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House of Shlain: NL-only Auction Recap

Nick Shlain

Nick analyzes prospects for RotoWire and focuses on the Midwest League during the season.

Earlier this week I was part of a group of fantasy experts assembled by Baseball Prospectus and Roto Think Tank writer Mike Gianella that completed a 12-team NL-only auction. Mike's write up of the auction is available here. I can't thank Mike enough, not just for including me in this draft but for helping me along the last few years. The first piece of writing about fantasy baseball I ever did on the web was a collaborative critique of Mike's AL-only CBS team that Rotoman Peter Kreutzer put up on a few years back. He also put me in touch with Derek VanRiper a little over a year ago and, well, here I am.

Anyway, this was an NL-only auction with the standard 23 active players and we didn't buy reserves. When I wrote up my 15-team mixed draft team I covered why I prefer "only" leagues to mixed, but I also prefer auctions to drafts. Plenty of players like auctions because they can target a specific player and outbid everyone instead of being beholden to a set draft slot. I prefer auctions because every auction is different. There will be bargains at certain points of the auction, but you never really know when the best time to strike is. Sometimes players are ready to spend lavishly from the start as everyone is flush with cash and other times it feels like everyone hasn't woken up yet and a top guy goes for below his typical price early. It might be better to spend $21 on Kenley Jansen relatively early in the auction (37th nomination) than try to wait out the closer market and get the last good closer Steve Cishek (128th nomination) while still paying $20 like I did. The closer market notwithstanding, this auction had a good amount of big spending early and eventually that led to bargains late.

Early nomination notes:

Ryan Braun, OF $31
Hanley Ramirez, SS $31
David Wright, 3B $33

These were the first three nominations of the auction and someone in the draft room remarked, "31 is the magic number." I don't really have much to say about these guys, though I think Hanley is the best buy of the bunch. Braun and Wright went for exactly their projected costs in the RotoWire magazine, and in my opinion it was too early to pay sticker for those guys. Wright has failed to top 112 games played in two of the last three seasons and Braun should be looked at as a 25-homer guy now.

Jose Fernandez $29

This is also the exact price found in the magazine, but I still think there's some value here. Maybe I just love Jose Fernandez, sue me.

Jayson Werth $24

Boom. I have my first player. Werth posted his highest slugging percentage (.532) since his last year in Philadelphia as he bashed 25 homers and 24 doubles in 129 games. He's not going to steal 20 bases, but somewhere in the low-teens is a reasonable expectation this year. Werth also hit .318 last year and I anticipate another good average season.

Paul Goldschmidt $43
Clayton Kershaw $40
Andrew McCutchen $44
Starling Marte $24

I bought Kershaw and even at $40 there's value there. I have him third overall in mixed leagues behind only Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera. I really like Marte at $24, this is a major contributor. He'll hit for average (.280), and he scored 83 runs in 135 games last year while racking up 41 steals.

Yasiel Puig $33
Joey Votto $41
Cliff Lee $30
Carlos Gonzalez $41

So much for the discount in drafts and auctions I've seen on Votto. That price seems very steep to me coming off a season where Votto played in all 162 games and drove in just 73 runs. The price for Puig isn't crazy, but it's also more than I'm willing to pay at this point. He's valued at $24 by the RotoWire projections in this format, and I'm still trying to get players below projected value rather than going over. I wouldn't be the one to take the plunge, but I understand going all out for Gonzalez more than I get the Puig pick.

Matt Kemp $25
Buster Posey $29
Billy Hamilton $26
Adam Wainwright $30

I'm not targeting Matt Kemp this year, but it's hard not to like him at that price. There's plenty of value there, we know what he can do when he's healthy. I was in on the Posey bidding in the low-20s, but he went for what he should go for. Billy Hamilton was a great value here and it took a lot for me to stop bidding, but he didn't really fit my team's strategy of buying mostly good average hitters. Wainwright for $30 is fine, though I'd rather have Jose Fernandez and an extra dollar.

Alright, that was the first 17 nominations of the auction, was it good for you too? Now I'll move on to just the players I bought.

Yadier Molina $20 (Nomination 24)

Molina had a career-high 80 RBI in 2013 and even with just 12 homers, he's easily one of the best catchers in the National League. He's no lock for the same run production, but it's also possible he hits a couple more homers, and you're going to buy him for his average anyway (.319, .315, .305 the last three years).

Gio Gonzalez $18 (65)

I was stunned that I could get Gio for this price. Every pitcher was going for significantly higher amounts than expected. Gerrit Cole went for $22 and I'd rather have Gonzalez straight up. Francisco Liriano for $14? You can keep the extra four bucks. Mat Latos for $18? Even before his injury, give me Gonzalez over Latos too. Give me everyone in the Nationals rotation this year. Oh, and Matt Cain went for $21 right after I got Gio. That makes you feel good.

Daniel Murphy $19 (75)

Murphy's OBP dropped to .319 in 2013 and he still scored 92 runs as he played 161 and had 697 (!) plate appearances. Is he going to score 90+ runs again? That remains to be seen, but he should at least be solid in both run totals, hit .290 with at least 10 homers and 15 steals. Getting a well rounded player like this at second base fits my offensive strategy.

Allen Craig $26 (81)

Another good average hitter, Craig carries a .306 career average and drove in 97 runs in just 134 games in 2013. It should be noted that 134 games is also his career high in games played, but hopefully without nagging injuries this year he'll be able to stay on field.

Andrelton Simmons $16 (84)

If you read the write up of my mixed league mock team, you know I'm high on Simmons this year. I simply don't believe in his .247 BABIP from 2013 as his baseline. With a little luck he can produce a solid average in 2014. Simmons hit 17 homers last year and he's capable of stealing at least 10 bases.

Angel Pagan $17 (107)

Pagan only played 71 games a season ago as he missed time with a hamstring injury, otherwise he probably goes for a couple more dollars. With good health, I see him hitting in the .280s with close to 30 steals.

Steve Cishek $20 (128)

Mickey Mantle once famously said, "If I knew I was going to live this long, I'd have taken better care of myself." Well, if I knew I was going to spend this much on a closer, I'm not sure Cishek would be my first choice. This was the price necessary to nab the last reliable closer on the board and I'm not unhappy with it at the end of the day. Cishek's 2013 numbers were quite good: 74 strikeouts, 69 innings, 1.08 WHIP.

Cody Asche $9 (137)

Everyone wants to see Maikel Franco at third base in Philadelphia and while that is definitely a possibility at some point this year, I think Asche will be solid enough to let the Phillies bring Franco along at his own pace. A good first half might buy him the entire season and with other third basemen slightly above his value going for $16 dollars (Chris Johnson and Nolan Arenado) I was happy to get Asche.

Eric Chavez $1 (138)

I bought the first one dollar player! Shut it down; let's go home! Sadly, Chavez won't be the player he was pre-2007 again, but he's proven himself to be a useful bat off the bench in the last two seasons with the Diamondbacks and Yankees: carrying a .281 average and 25 homers in 193 games. He's not a regular player, but he'll get some burn this year and pop at least 10 homers without being a drain on my average. In a deep format like this that's an acceptable outcome for a one dollar guy.

Jon Niese $7 (141)
Tim Hudson $6 (142)
Bartolo Colon $5 (144)

It turns out that after a while every pitcher can't go for inflated prices. Here I got three pretty good bargains, Hudson and Colon especially. Colon is an overlooked asset in terms of what he can contribute with his WHIP, which combined with Kershaw puts me in a good position for the category. Colon's age (and/or weight?) may scare some off, but he's been great the last two years and now he gets to face pitchers. Giddy up.

Hudson is getting dissed this year for only making 21 starts last year and coming off a fractured fibula. He's already throwing bullpen sessions so I'm not worried about his health and he's moving to the NL West, which will likely be the easiest division to pitch in. Looking at Hudson's 2013, he had his best FIP (3.46) and K% (17.8) since 2011, but a measly 68.1% strand rate helped push his ERA to 3.97. His career strand rate is 73.6% and with some regression to the mean here I anticipate an ERA on the right side of 3.50 in 2014.

Andre Ethier $10 (164)

Ethier is the extra guy in the Dodgers outfield with Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, and Carl Crawford ahead of him, but there are always avenues to playing time that can open up during the season. An injury or a trade could lead to extended regular playing time for Ethier, but at just $10 he could be worth it for me with a hot month.

Peter Bourjos $7 (187)

Even though injuries kept Bourjos from building on his 2011 season (.274, 12 homers, 22 steals) over the last two years, I still believe in his ability. His defense alone should win him the regular center field job over Jon Jay and with health we could finally see the real Bourjos again.

Brandon McCarthy $1 (198)

I've always liked McCarthy, I thought he was going to be good for a long time back when he came up with the White Sox. Unfortunately, he hasn't been able to stay healthy for most of his career. His high in innings pitched is 170.2 in 2011 with Oakland. He's made 40 starts over the last two seasons, but if he gives me at least 20 starts this year he'll be well worth it. I'm not afraid of his 4.53 ERA from 2013, mostly because it came with a poor 68.7% strand rate and .320 BABIP. His 2013 FIP (3.75) was almost identical to his 2012 season in Oakland (3.76). The skills are still there for McCarthy: 48.2% GB rate and 3.6% walk rate in 2013.

Paul Maholm $1 (210)

Like the Dodgers, I'm making a small investment in rotation depth. Best case scenario is that Josh Beckett falls on his face and Maholm steps in and gets 25 starts for one of the best teams in baseball. Worst case scenario, I end up replacing him with a hot pickup or a reliever with good ratios.

Nick Hundley $3 (211)

This was a reaction to missing on Ryan Doumit, who also went for three dollars. I'd prefer Doumit, but I should be able to get some homers from Hundley, and Doumit hit just .247 with the Twins last year.

Kevin Siegrist $1 (221)

Siegrist rode a 98.3% strand rate and .195 BABIP to a 0.45 ERA and 0.88 WHIP in 39.2 innings in 2013. Needless to say, I don't expect lightning to strike twice here, but I was taken by his 32.9% strikeout rate. He still walks too many (11.8% walk rate) and his 2.29 FIP is likely more indicative of his true talent.

Juan Lagares $1 (231)

Lagares is the best defensive outfielder the Mets have and that might keep him from starting the season in the minor leagues, but that's not clear yet. An up and down 2013 started with a hot streak in Triple-A and ended with a brutal September in the big leagues as the long season and lack of plate discipline caught up to him. He can hit better than .242, so with playing time this figures to be a solid endgame selection.

Alex Guerrero $6 (234)

After I bought Bourjos, the only player I was prepared to spend real money on was Guerrero. I've never been a fan of Dee Gordon and I think Guerrero will eventually take the everyday second base job once he's acclimated to the position. He hit .290/.402/.576 in his last season in Cuba, he has a lot more to offer offensively than the Dodgers' other options.

Jake Marisnick $2 (236)

Marisnick is coming off a torn meniscus and a brutal .183 average in 40 games with the Marlins last year. Still, it's only 40 games and he's a power and speed threat. Even if the Marlins start him in the minors this season, it shouldn't be long before he's a solid fantasy outfielder.

Stray thoughts:

After the draft I felt just okay about my team, but then I looked at the other teams and started feeling a little better. The next day Mike Gianella informed me that the CBS projections had my team winning the league by 8.5 points. I was a little surprised, as it was suggesting 12 points in ERA and wins, and 10 points in WHIP giving me the second best pitching team with 45.5 points. On offense, CBS projected my team for 11 points in average, eight in RBI, and nine in runs, giving me a middle of the pack offense. One thing to note is that those three offensive categories are the hardest to predict and I don't have a great speed or power team. This could certainly go wrong, but I'm not complaining about being projected to finish first.