2018 LABR Experts Draft
Early March each year, we head to Arizona. We get to relax in the sun, eat pizza, drink beer, and have one hell of a good time putting together teams in the League of Alternative Baseball Reality (LABR). There are two leagues that we draft, one NL one AL, with an auction format. I’m in the American League yet again as I search for my elusive first win (I believe second, third, fifth and fourth place finishes have occurred my four years in the league). I went rouge this year. I’m talking like off the charts for the normally conservative Ray Flowers. Read on to find out what that means.
JUST TO BE CLEAR... I wrote that opening paragraph Thursday night. The draft was Saturday night.
AL-only, 12 teams
$260 auction for 23 starters
5x5 scoring (AVG, HR, RBI, RUNS AND SB WITH WINS, ERA, WHIP, K AND SV)
14 hitters, nine pitchers, six bench spots (rostered by a snake draft)
In season we run FAAB for bolstering our roster with a total of $100 units to spend.
There is no disabled list. An injured player is merely placed on a team’s bench.
All of that is pretty standard stuff. However, there's one significant difference with LABR.
You draft 23 starters. The only way to remove any of those players from your lineup is to do one of the following.
(1) Drop a player onto waivers.
(2) Put him on the DL if he is hurt.
(3) Put him on your reserve list if he is sent to the minors.
*NOTE: Free agents are eligible to be drafted, though if they sign in the other league you cannot keep them on your roster.
Here are the 12 participants in AL LABR this year.
Steve Gardner - USA TODAY
Greg Ambrosius/Shawn Childs - NFBC
Dave Adler - Baseball HQ
Ray Flowers - Guru Elite / SiriusXM
Tristan Cockcroft - ESPN
Eno Sarris – The Atlantic Fangraphs
Mike Gianella - Baseball Prospectus
Clay Link - Rotowire
Rick Wolf/Glenn Colton - FantasyAlarm
Larry Schechter - Winning Fantasy Baseball
Lawr Michaels - CreativeSports2
Andrea LaMont - Rotolady
* Number in parenthesis is the $ amount spent.
C: Christian Vazquez ($5), Jonathan Lucroy (7)
1B: Chris Davis (12)
2B: Eduardo Nunez (19)
3B: Josh Donaldson (29)
SS: Marcus Semien (16)
MI: Devon Travis (6)
CI: Yangervis Solarte (14)
OF: George Springer (29), Bradley Zimmer (16), Eloy Jimenez (4), Denard Span (5), Carlos Gonzalez (6)
UTIL: Russell Martin (6)
PITCHERS: Jake Arrieta ($6), Gerrit Cole (21), Andrew Miller (11), Dylan Bundy (13), Marcus Stroman (11), Fernando Rodney (7), Greg Holland (5), Addison Reed (7), Mike Leake (5)
RESERVES: Jake Bauers, Kyle Tucker, Michael Saunders, Chris Tillman, Aledmys Diaz, John Lackey
THE MAD SCIENTIST PLAN – FREE AGENTS
NO. I wasn’t drinking.
NO. I didn’t forget my medication.
YES. I wanted to try something completely different.
In LABR, if you draft a player and he gets traded in-season you can keep him on your roster and accumulate his stats. However, you cannot trade him to another team.
In LABR, if you draft a free agent, and he signs in the other league, you get nothing. Zero. That represents an interesting dilemma. Do you even both bidding on a player not knowing where he will be? Is it worth the risk to roster a guy for ¼ to ½ his actual price not knowing if you will get anything out of it? Do you take a shot on a $15 player for $5 when you realize the $5 could get you a big fat zero? With no replacement players available on waivers, they just don’t exist in an Only-setup, a zero causes a cavernous hole in your lineup that you might not be able to overcome. It’s pretty much the quintessential risk/reward dart throw.
As I discussed on The Fantasy Drive with Kyle Elfrink last week before heading to Arizona, I was giving serious consideration to taking some shots on free agents, doing he old ‘I’m all in” approach versus the “safe” line of thought which would be to avoid the unknowns. Did I ever go all in. You can make the point, and it’s valid, that I went too far down the rabbit hole, but once I started sliding down, I just kept picking up steam.
Here are the free agents that I rostered: Jake Arietta, Greg Holland, Jonathan Lucroy, Carlos Gonzalez and John Lackey.
Did I go too far? Probably. Honestly, I think you have to say that I did go too far. At the same time, there’s major upside here if things break correctly, admitting that the odds are that happening aren’t great.
I wanted Arrieta before the draft started. No matter what you think about his relative struggles, for $6 I thought the risk of getting a potential $15+ hurler was worth taking.
Holland is an interesting case. At $5 you can’t argue too much with the investment. Wherever he ends up you have to figure he’s in the closing mix, and with the premium being paid on closers in this draft, well, again, a risk worth taking.
Lucroy was sitting there at six, so I went to $7. No matter where he ends up, you have to think he will see a substantial amount of work. I’ll get back the catcher position in bit.
CarGo, as the last player I rostered late in the draft, seemed like a gamble totally worth taking. He sure seems like a DH waiting to happen with his frequent trips to the infirmary.
Lackey was my last selection. If he signs he will start for someone. There simply weren’t any potential starting pitcher options in round 29 that were appealing at all, so I finished the way I started, risking it on the free agents.
The strategy could blow up in my face. Let’s hope that we don’t look back on this draft in seven months and wonder what the hell I was thinking.
FREE AGENT COSTS
Here is how a bunch of the free agents went with their prices in both leagues.
THE CATCHER SPOT
I spent $18 on the catcher spot. Ideally I would be closer to $10-12, so why the increase?
I grabbed Vazquez early as a perfectly fine $5 option. With Lucroy sitting there, and my free agent strategy the plan of action, I felt completely justified going $7 on him. That would have been right in my preferred wheelhouse at $12. But I’m sitting there and thinking – should I get a third catcher just in case? Normally I would never do that, but, with Lucroy a potential zero, and with the ability to start all three catchers if needed (one at UT) – at-bats are at-bats – I jumped at the chance to roster Martin as that third catcher when the bidding stalled out at $5 allowing me to go one dollar higher. Is this an ideal or recommended strategy? The answer to that is no. Could it pay dividends? It absolutely could. Note that there are teams that will be struggling to get 450 at-bats from their two catchers and I have potentially three guys that could see 1,000 at-bats IF Lucroy joins the AL, I will have a decent enough trade chip in my third catcher that I would likely be able to get something of use in return.
THE MIDDLE INFIELD
I wanted/needed depth to give myself options because my team could be short on at-bats. That’s why, after the food break, I decided to focus on that aspect of the game. The results of that plan ended up being Nunez (2B/3B/OF eligible) and Solarte (2B/3B/SS). Nunez, has been a .299 hitter the last two seasons and he’s also averaged 32 steals a year. Let’s talk price. Understand the dynamics of the draft – when the player is brought up, what people need – caused Solarte to cost too much money at $14 (I had him at $9 so I clearly overpaid). That said, I needed the flexibility, and Solarte is a pretty good ballplayer who is dealing with tons of injured teammates. After selecting him, I had another thought which was – draft Travis. There are reports that Travis could leadoff for the Jays, and at half the price of a guy like Jason Kipnis, I felt good about his addition. Knowing that Troy Tulowitzki is unlikely for Opening Day, I further posited that if I could get Aledmys late, I could give myself a good shot at seeing a significant workload from Solarte/Travis/Diaz, especially if Tulo is hurt all year long. I admit that Travis/Solarte isn’t wowing anyone, but if each of those guys get 450 at-bats, then that’s going to be a very productive duo of under the radar performers.
Closers were going for some extremely aggressive prices. So, I zagged yet again. I mean, if you’re already going balls to the wall, there really is no reason to turn cautious.
Rodney isn’t a very good pitcher, let’s be honest, but he somehow keeps racking up saves. He was sitting there at $6 so I went $7. As soon as I said it I was kinda like, ugh, but it made sense to go that route IF I could also get Addison Reed. I ended up rostering Reed much later for $7. So, provided the Twins don’t to rouge, I spent $14 to roster the Twins’ closer. All and all, that really doesn’t seem like a bad idea, does it? As noted, I also grabbed Holland for $5. So, Cody Allen for $18 or Holland/Reed/Rodney for $19? Allen clearly is the best bet, but I took the chance that my three low level guys will come through. Allen isn’t getting more than 40 saves for those $18 while my $19 could produce 50 or more. We’ll see how this plays itself out.
I already talked catching.
Chris Davis’ forearm seems fine. He’s a strong bargain at $12, just a year removed from a 38 homer season, so he was one of my more pleasing purchasing on the day. I wrote a Player Profile about him explaining why he was going undervalued this season. Seems pretty clear to me that he is going undervalued. Donaldson had 33 homers and 78 RBI in 113 games last season. That pace, over 150 games, would equal 44 homers and 104 RBI. I like my corners. Oh, and let’s not forget Bauers who is likely to see at-bats with the Rays early on, potentially carving out a role if the opportunity arises via an injury in Tampa.
I talked Nunez/Solarte/Travis above, but a moment on Semien. He’s 27 years of age, hit 27 homers in 2016, and stole 12 bases in 85 games in 2017. He could go 25/15 and I wouldn’t be in the least bit surprised, though his batting average isn’t something to get jazzed about. I was happy to get him as he was my main targets behind the “bigs” at the position.
The outfield has a star in Springer. Zimmer has the ability to be a top-10 steal guy in the bigs this season, see his Player Profile, and I wouldn’t be shocked if he went 15/30 even with some concerns about his overall offensive game. He and Nunez give me some solid speed options. Span is boring, but he too adds some minor speed and his average is never damaging. I’m thin in the outfield though, no doubt about that. IF Cargo signs in the AL I’m in good shape. If he doesn’t… I just don’t have the at-bats. I added Saunders in the reserve rounds for something if he can possibly stay healthy, but the fate of my outfield could come down to the contributions of Eloy Jimenez and Kyle Tucker. I might be a year early on both, but with teams willingness to fast track young, elite talents, it’s possible that both could be starring in the second half of the major league season in Chicago and Houston.
So much is riding on Arrieta and Holland. I really need at least one of those two to come through and join a team in the Junior Circuit.
Miller is a rock as that strong bullpen arm. I think he’s always on my team in these auctions, like always.
I targeted Kevin Gausman late in the draft, but the cost was just too high for me. Still, Cole/Bundy/Stroman is a pretty good trio, an if I can add Arrieta to that mix, then it looks pretty darn sharp. Leake late was the innings eater I needed, and with his ratios always being solid there’s a chance for some profit with his arm. Those late chances on Tillman and Lackey seem like terrible investments at the moment, I even said so while calling out their names, but there’s a chance, even if it is a small one, that one or both could pay off with some positive work. Maybe. Possibly. OK, probably not.
In the end this team could be horrid, solid or special. The odds of all those free agents signing in the American League are low. As I’ve mentioned, I probably took too many risks with the free agents gambling on talent/value over solidified playing time. It will either be a plan that leads me to greatness, or my season could effectively be over the first week of April. Let’s just hope my gutsy moves don’t lead to a bloodbath of historically bad production from my 2018 AL LABR squad.
SIGHTS AND SOUNDS
Here is a discussion about the cost of Jake Arrieta.
Here I am breaking down the deal from a Facebook Live Session.
If you missed the draft, you can here the whole thing right here thanks to SiriusXM.