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Welcome back to The FAAB Review, the weekly series that looks at FAAB bidding in expert leagues to help you, the Baseball Prospectus reader, with your fantasy baseball bidding needs. Every week, I closely scrutinize the expert free agent bids in LABR Mixed, Tout Wars NL, and LABR AL.

As a reminder, LABR uses a $100 budget with $1 minimum bids, while Tout Wars uses a $1,000 budget with $0 minimum bids. LABR and Tout Wars use a bidding deadline of Sunday at midnight ET for all FAAB claims. Any statistics mentioned in this article are through the previous Sunday’s games.

This week, LABR and Tout Wars have different bid schedules due to different rules surrounding the All-Star break. LABR’s FAAB ran Sunday night as usual, while Tout Wars’ bids do not run until Thursday at midnight. Because of this, the FAAB Review this week will focus solely on LABR

LABR Mixed
Rajai Davis $6
Wilmer Difo $1
Joakim Soria $1
Luke Weaver $1
Homer Bailey $1

Josh Hader $1
Brent Suter $1

If you thought this week was quieter than usual, you have a good memory for expert league FAAB columns! LABR Mixed had 10 acquisitions in 2016 and two of them were contested by multiple bids. In 2015, there were nine winning bids, with two of them contested. The short week provides an opportunity for fantasy managers to try and add a starting pitcher without having to sit through a bad start (both LABR and Tout rules require fantasy managers to keep a player active the week he is acquired), which partially explains the three starting pitchers who were picked up.

Since there were almost no moves this week, I thought I’d take a brief look at the top of the standings in each LABR league.

Table 1: LABR Mixed Top Four with Categories

Team

Manager

R

HR

RBI

SB

AVG

W

ERA

SV

K

WHIP

Tot

Razzball

Rudy Gamble

14

12

7

7

9

1

12

14

15

15

105

MLB.com

Fred Zinkie

7

13

10

8

5

13

14

12

8

14

105

FanGraphs

Mike Podhorzer

9

15

13

10

6

15

10

2

12

9

101

RotoExperts

Jake Ciely

15

8

14

15

13

3

13

4.5

2

13

100.5

What a race. Excluding Zinkie’s squad, all four contenders are soft in at least one category.

Gamble’s basic strategy is outlined below (from his draft recap):

· At pick 15, value is less of a concern. Just avoid picking guys with a high probability to be there 28 picks from now.

· Aim for balance across categories—particularly on power/speed/AVG.

· Given the draft is so early and, thus, so much uncertainty at closer, grab a third closer in the 14th-16th rounds if available.

· Pitching feels more uncertain than last year. Unless there is a great deal, make this the year where you invest closer to 67-70% on hitters vs 60-65% hitters. Best way to do that is limit to two pitchers in the first nine picks.

Gamble’s plan of picking pitchers later led to fewer wins but allowed him to dominate everywhere else in the pitching categories. Even in a mixed league, Kimbrel’s amazing season has boosted Gamble’s team insignificantly. His offense is not great but if the pitching holds up it won’t have to be.

Zinkie is the most consistent and perhaps the best fantasy player I have ever competed against. He did not write a LABR recap but did provide some of his thoughts on a podcast. Zinkie’s approach was different than Gamble’s and focused a good deal on pitching. While he hasn’t dominated in those categories, having Max Scherzer and Kenley Jansen as anchors has been a significant boon to Zinkie’s staff.

My colleague Bret Sayre is 13th of 15 teams in LABR. His pitching has been the primary culprit, and injuries have mostly been the reason, although having Johnny Cueto as an ace certainly hasn’t helped. It is not all pitching, as Bret’s offense also has suffered. Miguel Sano is Bret’s only big power bat, and in 2017’s home-run happy context, you need a few 15-plus home-run players to compete. Byron Buxton and Kyle Schwarber have been drains on the offense, and even though Corey Seager has been very good and Ryan Zimmerman has been a delightful surprise, it has not nearly been enough.

LABR AL
Andrew Moore $6. Other bid: $3.
The scouting reports on Moore speak to a pitcher with underwhelming stuff whose results have exceeded expectations because he sequences well and is a smart pitcher. Thus far in the majors, this has not translated to positive results; despite an ERA under four, Moore’s whiff rate is barely over four batters per nine and his DRA is north of seven in three starts. Moore’s ceiling in real life is as a back-end starter. He is a matchup play in deep mixed leagues and even in AL-only there is plenty of risk due to the lack of a punch out pitch.

Anibal Sanchez $6. Other bids: $2, $1.
Don’t look now, but Anibal Sanchez is so hot right now. Scratch that. You can look. I’ve never understood this expression. If you told someone “don’t look now, there are heat lasers being fired from the sky and you might be blinded” well then, OK, this makes sense. But usually “don’t look now” is used on things that you can quite safely look at without any physical harm. So, feel free to look, and question people who tell you not to look now. They probably have something to hide.

After an abysmal start to the season, Sanchez is on a nice run, with a 3.09 ERA in his past four starts, including 22 strikeouts in 23 1/3 innings. He is keeping the ball out of the air and relying on increased changeup usage to keep hitters off balance. You can ride the streak in deep mixed and AL-only formats, but in 15-team mixed don’t add Sanchez for more than the minimal bid, and bail at the first sign of trouble.

Miguel Montero $5

Bruce Rondon $2

Ji-Man Choi $2. Other bids: $1, $1.

Choi was one of my purchases this week. I have struggled to replace Kevin Kiermaier, and Choi is my latest hope at a decent substitute while Kiermaier is out with a fractured hip. Choi’s best attribute is his pitch selectivity and ability to draw a walk. This frequently has been described in an underwhelming manner, and when so many first basemen are launching home runs out of the park with relative ease it does put a limit on Choi’s value. Nevertheless, Choi’s minor-league numbers have always been strong, apart from his time in Seattle at Triple A, and now he’s in a great place for lefty power in Yankee Stadium. His fantasy value the rest of the way hinges upon whether the Yankees are buyers and decide to upgrade at first base or if they decide to stand pat or not make any significant deals to impact their young core. Choi doesn’t seem inspiring for fantasy, but then neither did Jefry Marte in 2016. Sometimes players like this come out of nowhere in -only formats.

Drew Robinson $2
Tzu-Wei Lin $1.
Other bids: $1, $1.

Neftali Feliz $1

Feliz was my other purchase this week. With the Royals three games out in the AL Central and one and a half games out of the wild card race, it does not seem likely that Kelvin Herrera gets dealt but Herrera has not been stellar and isn’t a mortal lock to keep closing. Feliz was terrible for the Brewers, but he has been decent since the Royals picked him up. While Mike Minor or Joakim Soria might deserve the ninth inning gig more, this is not how some managers operate. If I am wrong that’s fine; Feliz is a $1 flyer in an AL-only league, not a high-end investment.

I’m not exactly where I want to be, but I have a chance in AL LABR

Table 2: LABR AL Top Four with Categories

Team

Manager

R

HR

RBI

SB

AVG

W

ERA

SV

K

WHIP

Tot

NFBC

Greg Ambrosius/Shawn Childs

8

10

12

1

7

12

11

1.5

12

12

86.5

Baseball HQ

Dave Adler

11

12

11

11

8

7

2

10

2

2

76

Baseball Prospectus

Mike Gianella

10

6.5

8

2

6

7

8

7

11

9

74.5

ESPN

Tristan Cockcroft

9

8

9

8.5

9

7

7

1.5

10

4

73

One of the more popular projection models (it was not the PFM) projected Ambrosius and Childs’ team to finish dead last, but outside of their low-end performances in steals and saves this has not come to fruition. Any staff with Chris Sale and Yu Darvish had plenty of room for improvement (spoiler alert, don’t stick with the pitchers doing poorly and FAAB replacements aggressively) and on offense Yonder Alonso, Alex Avila, and Marwin Gonzalez were the “scrubs” the NFBC squad needed to exceed their preseason expectations. The fact that NFBC is playing a six-category game theoretically makes them an easy target, but if Yoan Moncada gets called up and performs in the second half the NFBC squad could run away with the league, or at least top out in the mid-90s.

My team has slightly underperformed its March projection. The balanced lineup approach has mostly allowed my offense to hang in the middle of the pack, but I was hoping that the volume approach to offense (I lead the league in at-bats) would have led to more than 32.5 points. Only Corey Dickerson has wildly exceeded expectations while I have taken a bath on Russell Martin and Alcides Escobar. Ian Kinsler is my biggest problem. At $23, he wasn’t a high-end investment but I was hoping for more. He’ll have to have a big second half if I am going to have a realistic chance to win.

Given that Sam Dyson was awful from day one and my Masahiro Tanaka/Rick Porcello duo have a combined 5.08 ERA and 1.41 WHIP across a combined 221 1/3 innings, you would think I would be dead in the water in the pitching categories. But as you can see in the chart above, pitching has been a relative strength. Some of this is the power of Craig Kimbrel’s ridiculous rate stats, but the astute pickups of Will Harris and Jordan Montgomery have helped as well. To win, I will need one of Tanaka or Porcello to pitch consistently at a high level in the second half (having both do it would be gravy) and for one of Keone Kela, Huston Street or Feliz to grab some saves so I can move up in the category. Maybe this is a long shot, and perhaps seventh or eighth place is more likely than first if things go south, but I do believe that the core principles that guided my auction have left me in a position where I at least have an opportunity to win.

LABR NL

Kyle Freeland $6. Other bid: $1
In another era of fantasy baseball, Freeland’s no-hit bid would have promoted multiple double-digit bids and lots of oooohing and aaaahing from the peanuts in the gallery. Yesterday, the LABR NL experts only put two bids down on Freeland and only one bid over the minimum. Freeland’s biggest problem in 2017 has not been Coors (he has been better at home than on the road) but rather his pedestrian numbers against right-handers. Sunday’s outing saw Freeland pumping gas, at least relative to how hard he has thrown this season. He relied almost entirely on his fastball, and his heater had more movement than I have seen from him in the past. Perhaps this velocity gain is sustainable, but even if it is, it is difficult for any pitcher to find success relying on fastballs 80+ percent of the time.

Brent Suter $5. Other bid: $2.
Suter amused Brewers and non-Yankees fans to no end with his solid start at Yankee Stadium on Saturday. Suter’s game is keeping hitters off balance with offspeed slop and keeping the ball on the ground. He has achieved both of these goals thus far this season and even managed to strike out over eight betters per nine innings in the process. This is not the kind of profile I’d bet on going forward, but perhaps Suter can survive as a fifth starter in the majors.

Wilmer Difo $3. Other bid: $1.

With Trea Turner out of commission, the Nationals have turned to Difo to handle second base (along with Stephen Drew). Difo won’t provide much power but he can run and might be good for a few steals while Turner is out for the next few weeks.

Jake McGee $1
#MarryMeJakeMcGee.

Table 3: LABR AL Top Four with Categories

Team

Manager

R

HR

RBI

SB

AVG

W

ERA

SV

K

WHIP

Tot

USA Today

Steve Gardner

7

12

10

4

9

12

12

8

12

12

98

ESPN

Eric Karabell

10

8.5

8

10

8

9.5

6

10

9.5

7

86.5

Colton/Wolfman

Glenn Colton / Rick Wolf

11.5

11

11

9

7

2.5

9

11

3

8

83

RotoExperts

Lenny Melnick

6

4.5

9

5

12

11

4

2

11

5

69.5

This race was tighter 2-3 weeks ago, but it appears that Gardner is poised to run away with it. Gardner’s capitalized on Max Scherzer’s finger injury in spring training to get a relative bargain at $28 and paired him with Zack Greinke, who returned to form at the nice price of $14. On offense, Gardner was hurt in steals by Starling Marte’s suspension but has been fine nearly everywhere else thanks to a core of Jay Bruce, Freddie Freeman and Daniel Murphy. Travis Shaw has helped as well. If there is a relative weakness to Gardner’s team it is the offense and the fact that it is a little thin, but if Marte returns to form post-suspension, it will be difficult for any of Gardner’s competitors to catch him.