“Pitchers—can’t live with them; can’t live without them.” —Me, after a mediocre 2015 LABR season, after failing to defend my 2014 AL championship.

I have a love/hate relationship with pitchers, especially those of the starting ilk. In 2014, I loved them, with a core-four of Cory Kluber, Chris Archer, Drew Smyly, and Garret Richards all being rostered for between $7-13. In 2015, I hated them, as my stats were ravaged by Hisashi Iwakuma’s (-$20!) injury-plagued first half and Michael Pineda’s second half implosion.

The 2015 performance led me to commiserate with my Rotisserie therapist—“Why do I even bother?” Could I break free from my life-long dependence on starting pitchers? I mean, seriously…after reading Doug Dennis’ article on the Labadini Plan—I briefly toyed with a $9 pitching staff in 2016.

But that’s an extreme. Doug has won a couple of expert leagues, and a few close second-place finishes—with pitching staffs totaling about $30. I convinced myself to minimize my spending on pitchers in 2016 AL-LABR.

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Cheaper staffs in the year(s) of the pitcher
With the rise of the pitcher over the past few years, it’s become more important to pay for solid staff anchors. Or has it? To dominate the pitching categories, sure, paying the price for a Clayton Kershaw or David Price makes sense. But the goal in leagues without an overall prize (i.e., NFBC) is NOT to outscore hundreds of teams—it’s to garner enough points in pitching to win the league.

There’s another side effect of the offensive malaise in deep leagues: the makeup of the free agent pool. Think about the free agent pool in 12-team “only” leagues the past few years. Very few decent hitters come into the league, and when they do, there’s a FAAB frenzy to get them. There are, however, always a ton of excellent relievers, and often stud young starters. Good pitching appears on the waiver wire more often than good hitters.

Also, think about trading trends. Is there a big interest in starters? Rarely. Stud hitters rule the roost and create the most demand.

2016 AL-only LABR—The plan
Matt Dodge recently wrote an article describing draft strategies for various types of leagues. As a deep league with shallow free agent pool and little trading, LABR fits into a Spread-the-Risk (STR) strategy. Following Doug’s lead, I planned to load up on offense, compiling a $220 roster of 14 hitters costing $10-20 each. But to account for the lower pitching budget, I’d take a "mini-stars and scrubs” approach in pitching—three high-skills starters for a total of $25, a closer for $10 or less, and two starters/three relievers for $1 each.

Those $1 pitchers serve a purpose. I should be able to get three solid middle relievers for $1 each, and they will contribute to the ERA/WHIP/K bottom line. The $1 starters are purely lottery tickets; completely fungible. Hit it big, it’s a great profit center. In the more likely situation that they’re not very good—they’re the first overboard in FAAB bids.

Goals for my “expensive” ($7-10) starters are a Dom >= 7.3 K/9, Cmd >=2.8 K/BB, xERA < 3.50, hr/9 <=1.0. But this obviously won’t work with the $1 lottery ticket starters.

With 14 solid full-timers on offense, and some surplus in power or speed, I can hit the trade market to get some pitching help.

​LABR has some “old school” rules regarding the reserve (six players) list—they can be demoted/activated at will during the season. I planned to take six pitchers, and at least three starters. At this point, the only remaining starters will be high-risk. But since they can be stashed on the bench, so there’s minimal risk. This way, I can play advantageous matchups by streaming, with the $1 starters/relievers dropped when needed.

Potential pitfalls
After 10 years in AL-LABR, I know the trends. The hitting studs go above value (which creates bargains for lower-priced players), so it’s going to be tough to get $220 of value for my offense. But if the high end goes a few bucks above projected value, the $10-15 range will go at value or less. Whether that holds true will become obvious in the first few rounds of the auction.

And since none of the other owners have recently fallen off a turnip truck—they are all experts—my plan will quickly become obvious. This may make it harder to get the $7-10 starters are value, or to get the target $1 starters in the end game.

Another issue will involve my self-discipline. This strategy will not produce a projected first-place team coming out of the auction. While I always love looking at the RotoLab standings mid-auction to see that my team in first (using BHQ projections, of course), I will have work to do (trading and FAAB moves) to make the team a contender.

The team
Here’s how the team looks. $R represents the values in my RotoLab setup. Mayberry grades included as a reference.

Pos      Name           Team    Sal   $R   Mayberry
===  ===============    ====    ===   ==  ============
C    Gomes, Yan          CLE     15   11  4025 55  BCC
C    Sanchez, Gary       NYY      2   -1  4231 10  AFF
1B   Teixeira, Mark      NYY     15   19  4245 75  FDD
3B   Uribe, Juan         CLE      6   13  3235 65  CCB
CO   Seager, Kyle        SEA     25   23  3135 60  AAA
2B   Lawrie, Brett       CHW     17   14  3225 60  FCA
SS   Desmond, Ian        TEX     20   21  4425 75  AAB
MI   Escobar, Alcides    KC      13   15  0535 65  AAC
OF   Gardner, Brett      NYY     19   21  2525 70  CAA
OF   Cabrera, Melky      CHW     13   18  2245 65  CBD
OF   Ellsbury, Jacoby    NYY     18   20  1535 70  DAC
OF   Aoki, Norichika     SEA     12   15  1355 70  CBA
OF   Gordon, Alex        KC      16   15  3125 55  CBA
UT   Ortiz, David        BOS     18   21  4055 70  BAC

SP   Kennedy, Ian        KC       9   10  2303 30  BAA
SP   Heaney, Andrew      LAA      6    9  1105 40  ADA
SP   Buchholz, Clay      BOS      8   10  3203 33  FBB
SP   Miley, Wade         SEA      6   10  2205 55  AAA
SP   Santana, Ervin      MIN      7    9  2105 50  AAA
RP   Smith, Carson       BOS      3    1  5510 16  ADB
RP   Bundy, Dylan        BAL      1   -2  3301 10  FFF
RP   Osuna, Roberto      TOR      5    4  4411 14  ADF
RP   Cishek, Steve       SEA      6    9  3330 36  ABB

RES  Skaggs, Tyler       LAA      0    1  2201  7  FDB
RES  Fulmer, Michael     DET      0   -3  2200  0  AFF
RES  Milone, Tommy       MIN      0    5  1103 18  CCC
RES  Cecil, Brett        TOR      0    2  5510 16  BCA
RES  Axford, John        OAK      0   -1  3510 12  ACA
RES  Nuno, Vidal         SEA      0   -4  2201  7  AC


Mayberry breakdown:

Batting   PX  RSpd  xBA  PA    MM
=======   ==  ====  ===  ==   ===
Actual    38    34   43  66   865
Target    37    23   32  54   600

Pitching  xERA   K  Sv  IP    MM
========  ====  ==  ==  ==   ===
Actual      25  24   5  23   284
Target      17  27   5  25   320


How did it go? Despite the straight-forward strategy, I found it tricky to implement in the later stages of the auction. Down to two roster slots on offense—corner and catcher—I had too much money left to “only” purchase five $1 pitchers at the end. At this bargain part of the auction, the remaining corner slot was filled relatively cheaply. Left with only $1 catchers, and about $20, I had to spend a few bucks on two starters (Miley and Santana) and saves speculations (Smith and Osuna) to ensure I didn’t leave money on the table.

Offense—The Mayberry scores show that I successfully loaded up on hitting. Plenty of speed to trade, enough power, and a good BA. RotoLab shows the team with 55 points out a possible 60 in the projections.

However, there’s plenty of injury risk. Lenny Melnick of RotoExperts, doing the commentary on Sirius/XM, asked if I was purposely targeting old, injury-prone Yankees. No, not the plan! A result of the ebb-and-flow of the auction, I addressed needs and spent the allocated money for each position.

Starting Pitching—Totaling $51, I went over budget, and ended up with few $1 pitchers. While the staff  rosters a decent xERA, it’s short on Ks, wins, and WHIP. As expected, there’s work to do here.

Relievers—Permit me to state unequivocally: I’m not a fan of Steve Cishek. But he was the only “designated closer” to go for my $9 budget or less. Getting into the middle of the pack in saves would be great.

Reserve rounds—Some young starters with upside, some older guys still looking to put it all together, and some saves speculations.

While this team didn’t come out the auction projected in first place, it’s well set up to compete for the title. There’s work to do: Besides trolling the waiver wire for pitching, I need to turn excess offense into starters who can boost wins and K totals. LABR labor begins now.

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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.