When I started playing single-league roto baseball, I went through the prices from expert leagues like LABR and decided that the salaries that stood out to me were the ones that demonstrated my superiority to those experts as well as my overall brilliance. After more than a decade of playing roto, being humbled and becoming less of an insufferable know-it-all, I go through those same expert league salaries, note the ones that stand out to me and try to explain them. I try to figure out what the bidder was probably thinking and decide if I'm thinking along the same lines or not.
This year, I decided to write about a few of the salaries that differed the most from my own bid limits. I'll start with AL LABR here and post something similar about NL LABR in my next post. And I'l try to stay away from large salaries that came from the end of the auction, when players that had more money left than they had planned and allocated it towards the remaining player that they wanted most. This phenomenon results in some weird salaries that don't reflect different expected values as much as they reflect tournament behavior with respect to the best players remaining in the latter stages of an auction.
Edwin Encarnacion - $34
This salary itself, like the salary for Chris Davis ($31), isn't that odd on its own. However, my raw bid for Davis is $1 - $2 more than my raw bid for Encarnacion, mostly because Davis is 28 and E5 is 31. Seeing that ordinal ranking inverted with a $3 advantage for the Toronto 1B was more surprising than either of the salaries on their own.
My guess is that Encarnacion went for more than Davis because Encarnacion was nominated after Davis. The Encarnacion owner probably wanted someone who could reasonably hit 40 HR and saw E5 as the last viable option. A few guys bough after Encarnacion could hit 40 HR (Pujols, Ortiz, Bautista, Fielder, Abreu, maybe a couple more), but none of them are anywhere near as likely to do it as Encarnacion. After the Encarnacion owner saw Miguel Cabrera, Evan Longoria, Adrian Beltre and Chris Davis go to other teams, he probably allocated another couple of dollars to Encarnacion as the last of a certain class of hitter, leading to this buy.
Billy Butler - $18
This looks low to me, considering that his floor is a .290 AVG with 15 HR and 80 RBI. At $18, it seems like Butler owner bought at a price reflecting his floor, making it a pretty good buy. He turns 28 in April and has multiple seasons with significantly better contributions in AVG, HR and RBI under his belt already, so there's ample reason to build some room for improvement on his 2013 numbers into his 2014 bid limit.
For what it's worth, based on conversations I've had with other owners in my AL-only keeper league where I own Butler at $20, I might be out on a limb with my assessment of Butler. Other owners in my league (including Baseball Prospectus' own Mike Gianella) seem to peg Butler as likely to repeat his 2013 line. Maybe, given his less-than-athletic body type, they figure that he's more likely to be in his decline phase than reaching his peak, which is reasonable.
Still, this salary feels low to me. I guess I'm higher on Butler than most, which is probably why I own him in the first place.
Yan Gomes - $16
Like most serious roto players, I like Yan Gomes' prospects for 2014. The Indians seem to strongly prefer him behind the plate to Carlos Santana, which is why they've been trying Santana out at 3B in addition to the 20+ games he'd already be expected to play based on past usage. He hit for surprising power in roughly half a season last year, and all signs point to more consistent playing time and the counting stats that come with it if you expect his rate stats to carry forward.
The thing is, every expert in a league like AL LABR knows all of this. The potential profit on a guy like this vanishes when everyone in the league thinks just as highly of the guy as you do. To earn $16, Gomes would have to maintain his power and AVG in significantly increased playing time. Basically, he'd have to hit his 75th percentile projection to break even.
Since most of the people in an expert league are fantasy writers, there might be some cachet in being able to say that they bought a guy like Gomes before anyone else did on the cover of next year's draft prep magazine. That cachet looks like it's worth at least a dollar or two, maybe more, in expert leagues. Most of the players that fit this profile are either (a) young players with less than a full season's worth of games in their ledger like Gomes or (b) young-ish players with mediocre production in more than a season of play but with some exogenous reason (change in approach, trade to a more favorable park, recovery from injury, etc.) to believe that they'll perform better than their track record indicates.
Other players who look like they received a bump for the same reason: Adam Eaton ($17), Jonathan Villar ($15), Jurickson Profar ($15). Note that I didn't include Xander Bogaerts here - I think he's a great bet to produce enough to justify his $19 AL LABR salary.
Garrett Richards, $7
This salary stood out as a high to me at first glance. I had a picture in my mind of Richards as a $1 starter who should be jettisoned quickly if he had a bad start or two with an eye towards minimizing the damage to ERA and WHIP.
Then I looked into Richards' peripherals from the last couple of seasons, especially his average fastball velocity, which was well over 94 MPH, and I saw what the buyer was thinking here. I still don't like him at $7 because I think he has the potential to destroy a roto team's ERA and WHIP, but I've also increased my own raw bid limit on Richards by $1 (maybe even $2) because I didn't know he threw this hard.
And for rejecting my initial reaction, taking the time to research this player and being willing to incorporate some information that I previously didn't know, I patted myself on the back. Fifteen years ago, my ego and my belief in my own infallibility would not have allowed for this kind of adjustment. You can read all about it in my forthcoming book, How I Got Over Myself, Grew The Hell Up And Got Better At Fantasy Baseball And Most Other Parts Of Adulthood, Too, But Mostly Fantasy Baseball. Yeah, the title's a bit unwieldy, but keep an eye out.