There's a scene in the movie "A Beautiful Mind" where Russell Crowe, as legendary mathematician and economist John Nash, postulates a concept within game theory as he and his friends all eye the same woman at a bar. While his end result doesn't have practical application in a fantasy baseball auction, the motivation for his insight does. If he and his four friends all court the same woman, they get in each other's way and no one wins her hand. It also means that if one person deviates from that strategy, he could come away not with his first choice, but with still with one that makes him happy.
In the first installment of our Auction Strategies series, we take Nash's insight to heart and examine how nominating secondary options early on in your draft can provide you with the excess value needed to win your league's championship.
Nomination strategy is a tricky concept that can be an unseen killer in auctions. If you can craft a plan that is flexible to adapt to the pace of your auction but strong enough to help you secure a number of your targets, you can get a huge head start on your leaguemates. One of the pillars of such a strategy is understanding how and when to nominate players you believe could come at a discount. One of my favorite ways to do that is to be like Nash and go after the second option while the first one is still available.
Here's an example. First base is a very top-heavy position this year. Miguel Cabrera, Paul Goldschmidt, Chris Davis, Prince Fielder, Joey Votto, Edwin Encarnacion and Freddie Freeman are all in the top-25 of my Top 300 rankings and top-30 of the consensus rankings at FantasyPros. While you could shuffle the back-six players, most everyone would agree that Cabrera is the No. 1 player at the position. First base is also the perfect position at which to use this strategy early in an auction, given that the bunching of the players and deceptive shallowness of the pool means there might not be a ton of urgency in the room to get the first or second guy nominated.
Let's say you love Cabrera, but that more than anything, you just want one of these seven players to be your first baseman. Nominating Cabrera would almost certainly incite a bidding war, similar to how Nash's classmates were set to compete for the same woman while ignoring all of her friends. It would also have the effect of removing the best player from the pool, thus ramping up the pressure to get one of the remaining six. Not only could that introduce more competitors into the field, it could have the unintended consequence, at least in our case here, of driving up the price of the secondary market.
You're going to bypass that option and instead nominate Joey Votto, Edwin Encarnacion or Freddie Freeman. There's a high degree of variance within the industry on these three players. Votto has a high ranking of one and a low of seven among first basemen on FantasyPros. Freeman's range is from two to nine, and Encarnacion's is two to 12. FantasyPros has canvassed 52 industry experts thus far, so it's safe to say that there's likely a similar yawning gap of opinion on these three in the public at large.
For the purposes of our exercise here, let's say you throw out Freeman. Sure, there's a chance that you're in a league with someone who loves the Braves' first baseman, but if you nominate him with Cabrera, Goldschmidt, Davis and Fielder all still on the board, you likely eliminate a nice chunk of the bidders who have their hearts set on one of those four. Once the bidding climbs and the supposed better options are still on the board, other bidders could drop out, consoling themselves with the belief that they can do better, be it in terms of the player or the value.
In other words, the chances of getting Votto or Freeman or Encarnacion at a discount are almost nil if they are among the final top-tier options nominated. At that point, everyone who missed out will be going hard after these guys, and that could result in you paying for Encarnacion the same price someone else paid for Davis, which would be the worst outcome possible. If they hit the market when there remains a plethora of options, however, they could come at a bargain simply because they aren't the absolute best in the eyes of most fantasy owners.
Only one person can own Miguel Cabrera, but seven people can own one of the truly elite first basemen in the league. I like my odds of getting one of the seven a whole lot better than my odds of a particular one of them. I know I can increase my chances of getting one by nominating him right off the bat when he looks ugly by comparison. When the dust settles, that bargain may be the most beautiful in the room.
Fantasy Baseball Auction Strategy Series: