Fantasy 101: The 10 Commandments of Auction Drafts
As Bruce Springsteen once said, “blind faith in your leaders, or in anything, will get you killed.”
Still, what The Boss doesn’t know is that this is just fantasy baseball, not life or death. Plus, I hope that what I’ve written thus far enables you to put a little blind faith in me. The reason is that I’ve been tasked with providing you a guide for your auction drafts, and I’ve won my auction league two years straight. Does that make me an expert? Heavens no. But that’s why I brought up that faith thing before.
Without further hesitation, please put some of that aforementioned faith into my 10 commandments of auction drafts:
1. THOU SHALT ASSIGN AUCTION VALUES
Easily one of the most important parts about participating in an auction is assigning prices to the players. For this, you’ll first need a set of rankings. Whether you use your own projections or pull rankings from a popular website, you’ll still need an ordering of players to assign auction values.
Next comes generating dollar values. To my knowledge, these are the three easiest ways:
- First, you could simply find average auction values on a major draft platform (e.g., ESPN) for a league size and budget that best matches your own. Then, apply those values from the top down to your own rankings. For example, if Christian Yelich were your 9th ranked player, but in the published auction values you found, the 9th ranked player was Manny Machado and he was going for $44, you would just assign $44 to Yelich.
- Second, you could separate your players by position, and then further into tiers. Once you have your tiers, assign minimum and maximum values you would be willing to pay (i.e., a range) for each tier.
- Alternatively, you could skip all of this work by just using an online auction calculator of choice (Fangraphs has a good one).
2. CREATE THY BUDGET
Now that you have auction values, you should create a budget. Here’s what I like to do. Create a spreadsheet that looks like your fantasy baseball roster. In the lefthand column, put the labels for each hitter, pitcher, and bench slot on your roster. Leave the next column blank for you to fill in with player names and the amount you spend on them in the draft.
Next, consider how much of your budget you want to spend on hitting and pitching, respectively. Generally, I like to spend around 65-70% of my budget on hitting. Have a cell in your spreadsheet dedicated to your pitching and hitting budgets, and update them accordingly when you spend in the draft.
Then, in the next few columns of your spreadsheet, you can start playing around with scenarios. These should not correspond to the specific roster slots to the left, but should be broken into hitter and pitcher scenarios only. Then, for simplicity’s sake, the scenarios should be listed in price order. For instance, in the third column of your spreadsheet, you can assume a scenario in which you spend $50 to get a stud hitter and see how you can spend the rest of your hitting funds based on the auction values you created for the rest of the hitters, and assign your money accordingly. In the next column, you can try a budget in which you start with a $40 hitter and distribute the remainder of your funds more equitably.
I recommend making several of these, for both pitching and hitting, and again basing the hypothetical amount you’d spend for each player on the auction values you’ve assigned to your player pool. You can use precise dollar amounts, or ranges, whichever you prefer.
For example, as above, I’ve taken a $260 budget and divided it 70/30. I planned my pitching slots to draft eight starters and three relievers. If I first draft Yelich for $39, which was $1 less than I had priced my top hitter in my most similar scenario (ordinarily, other scenarios would be filled in, but I got lazy), then I just insert Yelich into one of my blank OF slots, and add a dollar to one of my remaining pitcher or hitter slots. Choose one where you’re looking to target a particular player and want some bidding flexibility. Likewise, if I had drafted him for $41, then I’d subtract a dollar from another slot in which there was flexibility in the player pool. For example, maybe there are a lot of hitters I expect to go for $3-4 that I liked, I could just bump the $5 hitter slot down to $4. Obviously, your money is fungible, so if you’d like, you could bump a pitcher slot down a buck instead.
This strategy ensures that you have a game plan going into the auction. When you make your first big purchase, you know exactly how much you can spend on each and every remaining slot on your team. You won’t go bankrupt 20 minutes into the auction, and you won’t get caught sitting on $50 at the end of the auction, because you’ll know exactly how much to spend and where to spend it.
3. BE UNPREDICTABLE IN THY NOMINATIONS
If you’ve never done an auction draft before, the way it works is that everyone gets an opportunity to nominate players for bidding, and the order of nominations is ordinarily done by snake.
In the beginning, you should nominate players you don’t want. It sounds counterintuitive because you go into the auction eager to buy the players you most want, but I caution you against that mentality. Nominate guys you don’t want to draft for whatever reason – maybe you don’t like paying up for closers, or maybe there’s a particular player or two you think is overpriced – then watch the rest of the draft room bid them up and blow their budgets. Then, when players get nominated that you do actually want, you’ll have more money to spend on them than the drafters that bought the players you didn’t want.
Still, you should nominate the cheap guys toward the end of the draft that you want, because it’s unlikely others will bid above $1 on guys that aren’t worth more than a dollar. Likewise, it’s true that it’s good to get others to spend on players you don’t want or you think are overpriced, but it’s also good to remain unpredictable. If everyone knows you’re just nominating players you won’t later bid on, they might not bid as high on the guys you’re nominating, or they might bid you up if they see you actually jump in on a guy.
4. THOU SHALT PRICE ENFORCE CAUTIOUSLY
This one doesn’t require too much explanation. I think price enforcing can be useful at times, but it’s sort of like Icarus flying too close to the sun. Do it too often and you’ll get burned. By way of example, in my auction last year, a friend knew I wanted at least one good closer, and Roberto Osuna was the only one left. He didn’t need him, but saw me jump in early, so he bid on Osuna too. I would have had Osuna for $8 had my friend not bid me up to $13. That’s an example of smart price enforcement.
Here’s an example of stupid price enforcement. In my fantasy football league two years ago, I had already drafted Tom Brady, but later in the auction, quarterbacks were going way under the prices I had set in my spreadsheet. Thinking that was unfair, and seeing that Russell Wilson was about to go for $5, I started to bid. I bid the other guy in my league all the way up to $12, at which point he just dropped out, and I was stuck with a second expensive quarterback.
The takeaway from these two examples is to price enforce sparingly. My advice is to do it only up to the point at which you would be willing to pay for a player, just in case the other bidder drops out. Also, try to price enforce only when you know someone else will be willing to keep bidding because, for example, there’s a limited supply of that position on the draft board and that drafter needs one of the remaining players.
5. STICK TO THY AUCTION VALUES
My drafting mantra is value. You should not be stuck on certain players you really like or avoiding others you dislike. If you have auction values assigned to all players at the outset, then hopefully you’ve already priced your preferences into those values, and can bid accordingly.
For example, if you think Nelson Cruz might fall off a cliff this year, and you don’t like his average auction value of, say, $14, then price him lower, perhaps around $10. If the rest of the draft room dislikes him too, then when he’s about to sell for $7, bid on him and continue to do so until he gets to $10. Just because you don’t like him in the abstract, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t draft him at the right price.
Similarly, if you really like Aaron Nola, and you price him at $35, don’t bid past $35 if you’ve already priced your feelings into his value. If he’s approaching $40 and you’re still in, you’re basically overpaying for him a second time over.
6. KNOW THY NEIGHBOR
Simply put, people make irrational decisions. Often, it’s because a person likes a particular player or team. Knowing that can only work to your advantage.
Know someone wants Bryce Harper more than anyone else in the draft? Nominate him early and make that person blow their budget before the players that you want are nominated. Know someone is a Cubs fan? Nominate Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, and Javier Baez. Bid them up, too. Here’s a moment where I would endorse cautious price enforcement.
7. THOU SHALT NOT MISS OUT ON THE STUDS
I offer another fantasy football anecdote for your amusement. In my auction this season, my competitors were drafting the elite running backs and wide receivers at rates well above the values I had set. As I watched each one go by, I started to get really nervous. I kept telling myself that they would drop in price as people started running out of money, but they never did. I luckily got Davante Adams at a reasonable price, but in week 1, my starting running backs were Peyton Barber and Jamaal Williams. Suffice it to say, my team wasn’t competitive.
My loss is your gain. Learn from my mistakes. I did say in my fifth commandment to stick to your auction values. However, the other people in your league will have enough money to buy all of the players that would go in the first three rounds of a traditional snake draft, even if you don’t buy any of them. Sure, you’ll get your pick of the litter of cheaper players, but that’s no consolation when someone else has Mike Trout, Aaron Judge, and Jacob deGrom.
As the prices are getting set for the top players after the early nominations, start figuring out which ones you’d be willing to shell out some cash for, even if it’s more than the values you’ve assigned to them. Then, later in the draft, everyone will have less to spend on cheaper players, and you’ll still be able to afford them anyway even though you spent more than you planned on your stud(s).
8. HONOR THY +$1 BUTTON
Don’t use the +$1 button. I know it’s annoying to manually type in your bid each time, but if you use the +$1 button, it will burn you.
This is best illustrated by an example. Let’s say someone nominates Matt Olson for $1. You like Olson and know you’re willing to spend about $10 on him. You hit the +$1 button and he goes to $2. The person who nominated Olson does the same, sending Olson to $3. You hit the +$1 button again to make him $4. At this point, you’re just hoping the other guy drops out, and hitting the +$1 button the second you hear anything because you’re tired, out of beer, and several clicks away from the point at which you’d stop bidding ($10). All of a sudden, a third competitor jumps in and bids $14 on Olson, which was the maximum he was willing to spend. You hear the new bid sound and immediately hit the +$1 button. Now, you’re stuck with a $15 Matt Olson.
9. SAVE SOME DOLLARS FOR THE END OF THE AUCTION
Hopefully, you created a budget as I suggested, and this commandment is redundant. If you didn’t, let me give you a piece of advice that is not immediately clear to most first-time auction participants. Major auction platforms require you to spend at least $1 on each of your draft slots, including your bench slots. Therefore, if you had 5 open bench slots, and you were saving your last $9 to bid on Charlie Morton, then when he’s nominated, you’ll only actually have $5 to bid on him. Spend with this in mind.
And, more broadly, try to save some money for the end of the draft. You’ll likely have identified certain sleepers and prospects you’re interested in drafting. It’s no fun when you’re stuck with only a dollar to spend on several bench spots, and every time you nominate your favorite sleepers, someone just bids to $2. It could even be someone who doesn’t know any better and hits the damn +$1 button! Sometimes, these players are league-winners (e.g., Blake Snell), so if you think you’ve identified one, make sure you can afford him at the end of the auction.
10. NOMINATE LATE ROUNDERS FOR MORE THAN $1
Building off my ninth commandment, if you really like a late round flyer, try nominating him for more than $1. This can help you save a few bucks and drive away other bidders.
By way of example, assume you love Michael Soroka, as many Pitcher List writers do. Let’s say you nominate him for $1, and someone else bids $2. Then, you bid $3, and you win him. Clearly, your competitor’s threshold for Soroka was $2. Yet, if you had nominated him at $2, instead of $1, he would never have bid on Soroka in the first instance, and you would have had him for $2.
For those that are intimidated by auction drafting, simply follow my 10 commandments and you’ll have a plan come draft season. Failing altogether to prepare for an auction is detrimental. Unlike in a snake draft where you’ll have a shot at a first rounder and a second rounder, all the way on down, no tier of player is guaranteed to you in an auction, particularly if you run out of money or miss out on the studs. If you ignore my commandments, therefore, I won’t smite you, but your fellow competitors might.