Imagine you’re in the market for a new car. You don't want just any car, you're looking for something that has it all: style, speed, flash, safety, durability, everything you could want in a car. You want a five-tool car, and you're ready to spare no expense.
You’ve spent months doing painstaking research. You’ve read countless reviews from consumers and automobile enthusiasts. You’ve visited multiple dealerships and taken innumerable test drives. You’re determined to get exactly the car you want, and nothing is going to stop you.
After all the work you’ve put in, you wake up one morning and you’re ready to make your purchase. But when you show up to the dealership, there are six people ahead of you, and there isn’t a salesman ready to deal with you just yet. By time it’s your turn, the car you want, the purchase that has been months in the making, is no longer available. What’s more, the one that was just sold was the last one in stock, and the company isn’t planning on making any more. You’re just going to have to settle for your second option. But wait, your second-favorite car is sold out, too, and the maker has no plans of shipping any more to any dealership in the country. Perhaps the dealer can interest you in your third choice.
This is the fundamental flaw with the typical fantasy baseball snake draft. If you have the 10th pick in your league, you’re not getting Mike Trout or Giancarlo Stanton or Andrew McCutchen, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Why do we think this is okay? Why are snake drafts still the standard when there is a plainly superior option available? If your league is still using the snake draft, it’s time to upgrade to an auction.
The downside of a snake draft laid out above is self-evident, even to draft defenders. It’s clear to everyone that only one person will have a chance to get Trout, and only, say, three or four will have a shot at Clayton Kershaw, while seven or eight might get a chance to draft Jose Abreu. Most people, however, only think about that drawback at the very top of the draft, when, in reality, it persists throughout the entire draft and affects everyone, regardless of where they’re picking. Sure, you may get Trout if you have the first pick, but you certainly won’t have Edwin Encarnacion or Adam Jones or Felix Hernandez on your team. No, the draft’s strictures ensure a theoretical equal allocation of talent across your league. Those limitations on freely spending your resources have no place in the fantasy game today.
You see, it’s not just about making sure Trout is available to everyone, it's about embracing an owner’s freedom to get Trout and McCutchen and King Felix. That can happen in an auction, but only if an owner does his or her homework in advance. A number of approaches can succeed in an auction, but the following principles should always be present.
The beauty of a budget
There are a few different ways an owner can allocate resources heading into an auction. The most common is to not worry about positions, but set aside a certain percentage for hitters and a certain percentage for pitchers. Typically, the split is 70/30, in favor of offense. If your league uses the standard $260 purse, that means $182 for hitters and $78 for pitchers. You could tweak the percentages depending on your belief in the importance of the two different sides of fantasy baseball, but the idea is the same regardless of how much you allocate to bats and arms.
If you wanted to do the least amount of prep work possible, you could stop right there and at least have a skeleton budget. A budget like this is easy to track, and still offers guiding principles throughout your auction. It is also incomplete. We know that not all positions are created equal, and that some are deeper than others. We also know that the stars aren’t as bright in every corner of the diamond. Fantasy owners have to prioritize some positions over others, and that’s why the best budgets go one step further, applying a specific dollar value to every position, including bench spots, rather than just dividing resources into hitting and pitching buckets.
Let’s use one of my 2015 tactics as an example. As discussed in the first base primer, I believe it’s important to end up with one of the top-six players the position has to offer. Not only are they clearly a cut or two above the rest, they’re also among the very best hitters in the game, regardless of position. According to the consensus auction values at FantasyPros, the range of these six is from $29 (Anthony Rizzo) to $39 (Miguel Cabrera). Realistically, I’m going to have to spend at least $30 to get one of my first base targets, and it will likely be closer to $35. Given that I like both Paul Goldschmidt and Jose Abreu better than Cabrera, I’m alright with him being the most expensive player. Ultimately, I’m setting aside $35 for my first baseman. I can’t be completely sure of the one I’ll get, but I’m confident that will net me one of the position’s elite players.
By doing this for my entire roster roster, I can zero in on a set of players at every position, including my bench. Additionally, having a specific dollar value allocated for each spot will make it easy to marshal excess resources. If I end up landing Rizzo for his $29 average, I’ll know immediately that I have an extra $6 to use elsewhere. Budgeting doesn’t just create the foundation necessary for a successful auction, it affords an owner the confidence to be aggressive when values are presented in the middle and late stages.
Know how to nominate
Owners frequently overlook nominating principles, but they represent another area where someone who is prepared can gain an advantage. You aren’t going to win your league by being the soundest nominator, but every single inch counts.
Remember, just because you nominate someone, that doesn’t mean you have to be in on the bidding. This isn’t an old-time political convention. You can nominate someone you don’t want to elect for your team. The first tenet of nominations, therefore, is to throw out high-priced players that do not interest you in the early stages of your auction. Think of all your dollars as ammunition, and those of your league-mates as heavy artillery massed against you. Each dollar spent by your rivals on a player you don’t want turns a live grenade into a dud. Let’s say you nominate three expensive players you are wary of with your first three turns. That’s $75-to-$80 off the table that, in your eyes, may as well have been set on fire. Always have this nomination strategy at the ready early in your auction.
Conversely, sometimes you want to be able to control when a target of yours is up for bidding. If you wait too long, another owner with plenty of money to spend could drive up the price. If you get him out there too early, you may have too many owners vying for the prize, and that, too, could lead to price escalation. Yes, it’s the return of the Goldilocks equilibrium, a goal we discussed last season. You don’t want to nominate certain targets too early or too late, but at just the right time. So when is your auction in Goldilocks equilibrium? That depends on the player in question. One feature of Goldilocks equilibrium, however, applies to all players. There must be a few like players still in the auction pool. Let’s illustrate this with another one of my favored targets this year, Jimmy Rollins.
Rollins is a member of the final tier of starting fantasy shortstops in most leagues. His average auction value is 10th at the position, while his ADP is ninth. In a draft, there will likely be a mad dash to get Rollins, given that he’s only going to be in the spotlight when the startable options at shortstop are dwindling. An auction allows you to control when his name arises, and you’ll want to do so with at least a handful of fallback options for owners who come up short. While I like Rollins, he’s not without blemishes. He’ll likely be a drag on batting average and OBP, and he could easily hit for less power after trading Citizens Bank Ballpark for Dodger Stadium. If he’s up for bidding when guys like Elvis Andrus, Danny Santana and Xander Bogaerts are still available, owners who don’t like him as much as I do may drop out of the bidding earlier than he would if there were fewer potential starters still on the board. That could be the difference between landing a desired player and having to settle for someone else.
Goldilocks equilibrium is crucial in your nominating patterns. When you see it for a specific target, get his name out there.