I also considered going with Albert Pujols or Kyle Seager in this slot. Instead, I picked Reyes due to his overall consistency and solid across-the-board stats at a tough position to fill in a mono format.

Ian Kinsler $21, Perry Van Hook, Mastersball
Kinsler is a repeater off of last year’s list. I like Brian Dozier for 2015 more than I like Kinsler, but at a $6 price difference, I will take Kinsler all day long. Dustin Pedroia went for one dollar more than Kinsler and Pedroia’s best case bounce back scenario looks like Kinsler’s 2014.

Alex Gordon $18, Chris Liss, Rotowire
One of the steals of the entire auction. Gordon is a money-in-the-bank $20 earner and can do a little bit more than that in 2015.

Lorenzo Cain $15, Steve Gardner, USA Today
Some are looking at Cain to drop back in 2015, but even if his bat does slip somewhat, his speed plays just fine in an AL-only at this price… and his defense will keep him on the field and in the lineup.

Coco Crisp $11, Chris Liss, Rotowire
Crisp is older than the hills and has had his share of injuries over the years, but at this price all he needs to do is play half a season to break even. On the whole, I liked Liss’ strategy of avoiding the big buys on offense when everyone else was being aggressive.

Michael Saunders $9, Larry Schechter, Winning Fantasy Baseball
Saunders may miss a little time at the beginning of the season, but the move from Seattle to Toronto is extremely favorable. Double-digit power/speed potential in an only format for single digit dollars is nice.

James Loney $8, Mastersball, Perry Van Hook
Loney is as boring as toast. Yet all he has done since coming to Tampa is earn in the mid to high teens every year. He is still being dinged for the fact that he didn’t live up to his prospect profile as a Dodger and is inexplicably penalized in AL formats for not being a solid mixed-league asset. Pounce.

Corey Kluber $25, Larry Schechter, Winning Fantasy Baseball
Larry always identifies the need for an ace and makes sure to grab one at a solid price. He did so again in getting Kluber, a pitcher whose changes to his repertoire were legitimate last year. Kluber probably won’t win another Cy, but he’s legit.

David Robertson $17, Steve Gardner, USA Today
Robertson seems like the forgotten man in some leagues or drafts. He still has the potential to be a top three AL-only closer yet was priced on Saturday night like one of the pack.

Zach Britton $14, Perry Van Hook, Mastersball
If you don’t believe Britton is legitimate, then this price probably seems mediocre. While I’m not as excited as my colleague Bret Sayre is about Britton, I strongly believe that Britton maintains and is one of the upper tier closers in the AL in 2015. This was a tough tier to choose from. This price range proved to be a bit of a sweet spot, as there were a number of bargains in LABR in this group.

Dallas Keuchel $9, Colton and the Wolfman, Rick Wolf/Glenn Colton
Some people don’t like Keuchel because he doesn’t have a high strikeout profile and pitches in a hitters’ park. The groundball rate is awesome, and his stuff probably makes his 2014 something Keuchel can likely replicate.

Danny Duffy $7, Perry Van Hook, Mastersball
I swear that Perry Van Hook didn’t bribe me; I just liked a lot of his buys. The concerns with Duffy are certainly legitimate, but at seven dollars Van Hook gets all of the upside with almost none of the downside in a mono format.

C.J. Wilson $6, Larry Schechter, Winning Fantasy Baseball
As back-end rotation risks go, give me a pitcher who can strike out almost eight batters per nine innings. Even with Wilson’s awful ERA/WHIP in 2014, he still managed to earn $6 in AL-only. In 5×5, bottom-of-the-staff risks should be reserved for high-whiff pitchers; the strikeouts elevate their floors.