The $9 Pitching Staff

In 1996, Larry Labadini spent $251 of his $260 auction budget on hitting in the early years of LABR. That meant that his pitching staff was completely filled by $1 hurlers. Labadini finished fourth that year, but his strategy has forever been known as the Labadini Plan. I have been dying to try this in an auction, but never actually went through with it. It’s obviously high risk and there are always too many pitchers I want to own that cost more than a buck. One day though, it must happen.

Though I wouldn’t necessarily advise implementing this plan unless you’re playing in a league just for fun, it would be interesting to see what a $9 pitching staff might look like. Using the actual winning bids of the pitchers auctioned in this year’s 15 team Tout Wars Mixed auction league, I have a pool of 28 pitchers that went for a buck or in the reserve round to choose from. So as to be a little more interesting, I only considered starters and ignored closers and middle relievers. My nine choices are as follows:

James Paxton

He was an easy inclusion. I’m still questioning how I didn’t end up getting him in the AL league. As I’ve mentioned before, I love his extreme ground ball tendency paired with an above average strikeout rate.

Tommy Milone

Milone was one of the big beneficiaries when Jarrod Parker went under the knife. Though the Athletics obviously lose pitching depth, their rotation doesn’t actually suffer from a performance standpoint. Milone possesses pinpoint control and still maintains a solid strikeout rate. He’s also in an excellent park given his fly ball ways. At the very least, he’ll provide a good WHIP.

Ubaldo Jimenez

Depending on how competitive your league is, Jimenez could be overvalued or undervalued. It seems like in expert league competition, no one is willing to believe that Jimenez’s return to glory was for real, or anything close to it. So he may actually be a value now. He obviously isn’t going to help your WHIP, but at the very least, he’ll be a good source of strikeouts and could post an ERA just under 4.00.

Tanner Roark

This choice is obviously contingent upon him winning a rotation spot. He’s battling Taylor Jordan, another pitcher I like in deeper leagues. Roark was quite fortunate to post a sub-2.00 ERA last year of course, but he has fantastic control, a ground ball tilt, and respectable strikeout potential.

Wily Peralta

I am by no means a big fan. He certainly has his warts — mediocre control and a curiously low strikeout rate despite a fastball that averaged nearly 95 mph last year — but he does offer intrigue. He induces a ton of grounders and oh that fastball. Even though he throws it hard, it doesn’t miss bats. His slider has been just okay at missing bats as well, so we know why his strikeout rate hasn’t been better. The hope here is that just one of those missing two skills improves enough as a sub-4.00 ERA isn’t too far away.

Tanner Scheppers

Just named to the Rangers rotation, you have to imagine innings are going to be a problem. But, he’s similar to Peralta with the difference being that his control is better. Scheppers throws hard as well, and his curve ball was much improved last year in terms of inducing whiffs. While it would be unreasonable to expect a strikeout rate spike now that he’s in the rotation, he still possesses a solid overall skill set.

Garrett Richards

Richards is yet another starter who throws hard, induces grounders and relies on a solid, albeit unspectacular slider, as his primary secondary pitch. Richards has struggled with his control at times in the past, but it has generally been better than Peralta’s has been. With a good lineup supporting him and a good ballpark to call home, he has a reasonable shot at posting a sub-4.00 ERA.

Jon Niese

Injury concerns most certainly led to his cheap auction price, but he should seemingly be ready to go for his first start on April 6. Obviously, there’s risk here as a sore elbow is always scary. Assuming he’s healthy though, he possesses that familiar skills combination that has become a theme with these choices. Grounders, good control and a respectable strikeout rate make Niese a solid fantasy contributor.

Ricky Nolasco

It figures that when Nolasco finally enjoys neutral luck, nobody believes in him. Moving to the American League and being backed by a mediocre at best offense will do him no favors. But at least he’ll be pitching half his games in a pitcher’s park. His SwStk% rebounded and brought his strikeout rate along for the ride. As usual, Nolasco’s fate will be tied to the Twins defense and bullpen.

So let’s be honest here. This is not a good pitching staff, even in a 15 team league. It would look a whole lot better in a 12 team format and I bet I would be almost satisfied with the group I could cobble together. But this one? Not so much. I think the $9 pitching staff works better the shallower the league where there are plenty of options freely available if your guy doesn’t work out.

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Mike Podhorzer produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. He also sells beautiful photos through his online gallery, Pod's Pics. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

44 Responses to “The $9 Pitching Staff”

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  1. K says:

    I use this strategy in a keeper leage with my friends…. who are all idiots. 12 team mixed h2h, 10 keepers, have won championship 2 out of 4 years.

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  2. Bartender Jack says:

    This strategy is viable in ottoneu if you get the right $1 gamble guys.

    I’ve struck gold in the past with guys like Wade Miley, Bartolo Colon, Patrick Corbin, Justin Masterson, Ervin Santana, Francisco Liriano, Homer Bailey, Lance Lynn etc.
    Two guys I’ve been picking up for a buck this year when available are Paxton and Brett Anderson. I’ve won leagues punting pitching but usually it’s because I trade some excess hitting during the season for an elite starter or two. It would require a lot of luck to hit on all your bargain pitchers

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  3. Bbboston says:

    In al auction league with keeper inflation, what do you think of these $8 options:

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    • Detroit Michael says:

      In a 12-team 5×5 AL-only keeper league with inflation, those are great prices for Ivan Nova and Danny Salazar.

      Yordo Ventura is probably about fairly priced, so he’d be the first to be dropped clearly if you have to choose. A guy like Ventura (unproven but with a high ceiling) is a much more valuable in the first year of his contract so that he can get more long-term value if he performs better than expected.

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    • JimNYC says:

      I don’t do auctions, I do snake drafts, but I can tell you that Nova has gone undrafted in half my drafts this year.

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  4. jdbolick says:

    In my experience the best way to handle a cheap pitching staff is to avoid anyone who might destroy it single-handedly, so I would steer far clear of Ubaldo Jimenez. I’m also not overly fond of Peralta, Scheppers, and Richards due to a combination of questionable playing time and worrisome results.

    Niese, Nolasco, and Milone would be on my list as fairly predictable options who should give a foundation for innings and low WHIP. Niese and Nolasco being on mediocre teams doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t get wins. Kevin Gausman definitely gets a spot as well due to his extremely high upside and being the next option up for the Orioles’ rotation. I’d also roll the dice on Phil Hughes, which might appear to run counter to my advice about Jimenez, but Hughes’ only real issue – albeit a consistent one – is allowing home runs. I’m also going to gamble on Jake Odorizzi, who is one of my favorite non-Tanaka rookie pitchers for 2014.

    From here it gets harder. Initially I was thinking LaTroy Hawkins and Chad Qualls to at least get some saves, since some of the mixed teams don’t have two closers, but so many do that I’m not sure it’s the best strategy. Your Roark and Paxton choices are in the mix, while A.J. Griffin is an option if you feel like gambling that he’ll return sooner than later. I believe I’d take a shot on Robbie Erlin to establish himself during Josh Johnson’s absence, betting that someone else will give way when Johnson returns. Brett Anderson is another reasonable $1 gamble, but the more I look at it, I’m not really that comfortable with any of these guys after my first six.

    That leads me back to the Hawkins/Qualls tandem along with one of Sergio Santos, Cody Allen, or Jesse Crain. One of the nice things about the cheap pitching staff is that you feel no particular investment in any of them, so it’s easy to drop someone at the first sign of trouble and pick up a starter who is showing promising strikeout and walk rates. Nolasco, Niese, Millone, Gausman, Hughes, Odorizzi, Hawkins, Qualls, and Santos should give you a very strong showing in WHIP, a pretty solid ERA, and just enough contributions in the other three categories to keep you in position to get some points and stay close enough that adding players during the season could get the job done.

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    • JimNYC says:

      Best way to avoid having a pitching staff destroyed single-handedly?

      Use an only-reliever pitching staff.

      Their rate stats are normally much better than starters, and you can normally pick up five or six third tier closers (the Soriano / Soria / Perkins / Parnell type guys) together on the cheap along with some top-notch setup guys, and guarantee yourself category wins in ERA, WHIP, and Saves.

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      • jdbolick says:

        How many leagues don’t have innings minimums at this point? Furthermore, it’s extremely hard to win any league while punting two categories. Even if you win every offensive category, a guy who finishes second or third in them and has a better pitching staff will beat you every time.

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  5. Donald Trump says:

    I came pretty close to this, as my draft went…
    Sp Wood $4
    Sp kazmir $1
    Sp Kluber $4
    Sp Ross $1
    Sp Pineda $1
    Sp Porcello $1
    Sp Hutchison $1
    Sp Eovaldi $1
    Rp Jansen $17
    Rp Uehara $13
    Rp Holland $12

    It is a 6×6 H2H league with pitching Loses as a category. With SP, SP, RP,RP,P,P I plan to go with 3rp and 3 sp (and try to maximize double-starts). Yes, I did spend quite a bit on Rp, so not exactly the $9 pitching staff, but this is how I chose to implement it. And of course, my offense is ridiculous. I could have chosen $1 or $2 closers, but wanted the strikeouts of the high end RPs, and really don’t have any holes on offense.

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  6. Mike says:

    I play in an NL-only 12 team 6×6 (OBP and hitter K instead of AVG, HR allowed added for pitchers) keeper league, where I have Kimbrel at a decent price (14 this year, 21 if I keep him next year), so I can’t execute this exactly, but I think I might try it next year… maybe keeping Kimbrel to help the ratios, and make the rest of my pitchers $1 types.

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  7. Ben WMD says:

    Any love for Erasmo Ramirez?

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    • James says:

      He’s one of my dollar targets.

      Others include Ventura, Kazmir, Josh Johnson (until he hurt himself again), Pineda, and Quintana.

      Dollar all stars are how leagues are won. (Iwakuma and Dickey propelled me to the playoffs two years for the past two years)

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    • pobothecat says:

      I was just going to say.

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  8. Brad Johnson says:

    The key to executing this is to hire elite relievers (usually by getting the underpriced guys like 2013 Greg Holland, Glen Perkins, and Koji Uehara – all of whom were predictably awesome.

    My blog wars draft from last night went down this path. I might write about it today for tomorrow.

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  9. ayebatter says:

    How about $42 12 team 5×5
    Lester – 7
    Weaver – 7
    Miley – 2
    Porcello – 1
    Tillman – 1
    Straily – 1
    Balfour – 6
    Papelbon – 5
    Romo – 9
    Scheppers – 1
    Smyly – 1
    CJ Wilson – 1

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    • Matt says:

      Some great values in there. A $35 staff without Weaver would look better than a $42 staff with Weaver IMO. Almost single-handedly undies the whole value/upside theme. Other than that though, nice value staff!

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  10. tom says:

    Franklin Morales will be a nice $1 pitcher this year.

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  11. nitros says:

    IMO, your $9 pitching staff is assembled to score (assuming 12 owners) approximately 15-20 points on the pitching side of the ledger. The means by which you do this is ERA/WHIP primarily. You hope that a lottery ticket hits on saves and you get 1-2 points and you hope that you vulture 1-2 points in W’s.

    With that in mind, you want to target lottery ticket SP’s, low ERA/WHIP relievers (ideally who may end up with some saves) and long relievers with great stats.

    Minimum IP’s play a large role in the potential success of this plan. If your league has low IP requirements, this is a very viable (and successful) plan IMO.

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  12. awalnoha says:

    Was surprised to see you only got SP. I think 4-5 SPs and then highly effective non-closer RPs is a good strategy. Hitting the innings minimum is the key with this strategy. You can get decent era and whip points.

    I would be curious to see the RPs you could get for $1.

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  13. nitros says:

    From the mixed league auction, I would have taken (using my theory and strategy):

    Colon $1 (low ERA/WHIP, potential W’s)
    Crain $1
    LaTroy Hawkins $1 (saves)
    Tyler Clippard $1 (low era/whip and potential for saves)
    Carlos Martinez $1 (setup/potential starter)
    Luke Gregerson $1
    Eovaldi $1 (fastest fastball in the league, I will gamble on it)
    Cody Allen $1 (setup/low era/whip/saves)
    Ubaldo $1 (I will buy this lottery ticket for at least five starts)

    This setup should get you 15-20 points in a standard 4/4 league assuming you watch Ubaldo closely and cut him if he is bad Ubaldo.

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  14. thatpj says:

    Man I wished I played in some of these leagues where people like Ventura and Pineda or any closer went for a dollar. Anyways, I spent $66 of $260 on starting pitching in recent draft. My staff:

    Darvish – $36
    Wacha – $18
    Cingrani – $11
    Chen(a.k.a. streaming spot) – $1

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  15. Will Clark says:

    In a 6×6 holds and K/9 dynasty league I’ve been budgeting 10% to pitching and punting wins. I’ve scored well with a lot of help from $1 closers I lucked out on and SP qualifiers who get leverage (guys like Smyly and Cecil last year). Don’t see that kind of guy out there right now – Gorzelanny maybe, but not so much. Anyone under the radar I’m missing?

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  16. Alex M says:

    I took the plunge draft my own $9 pitching staff earlier tonight! I targeted “high” K starters (I’ve always thought of Wins as a bit of a crap shoot) and setup RP (for save potential). 12 team 5×5 H2H Yahoo public league.

    Zack Wheeler
    Ubaldo Jimenez
    James Paxton
    Hector Santiago (trying to dump him for Sergio Santos)
    Rex Brothers
    Joaquin Benoit
    Scott Kazmir
    Darren O’Day
    Cody Allen

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