April 13, 2010

One of the most important decisions a fantasy owner has to make early in the season is the manner they intend to handle their Free Agency Acquisition Budget or their waiver priority. For those not familiar, FAAB is a means of acquiring players not presently on anyone's roster, be it active or reserve. It is essentially a weekly blind auction. Each owner has a finite number of units to spend, commonly referred to as FAAB. The owner with the highest bid wins the player and has that number of units subtracted from their budget. There is a variation employing the Vickery system, in which the total subtracted is 1 unit greater than the runner-up bid, much like Ebay auctions are run.

Since the strategy differs for varying league sizes and formats, we will discuss them individually.

In AL- and NL-only formats, the conundrum is whether to hoard your FAAB in the hopes of acquiring a difference maker coming into your player pool or to take yourself out of that running by filling holes early. Trust me, there is going to be someone in your AL-only league counting on acquiring Adrian Gonzalez, miserly saving their FAAB until Theo Epstein rings up his old disciple Jed Hoyer.

In most instances, your team's plight dictates your course of action. If you are fortunate with respect to player health, you will not need to spend FAAB to replace injured players. Sometimes this means the person holding the most FAAB is doubly lucky as they have enjoyed strong performances from their healthy players and now they get to augment with a star. But when you consider one of every three players miss time due to injury, odds are long that an owner makes it through to the trade deadline completely unscathed.

Undoubtedly, the worst scenario is to nickel and dime early, filling holes but not with the best available talent, but spending just enough to prevent your ability to acquire significant talent at the MLB trading deadline. As such, the most prudent approach is all or nothing. If you have holes early, spend what it takes to get the best available replacement. Do not settle for the bottom of the barrel because they require less of an investment. Besides, there is absolutely no guarantee a player will cross leagues that will provide you with any meaningful help.

The equivalent in leagues that use waiver priority is not to burn your top placement, instead maintain it until the players cross leagues. The repercussions are settling for the lesser free agents as claims, weakening the performance of your squad, perhaps to a point that not even the best cross-over player can rescue your season.

Something else to keep in mind is come September there will be a bunch of call-ups that can help your squad down the stretch. By the last month in deep leagues, the health of several of your players will be in question, with some being shut down for the season. It is extremely advantageous to be able to afford to FAAB (yes, it can be used as a verb) the top quality given a September look.

There really is no formula to decide exactly how much to bid on a player. Some leagues have rules tied to your bid, especially keeper leagues. It is best to keep track of winning, and losing bids if available, to help gauge what players likely cost. Break it down in terms of the type of player. Bidding is usually consistent for similar types of players like closers, starting pitchers and hitters. Undrafted hot shot rookies usually go for a premium. You should also learn the habits of your fellow combatants and note other owners that have an opening at the same position as yourself. If someone is notorious for spending a lot, you will need to act in accord if you want to win a player of quality if you have similar needs.

In mixed leagues, the dilemma is not whether to hold onto your FAAB, but rather how long to hold onto a struggling player before cutting bait. In deep leagues, the level of replacement players is usually so thin that you have no choice but to practice patience, even with your bottom of the roster filler. In mixed leagues, there is often some tempting, compelling talent for the taking, while you have an underproducing player occupying a roster spot or two. Generally speaking, there is a reason why you elected to roster those you did and bypass those you did not and the best call is to trust your analysis and not to give in to a knee jerk reaction. But occasionally, especially if it looks as though your playing time expectations might be in error, the play is to make a switch.

For instance, early on, it is apparent that Mike Napoli is not going to see a whole lot of time. If you own Napoli in a relatively deep league where there are limited replacements, hang tight, it is a long season and Napoli will get his action. But in shallower leagues, especially those that require only a single catcher, you may want to explore other options.

Determining how much to bid in mixed leagues is similar to deep leagues in that there is no algorithm, it is mostly an educated guess based on your league dynamics. One rule of thumb to remember is not to overpay for mediocrity. If there is a player available that fits a need and offers you a significant upgrade, do not be shy with your bids. But if there is a bunch of similarly skilled players and you feel confident you will be able to pick up one, put in a series of minimal bids and accept the highest ranked player not bid on by anyone else, saving your budget for when there is a player of greater consequence available.

The final piece of advice is apropos to all formats, as value and quality of the player pool is all relative. Too many owners miss out on opportunities to improve their squad because in that particular week, they have no obvious players to replace so they do not even take the time to review the available players. The point is, always be on the alerts for an improvement, even if it is only to a reserve. This is especially true early, as the replacement level is a bit plusher before injuries really kick in. You may not need that help in the middle infield help now, but you eventually will and if there is a player available better than your present shortstop on reserve, look to make the upgrade before you have to and the available fodder is weak.

Sorry, one more tip and then you can go and study your free agent pool. Make a point of noting the previous week's drops. Sometimes your fellow owners are impatient and drop a player prematurely. Especially is the player continues to struggle, he may be an excellent target as water usually finds its level, which means you will enjoy the inevitable hot streak. Similarly, take the time to peruse the entire available player pool. It surely saves time to sort by at-bats or innings, but by doing so, you may miss out on a player that has not played a whole lot lately, but by season's end will rack up the playing time. Do your due diligence and take advantage of the complacent owner that just looks at the available players at the top of your list.

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