Patience, hitting among keys to successful baseball auctions
We have spent most of the past few months getting you ready for fantasy baseball 2011 with our preview that focused primarily on drafts and head-to-head points leagues. Well, that is not how fantasy baseball started; fantasy football just transformed it that way.
Auctions and Rotisserie is where it began in the early 1980s. And a league called Tout Wars (www.toutwars.com) carries it on with 50 industry-leading analysts, this guy included.
Auctions are this writer's dispersal method of choice, because it represents a continuous IQ test in fantasy baseball knowledge. You can get you hands on any player you want, you just have to pay some of your $260 (fake money) to do it. You can overbid anyone if you have a real conviction on someone. In drafts, you can get pigeon-holed by your draft position.
Strategies abound everywhere for auctions. You drop all your money into hitters, you can split it 50-50 between pitchers and hitters (not advised in fantasy) or you can just go willy-nilly, which is what yours truly tends to do.
Here is this entrant's plan of attack in the 15-team mixed 5x5 Rotisserie league (traditional categories: AVG, HR, RBI, R, SB -- W, ERA, K, WHIP, SV; and rosters: 14 hitters -- 2 C, 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, MI, CI, 5 OF, DH -- and 9 pitchers):
Auctions are structured in the way they bring up names. Your 12-team league sets a nomination order and you go one-by-one calling out a name with an initial bid. Here are some very specific things to do to avoid tipping your hand on where your bid might go or stop:
You never know who might not be paying attention. Maybe the whole room is thinking about their next nomination or scratching notes on their cheat sheets or laptops. Start all bidding as low as possible. The exception to this rule is late in the auction where some teams have spent their money and have a low maximum bid. In those cases, you should open higher to close them out of bidding.
Nominations should be used to get the others in your league to burn their limited resources on players you don't want. Then, later on, the players you actually care about come up and you are going up against teams that are strapped for cash, making it easier to get bargains. The exception to this rule is late when teams have positions filled and cannot bid as freely. This is an early auction strategy.
Pitchers tend to be kryptonite in Rotisserie auctions. Pitching is risky, volatile year to year and less intriguing to experienced owners, for various reasons. Get those in your league to spend high on pitching early, so when the five-category bats come up, you are competing against teams with limited resources. The exception to this rule comes up when the whole league is tight on pitching (usually more than one loves a Cy Young candidate, though; remember it takes at least two to create a bidding war). If there are not two people to drive up the price on Felix Hernandez into the $30 range, then he could actually go for a bargain and make your plan backfire.
Sometimes raise the bid quickly. Others, wait for the "Going once, going twice, ssss." The "sss" is the start of "sold." Varying bidding response time tends to mask intentions of how serious you are on a player and how far you might be willing to go. Quick bidding tends to showcase interest, but prepare to stop at any point to leave someone with a player you are not all that excited about.
Don't be that guy taking notes or scratching names off your cheatsheet. Remember, auctions are "continuous fantasy baseball IQ tests." There are going to be bargains at any time. You want to prepare to buy a player you might not necessarily like, just because the rest of your league doesn't like him enough in your eyes. The exception to this rule is don't bid on every player. That is a sure-fire way to run out of cash real quick and leave with you a cellar-dweller.
This strategy is a bit counter to 2B above, but it is perhaps the most important one in this whole business. You don't want to be stuck with players you don't want for prices you didn't want to afford. So just sit out the bidding entirely. Do not price control the auction. A player you don't want can go for a bargain. Let him if you don't want him. Price controlling is where you see the suggested dollar value on a player and drive him up to that price. It will backfire. You are going to get stuck with a lot of players you don't want if you do that. The exception to the rule is when you are sure there are players another owner just will not stop on. For example, a Yankees fan with Derek Jeter. Go ahead and bump a few bids in there, just to make him sweat. But tread very carefully, you don't want to get stuck with a past-his-prime, name-recognition guy.
This is an obvious one. Pitchers just don't carry the same weight in Rotisserie because there is no such thing as a five-category pitcher. Pitchers are either starters or relievers, but they are all the same on a Rotisserie roster. You just need nine of them. None of them can contribute across the board, like a Hanley Ramirez can. Jacoby Ellsbury, Carl Crawford and Jose Reyes -- the speed merchants than can hit -- are the most valuable players in Rotisserie because they contribute in all five ways, average, homers, RBI, runs and steals.
Pitchers on a Rotisserie roster represent just a hair over 39 percent of your team (nine pitchers of 23 total players). Well, $100 of the $260 is roughly the same percentage. Even if the pitching categories represent half of your team's points, you still want to spend your money on the surer things (hitters) and minimize risk with pitchers. Also, the Rotisserie pitching stigma tends to make bargains for pitchers off the top tier. And every year, some pitchers come out of the woodwork to be very valuable (like third-year starting pitchers, for instance).
Saves are an annoying category. Your best bet, particularly with how most bidders attack auctions, is to buy two stud closers that are sure things to keep the job and post 30-plus saves on an elite contender. Most auctions will have the masses stopping around $20 on closers. So, spend about $40 of the $100 on pitchers on your closers. It should net you two good ones and a third wild card, like a Craig Kimbrel. Getting two stud closers and a third sleeper reliever should position your WHIP and save categories well.
Fantasy owners dislike catchers just as much as pitchers, at least after the few elite ones are gone. That tends to make it easy to get two decent backstops on the cheap late in an auction. Unless you have Joe Mauer, Victor Martinez, Brian McCann or Buster Posey, your catcher position isn't going to significantly impact your team. You might as well not spend your resources on something that won't make a bit of difference. Back-fill the pitcher position late, too, because there are just so many pitchers to go around and just nine pitcher positions to fill. There is going to be a number of double-digit winners going for a mere $1 bid late.
You are going to pull your hair out and scramble more late than anything, even if the real difference-makers were long off the board hours ago, if you get stuck with only being able to bid $1 on your remaining players. To insure you get the late-round guys you want, leave yourself the room to bid at least $2 on each of your remaining spots on your roster. That way you can get a piece of the late bargains. You can outbid other owners that are strapped late and have your pick of the litter.
For every position you have left to fill, have a list of a few options late. You might not be able to get your first choice when names start flying off the board for $1 or $2 bids. You are going to want to be prepared with alternatives, because the late part of the auction tends to move the quickest. It can be the best place to pick up bargains, though, so leave yourself over-prepared. A mistake late cannot be made up for like an overbid early can.
This is just scratching the surface on auction strategy -- books can and have been written on the subject -- but those are this writer's rule of thumbs. They are mostly stored upstairs in the recesses of the brain and employed throughout the continuous fantasy baseball IQ test.
The Tout Wars weekend is this Friday-Sunday in New York City. While the actual auctions will no longer be open to the public, you can stop by to meet the most distinguished names in the industry Friday evening at Foleys bar across the street from the Empire State Building.
If you stop in an introduce yourself, I will buy you a frosty beverage.