I looked at the AL LABR results and had a sense of deja vu all over again. Hitters were expensive, top pitchers were cheap, and some midlevel aspirational pitchers got bid up beyond their risk level because they throw strikeouts or have yet to prove vulnerable or both. I’m looking at Danny Salazar, Sonny Gray, Alex Cobb and Dan Straily, who Steve Gardner cites in his roundup at usatoday.com.
What’s interesting about this Groundhog’s Day expert league auction experience is that there is not a surefire counter to it. Try to beat it on values and you end up with too many pitchers. Adjust your values properly (this year the AL split 69/31, the modern classic split, after going 71/29 last year), and you squeak out a nice-looking but uninspiring team, as Larry Schechter did.
Larry’s potential downfall is a pitching staff that lacks a clear standout starter. I like all his pitchers and their prices, but when David Price is $23 you need to keep pushing. It sounds like I’m blaming Larry here, and I’m not. Just saying that if David Price is $23 then Masuhiro Tanaka should be $13, not $19. But the real thing is that Price should be more, and it’s a mistake he isn’t.
But that AL mistake is a common one, and reflects everyone’s wariness about pitching (except when they’re excited about a shiny new toy, like Salazar, or able to push up his price because there is unspent money). In the NL LABR auction, Gardner chronicles the air coming out of the top tier hitters as well as pitchers. Cargo was the top price at $36.
At the end of his story, Steve points out that there are three new owners in the league, as a way of perhaps explaining this bizarre turn, which made me think about the decline of auction fantasy. With more people playing mixed leagues and daily games, the hands-on familiarity of the auction is diminished. But the LABR NL field, it turns out, is full of grizzled veterans of rotisserie play. These guys didn’t just hop over from a Yahoo league. So what happened?
I made two charts to show where the money went. The first shows, from left to right in descending order, what was spent for each pitcher in each league and each hitter in each league. If you want to see it larger you can click on the image.
The chart shows that the highest priced pitcher in the NL cost much more than the highest priced pitcher in the AL, but the NL was outspent on pitchers who cost from $27 down to about $10. The NL spent more in the high single numbers, the AL a bit more in the low singles.
In hitting the AL clearly outspends the NL on hitters above $27 and is clearly outspent on hitters from $22 down to $15 (the prices are the y axis). The NL then crushes the AL between $8 and $3.
Another way of looking at it is to line the grafs up so they show cumulative money spent starting with the highest priced player and adding on down to the lowest priced player. The chart moves from left to right. You can click it to see a larger version.
To give you an idea of the difference in the two streams, at the $500 mark, where the AL it seems to be most outspending the NL on high priced players, the AL has spent $515 to the NL’s $483. That’s $32, or six percent. Not a huge amount, but obviously a distinctive difference if the talent pools are equal.
Also notable that by the end, the NL outspent the AL in hitting by $28. So that’s a $60 difference on players who cost less than $27.
The red line, series 2, shows the pitching cumulatively, while series 1, the blue line, shows the hitting. The x-axis is the rank of players from most expensive to cheapest. If the quality of the two leagues were the same it seems like these lines would be flatter, but we’ll have to look at other leagues to know what to make of that.
If the pools are congruent and the NL pays more money for the $3 to $8 players than they’re worth because it has money to burn, that has to be a mistake. Then a team like Ambrosius/Childs, last year’s champs, which spent widely on expensive players and picked off useful pieces in the later stages of the less heralded, has a big advantage.
But what if the pools aren’t equivalent. Certainly the A/C team is risking a lot building around the oft-injured Troy Tulowitzki, Bryce Harper and Hanley Ramirez, with the leaden Ryan Howard to boot. So, if these guys are too risky at these prices ($28, $32, $31 respectively), what would have happened if less money was spent on them?
And if the expensive guys are mostly risky (I’m not sure Paul Goldschmidt is that risky, for instance), then doesn’t it make sense to spread money across the board, buy at bats and cross your fingers (as the NLers seem to have done, a little)?
I don’t have an answer. I dove into this to find out just how different the results were of these two apparently dissimilar expert auctions. It turns out that even though they look different, the dynamics are pretty close. The split for both leagues was similar. Either 68/32 and 69/31 (AL/NL) if you count the money left on the table, or 69/31 and 70/30 based on all the money available. These crusty auction vets are trying to get a foothold, a bit of advantage, but apart from Billy Hamilton’s fast feet the surface is pretty crumbly.