Fantasy baseball auction strategies: How to land your value players

Thursday March 13th, 2014

Let the market price establish for similarly ranked players before nominating Matt Holliday in an auction.
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Every fantasy owner tends to have players that they value more than the field (for me, a few of those guys this year are Shin-Soo Choo, Matt Holliday, Shelby Miller, Starlin Castro, Doug Fister, Danny Salazar, Jonathan Lucroy and Tyson Ross). I'm pretty confident that I can not only draft those guys at their going rate, but that they'll also easily outperform their value.

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In a draft, it's easy to devise a strategy to get those guys that you value. You can afford to reach a round or two for them, since you think they'll outpace their draft-day price. Even if someone else in your league wants the same players, you can always steal a player you think is undervalued in a draft simply by jumping up a few rounds to get him if your leaguemate was willing to roll the dice and try to get him a little later.

But in an auction, it's not quite as easy. All it takes is one other person who likes your guy to create in a bidding war that could cancel out the value you thought you'd get out of the player. There's no hiding a guy once he has been nominated. Anyone who wants him will be in on the bidding, especially since every fantasy owner likes looking smart by picking out the right value picks.

So what is the best way to get your value picks? Do you nominate them yourself, or wait for the market to bring them to you? The final installment of our Auction Strategies series explores how best to secure your value targets in auction formats.

First of all, I believe in nominating as many of my sleepers as possible, without creating too obvious of a pattern. You almost always want to be in control of when these guys hit the market. I listed my value guys above not just to put myself on record, but to illustrate that value guys come in all different tiers. Choo and Holliday will be off the board within the first three or four rounds in a 12-team draft, but Ross will be around until the endgame. A player's consensus ranking directly affects how you should handle targeting him as a value pick in an auction.

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Ross is a starting pitcher I believe is significantly undervalued. Even so, he's not going to go for more than a few dollars in an auction. For a guy ranked this low, there are two ways to handle his nomination. First, instead of throwing him out there for $1, start the bidding at $3. If I'm right about him, I won't mind paying $3 for him at all, and given that I'm likely to be one of few people, if not the only person, to like him this much, no one will push the bidding to $4. The other option is to nominate him sometime in the middle of the draft. Nominate him too early, and owners might be willing to spend a bit more freely. Nominate him too late, and another owner flush with cash might have nothing for which to save his money. If you can hit that Goldilocks equilibrium and nominate him at just the right time when your fellow owners are a little wary about spending on someone rated so low, you could be able to get him for just a buck or two.

Switching gears to the other end, Holliday is likely to be a guy sought after by many of your leaguemates. Trying to get a guy like him will be a bit of a challenge, even though I'm fine with going a few dollars over his projection, since I won't be the only person willing to do so. In a situation like this, the best tactic is to let some market prices establish for both the top players and the players at the given position. For Holliday, that would mean trying to keep him in the pool until a handful of the best outfielders have already been nominated. If someone sees Giancarlo Stanton go for $25, he might be unwilling to go to $22 or $23 for Holliday. Not to belabor the point, but Holliday is a guy I think will play better this year than his consensus auction value indicates. I'm willing to "overpay" for him because, in my opinion, I'm not overpaying at all. By letting the market set a few prices for players most would deem superior, you can gently nudge some of your leaguemates out of the bidding for your value guys.

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Finally, let's take a guy in the middle. How do you handle nominating someone like Starlin Castro? For a player like him, it's better to consider what not to do. If you're going to have any chance of getting someone like Castro at a good price, you have to throw him out there while there are still a couple desirable options left at his position. If you're in a league that only starts regular positions, this means nominating him with at least a few players among Hanley Ramirez, Troy Tulowitzki, Jose Reyes, Ian Desmond, Jean Segura and Elvis Andrus still available. If your league uses a middle infield position, you can throw the first- and second-tier second basemen into that group, too. If you nominate him when all or most of those guys are gone, there will be owners desperate for a shortstop or a middle infielder that will drive up the bidding, thus eliminating any value. If you get him out there with plenty of other ways for your fellow owners to go, they will be more likely to back out of the bidding, giving you another one of your sleepers.

Your nomination strategy can help you stack your roster with players you believe will outstrip their draft-day prices. While following the above plan will not land you every single guy you want, it should help you get enough to feel great about your roster heading into the season.

Fantasy Baseball Auction Strategy Series:

Strategy 1. Nominate a position's secondary options early
Strategy 2. Set a budget and stick to it -- no ifs, ands or buts
Strategy 3. Tips on when to nominate the players you value

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