The Change: A New Strategy for AL LABR

Another AL-LABR draft is the books, and after finishing top half in 2014, and then at the very bottom in 2015, I figured I should change my strategy a bit going into this year’s draft. In some ways, I built the same team I always do for the League of Alternate Baseball Reality — I hate dollar players, and hate spending for the most expensive players, and I dive for the middle — but my preparation was different. You can’t completely change your stripes, in the end. You can only hope to tweak em.

In the past, I’ve been somewhat of a value sheet fascist for this 12-team American League only 5×5. I’ll stick to my auction values because the projections feed the numbers and the projections are sanity embodied, was the feeling.

In a way, though, that’s nonsensical. Not only are projections not that great at nailing what exactly happens, but they also vary from system to system on each player. And then the structure of your auction value calculator adds another layer of mystery on top. The differences may be subtle on any one player, but as a system, they add up. So grabbing just ZiPs, in our auction calculator, and acting like I was ready to go… that didn’t seem right.

Instead, this year, I ran two sets of numbers.

For one, I used Mike Podhorzer’s human-created projections. He hand projects each player, and has done well when tested against computer projections. With the help of Jeff Zimmerman, we used a Standings Gains Points calculator to turn those projections into values. Basically, that approach looks at the value of each stat in the final standings to turn on-field production into fantasy dollar figures.

For the second, I used our Depth Chart projections — a mix of Steamer and Zips with playing time decided by the FanGraphs authors that change the depth charts — and ran them through our auction calculator. The auction calculator uses a z-score approach to pin down a player’s value in each category before turning it into a dollar sign.

With those two in hand, I went about creating a five-player target list for each position. Looking at the values, I thought that corner infielders were plentiful, and that second base sucked. Shortstop was actually decently deep, but there was a line I didn’t want to cross. And though pitching in the American League is hard, I felt there was enough to fill my staff with guys I liked without spending more than $20 on my ace. And I noticed that designated hitters had much higher values by SGP than Z-Scores, so I thought I’d try to get one for myself.

Once I had identified the players I liked, I put a general dollar figure next to each position line. Since I had five players as targets for each position — arranged from most expensive to least — I knew that if I didn’t get my most expensive option, I would move dollars from some positions to others. And move down the target list to a cheaper option.

Add a list of about 30 dollar players and another 40 reserve round players, and I felt pretty good going into the draft. On the way out? There was some negative feedback, and some positive feedback, so I shrug. I know I made some mistakes, but I also had some fist pumps in there.

Here are the players I got, with the actual dollars spent as well as the SGP and Z-Score values I had down on my sheet for reference.

Eno Sarris AL-LABR Team
Pos Actual Actual SGP Z-Score Pos Actual Actual SGP Z-Score
C Matt Wieters 17 19 11 SP Masahiro Tanaka 15 14 20
C JR Murphy 5 4 5 SP Drew Smyly 15 12 14
1B Byung-ho Park 15 n/a 22 SP Kevin Gausman 10 10 3
2B Rougned Odor 20 21 25 SP Trevor Bauer 7 10 -2
SS Marcus Semien 15 14 17 SP Chris Bassitt 1 6 -2
3B Todd Frazier 27 26 17 SP Drew Hutchison 3 5 -1
MI Jose Iglesias 7 7 16 RP Cody Allen 17 11 18
CI Lonnie Chisenhall 7 7 10 RP Sam Dyson 2 n/a 4
OF Adam Jones 24 28 27 RP Liam Hendriks 2 n/a 8
OF Khris Davis 17 25 15
OF Josh Reddick 15 21 18 BN Roenis Elias
OF Anthony Gose 6 7 7 BN Tony Zych
OF Michael Saunders 5 6 11 BN Cam Bedrosian
UT Chris Colabello 8 7 4
BN Max Kepler
BN Tyler Naquin
BN Bradley Zimmer
SGP = Standings Gains Points Value
Z-Score = Auction Calculator Value
Actual = Actual dollars spent

Let’s just get the mistakes out of the way.

I set the market at catcher by throwing Matt Wieters too early. I don’t care that he was still a value by my numbers. After I got Wieters, Russell Martin ($14), Brian McCann ($15) and Salvador Perez ($16) made me all want to shout. I could have used that dollar or three later in a key moment. And I agree with Ray Guilfoyle at Fake Teams that Wieters was overpriced, while hoping that context may explain what happened.

It’s no surprise that I have no $35+ player. I find them too expensive and want to spread my money around. But I did want Mookie Betts, and perhaps I should have pushed past my values ($35 actual, $32/$30) to get my star. That would have helped with an iffy stolen base situation, and it probably would have had me with Adrian Beltre ($20 actual, $19/$19) on my team.

In another universe, I have Brian McCann, Mookie Betts, Adrian Beltre and three bucks to improve a starting pitcher instead of Matt Wieters, Adam Jones, Todd Frazier, and this pitching staff.

Because, yes, I know this pitching staff has issues. But I had everyone down to Cole Hamels as a target at $20, and when Hamels went for $22, and my values had him down for $12-15 value, I knew I was in trouble. I threw Garrett Richards and when HE went for $22 ($14-15 for me), the bottom fell out of my stomach. There was one name left in my top bin, and if I paid $20 for Masahiro Tanaka, I would have been so angry.

When I got Tanaka, the worm turned for me a bit. Sure, Drew Smyly and Todd Frazier are pushing my values, and that Chris Colabello price represents about $3 left on the table (it was a freeze-out bid using all my leftover money after Chris Bassitt, Sam Dyson and Michael Saunders went for less than I expected), but there are plenty of players I like on this team.

Marcus Semien worked so hard on his defense that his offense suffered. By the end of the season, he started to look like the player his minor league numbers suggested that he was. I paid for .250 with 15 homers and 10 stolen bases, but .275 with 18 and 15 seem very attainable for the player I saw at the end of the year.

Jose Iglesias now has his legs under him. I’m looking for a full season with 15-20 steals and a good batting average, which seems like a bargain for $7.

Adam Jones is steady eddie. I think he’ll hit his projections, which means surplus value. Josh Reddick is sort of in the same bucket.

To me, Khris Davis and his plus exit velocity — his exit velocity on balls over 250 feet was in a virtual tie with that seen from Edwin Encarnacion — are like Justin Upton going to San Diego; some of us overvalued the hit that Upton would take from San Diego and forgot that some guys, when they connect right, can just hit it out of every park. The pop-ups and the strikeouts mean he won’t have a good batting average, but I believe in the pop.

I love love Sam Dyson and think he could break camp as the closer. Liam Hendriks is my second in command in Oakland. Kevin Gausman found a curveball and started getting popups with his rising fastball last year. Trevor Bauer has the whiffs, just needs more command. Bassitt had move velocity later in the season once teammates told him to let his fastball eat instead of going for more movement on the sinker. He has a plus curve, and a developing slider, so even if the bad change doesn’t get better, I like him. Especially in that park.

Instead of taking a shot on a prospect that was close, I decided I’d buy a peak-age guy with many question marks to be my first baseman. Byung-ho Park hasn’t played in America, and his whiffs make him batting average and playing time risky, but I believe he’ll hit for power, and the projections *love* him, as well as Dan Farnsworth, who loved Jung-ho Kang before anyone other than Pirates perhaps.

So, yeah: I made mistakes. But most pitching staffs are risky, I got a top player in Todd Frazier, and I have no dollar bats. Dollar bats are Coco Crisp, Joey Rickard, and Christian Colon — iffy players without a defined role. I left those guys for the reserve rounds.

I didn’t feel great all day Saturday, but there were enough victories, and few enough holes, that I think I’m going to be competitive in this matchup against the best in the business this year.

With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

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Thanks for sharing Eno and good luck!