2020 LABR Mixed Auction Recap Part II

The following is the second part of my 2020 LABR Mixed Auction recap. You can read Part I of my recap here. This was the inaugural season of the new LABR Mixed Auction league, and my very first expert auction league.

In my Tout Wars recap series, I talked about how to adjust projections for a particular league format, the proper hitter/pitcher splits to use, and how to create a market pricing curve. I also discussed at length about how to scout your opponents, and to use it to your advantage.

In Part I of my LABR recap, I talked about how to create an initial plan, and how to set an auction budget.

Today’s article will focus on a topic that is barely discussed in the fantasy community. However, I believe it to be a large key in managing your auctions, and crucial in the quest to accumulate the most fantasy value at the draft table. I am referring to player nominations.

Tactics is to know what to do when there is something to do and strategy is to know what to do when there is nothing to do”. – Gary Kasparov

If fantasy baseball drafts are akin to a game of checkers, auctions are in many ways a multi-player game of chess.

Serpentine drafts consist of choosing players when your turn arises. True, there is the waiting game of leaving your favorite players for another round, hoping that no other team acquires them in the interim. Auctions are far more involved. For one, players can be rostered on any turn – on yours or in the course of any of your opponents’ chances.

Auctions include the extra dimension of player nominations. Referring to chess master Gary Kasparov’s quote above – there are both strategy and tactical elements with nominations. To maximize your chances of winning the auction, there needs to be both a nomination plan going into the draft (strategy), as well as knowing how to react based upon what has already occurred (tactics).

Today, I will share some insights into player nomination strategies and tactics by going though my 2020 LABR auction.

Nomination Strategy

Fantasy players differ in how they use their player nominations. In the Tout Wars Head-To-Head league, Ian Kahn nominated players early on that he did not intend to purchase. Year after year, Lenny Melnick famously nominates closer after closer – not intending to purchase a single one! Where possible, Larry Schechter almost always nominates players that he intends to purchase.

I have previously written about my own thoughts on the matter here. Nominations need to be used wisely at the various stages of the auction to accomplish specific tasks, or to obtain specific information. One also has to make sure that other teams cannot detect your procedures.

Stolen Bases

The LABR Mixed auction league drafted following both the other LABR auctions. I attended (along with Reuven Guy) both the AL and NL LABR auctions on the previous two nights. Yes – I was there for all five hours of selections … of each auction. It was well worth it.

Aside from connecting socially to others at the events, as well as scouting some of my Tout Wars opponents – one of my objectives was to gather information on market pricing. There were many key items that I looked for, but one of them was speed.

The question that I was looking to answer was:

“How will the LABR market price speed?”

Sure, mono league pricing is vastly different from mixed league pricing … but that’s okay. The player market can still be gauged. Reuven and I recorded a number of final auction prices from the draft, particularly those for speedsters.

I came into the viewing gallery only after I had used ATC to price every single player for the AL & NL LABR auctions. I then used my ADP$ pricing calculations to come up with both AL and NL expected market pricing. Yes, even though I did not participate in the either of the other LABR auctions, I had done all of this work.

The next question that I asked was:

“How different was my projected market pricing to the observed LABR pricing?”

This was the key.

For corner infielders, Reuven and I observed that my formula produced pricing that was spot on. Starting pitching was amazingly close as well.

However, for speed, my ADP$ values were too low. For players who were projected to steal at least 20-25 bases, my estimates were off by an average of $4. Not only were these speedsters going for prices higher than ATC’s valuation of them – they were sold for $4 higher than what I even expected others to pay.

I am not a strict value drafter. I believe it is okay to pay the market premium for a commodity if everyone else is doing so. For example, if the top catchers are all overpriced by some $5 – it is okay to pay $5 over your own auction values to acquire the catcher. You just need to make sure that the backstop you purchase is a better relative bargain to the other catchers. That $5 is called the market premium.

Although I am okay paying the market premium, I still prefer not to pay it. Why would I want to spend more than what a player is worth, let alone a $4 market premium? Of course, at the very same time – stolen bases are still a category and we need to purchase them.

Onto the next question:

“Are there places where stolen bases can be acquired without paying the market premium?”

Perhaps there were certain undervalued players, or particular player profiles for which the market did not overcharge for SBs. That is where the reconnaissance came in.

In both the AL and NL LABR auctions, I noticed that there were a few players nominated later on – projected to steal a considerable number of bases yet were priced fairly by the market. Some of the strongest values that I observed were Elvis Andrus, Mallex Smith and Lorenzo Cain – all who were slight bargains according to my valuations.

These fairly priced players were all of lower cost or were 1 or 2-category players. Remember – these players have an associated auction value. If valued correctly, you should be willing to roster them (or anyone else) at a bargain, provided that you are able to balance your roster’s scoring categories in the aggregate. Why not acquire some of these players … first?!?

Note: Although Mallex Smith is not an ideal player to roster in today’s power environment, with 40+ SB potential, Smith still valuates to an above replacement player – i.e., he is still worth drafting. Including a risk adjustment, I valued Smith as a $5 player in this format.

Unlike in a snake draft, where you would never jump to take any of these players early on, in an auction – one may fill up their roster in any order that they like. In an auction, I would be able to snag Lorenzo Cain before anyone could even bid on Mike Trout … if I nominate Cain first.

In understanding the potential for acquiring speed without paying a market premium, these undervalued speedsters now become a key component to my overall roster plan. Hence, they need to be incorporated directly into my nomination strategy.

Alongside my auction partner (Reuven), we devised a plan. The idea was to nominate a number of potentially undervalued, or even at-cost speedsters fairly early on. Our plan was to use a limited number of auction dollars to buy stolen bases. If we were able to purchase two of the players at reasonable costs, we would then:

  • Have banked our speed, which would otherwise be hard to obtain at reasonable prices.
  • Be able to focus on buying hitters at bargains throughout the duration of the auction without paying large attention to offensive category balance.

If I was not able to purchase the targeted speedsters at cost or at a bargain … then I would simply comply with the market and pay the premium.

  • Plan A: Purchase targeted speedsters at cost
  • Plan B: Pay the market premium

If I would have to pay the market premium, I would want to do so at the top of the player pool, and not lower down. I would rather pay a premium for Fernando Tatis, than pay the same premium to acquire Kevin Newman. If I waited for Andrus and Smith to be nominated later on … it is very possible that I might have to pay the market premium anyways. You just don’t know.

Therefore … you need to make sure that these potentially undervalued speed players are nominated before those at the top of the player pool are nominated. Your Plan A has to come before your Plan B, otherwise, you may not be able to execute either option.

In LABR, I used my second and third nominations to put up Elvis Andrus and Mallex Smith for bid. I purchased the pair for $10 and $6, respectively – banking 70+ steals for a mere at-cost $16.

High Valued Player

Depending upon the specific league plan that you create, there may be a key position or dollar slot needed to be secured. In this particular LABR auction plan, I planned for two $31 player slots – one in the outfield and one at corner infield.

Let’s quickly review my 2020 LABR plan:

As someone who typically executes a “spread the risk” type plan for hitters, two $31 slots were unusual for me. I typically only plan for one such high-valued player. It is sometimes quite hard to find two $30+ undervalued players in an auction … so finding two would be challenging. Because of the difficulty of accomplishing this task, it was especially important for me to secure at least one $30+ offensive player.

In terms of priority, this high-valued player slot was more important than securing the speedsters outlined above. Nominations in this auction would have to be highly prioritized to assist in securing a $30 player above all else.

Looking at the AL and NL LABR auctions from earlier in the weekend, I observed that:

These four players were my top targets for the two allocated $31 draft slots. Of the foursome, Rafael Devers was easily the best purchase, which my own ADP$ formula had also indicated. Thus, I decided to throw out the young Boston third baseman as my first nomination.

“Rafael Devers, $24” – was what I had announced to the crowd.

After a few moments, the auctioneer (Steve Gardner) continued:

“Going once.”

“Going twice.”

“Sold to Ariel Cohen of the TGFBI Podcast.”

Crickets.

No one else had bid.

I turned to Reuven in awe. We were absolutely stunned to have obtained our main player target, and for some $6 less than what we were willing to spend for the young slugger. I valued Devers at $29 and was willing to go a dollar or so higher than that. With a tremendous $24 purchase, it was hard for me to contain my excitement, but I did. After all, hearing crickets in the first round is a sound not heard every day at an expert draft.

Had I not nominated Rafael Devers this early on, I highly doubt that I would have been able to acquire him at that amazing price. That very first nomination sometimes works wonders. Once other big profile names were off the table, the market would have artificially inflated his cost, with the supply of stars rapidly shrinking. That’s Economics 101.

Nomination Tactics

Let’s talk about the actual auction sequence.

In order to understand what transpired at the auction – who I purchased, and who I nominated – below is my 2020 Mixed LABR auction sequence.

Ariel Cohen’s 2020 LABR Auction Sequence
OVERALL PLAYER MLB TEAM POSITION BID WINNER NOMINATOR
9 Rafael Devers BOS 3B 24 Ariel Cohen Ariel Cohen
12 Stephen Strasburg WSH SP 26 Ariel Cohen
22 Elvis Andrus TEX SS 10 Ariel Cohen Ariel Cohen
23 Ken Giles TOR RP 13 Ariel Cohen
34 Mallex Smith SEA CF 6 Ariel Cohen Ariel Cohen
35 Freddie Freeman ATL 1B 33 Ariel Cohen
46 Paul Goldschmidt STL 1B 20 Andrea LaMont Ariel Cohen
58 Joey Votto CIN 1B 4 Ray Murphy Ariel Cohen
69 Tyler Glasnow TB SP 16 Ariel Cohen
70 Luis Castillo CIN SP 21 Ariel Cohen Ariel Cohen
82 Carlos Carrasco CLE SP 10 Jeff Zimmerman Ariel Cohen
91 Anthony Rizzo CHC 1B 17 Ariel Cohen
94 Max Fried ATL SP 11 Craig Mish Ariel Cohen
98 Carson Kelly ARI C 8 Ariel Cohen
104 Eddie Rosario MIN LF 17 Ariel Cohen
106 Josh Bell PIT 1B 14 Craig Mish Ariel Cohen
114 Aaron Judge NYY RF 14 Ariel Cohen
118 Jose Berrios MIN SP 14 Ryan Hallam Ariel Cohen
130 Oscar Mercado CLE CF 9 Brian Feldman Ariel Cohen
142 Frankie Montas OAK SP 10 Doug Anderson Ariel Cohen
143 Michael Brantley HOU LF 8 Ariel Cohen
145 Michael Conforto NYM LF 12 Ariel Cohen
154 Paul DeJong STL SS 8 Andrea LaMont Ariel Cohen
161 Kenley Jansen LAD RP 9 Ariel Cohen
166 Yasiel Puig CLE RF 4 Ray Murphy Ariel Cohen
178 Ian Kennedy KC RP 5 Jeff Zimmerman Ariel Cohen
190 Rougned Odor TEX 2B 4 Pollack/Fast Ariel Cohen
192 Lance McCullers Jr. HOU SP 2 Ariel Cohen
193 Jorge Polanco MIN SS 6 Ariel Cohen
202 Kurt Suzuki WSH C 2 Ariel Cohen Ariel Cohen
214 Lourdes Gurriel Jr. TOR LF 4 Adam Ronis Ariel Cohen
216 Mark Melancon ATL RP 2 Ariel Cohen
224 Bryan Reynolds PIT CF 7 Ariel Cohen
226 Tommy Edman STL 3B 7 Craig Mish Ariel Cohen
238 Sean Manaea OAK SP 4 Ariel Cohen Ariel Cohen
247 Yoshihisa Hirano SEA RP 2 Ariel Cohen
250 Starlin Castro WSH 2B 3 Ray Murphy Ariel Cohen
263 Cesar Hernandez CLE 2B 1 Ariel Cohen Ariel Cohen

Very rarely will you ever see a table like the one above. Typically, you will see experts posting their draft results – and not in the order that they had acquired them. Furthermore, I do not recall ever seeing a table of a fantasy player’s nominations mixed in.

Nominating a player begins the auction action. Purchasing a player ends the auction action. I either opened or closed the action a total of 40 times. I nominated 24 players and purchased 23 players. Everyone purchases 23 players. If you finish your auction early, you will nominate slightly less than 23 players, and if you are one of the laggards – you will nominate slightly more than 23.

Seven times in LABR, I nominated a player that I would eventually purchase. Typically, a player’s last few purchases are of this variety. Seventeen times I nominated a player who was purchased by another, and sixteen times I had purchased a player that another had nominated.

Note that in this particular auction, my first three nominations were all players that I ended up purchasing. That is not usual for me. Most often, I am rather patient with my auction dollars, but every draft is uniquely different.

From this auction sequence, we can learn about several nomination tactics that I employed. I will not go through each and every part of the sequence, but I will provide some color on a few player purchases and nominations, especially early on.

Generally speaking, I had mixed up my nominations between players that I wanted to purchase and players that I did not want to purchase. As for what to do and when, it all depends on the current situation, and what the immediate need requires.

Here goes …

Rafael Devers (Nominated & Won)

Already discussed above.

Stephen Strasburg (Won)

Discussed in Part I of my recap. Strasburg was my #1 pitching target, and a player I might have nominated next – before any other pitchers could come off the board. I was super glad that he was thrown out and that I bought him at cost (and below what I perceived to be his market value).

That purchase led me to my next nomination …

Elvis Andrus (Nominated & Won)

Once my top hitter and pitcher slots were locked in, I immediately jumped into my stolen base nomination strategy.

The thinking behind putting up Andrus was as follows:

  • Do I nominate a high-priced player that I would not purchase? I would get some money off the table and drop back into the middle of the pack in remaining auction dollars. Or,
  • Do I nominate a player to obtain information? Do I try and accomplish my nomination objectives now?

Acquiring two key players right away could have afforded me to go with Option A – and I would not be badly hurt by doing so. But while others were concentrating on obtaining top talent, this seemed like a prime spot to sneak in low-cost speed, thereby extracting value from the market. Others may not pay attention to a lower level player at this time.

Andrus was the nomination, and Andrus ended up on my team.

Ken Giles (Won)

An upper tier closer came out on the block, and his price was reasonable for what I had perceived that the closer market would endure. He fit my plan/budget and I pulled the trigger so as not to allow another team to enjoy a nice $12 purchase.

The Giles acquisition was made back-to-back with the Andrus one. After just 23 picks and less than two full rounds, I had four players on my roster. This is not typical for me; I typically do not purchase many players early on. But just as I strive to be patient and composed, I struck while the iron was hot with a level head.

Mallex Smith (Nominated & Won)

Discussed above. I continued with the stolen base nomination strategy, and suddenly in the middle of round three, I had secured 70+ projected stolen bases for just $16.

Freddie Freeman (Won)

I had just bought Mallex Smith on the previous turn. Freddie Freeman then came up for nomination and I purchased him for $33.

There is a bit of game theory to discuss here as far as pricing goes. A fantasy player’s bidding limit should not be static. Simply printing out a list of the auction prices that you would pay for a player and strictly adhering to them … is foolish. Pricing needs to be dynamic. My Freeman acquisition in LABR should highlight that.

Freeman indeed was a planned target of mine. Next to his name on my pre-draft budget was the amount of $31.

There were three general possibilities for what could have transpired before his nomination:

  • I had not previously purchased Rafael Devers.
  • I had purchased Rafael Devers for ~$30 (at cost).
  • I had purchased Rafael Devers for a large discount.

In #1, I would have gone to about $31 for Freeman as my high-valued player. The course of action would have developed similar to my bidding process on Devers himself. Nothing would have changed in my player value limits.

In #2, I would have halted bidding at around $28-29. Already acquiring Devers at cost, I would not want to purchase yet another corner infielder at cost. It would be more accretive to play the CI market lower down (as planned) at around $10-13 – a spot where I would strive to pick up a few dollars of profit. However, at $28-29, by locking in that few dollars profit – it would indeed make sense to purchase the Braves’ slugger.

In #3 (which occurred, to my delight), the large discount on Devers effectively locked in a few dollars discount for a duo of players even if I overspent for the second. I could simply keep the large Devers discount and acquire an at-cost $20 player – but for the same net profit – why not lock in one more star? For the same aggregate dollar bargain, I would much rather own two stars than one star plus one mid-round player. Thus, my risk adjusted bit limit for Freeman increased by $2 over the initial plan/budget – and Freeman landed on my roster.

My original plan was to purchase two ~$30 players – one at corner infield and one in the outfield. The dollar amounts still fit. At this time, I simply swapped budget slots between the two positions – lowering my thirty-dollar outfield vacancy to an amount in the low teens.

Paul Goldschmidt (Nominated)

At this point of the auction, you can see that my roster was filled with high priced corner infielders. I did not need and could not use another on the squad.

Now that I had locked in the key members of my offensive plan, I could simply sit back and wait for bargains to appear. In fact, I could wait for a very long time; it would be unwise to bring up mid-level players at this time.

My choices were to nominate a starting pitcher, a closer, or a player that I did not want to purchase. I already had bought a starter and a stopper and was considerably lower than others at that time in terms of available funds. It would be wise to now nominate someone who I wouldn’t buy.

Sitting around the table was Ryan Hallam. Ryan came to the auction dressed in a Paul Goldschmidt St. Louis Cardinals jersey. At this time, in the corner of my eye, I glanced at Ryan all dressed in Cardinal red.

I didn’t need a $20 player. I didn’t need and couldn’t use another corner infielder. There was a potential Goldschmidt fan sitting at the table – and so I nominated him. Perhaps Hallam would go a few extra dollars to secure the Cardinal slugger. I didn’t expect Ryan to buy Goldschmidt, but I thought that he would. To my surprise it was Andrea LaMont who acquired him.

Joey Votto (Nominated)

Let’s talk a bit about return on investment.

The goal in fantasy baseball is to obtain as large a return on investment as you can … for every single player that you roster.

There are two main ways to realize a large ROI in fantasy baseball.

  • You can either make a large profit on a player, or
  • You can purchase a player at a low cost

When you purchase Christian Yelich at an auction for $50, you are not looking to make a profit on him. In fact, you will almost assuredly return a loss. You are simply looking to amass a large amount of value – as you believe Yelich to have a large probability of returning a significant value. The layman’s terms for this concept is that Yelich has a “high floor.”

When you purchase … anyone … at $1-2, as long as the player finishes the season above replacement – you will earn a large return on investment. Cheap players are the best bets to maximize ROI. Rather, I should say, cheap roster slots are the best bets to maximize ROI. Even if the drafted player disappoints – simply toss them onto the waiver wire and try someone else to fill that slot to earn that large return.

Here is the key concept:

At $1, the high-risk / high-reward players are far more valuable than low-risk / low-reward players. As the acquisition dollar amount increases, the high-risk players start to look worse and worse relative to the low-risk players. Even at $5 there is a jump in the relative risk/reward dynamic. At a $5 price point, I still might prefer more upside, but the gap shortens. For highly variable players (the players with the largest range of outcomes), even at $5 price point, their ROI has now degraded and lies beyond their profitable threshold.

Prior to the auction, I had determined that Joey Votto was part of that high risk / high reward cohort. ATC had valued him (pre-risk adjustment) at $5, which was well above replacement. If no one nominated Votto early on, I feared that someone would likely have obtained him for only $1 – which could turn into a fantastic ROI.

To prevent anyone from obtaining Votto at an excellent investment price, I nominated the corner infielder right here. I would be happy with Votto at $1, but not at all unhappy if someone else bid higher. Ray Murphy bought him for $4 – which was just a small $1 bargain according to my figures.

Not all of your “won’t buy” nominations need to be of high priced players. It is equally preferable to eliminate some of the low cost / high ROI investments in the marketplace. This tactic needs to be executed earlier in an auction, in this very manner.

Tyler Glasnow (Won)

I was not expecting to purchase Tyler Glasnow, but he fit in as my second starting pitcher. I loved the price. There are always players that pop up who you do not expect to buy. Always be ready!

Luis Castillo (Nominated & Won)

After nominating two unwanted corner infielders in a row, I could have kept on going once more. But at this stage of the draft, I felt the need to address pitching … or at least the question of what my pitching strategy would be. Starting pitchers were now flying off of the board. I had just purchased Tyler Glasnow on the previous turn, which left me with a dilemma.

Steven Strasburg had filled my #1 SP slot. Glasnow fell in between two tiers of pitchers that I had hoped to play in. He was not quite at the $21 SP #2 level, yet he was considerably better than the $12 SP #3 level.

The question then arises –

  • Do I ignore the #2 SP slot, and simply beef up another pitching slot? Or,
  • Do I still go after a #2 starter, ignore the #3 SP slot, and reallocate money from hitting to pitching?

I must have that question answered right away to know how to proceed further. To do that – there was a large need for information.

I nominated Luis Castillo – my top pitching target left on the board. If I purchased him – it would be clear how to proceed. If I did not purchase him, I would likely move on to a middle-middle pitching strategy, as I did in Tout Wars.

I ended up purchasing Castillo for $21, which was at my budgeted #2 SP slot. The question had been answered. I could go back to nominating other unwanted players once again.

Carlos Carrasco & Max Fried (Nominated)

With three starting pitchers already on my roster, starting pitching was now the position that I needed the least (even less than corner infielders). I proceeded to strategically nominate a pair of pitchers in a row who I feared might have ended up going for decent bargains. I hoped that these timely nominations would inflate their prices.

Yasiel Puig (Nominated)

Later in the draft, after I had acquired a number of outfielders, I nominated Yasiel Puig. At the time, Puig had still not signed with a major league baseball club. There was uncertainty whether he would play at all in the MLB in 2020. At the very least, none of us knew just how much he would play.

The reason for his nomination was similar to that of Joey Votto’s above.

Kurt Suzuki (Nominated & Won)

Suzuki was not a very consequential bid here, but many experts such as Andy Behrens use the “$2 catcher trick” to obtain their 2nd catcher. If you happen to have an extra $1 available late, opening the bidding with $2 on a low-end catcher will generally ensure his acquisition. Who would want to pay $3 for a 2nd catcher?

Conclusion

At every stage of the game, you should evaluate whether you need to obtain information by making a calculated player nomination, or whether you need to strategically nominate a player in order to extract funds (and profit) from the field. Continually monitor your needs throughout the draft, and act accordingly.

I hope that my walk-through of the 2020 LABR Mixed auction sequence provided you with several new perspectives on playing fantasy auctions. Keeping some of these tactical nuggets in your back pocket may serve you well at your next fantasy foray.

With luck and good fortune, I am hopeful that I will have the chance to see how this LABR fantasy team will perform in the coming months. I hope that we all get a chance to have our fantasy seasons play out.





Ariel is the 2019 FSWA Baseball Writer of the Year. Ariel is also the winner of the 2020 FSWA Baseball Article of the Year award. He is the creator of the ATC (Average Total Cost) Projection System. Ariel was ranked by FantasyPros as the #1 fantasy baseball expert in 2019. His ATC Projections were ranked as the #1 most accurate projection system over the past three years (2019-2021). Ariel also writes for CBS Sports, SportsLine, RotoBaller, and is the host of the Beat the Shift Podcast (@Beat_Shift_Pod). Ariel is a member of the inaugural Tout Wars Draft & Hold league, a member of the inaugural Mixed LABR Auction league and plays high stakes contests in the NFBC. Ariel is the 2020 Tout Wars Head to Head League Champion. Ariel Cohen is a fellow of the Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS) and the Society of Actuaries (SOA). He is a Vice President of Risk Management for a large international insurance and reinsurance company. Follow Ariel on Twitter at @ATCNY.

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couthcommandermember
2 years ago

Really good stuff! Do you plan for or pay attention to how much money you have (especially compared to opponents) at different stages (however you want to define that) of the draft?