There are many ideas about what makes for a successful fantasy baseball season. Some say it is having the best projections. Others say it is having the best handle on player values, or doing the best job of in-season management. Some say it‘s a matter of luck. There was a recent survey, however, among the top fantasy experts in which “auction strategy and tactics” was named as the most important factor in winning. So, let’s explore that topic. Bear in mind that my favorite format is single league Ultra, but I think the concepts here will apply to most other formats.
Your Most Effective Eight Hours of Preparation. These are the eight hours of sleep you get the night before your auction. Anything you are likely to fit into your brain the night before the auction is almost certainly outweighed by the benefit or being well rested when the auction begins. It is fine to spend some time going through last minute developments, such as updates on position battles, injuries, etc. But you need that sleep. While it may seem obvious, it should be reiterated that an auction can be a test of endurance, and of your ability to maintain focus for 8 to 10 hours. If you are sleepy, or hung over, you have given your opponents a huge advantage. A good night’s sleep followed by a shower and a light breakfast can tilt the odds in your favor.
On a related issue, sobriety during the auction can be critical as well. I have seen many smart owners screw up their auctions because of too many adult beverages.
In-draft Materials. For years, I would go into auctions with a single sheet of letter sized copy paper, upon which I had written everything I needed to have with me. Other guys would bring notebooks, lists, all kinds of books and magazines, almost more than they could carry and certainly more than they could keep up with in an auction. If you are adequately prepared, the amount of materials you need should be minimal. If you find yourself looking at a book in the middle of the auction to see if you want to go another dollar on a guy, that should be a clue that you didn’t do enough preparation.
Nowadays, I use a laptop and auction software. It can have its advantages, but you must be familiar enough with the software that you can use it while staying in touch with the flow of the auction.
Price Enforcing. Price enforcing, by definition, is bidding up a player you don’t want in order to keep another owner from getting him at a bargain price. However, the reality is that there will be some bargains in the auction, and not all of them will be yours. The danger in price enforcing is that your auction can be seriously damaged by the purchase of a player you don’t want and don’t need. Yet every year I hear owners lament that they were caught price enforcing. Some will rationalize by saying they are happy with the player they bought. Malarkey.
If you wanted the guy at that price, you weren’t price enforcing, you were just bidding. Let someone else be the bargain police if they want to. There is no percentage in it for you.
The auction is not about baseball. The auction is about money management. The auction is about economics, gamesmanship, and brinksmanship. While you are trying to assemble a roster with the most possible projected value, a roomful of other owners are trying to do the same thing by going after the same commodities you have targeted.
But all men (and women) are not created equal when it comes to handling an auction. I have one friend who can walk into an auction completely unprepared, pick up a good sheet of projections and have a great auction. He has the instincts of a gambler, thinks fast on his feet, understands the economics of fantasy baseball, and never loses his cool. Conversely, I have another friend who knows everything about every player on every team, as well as all their farm system. Yet this fellow never has a stellar auction. He cannot translate his knowledge into success at the auction table. He cannot figure the angles when it comes to constructing a winning roster using a limited amount of money. The point? Spend time thinking about the auction. Visualize it. If you have a Plan A, you better have a Plan B and a Plan C. Better, you should have a broad idea of what you want to do, and the awareness to be flexible when necessary to achieve it.
I personally don’t do on-line practice auctions. But I do construct roster after roster based upon my projected auction prices, and compare them to see which combinations will best give me the numbers I will need in order to have a competitive team.
Player Values. This was a lesson hard for me to learn. Projections are not precise, and even if they are, the value they represent is dependent upon many unknowns, including the performance of the other players in the league. So, instead of thinking of someone as a $27 dollar player, think of him as a player in the $25 to $30 range. It will help you as you stratify players in your personal rankings and preparations. It will also give you the confidence to go an extra dollar or two for the guy you really want.
Hold the Cheering. Cold as it may sound, you should not think about the players as individuals, no matter how big a fan you may be. I’m not saying that you should ignore a player’s changing role, new team, or injury situation; those will factor into your preparation. But, in the final analysis, you are not buying names, but the numbers you hope they will produce.
Back in the day, I overspent for my favorite player, Ozzie Smith, every year. I finally saw the light and bought a bobble head doll.
A corollary of this is “don’t be a homer”. A home run in the Bronx doesn’t help you any more than one hit in the Twin Cities.
Early Nominations. A person could write a dissertation on what type of players should or should not be nominated in the early rounds of the auction. I’ll keep it simple: watch carefully what happens. If guys are excited and are overpaying, don’t throw out the name of someone you really want. If guys are laying back a little, nominate one of your targets and you might get him for a buck or two less, especially if you nominate a second tier player while everyone else is thinking about the big stars.
If you just keep throwing out guys you don’t want, while others get them at good prices, it only makes it tough later, when you try to grab the guys that you do want.
Go Against The Flow. It is essential to keep up with the flow of the auction. It is unlikely that the owners, as a group, will consistently pay exactly what players are worth throughout the auction. The auction will ebb and flow, creating inefficiencies which will produce buying opportunities. If owners overpay in early rounds, there will often be a bidding lull, while they sit back and worry about how much money they have spent. You can use this to your advantage. You may not buy a single player the first hour of the auction, and then, when the time is right, buy six or seven players in one round of nominations. Conversely, if the early bidding is yielding bargains, you should wade in and start spending money. The other owners will be disappointed later when they are spending top dollar for second tier players. But, how do you know exactly how the auction is trending at a given time? Some can feel it, almost instinctively. I do it by keeping a simple tally. If a $28 player goes for $35, I’ll mark a +7. If a $23 player goes for $17, I’ll mark a -6. Use this to keep track of whether people are overpaying or underpaying. Eventually, the time of economic reckoning will come.
The Bidding Process. I believe that techniques used in bidding can make a difference over time. I typically bid in an even, almost monotone voice. I try to show no emotion, whether I am nominating someone I don’t really want, or nominating the player who may be the key to my draft. I do this for a couple of reasons. I don’t want to be read by someone who might decide to price enforce on a guy I want. I also don’t want to bid in such a manner as to fire up another owner’s competitive instincts. In fact, I would be perfectly happy if the other owners didn’t even notice me bidding…just so long as the auctioneer does.
There are various bidding gambits that people employ in an effort to gain an advantage. One is the jump bid, where instead of raising the bid by a dollar each time, you jump it up two or three bucks. Sometimes the other fellow is caught a little off guard and won’t come back with another bid.
Another is the plateau bidding. This is where you jump to a bid ending in a “9”, such as $9, $19, $29, $39, etc. The thinking is that the other bidder will be averse to taking the bid into double figures, or to the twenties, thirties, etc.
There are other gambits, and most people have their favorites. In my experience, they can prove effective, provided you do not use them too often, or try them repeatedly against the same owner.
Dumping A Category. Conventional wisdom says it is very hard to dump a category in a 4x4, but that it can work well in a 5x5. Most see dumping a category as a way to ensure a “money finish”, but not a title. Others feel it is next to impossible to employ this strategy successfully in a super-competitive league.
Here‘s a short war story about a fantasy baseball stretch run that may challenge your thinking about if, how and when the decision to dump a category should be made. “Bob” was in a league which was long established and very competitive. Bob was in contention, but well behind the leader. Bob’s starting pitchers had not performed well, and his team was way off the pace in Wins and Strikeouts. Since it was late in the year, Bob calculated that he could easily meet the Minimum Innings requirement. He figured out which other owners had players they could spare in trade. With this information in hand, Bob pulled off a series of trades, almost simultaneously, in which he swapped all of his starting pitchers for closers, short relievers and a couple of select hitters. Bob effectively dumped both Wins and Strikeouts, catching the leaders by surprise. He finished with 57 out of 60 hitting points, and first in Saves. With so many relievers, his ERA and Whip also improved dramatically. Bob won the title by a narrow margin.
The lesson? You can dump a category, but you shouldn’t necessarily go into the auction with the intention of doing so. You can never tell how the season will pan out, and it is impossible to predict what your standing will be in the various categories at a given time. Accordingly, if you are going to dump a category (or two categories, like Bob did successfully), you are better off waiting until the right opportunity presents itself.
The End Game. Long ago, you could squirrel away a little bit of money and then totally dominate the end game, grabbing up bargain after bargain while the other owners were helpless to stop you. Times have changed. Owners are much more sophisticated and, more importantly, patient. There will always be a couple of other guys with money at the end, and one of them will be targeting that very guy you were hoping to snare for next to nothing. So, is the end game irrelevant now? Not at all. It just needs to be played a little differently.
My thinking is that you should go ahead and get the guys you really want or need before the end game. Don’t save a lot of money. One of the worst things you can do is to have $25 at the end and nobody to spend it on. I like to have $8 or $9 in my stack and three or four players to buy. I always try to keep a couple of pitching spots open. In “only” leagues, there will almost always be a valuable middle reliever you can get for a buck who will earn seven or eight dollars. There may also be a couple of sixth starters…young guys in the pen being groomed to eventually join the rotation, and almost always better than whoever the fifth starter is. Make sure you know who is out there, what you need, what the other owners need, and the order of nomination. There can still be money made in the end game.
The Bottom Line. To conclude, it might be wise to think in terms of what you are trying to achieve during the auction. Say you have $260 to spend. Do you want to get your money’s worth? No. If you do, you will finish in the middle of the pack. You have to get more that your money’s worth. Some say you need to come out of the auction with $330 worth of value in order to be in contention. I think this number is a little high in an experienced, competitive league, so I look at it a little differently.
I believe you should strive to accomplish two things. Using your money management and auction skills, you should try to come out of your auction with a final roster, the value of which exceeds its cost by 10%. In a $260 league, that would be $286. More importantly, that roster should be composed of players who have a good chance, as a group, to exceed their projected values by 10%. Those two things would give you a roster with a potential value of $315. With good in-season management, you should have a chance to compete for the top spot in any competitive league.
Obviously, buying a group of players who will outperform their projections is easier said than done. The point is that you should be thinking in terms of players with upside whenever you can, not necessarily picking risky players, but choosing ones who are benefited by circumstances which would enhance their chances of bettering their projections.
In closing, I realize that many members of this site are true experts, and have forgotten more about fantasy baseball than I will ever know. Nonetheless, I hope that some part of the this article will benefit you as you plan strategies and tactics for your 2011 auction. Good luck, and have fun.