Friday, March 06, 2009

Auction Keeper League Strategy

posted by Unknown
I have received this question so often that I feel it is time to write a post about it:

What is the best strategy to follow in Auction Keeper Leagues if...

The line above is usually followed by phrases such as "if my keepers really suck" or "I only have a few keepers but they are really good" and even "if all the good players are kept."

It is impossible to answer those questions well without a ton of information about the league, the owners, the rules, and rosters. I thought it might prove useful to some to share my own approach. By necessity (and enjoyment factors) I vary the plan a bit in every league. I think it is really boring to have multiple teams with duplicate rosters. I will not present this as a infallible plan. But this should give some of you a way to go and others some ideas to implement with your own strategies.

My Philosophy
KRS-ONE isn't the only one who thinks very deeply. After years of flipping and flopping I finally decided a few years ago that rebuilding in fantasy baseball is for losers. We are not running the Pittsburgh Pirates and unless you're in a very unique league there is no team with a New York Yankees advantage. Go for it. Every season. Rather than try to win every other year (I've seen some owners re-build for multiple years --sick) I try to finish first every year. If I fail to win a championship and finish second and third instead of rebuilding for the following year so be it. This doesn't mean I won't make a trade or pick up a player with the future in mind. You can very successfully do both.

Which Players to Keep
First and foremost, if you want to win do not keep players (aside from minor leaguers of course) based on what they might do in two or three years. Every player you protect should be a contributor to your success right now. While it is important to take a few chances on draft day, your protected list should be as full of as many certainties as possible. If you have young players with future value who you cannot stash in reserve or on a farm roster you must trade them for some present day value or future value that you can stash. If you are as obsessed with young players as I am this can be difficult but you get used to it when it results in winning more often.

The most valuable keepers are usually pitchers. It is much easier to replace the under priced hitter you put back into the available player pool than the under priced starter or closer. I like to keep as many under priced pitchers as possible so I can concentrate on hitters come draft day. I often attempt to trade my borderline hitting keepers for cheap pitching. Some years it works and others it does not. This year in my AL-only I tried to trade for a cheap Kevin Slowey and Phil Hughes.

Set Your Goals High
I often hear owners mention they set goals of finishing third in every category. That's sweet. I set a goal of finishing first in every category. Do I make it? Not usually but I've been damned close. Setting my goals high forces me to draft players with upside potential. This has the extra added benefit of building up my keeper list. It also gives me a little more room to screw up and still finish third in every category.

Building a Strong Roster
I use what is often referred to as a Stars & Scrubs strategy. However, the way I do it it is more of a Stars & Future Stars strategy. I plot out my budget well ahead of time and experiment by plugging various names into the different slots. If I have a very strong keeper list I'll take fewer risks but reach for my biggest upside sleepers. When I have a weaker roster I draft more sleepers but try to limit the downside. John Smoltz has a lot of upside if healthy but has very little downside. Russell Branyan has huge upside but also a pretty miserable downside. I usually split my budgets into 70 percent hitting and 30 percent for pitching. I split my roster into the following fairly obvious groups:

Catchers - I allocate enough here to buy one of the better catchers available. My second catcher will be a younger catcher with offensive potential. A lot of teams are willing to live with whatever two bucks will get them at the catcher position. I would prefer my one dollar guys to be corners and outfielders.

Corner Infielders - I like to have at least one stud at this position, if that stud is a inexpensive keeper all the better. In my optimum situation I end up with a stud, a steady vet and a young player with upside. Corners are usually among the most productive players on your team. This is not the place to be stingy.

Middle Infielders - I like to have a strong middle infield but if money is tight this is the spot I cut dollars from. I always seem to find cheap and productive middle infielders in the end game. I'm okay with drafting the good side of platoons and talented youngsters with bench roles here. Speed is especially easy to draft in the middle infield.

Outfielders - I do not feel comfortable unless I have two stud outfielders. When I have those two studs I grow very willing to take chances in my outfield. The outfield is a good place to do some gambling with your roster because mistakes are fairly easy to overcome. You can also find the widest variety of stats in the outfield.

Utility - When my utility does not need to be a qualifying Designated Hitter (as in a lot of AL-only leagues) I try to match positions with the biggest gamble I'm taking with the rest of my roster. This allows me to more easily replace that player if the gamble fails. I very rarely allocate more than a few dollars to this spot on my roster.

Starting Pitchers - I know a lot of fantasy baseball veterans who refuse to draft more than five starting pitchers. This is usually done as precaution against adding too many bad innings (which is difficult to overcome). I refuse to limit myself to a certain number of starters. I like to have at least five and actually prefer to have seven. This helps me be more competitive in the wins category. To pull this off you have to be careful not to bid on interchangeable fifth starters that appear at the end of a lot of major league rotations.

I usually look for pitchers with the following criterion (but there are always exceptions):
  • At least half a season of major league experience in the books, but the more the better.
  • A career K9 of 7.00 or higher
  • A career Ground Ball rate of at least 40 percent
  • Pitching in front of a strong defensive team (which does not require the team to actually be good)
  • A good minor league resume (majors is obviously better but also more expensive)
Relief Pitchers - Nine times out of ten I refuse to pay for saves. I usually manage to roster a few future closers while they are still cheap. In keeper leagues you have the advantage of looking beyond just the present season. I drafted Heath Bell two years ago and he's been worth rostering both seasons and now he is a closer. In the last two years in addition to Bell I've drafted Chris Perez, Joey Devine, Joakim Soria, Jonathan Broxton, Chad Qualls, Frank Francisco, Matt Lindstrom, and Grant Balfour. More often than not for less than five dollars each. In almost every case they have been worth owning well before they became closers.
Drafting future closers has usually been about drafting relievers with dominating stuff in bullpens with shakey, old, or injury-prone closers.

How to Stretch Your Budget Further
Never spend your available cash on mediocrities.. This is the kiss of death to fantasy teams. I buy the best talents available within my budgetary limits. I always place talent above roles. I would prefer to spend one dollar on talented Orioles starter David Pauley fighting for a job than on Jarrod Washburn who has a spot gift wrapped for him.

For every full price David Wright or CC Sabathia on my roster I plan to have a one dollar player. This will make it seem as if you have a lot more money to spend on the middle of your roster. If you find more bargains use any extra money on the middle of your roster rather than eliminating the one dollar spots.

Not every player needs to be an immediate everyday hitter like left fielder Ryan Braun is for the Milwaukee Brewers. For example, a player such as shortstop Emmanuel Burriss may not have a full-time role for the San Francisco Giants as the 2009 season begins but he is still likely to make a significant contribution to the fantasy teams that draft him. If he receives just 250 at bats he could steal 25 bases. At the right price a part-time player who contributes is worth rostering.

If you pay full price for a star batter be certain that said player will contribute in every statistical category. If you pay $35 dollars for a player you don't want him hurting your batting average. This is not to say that every player must contribute to every category. I'll roster a .250 hitter or two I just demand a discount.

Some Quick Auction Tips
The following bullet points are taken from my RotoExperts article "Dominating the Auction Draft" which is available for free as part of the RotoExperts Draft Kit if you register (again for free) as a member of the site. The article is a very good compliment to this one.
  • Vary your bidding style between frequent small increments and sudden big jumps. This will keep your rivals off balance and unable to anticipate when you are truly interested in a player.
  • Bid on as many players as possible. This will make it difficult for your rivals to discern your ultimate strategy.
  • You will hear that you should never nominate players you really want and you will hear that you should never nominate players that you do not want. Ignore these people and mix it up.
  • Hold off nominating your sleepers until most of the money is off the board. But do it before you run out of money yourself.
  • Follow your instincts. There is nothing worse than having regrets after a draft.
  • Draft players with upside potential, these are the players that have huge breakouts.
  • It is okay to pay for saves, just do not overpay.
  • Reserve some money and roster spots for the end game, there are always bargains at the end of an auction.
  • Watch the other owners as much as possible, everyone has a tell.
  • You are not running the Pittsburgh Pirates, there is no need to waste a whole season in re-building mode – just go for it.
  • Do not overpay for rookies, especially pitchers, no matter how highly touted.
  • However, do not avoid rookies altogether, a large percentage of breakout seasons come from rookies.
  • With everyday players, it can be beneficial to draft a mediocre player if he has guaranteed playing time. The more at-bats you can roster the better you will do in Runs and RBI.
  • Avoid starting pitchers without quality skills. They collect too many innings and drag down your ERA and WHIP.
  • The point of all this is to have fun, so do it.



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Blogger Schruender said...

Amen to trying to win every season.

Thursday, March 12, 2009 at 4:01:00 PM EDT  

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