Image credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to my annual mono league expert recap. For those of you looking for a team-specific recap of my LABR NL team, I decided not to write that up this year. LABR’s salary cap draft occurred before the owner-imposed lockout ended, and there were some special rules in place that led to the top 12 major-league free agents being ineligible for the draft. As a result, my strategy in that league was extremely specific to the unique conditions at the time of the draft and it is not particularly useful from a process perspective.

Because of the lockout, the sequence of the mono league drafts was also somewhat different. Per usual, LABR held their salary cap drafts in early March and Tout Wars held theirs in mid-March, but CBS moved theirs from late February to late March. The results of this are that LABR’s outcomes are most likely to be the least “accurate” in terms of helping fantasy managers with their final mono league drafts this coming weekend.

The purpose of this piece is to examine general trends in retrospect with what happened in the analyst leagues.

The first thing I always look at as an indicator of how my local league draft will go is how the money split between hitting and pitching is trending in the industry leagues. Individual team spending always varies, but most leagues usually allocate between 65-70 percent of their spending on offense and between 30 to 35 percent of their funny money on pitching. Up until 2021, Tout AL had been the more aggressive league when it came to offensive spending but not only did LABR AL catch up last year, but they also moved ever so slightly ahead. The trend continued in 2022. 

Table 1: Hitter Dollar Distribution, AL LABR versus AL Tout, 2021-2022

Group LABR 2021 LABR 2022** Tout 2021 Tout 2022
1-12 $396 $413 $411 $427
13-24 $339 $330 $332 $316
25-36 $282 $281 $286 $276
37-48 $232 $242 $236 $237
49-60 $198 $206 $199 $206
61-72 $183 $165 $161 $177
73-84 $146 $142 $137 $137
85-96 $120 $106 $119 $111
97-108 $92 $79 $97 $80
109-120 $67 $66 $72 $55
121-132 $44 $48 $45 $32
133-144 $30 $31 $28 $20
145-156 $19 $20 $13 $12
157-168 $12 $13 $10* $8
Totals $2,160 $2,142 $2,146 $2,094

*Tout Wars has one position where you can use a hitter or pitcher. In 2021, two teams drafted a pitcher in this slot. In 2022, this increased to four teams/pitchers.
**Shohei Ohtani is included among the batters in Table 1 but is rostered as a pitcher in LABR, which is why there are $13 of salary in the final 2022 row.

I thought pitching spending would go down due to the drop in ERA title qualifiers, the lack of quality pitching overall, and the early season use of six-pitcher starting rotations causing even further chaos. Instead, hitters weren’t prioritized. Much of this probably revolved around the rule in LABR that disqualified teams from speculating on major-league free agents like Freddie Freeman, Kyle Schwarber, Nick Castellanos, and Kris Bryant. This doesn’t explain the $52 dip – or over $4 per team – in Tout, which drafted after the lockout had concluded.

LABR is a traditional roto league that uses batting average while Tout Wars uses on-base percentage. This impacts costs for a handful of hitters. This year, however, the biggest price differentials were driven by the lockout.

Table 2: Biggest Hitter Price Differences, AL Tout Wars Greater Than AL LABR (excluding “omitted” free agents)

Hitter LABR Tout Diff PROJ $ AVG PROJ $ OBP
Jesse Winker 18 18 $14.85 $16.77
Eugenio Suárez 17 17 $12.79 $15.11
Kevin Smith 13 13 -$0.34 -$0.94
Michael Conforto 7 19 12 N/A N/A
Tommy Pham 5 17 12 $26.82 $30.84
Josh Harrison 2 10 8 $11.32 $10.14
Jorge Soler 6 14 8 $14.39 $15.37
Mike Trout 30 38 8 $33.94 $41.00
Joey Gallo 17 24 7 $18.40 $25.39
George Springer 26 33 7 $24.10 $26.48

You need to wait until the eighth player on Table 2 (Trout) to find a “traditional” AVG/OBP differentiation hitter. Even after accounting for the quirky rule that excluded Carlos Correa, Trevor Story, and Anthony Rizzo from the LABR draft, the top of the table is still dominated by players who weren’t eligible for LABR AL on March 4th who the Tout Wars drafters were able to pursue on March 19. Suárez and Winker were acquired by the Mariners on March 14th, while the Matt Chapman trade between the Athletics and Blue Jays opened a roster spot for Smith two days later, on March 16th. And Harrison was an unsigned free agent whose acquisition by the White Sox gave him solid mono league value.

Players like Conforto, Pham, and Soler were eligible in the LABR mono leagues, with the understanding that you would lose them if they signed with a National League team. In Tout Wars, the decision was made to allow them to be kept even if did sign with an NL team. This changed the landscape considerably for these sorts of hitters. All three were free agents on the 19th. I suspect their salaries would have been similar in both industry leagues if they had used the same set of rules.

While pitching prices increased overall, the going rate for this year’s perceived aces plummeted.

Table 3: 10 Most Expensive AL Starting Pitchers, Tout Wars

Pitcher LABR  Tout  Diff
Gerrit Cole 37 37 0
Shane Bieber 28 29 1
Lucas Giolito 27 25 -2
Frankie Montas 20 24 4
José Berríos 22 23 1
Dylan Cease 18 23 5
Robbie Ray 21 22 1
Kevin Gausman 22 22 0
Lance Lynn 22 22 0
Alek Manoah 21 21 0
Totals 238 248 10

Cole ($3 drop from 2021 in both leagues), Bieber ($13 LABR/$6 Tout) and Giolito ($8/$4) all saw their salaries fall, as no one quite saw them as the aces they were in 2021. Add the absence of Tyler Glasnow and Kenta Maeda due to injury and that more than explains the $44 drop in LABR and $19 drop in Tout from 2021’s prices. What’s a little more surprising is that no one pushed anyone else past $25. It took a few years, but the realization that the best pitchers are capped in earnings because of their relative lack of innings finally dawned on the expert market.

Some of the flattening in Tout was because of Shohei Ohtani (he is two unique entities in Tout and went for $19 as a pitcher) and Sonny Gray (in the NL when LABR drafted; he went for $18 in Tout). However, the second tier in Tout was seen as a more desirable place to shop than it was in LABR. Eduardo Rodriguez ($18 in Tout, $15 in LABR), Framber Valdez ($18, $13), and Nathan Eovaldi ($18, $14) are examples of this phenomenon.

For the most part, closer spending held steady.

Table 4: AL Industry League Closer Prices 2022

Pitcher LABR Tout Diff
Aroldis Chapman 19 23 4
Emmanuel Clase 20 23 3
Liam Hendriks 26 23 -3
Jordan Romano 17 23 6
Raisel Iglesias 23 22 -1
Ryan Pressly 20 21 1
Scott Barlow 10 14 4
Taylor Rogers 14 13 -1
Matt Barnes 7 12 5
Andrew Kittredge 9 11 2
Gregory Soto 9 9 0
Joe Barlow 6 8 2
Lou Trivino 6 8 2
Paul Sewald 9 8 -1
Cole Sulser 4 7 3
Total 199 225 26

While mixed league players continue to gripe about how bad closers are, there is evidence that the AL pool has flattened out and was maybe even slightly better than it was in 2021. Last year, people simply threw up their hands and didn’t spend more than $3 on any Tigers reliever in LABR or Tout. There was even aggressive spending on a non-closer, as Craig Kimbrel went for $11 in LABR and $12 in Tout while he was still a member of the Chicago White Sox. Both leagues’ rules allow him to be kept in-season.

LABR had a far more individual-oriented closer approach while Tout had more of a tiered perspective on relievers. Chapman and Romano going for the same cost as Hendriks and Clase signals that at least two teams budgeted something in the $20-24 range for their relief ace and were going to walk away with one of at least half a dozen relievers at this price.

While spending on the top players in LABR NL took a small step back, it was still aggressive compared to prior seasons. And in Tout NL, the analysts pushed the envelope even further.

Table 5: Top-12 Hitters, LABR and Tout Wars 2018-2022

Year LABR Top 12 LABR Total Tout Top 12 Tout Total Prior Year Top 12 $
2022 $419 $2,140 $434 $2,150 $399
2021 $434 $2,195 $448 $2,167 $444
2020 $445 $2,174 $440 $2,152 $406
2019 $414 $2,159 $416 $2,130 $381
2018 $411 $2,149 $420 $2,163 $385

Last year, I noted that 2020 created more than a few “earnings outliers” at the top who pushed up the value of the top 10-12 hitters. This was borne out by the “prior year top 12 $” column for 2022. The $399 the 12 best NL hitters earned in 2021 hews much more closely with the earnings from 2017-2019 than it does with 2020. The eighth-best NL hitter in 2021, Ozzie Albies, was a $31 player (according to my valuations). The eighth-best NL hitter in 2020, Juan Soto, earned $37. In your final salary cap drafts this weekend, keep in mind that a “normal” season won’t have nearly as many $35+ hitters.

LABR and Tout NL both didn’t spend nearly as much on hitting as they have in the past, with LABR ending a five-year trend of increasing offensive spending. The unique rule in LABR that kept the top 12 players by NFBC out of the draft was likely the most pertinent factor. The lack of Freeman, Castellanos and Bryant didn’t translate to higher spending at the top of the player pool. I capitalized on this by swooping in not on the $30+ players but on $20ish buys like Paul Goldschmidt ($28), Tyler O’Neill ($25), and Willy Adames ($21).

Tout Wars NL had more players available due to the decision to allow players like Trevor Story, who were free agents when Tout held their salary cap draft, to not only be available to bid on but kept as NL players even if they signed in the AL. As a result, Tout had a much more Stars and Scrubs feel than LABR, with 24 one-dollar hitters compared to a mere 15 in LABR.

Because of the different rule sets in addition to the draft timing and when the lockout ended, Table 6 is mostly worthless.

Table 6: Biggest 2022 NL Hitter Differentials, Tout and LABR (excluding ineligible players)

Hitter LABR Tout Diff PROJ $ AVG PROJ $ OBP
Seiya Suzuki 9 29 20 $18.87 $20.66
Tommy Pham 3 18 15 $25.08 $28.63
Jorge Soler 9 21 12 $14.36 $15.56
Jonathan Villar 7 19 12 $11.03 $10.03
Jonathan India 22 31 9 $16.78 $19.89
Ke’Bryan Hayes 19 27 8 $12.24 $13.58
Michael Conforto 7 15 8 N/A N/A
Patrick Wisdom 4 11 7 $8.04 $12.64
Rhys Hoskins 20 26 6 $18.41 $21.80
Oneil Cruz 12 18 6 $1.00 $0.33
Jose Iglesias 6 6 $11.19 $6.57

The top four and six of the 10 batters on Table 6 were free agents when the LABR draft was held on March 6 and if they signed with an AL team would have been lost to the winds (although there was a 50 percent FAAB compensation for players lost to the AL). I’m kicking myself more than a little for not pushing Steve Gardner of USA Today to $10 on Suzuki.

There were also some OBP price boosts. Hoskins is the only player from 2021 repeated on this table. While he isn’t a fantasy superstar in either format, the bump for Hoskins in NL-only is deserved. India is a better player in OBP formats, but he isn’t a $31 player in my estimation. The bumps for him and Hayes had more to do with price inflation early that led to a heavy Stars and Scrubs approach.

The market on Jacob deGrom changed just a wee bit across two weeks.

Table 7: 11 Most Expensive NL Starting Pitchers, Tout Wars

Pitcher LABR Tout Diff
Jacob deGrom 24 34 10
Corbin Burnes 32 32 0
Max Scherzer 29 29 0
Brandon Woodruff 30 28 -2
Walker Buehler 31 26 -5
Julio Urías 24 26 2
Aaron Nola 22 26 4
Zack Wheeler 26 22 -4
Sandy Alcantara 19 22 3
Max Fried 22 22 0
Freddy Peralta 22 22 0
Totals 281 289 8

I reluctantly grabbed deGrom for $24 in LABR. I wasn’t supremely confident in him at that price, but I figured 100 innings of vintage deGrom would be worth the investment. While he looked good at the beginning of spring training, I wouldn’t have moved his bid limit much even if I had been in Tout NL this year (full disclosure, I moved him up $1 in my first bid update). There were some other increases and decreases, but the $8 differential between the two leagues is almost entirely explained by deGrom. The prices on the top pitchers dropped slightly from 2021. Take out one of the $22 pitchers and the LABR arms fell by $9 compared to 2021 while Tout dropped by $8.

The NL closer landscape is far more chaotic than the AL.

Table 8: NL Expert Closer Prices 2022

Pitcher LABR Tout Diff
Josh Hader 25 25 0
Edwin Díaz 18 21 3
Kenley Jansen* 15 18 3
Giovanny Gallegos 15 16 1
Corey Knebel 12 15 3
Blake Treinen 11 15 4
David Bednar 11 12 1
Mark Melancon 10 10 0
Camilo Doval** 9 10 1
Lucas Sims 7 10 3
Dylan Floro 8 6 -2
Rowan Wick 6 6 0
Alex Colomé^ 3 4 1
Robert Suarez 3 6 3
Tanner Rainey^^ 5 3 -2
Total 158 177 19

*Will Smith cost $15 in LABR
**Jake McGee cost $9 in LABR, Doval was $8.
^Carlos Estevez cost $3 in LABR
^^Kyle Finnegan cost $5 in LABR, Rainey was $3.

I used to think LABR was far too conservative when it came to closers. Now I think they have the right idea. Estevez and Suarez don’t look like they are going to be their teams’ respective closers but for $3 there isn’t very much pain associated with being wrong. The relatively higher end investments on Doval, Sims, and particularly Bednar in Tout seem wasteful now. Some of this is tied to the unpredictability of the short spring, but some of it is simply the new normal.

Twenty-five dollars for Hader – or nearly 10 percent of a standard $260 salary cap draft budget – might be too rich for your blood just to spend on one closer, and the last time I spent this much on a closer I was playing 4×4 and had a much thicker head of hair. But I can understand why the analyst market either pushed hard on Hader or Díaz or simply went super cheap on the worst options. With each passing season, the odds increase that a $10-12 closer purchase leads to zero saves.

Thank you for reading

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