Staff Survey: LABR Negotiations

The fantasy baseball stars aligned last weekend in St. Petersburg, at First Pitch Florida. During the conference, three auctions occurred for the grand-daddy of expert leagues, the League of Alternate Baseball Reality (LABR) – AL-only, NL-only, and Mixed League. The LABR Mixed Draft ran a week prior. BaseballHQers participated in each league; here, some of them reveal their game plans, and discuss how their teams came out in the end. 

The HQ home team lineup:

AL-LABR – Dave Adler, Andy Andres

NL-LABR – Doug Dennis, Matt Cederholm

Mixed-LABR – Ray Murphy (defending champ)

Mixed LABR draft  – Ryan Bloomfield (defending champ)

Before getting into the specifics on these particular auction/drafts, participants were queried as to their thoughts on auctions versus drafts, as well as “only” vs “mixed” leagues.

Draft vs Auction – pros and cons? Which do you prefer, and why?

Doug – While drafts are the coins of the realm in 2024 due to the NFBC, I prefer auctions; they provide more freedom.

Matt - Definitely auctions. I hate getting sniped, and at least if someone outbids you in an auction, you probably made them pay a dear price. I think that in an auction, you have slightly more control.

Dave – Agreed on the freedom and flexibility of auctions. While I’ve participated in auctions for close to 40 years, I’m relatively new to drafts – and find it frustrating to not be able to bid on specific players as you await your pick. In an auction, you can try for any player you wish.

Ryan - This is a tough one. If I'm drafting in-person then I'd prefer an auction, but online, let's go with slow draft. In an auction, the flexibility to build your team how you like it and not be bound by "rounds" is a huge plus, but the prep is much more involved (you need to be ready for every player). With snake drafts, I enjoy the process of mapping out my first few rounds based on ADP. Straight drafts also give you some breathing room during the draft—when it's not your turn—to evaluate how the team is doing and adjust from there. In auctions, you don't have time for that.

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Only-leagues vs mixed leagues – other than player pool variations - other differences? Which do you prefer?

Matt - I like the challenge of only leagues, with a deeper player pool. The auction is more consequential and FAAB bidding more strategic. Plus, who wants to draft Yankees?

Doug -  Only leagues are deeper and more nuanced. Mixed leagues require more work toward balance, toward not giving up stats from a bad slot, towards building useable depth.

Ryan - Mixed leagues. My experience in 10- or 12-team -only leagues is that the waiver wire is so thin you're just looking for able bodies that have part-time playing time. Therefore, there's not as much strategy to in-season pick-ups, and often the league is a war of attrition (who had the least injuries). I enjoy working the FAAB market throughout the year to improve my team, and the mixed-league player pool is deep enough to allow that to happen.

What approach did you take to prepare for the draft/auction?

Dave – I’ve been using “Spread the Risk” for years, mostly to mitigate the risk of losing a pricey superstar to injury. This year, I decided to take a “Stars and Scrubs” approach, and roster some high-priced studs.  In the past, I’ve sometimes found it difficult to cut moderately priced slow starters in-season when a good free agent becomes available; the decision will be easier with $1 players at multiple positions. Plus, with NFBC’s Greg Ambrosius now retired, someone has to push up the price on the stars!

Doug - I compare all the projection sites that I care about and look for outliers and do a dive on the outliers.  I use last year's prices/slot and Feb ADP to look for pockets of discounts.

Matt - I wanted to shop in the lower part of the top tier with maximum budget set at $26 for one player. I like having an anchor starter and closer at reasonable prices, then focus most of the budget on offense. I wanted to be sure my top 2-3 offensive players contributed in the SB category so that I wouldn’t have to chase steals later. I targeted Yoshinobu Yamamoto and Evan Phillips because I thought they both represented good values at their expected prices, but I was flexible as to who I took in those roles.

Ryan - I have the 9th pick in LABR and enjoy mapping out my first five rounds, trying to find the ideal way to build my team. For example, I think there are only 6-7 true "aces" worth taking early this year, so do I grab one with my first- or second-round pick knowing they'll all be gone by the third, and if so, what do the hitter options look like in the other rounds? I think building your team backwards from the 3rd-4th-5th rounds to dictate who you should take in the first or second (spoiler alert: they're all good) is a must-do for any snake draft prep.

In general, how much prep do you put into what you think your opponents will do?

Dave – I read columns from most of my competitors – so I keep notes on their recommendations and add them to my RotoLab notes. Since I’ve been in this league a long time, I’ve got a good sense of their tendencies, and keep them in mind during the auction. But the new participants are a mystery!

Doug - I only look at this from a total market standpoint, not regarding individuals. Hence, the outliers, last year's prices/slot, February ADP.

Ryan - Very little. It's hard enough tracking and building my own team while also live-streaming the draft!

If there’s another HQer in your league, how did you prep for that? Generally – with RotoLab having BaseballHQ values by default, there are often multiple auction participants working from the same projections. How do you handle this during the auction?

Matt - There is! But who goes 100% by the projections, anyway? I have several HQ users in my home league, too, so I look for players where BaseballHQ is particularly high or low and see if I can use that to my advantage.

Dave – In all my years in LABR, there’s never been another HQ’ers – but this year, I had to deal with fellow Terrier Dr. Andres! I got to see how he dealt with AL-Tout last year, so I’m expecting a similar approach this year.

How did it go? Happy with your team?

Ryan - It was a blast! We live-streamed the entire draft on YouTube as part of the Bubba and the Bloom podcast. I took a bunch of "my guys" and things mostly went to plan. One glaring exception: I didn't expect to take Tyler Glasnow, but he fell to the fourth round, where he only needs around 120 innings (given his elite ratios) to return that draft cost. I'm generally risk-averse early in the draft, but this felt like the proper time to take a shot.

Matt - Yes and no. Yamamoto and Phillips? Check. Spent a bit more than my max on my top player. I struggled with catchers, who all went for more than I had them valued; I suspect most adjusted their valuation for the position. 

Dave – It went well; RotoLab likes this team and if projections hold out, it’s a first place squad. One wrinkle - with an early March auction date, there are typically some minor unsigned free agents going into the auction. The LABR policy for the “only” leagues is that if a drafted player signs in the other league, he’s immediately dropped from the roster. This year, there were still some big names without teams. I nominated Cy Young award winner Blake Snell as the fifth player in the auction to see how the room reacted. Bidding stalled, and rostered him at $10 since others were reluctant to enter the fray. While I knew that bid embraced risk, the upside was great enough for me to take the plunge. We’ll know soon if it was worth it!

Anyone you wish you went an extra buck for/took a round earlier? Anyone you regret getting?

Ryan - Cristopher Sánchez is my favorite late starting pitcher, but Paul Sporer took him in the 14th round while I was trying to buff up my outfield. One potential regret is taking three hitters who hadn't signed at the time of the draft (Matt Chapman, 18th round; J.D. Martinez, 21st round; Adam Duvall, 23rd round), so I hope at least two of those guys get full-time roles.

Dave – See above re Snell. If he signs in the NL, I’ll definitely have some regrets!

Matt – Some regret with Jesús Luzardo. I like him a lot, but I didn’t want to pay $20 for him. By then, though, the pitching values were inflated. Also, I wish I had gone the extra buck on Ronald Acuña Jr. (who went for $40 due to injury uncertainty). 

Any other oddities or takeaways from the draft/auction?

Ryan - There was a wild run in the 3rd-4th round where 12 of 13 picks were pitchers, including two teams (Jenny Butler and Paul Sporer) double-tapping closers at the 3-4 turn. LABR also has an unlimited IL rule, so you'll see injured players get drafted and stashed on the IL. I took part with Jasson Domínguez in the 27th round; other notables include Max Scherzer (20th round), Kyle Bradish (23rd), and Clayton Kershaw (24th).

Dave – The top tier of closers and catcher went significantly over value; FOMO kicked in for a large number of participants. Also, I watched the start of the NL draft, where the effect of the news cycle was immediately obvious. Friday night, the news of Acuña’s pending MRI came out. On Saturday night, he came up in the first few picks. While it was expected he would break the LABR bidding record of $50, he went for only $40. If Acuña is fine, Colton and the Wolfman got quite the bargain.

Matt - The odd course of the draft, where pretty much everyone (except me, it seems) hung on to money for the last third of the draft, hurt me. The pitchers I was expecting to round out my staff for $5-$6 went for $10-$11. My $1-$2 end-gamers went for $3-$5. I ended up gambling on Paul Skenes, who isn’t a bad guy to roll the dice on, but I would have liked on or two more starters.

Check out all the results and see how the HQ’ers fared!

After the draft/auction; rosters can be seen here:

AL Auction 

NL Auction 

Mixed-League Auction 

Mixed-League Draft

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