2019 Fantasy Football: Auction Strategy Part 1

Brad Kruse

Why Play in Auctions

The auction format is becoming a more popular format each year and with good reasons. I believe it is the best format which takes away the intrinsic bias of draft position on the outcome of many leagues. In an auction everyone has the same chance to procure each player based on their individual assessments of the player’s value vs their cost in the auction they are participating. The team that acquires the breakout player believed in them the most or at least was willing to spend the most money on that player.

If you are successful in an auction, you can build a better team then you can in a draft. A couple of years ago I had the highest scoring team in the FFWC regular season and was also the top auction team. My contest leading fantasy team (~500 teams) scored less than my league leading auction team (12 teams). This was somewhat unique, but it is very common the top teams in an auction are better than top teams in a snake draft.

When you think about it, it makes sense. Just because you might be the most bullish on Alvin Kamara this year, for example, doesn’t mean you’ll get him if you are drafting from the back of round 1. The same could be true if you’re a big fan of Amari Cooper. You likely don’t grab him on the first turn but he’s not going to get back to you on the turn in the third / fourth round. Your player rankings in a draft don’t impact your roster construction in the early rounds as much as ADP.

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But the real reason you’ll want to play in an auction is the fast pace excitement of the game. This is akin to playing football vs baseball. On the football field, you’re active on each play regardless if you touch the ball. In baseball, you might be out in right field and it could be innings between you getting a ball hit in your direction. This is like being on one of the ends of the draft where you’ll make two picks then wait for 20 min before your next turn comes around.

In an auction you’re always active you never know when you’ll enter the fray depending on who’s been nominated and where the bidding is at. If you’re inattentive you risk making a mistake and allowing a player to go for value to one of the competing owners.

The following is a primer for auctions. I’ll talk about:

  • Preparing for an auction
  • Some in-auctions strategies
  • Provide auction values based on current high stakes ADP

Preparing Your Own Auction Valuations

Having an internet auction list is like an ADP list off the internet and it will likely serve as a good guide to player value. The Fantasy Football universe is large and diverse and likely the average auction values and ADP data will provide a solid framework for the types of values put on players in your auction. However, in a draft, the ADP’s for the front end of the draft are largely unaffected if a league drafts 16 players or 20 players per team. For example, in 2018 Todd Gurley or David Johnson likely got drafted within the top few picks. For an auction, these two would likely still be amongst the top priced players; however, what is the difference in that top price point if there is a roster size of 16 or 20? Is there a difference in the price?

With an auction, let’s look at two different league formats. Both have a $200 budget, but one league requires you to fill a 16 player roster and the other requires you to fill a 20 player roster. Also, one is a 10 team league the other is a 12 team league. In other words, one league will roster 160 players and the other 240 players.

The value placed on the 80 players not auctioned off in the first league is likely going to be ~ $1.00 each. That impact is understood. The larger impact is where does the $80 come from? Either (a) the values of the top players get reduced in the 20 team league or (b) the slope from the top players to the $1 players increases meaning there will be a lot more $1 players. Because of this, looking up an auction value from one site might give you very different numbers than another site. Preparing your own valuations ensures you understand the true value of the player based on your rules and roster requirements.

For this reason, I like a quantitative system for what value I place on a player in addition to what value I think the market will place on that same player. For example, every year there are over-hyped rookies or favorite sleepers that everyone loves in addition to the still solid, yet aging veterans that don’t seem to get much love. There are also players that each owner plans on avoiding at all costs – those are easy to assign a $0 value to indicating you will not bid on that player. But, what would you have paid for Odell Beckham in his rookie season? Did you believe the hype? If you assign your own values putting in your belief on his performance, then those values are determined based on your projections of how the player will perform. Once you’ve convinced yourself you’ve properly modeled the point values each player can deliver to your fantasy team, you’ll be more apt to hold to the auction values you’ve assigned to each player. When you’re bidding on players, you’re really bidding on a set of point values and risk of achieving those points for your team.

One of the trickiest issues is to determine the relative worth of players playing different positions in an auction setting. Intuitively everyone knows the top RB should be worth the most money because they typically get drafted first. The top RB in the FFWC format typically has scored > 350 pts. The top QB typically scores > 400 pts and the top WR typically scores > 300 pts.

The following is a methodical process to come up with the auction values.

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Step 1: Determine your performance projections

Do this step for all 240 players that will be auctioned off. This sounds difficult, but FullTime Fantasy does an excellent job of providing projections for you. Sort this list by position. CLICK HERE to view FullTime Fantasy's preseason projections!

Step 2: Determine how many players at each position are worth $1.00

For example, in the FFWC format, 12 teams compete in each league with a roster size of 20. There are 11 starting positions (1 QB, 2 RB’s, 3 WR’s, 1 TE, 2 Flex, 1 D and 1 K). In an auction, it’s likely that a large percentage of the players auctioned off go for minimal $1.00 or $2.00 price. Many times, an owner will pre-empt owners from taking a certain handcuff running back or deep sleeper WR or marginal tight end by nominating them for $2.00 knowing most owners wouldn’t go to $3.00 to steal them. Obtaining average auction valuations using the internet can give you a feel for where in the rankings QBs, RBs, WRs etc. will go for these minimal $1.00 and $2.00 bids. Since auctions aren’t as popular as drafts obtaining and filtering this data is a little more cumbersome than working with average draft positions, but the data’s out there and you can approximate who you think will go for minimal bids given this data with a little intuition and experience mixed in.

For example, looking at auction data from various sites prior to the FFWC auction last year, there were 41 unique RB’s that always had assigned values higher than $1.00 and there were 63 RB’s that had received a maximum bid greater than $1.00. That means the likely maximum RB rank that you’d assign a $1 value would reside between the 41st RB and the 63rd RB. The auction I participated in at the FFWC had 50 RB’s receive a price higher than $2.00 and 64 had received a price greater than $1.00. A similar analysis is performed at each position to give you these baseline players. Note the difference in the average auction values vs the actual FFWC values. This, in part, is because most auction leagues auction off fewer players than the FFWC. This can be frustrating, but it also provides you with an opportunity to obtain a competitive advantage. Let’s assume the following:

You have now assigned a value for perhaps 91 of the 240 players that will be auctioned off. You’re over one-third of the way done! What you’ve also done is effectively declared that the other 149 players will be competed for with a pool of money of $2,275 (12 teams with $200 =$2,400 less 57 players at $1 each and less 34 players at $2 each = $2,275).

Step 3: Assigning Value

Now you have your basis $1.00 and $2.00 players at each position. Every player who outscores these players in your performance projections has value to your team. But how much value is the key question?

One way to determine this value is to add up all the points available above the basis players and assign an equal dollar value per point available. For example, you might have 8,200 points available for bidding distributed by the names of the various players. The league will start with a total budget of $2,400 (12 teams x $200 / team). If 91 players were assigned a value of $1.00 or $2.00 value totaling $125; that leaves $2,275 available to bid on the remaining 140 players. However, since each player has a value equal to or greater than $2, you need to subtract from this pool of money $1 per player so when the value is assigned it can be adjusted up by $1. This leaves you with $2,135 to use when translating value to dollars. 

So how much is Christian McCaffrey or Aaron Jones worth? The trick is to figure out how many points above the $1 player they are projected to offer to your team. For example, McCaffrey might be projected to score 350 pts and Jones could be projected to score 200 pts and the $1 player is projected to provide you 100 pts. That means McCaffrey is providing you 250 pts (350 pts – 100 pts) of the available 8,200 pts that are out there. In that scenario he’s worth 250/8200 of the pool of money ($2,135) or ~ $65.00+ $1.00 = $66.00. Jones is worth (200-100)/8200 of the same pool of money ($2,135) or ~ $26.00 + $1.00=$27.00. If you did this for each player, you would then have a player budget assigned. It’s interesting to then compare it to the average auction values that you’ve obtained.

Aaron Jones
Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s look at WR now: Let’s say Michael Thomas has 300 projected pts and Amari Cooper has 250 projected pts. The $1 WR is worth 150pts (note the significant difference between WR and RB baseline players). That means Thomas is worth 150 pts (300-150) and that equates to an auction value of (150/8200)* $2,135 = ~ $39.00 + $1.00 = $40.00. Cooper’s 250 pts is worth (100/8200) * $2,135 = ~ $26.00 + $1.00 = $27.00. For one final comparison, consider QB: The baseline ($1) QB might provide 300 pts. Patrick Mahomes is projected to provide 400 pts ((400 pts – 300pts) / 8200 pts)*$2,135 = ~ $26 + $1 = $27.00. Kirk Cousins might be projected to score 310 pts which provided ((310-300)/8200) * $2,135 or ~ $3 + $1 = $4.

Stay tuned for Part II of this Fantasy Football Auction Strategy Guide!

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