2018 LABR Mixed Draft Recap

The introductory section below is going to be similar to previous LABR recaps since little has changed and there’s no sense in rewording things.

The clearest sign of a new baseball season is the annual super early LABR Mixed draft. Last Tuesday, 15 of us fantasy nerds virtually gathered to speculate where the swath of still-free agents will sign and hope our early picks don’t suffer spring training injuries. Though I’m certainly not a fan of February drafts, at least it provides me the needed motivation to finish my first run of Pod Projections that drive my player values. Without the forecasts and valuation spreadsheet, I’d be drafting blind, and that’s no blueprint for a Yoo-hoo shower.

LABR Mixed is a 15 team league composed of fantasy baseball industry veterans, with traditional 5×5 roto scoring, standard 23-man active rosters (which means two catchers and nine pitchers), a six man reserve squad and unlimited DL spots. We use FAAB and begin with 100 units. The minimum FAAB bid is 1, not 0, so if your team is ravaged by injuries, there may come a time where you’re literally out of FAAB units and are forced to keep a hurt player in your lineup (yes, this has happened to me before and I’ve seen it happen to many a team I’ve competed with as well).

Before I recap my team, let’s talk strategy. To be honest, I hate being asked what my strategy is heading into a draft or what it was after the draft has ended. Strategy, seriously? Obviously, my strategy is to draft the best team possible by acquiring as much value as I can, while being mindful I don’t draft 300 steals and just 100 homers. However, there is kind of an answer to this silly “what was your strategy?” question. I’m probably so used to the way I draft that I don’t even think of it as strategy anymore, but rather just “correct” or “proper” drafting.

Two years ago, I described an important piece of snake draft prep that I perform. The exercise helps me determine a) which players are undervalued, so that I could afford to pass on the top players at value at that position in order to wait for the bargains to appear later on and b) which positions are fairly valued, so that I shouldn’t expect to find undervalued names, and therefore would be okay with snatching up the top tier guys. So in other words, if I don’t see any players I feel are undervalued at shortstop, then I’m perfectly happy using an early round pick on a Carlos Correa or a Corey Seager at value. I don’t need to save the spot to scoop up a bargain later. However, if I notice a couple of first basemen I feel are undervalued later on, I might decide to pass on a Joey Votto or a Freddie Freeman early to take advantage of the potential for profit later.

Of course, this analysis is all based on NFBC ADP (filtered for 15-team leagues and a starting date of 1/1/2018), and as you are well aware, it only takes one owner to realllllly like a player to make ADP useless. In a league full of industry vets, many owners tend to take “their guys” whenever they feel like it, even if they could have selected those same guys several rounds later.

After performing this exercise and comparing my personal values to NFBC ADP, I realized that the corner positions (both 1B and 3B) were surprisingly undervalued, while the middle infielders (both 2B and SS) were generally overvalued. This perfectly jibes with what Jeff Zimmerman and Ariel Cohen found recently. So the plan would be to wait on the corners and pay value for the middle guys (though I won’t ever draft a player earlier than my ranking).

I also don’t necessarily draft the top ranked player on my spreadsheet when it’s my pick. If there’s a cluster of players at one position, but only one at a different position with a significant drop-off to the next guy, I’ll risk skipping the most valuable player by selecting the latter, less valuable player, with the assumption one of the guys in the cluster of more valuable players will still be available with my next pick. Ideally, I’ll end up getting both, as there’s a far greater chance at least one is still available, while that player in the position about to drop off will probably be gone.

Another so-called strategy that has just been the way I have always done things is that I always draft starting pitchers late. In LABR, I had typically been drafting a top 15 option in the first couple of rounds along with everyone else, but then waiting much longer to pair him with another starter than the majority of, if not all, other teams. With two ratios that are subject to so much random variation, plus the wins category that everyone hates, there’s a far greater chance of your 15th round pitcher earning 4th round value than a a hitter doing so. I try to fill my staff and reserves with lots of young, high upside arms, figuring I’ll hit on a couple of them. Then it’s easy enough to find pitching from free agency during the season and buy low on guys who have displayed strong underlying skills, but have been hurt by poor fortune, inflating their ERA marks.

Last, I will never draft a top closer. I used to believe that the group was fairly valued, but I was just unwilling to pay full price. This season, though, something apparently changed and closers were getting selected significantly earlier than expected, and much earlier than where I had ranked them. That was fun to watch as I scooped up value elsewhere. The thing is, the huge turnover at closer each year provides us with so many opportunities to pick one or two up during the season, so why spend so much on one during the draft? Sure, it’ll cost you FAAB units, but if you’re slick, you can often preemptively pick up a setup guy behind a closer looking shaky with the idea that your guy may take over the role in short order. And best of all, you probably got him with a minimum FAAB bid. I’ve had quite a bit of success buying closers throughout the season in this league, which gives me no motivation to pay for them during the draft. Of course, I won’t get the same stats as a Kenley Jansen, but when 88% of Jansen’s value (according to my valuation spreadsheet) comes from saves, I’m fine taking the small ratio hit since I primarily just care about the saves.

Finally, it’s time to reveal my team. I ended up drawing the 7th selection, which is the seventh best slot in this draft. Since the biggest value gaps appear in the first round, the best pick will always be the first overall, and then almost always followed by the second, third, etc.

Full Draft Results

2018 LABR Mixed Team
Player Position Pick ADP Pick-ADP
Salvador Perez C 114 104 10
Martin Maldonado C 417 412 5
Paul Goldschmidt 1B 7 4 3
Miguel Sano 3B 84 104 -20
Wil Myers 1B 67 69 -2
Jose Ramirez 2B/3B 24 21 3
Elvis Andrus SS 54 58 -4
Jason Kipnis 2B 247 270 -23
Rhys Hoskins 1B/OF 37 51 -14
Ender Inciarte OF 144 120 24
Kevin Pillar OF 294 303 -9
Eric Thames 1B/OF 204 204 0
Jorge Bonifacio OF 374 414 -40
Greg Bird 1B 127 149 -22
Jake Arrieta P 97 94 3
Alex Wood P 174 190 -16
Danny Salazar P 157 96 61
Kenta Maeda P 187 163 24
Sean Manaea P 234 244 -10
Sean Newcomb P 357 276 81
Luiz Gohara P 264 336 -72
Brad Brach P 217 212 5
Luke Gregerson P 277 367 -90
Logan Morrison Bench 314 292 22
Carlos Gonzalez Bench 327 280 47
Mitch Moreland Bench 404 389 15
Miguel Andujar Bench 434 464 -30
Alex Claudio Bench 344 315 29
Nate Jones Bench 387 417 -30


**After finishing the commentary, I realized how all over the place it was, so read it more as random thoughts on the draft and team.

I’m not going to pretend that I scooped up all the bargains well after their ADP. I did not. Instead, I bought everyone cheaper than my own value, so I would argue that the market is misvaluing many players. Generally, I try to buy a player just before his ADP, because if I think he’s dramatically undervalued at that ADP, I want to make sure I get him, rather than give another team an opportunity for serious profit.

This was not a typical Pod-drafted team. I always leave with two strong catchers, as I’ve been arguing for years that catcher is undervalued. But I only ended up with one and then shockingly was the second to last team to draft a second catcher. That’s totally unlike me! It wasn’t by design, I just waited too close to ADP to draft the other good catchers and they were selected before I could do so.

Furthermore, this was the most extreme starting pitcher strategy I’ve pulled in a while. I didn’t join the starting pitching frenzy in the first couple of rounds, instead opting to wait all the way until the seventh to get my “ace”. And that first pitcher, Jake Arrieta, doesn’t even have a team! He was my 14th ranked starter, though, but obviously drafters were discounting his value given the current uncertainty. I’m hoping he doesn’t end up in Milwaukee. I then didn’t select another starter until the 11th, which is pretty typical, and followed that up with two straight starting pitcher picks.

Even though I waited until the 15th round to draft my first closer, I still ended up with three expected to open the season in the role. These are far from sexy names, but again, all I truly care about is saves, and the trio I picked should be good enough in the ratios to contribute positive value in those categories. I also added a fourth reliever who could easily be closing games by mid-season, if not sooner, with all the underlying skills to be a top closer.

Let’s rewind to the beginning of the draft. I had Paul Goldschmidt ranked as the second most valuable player. This, of course, was pre-humidor decision. When he fell to me at seven, I was shocked and ecstatic and didn’t give the risk of the humidor a thought given the discount. It was clear why he fell though and it actually reminds me of a stock heading into earnings — though it’s illegal to trade on inside information, there are always “whisper numbers” and expectations for a company’s earnings, so if the word on the street is the company is going to miss estimates, the stock declines, even if no one really knows for sure. Then the market ends up being right and you wonder how everyone seemed to know.

Just an hour or two after I selected Goldschmidt at seven, the news came out that Arizona was indeed going to be moving forward with the humidor. DRAT! Given all the excellent analysis out there right now on what the humidor might do to offense, it’s likely Goldy loses a couple of homers, RBI, and runs scored, along with some points on BABIP and resulting batting average. Perhaps the environment will encourage the team to run more though, so maybe some additional steals will somewhat offset the decline in offense. Who knows. What’s almost assured is that Goldschimidt loses value, as do all the Diamondbacks hitters, while their pitchers gain value.

You may have noticed that when you also include my bench bats, I have like all the first basemen (seven of them!). You also may remember earlier when I shared the observation that corner men were undervalued. After learning this, it wasn’t my expectation going into the draft that I would end up with a ton of first base eligible hitters. But it turned out that way because I thought they were all undervalued and I was just going for most valuable player as I usually do. Someone is going to need a first baseman and with my plethora of them, I’ll have the depth to deal one for an upgrade elsewhere.

To answer your question, yes, it’s absurd how many players I drafted that are currently teamless. Let’s count them, shall we?

Jake Arrieta
Logan Morrison
Carlos Gonzalez

Okay, just three, though it felt like more. Obviously, I didn’t go in thinking I’m going to grab all these undervalued free agents. But you have to assume these guys are going to find full-time opportunities (obviously Arrieta will). Morrison is coming off a career year with 38 homers and a .363 wOBA and he was still available at pick 314! Who could possibly pass up on that price? And no, I’m not a huge Gonzalez fan, especially given his hideous home/road splits, but you have to feel like at pick 327, there’s no downside and real profit potential.

I purposely decided not to talk a whole lot about specific players, because that gets repetitive. Basically, I drafted every player because my projections were either more optimistic (likely in the case of guys like Greg Bird and Sean Manaea) or my dollar values ranked the player higher, despite similar projections (I’m assuming for guys like Wil Myers and Kevin Pillar).

So…..pitching. You probably hate it. My pitching staff is rarely applauded after the draft. When you “spend” so little on it, that’s what happens. It’s super risky and innings are a question mark, but it’s young, with lots of strikeout guys. At the risk of tooting my own horn, I do this in literally every league I have ever played in and the vast majority of the time, my staff is top third in the league. Ideally, I would have liked to draft a couple of starting pitchers for my bench, but at the end of the draft, I couldn’t find any that really interested me. So I opted for just drafting value, and then taking a chance on some offensive upside with my last pick of Miguel Andujar.

At this point, I’m just hoping each day that my free agents sign somewhere, hopefully with a starting job for the two hitters. That will allow me to start looking for trading partners, especially one who is already in need of a first baseman.

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Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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Where do you have Rhys projected this year? I’m with you in being bullish on him, but it seems like there’s a lot of people who are wary of the helium he’s gotten since he came up last year.