Don’t miss Part II and Part III of my Auction Strategy series!
From the moment postseason baseball begins, there is seemingly some league out there already drafting for the next fantasy baseball season. These super early drafts are analyzed (on podcasts, Twitter screenshots, or otherwise), and soon, Average Draft Position (ADP, most notably from the NFBC) is established and in constant movement. Once we start diving into players, their ADP is already a part of their next season outlook. Some guys are going “too high”; others are going “too low” and a “great value”. It all comes down to what these players can produce compared to other players that would cost a similar amount of draft capital (being the round in which they are taken). It’s natural to consider “What am I getting by selecting this player?” but before each pick, every manager should also be asking the question: “What other players am I missing out on by selecting this player?”
But what if we didn’t have to ask that second question? What if we could take that high-end closer AND a favorite SP target for a similar price? What if we could draft both Gerrit Cole AND that first-round caliber hitter? These scenarios and others are a possible route to take when sitting down for an auction draft. Imagine not having to pick exactly one player per round; imagine never again getting sniped on a guy one pick before you, leaving you to scramble and re-assess how best to construct your roster. Imagine never again having to watch, in horror, that catcher or relief pitcher run developing, leaving you with scraps by the time it’s your turn to pick. In auctions, every player is available to every manager, all it takes is a bid of $1 more than the rest of the managers and a “Sold!” from the auctioneer and that player is on your roster.
On the surface, this sounds like the optimal fantasy baseball draft experience! However, most folks are just more comfortable with the snake format and get enough fantasy baseball action that they desire from snake draft leagues. There’s an endless number of platforms to play on these days, and they all offer way more snake draft options than auctions.
However, if you’re like me, and on a limited fantasy baseball budget, you’re probably looking for the most enjoyable fantasy baseball draft with every league that you enter. To that, I would encourage you to hop into a fantasy baseball auction – with enough preparation and strategy at your fingertips, you may find yourself not wanting to go back to snake drafts ever again.
Fantasy baseball auctions are different in that every manager has an imaginary budget ($260 is the standard) that they can spend on their entire roster. Every player must cost $1 minimum. As the draft gets underway, managers take turns nominating players up for bid, along with a starting bid. Managers will call out sequential, increasing bids, until a lull settles over the draft room. At that point, the auctioneer will count down until they exclaim “Sold!”, awarding the player to that last manager for the price of their last bid. If participating in an online auction, most draft software has a handy “+$1” clickable button to help with bidding and there’s a clock countdown that resets with each bid. As the rosters begin to fill and budgets begin to dwindle, the bidding process speeds up. If everyone can only do $1 bids, the draft can transition into a snake until everyone’s roster is full.
Building Dollar Values
It’s important to still prepare for these auction drafts as you would a snake draft i.e. doing player research and keeping an eye/ear out for ADP discussion. AAV (Average Auction Values) are usually pretty correlated with ADP. Once you have a set of projections (like Pitcher List’s coming on March 1st!) in front of you, its time to convert these to auction dollar values. Pitcher List will also have an Auction Calculator available on March 1st. In the meantime, you can always use the Fangraphs Auction Calculator (beginners guide here), the Standings Gained Points method as outlined by Jeff Zimmerman and Tanner Bell in their book “The Process,” or a draft software such as Rotowire or Rotochamp.
At a minimum, make sure to consider how much money will be spent on players for your auction draft. For example, if we have a 15-team league with 30 roster spots and $260 to spend, that means 450 players will be drafted costing a total of $3900. When looking at individual player dollar values, ensure that 450 players have a cost attached to them. Take into account the positions as well – if this is a two-catcher league, make sure 30 catchers have a dollar value; if this is a one-catcher league, you can probably give 15-18 catchers a dollar value. Add up the 450 players projected auction values and they should equal $3900.
BONUS: If this is a keeper league or other type of re-draft league that you frequently participate in, check to see how much money this league has dedicated to hitters and pitchers in the past. As a league, if managers have dedicated 67% of the money towards hitters (normal amount), ensure that 67% of money is dedicated to hitters in your auction dollar values. In this example, if you walk into the auction with 80% of the money dedicated to hitters in your projections, you will frequently find hitters going for less than your projection at the auction, while pitchers are going for more. Make the best adjustment that you can.
BONUS: For keeper leagues, it is very important to plug in those prices for players being kept beforehand. Every projected $40 Juan Soto being kept for $15 has a ripple effect on the projected value of other players. In this scenario, there is $25 of extra money that the manager has to spend elsewhere and one less elite player available to the league to draft. Because most keepers will be kept at a price below your projected auction values, an inflation effect will begin to take shape, especially towards the elite players’ prices. In leagues with many keepers, those few elite players remaining unclaimed will be prized possessions in many managers eyes and they won’t have a problem throwing large amounts of money at those players come auction time. A projected $40 unkept player could go for $50+. Keep these prices in mind when putting together your game plan.
Introducing the Auction Game Plan (Roadmap? Auction Avenues??)
Whatever you want to call it, I would recommend putting together an initial game plan of sorts. This will be based on your player research and projected prices for all players available. These are guys you are comfortable with at their projected price tags. This game plan DOES NOT include every available player, this is after eliminating players that you are not interested in. Here’s an example of one below that I used for a 15-team redraft league in 2021:
This is just the first five rounds; the complete table can be built for however many players you’ll be drafting, with their rough cost. So if you’re drafting 30 players, create a row for each round and assign it a dollar value. Make sure all of the rows sums equal the auction budget ($260). The first row is where the highest 15 projected players go, the second row is for players 16-30, and so on and so forth. The price average is determined by the average projected price of all of the eligible players for each row. You could place all 15 players in that first row if you wanted, and after more research, decide that you aren’t interested in some guys and take them out.
Game Plan Interpretation
The idea of this game plan is to assist with the snake draft-to-auction conversion. If this is your first auction and you want to stick to a more traditional “snake-like” build, you can easily follow along and aim to acquire one player in each row (round). Once you become more experienced, you can deviate from this more and more, but still have this game plan close by as a helpful guide.
Let’s say for instance that the auction is underway and you’re trying to figure out what you can afford after purchasing a $36, $31, and $26 player. By referencing this game plan, you can see that you currently have rostered roughly a low-end first-round talent, a mid-second-round talent, and a mid-third-round talent, with a few bucks left over from those top three rounds. If you like another second- or third-round talent, you can probably afford to purchase another one of those guys instead of a fourth-round talent. As the auction goes on and players continue to be purchased, you can cross out certain rows that you deem too expensive for roster construction. It’s not perfect, but it will let you know right away if you’re overspending early on and help you re-calibrate for the remainder of the auction.
The version above is also very basic, you can customize it in other ways. For example, you could capitalize the player names who have multi-position eligibility; you could also color coordinate the names of players who provide plus power (30+ HR), plus speed (10+ SB), and plus batting average (.270+).
Building the Game Plan
As you first build out your game plan completely, you’re going to find certain pockets at certain positions of guys that you like. In the above example, I wasn’t interested in purchasing first-round SPs (deGrom and Cole last year), but I liked many second-round SPs, usually purchasing two. I didn’t like any early-round catchers, first basemen, or relievers. Further down in my table, I had several targets outlined at different price points, so I figured I would purchase cheaper guys at those positions. I didn’t like many elite outfielders for the price, but I was comfortable taking one or two $20 guys.
The most important portion of the game plan is at the bottom, as the key to winning these auction drafts is identifying those $1-$5 players that return $15+ in value. Make sure to pick out your favorite cheap players at each position, and work backward on building your optimal roster. Always have several cheap options that you like, as their price may get bid up come auction day if other managers like them as well. If you’re having trouble finding cheapies that you like at a certain position, consider planning to spend more there. If you’re committed to purchasing an elite third baseman, for example, be confident and bid up for them, even if they go for a few bucks more than you planned. If you’re going to overspend anywhere, it’s best to overspend on elite players with high floors. With each purchase, it will be necessary to circle back to the game plan and re-prioritize position and category needs as necessary.
Going into Auction Day, you’ll likely have an idea of whether or not you prefer a Stars and Scrubs roster build (several high-priced players but also many cheap players) or a balanced build (roster consists of many $10-$20 players). Take into account your game plan and also your strengths as a manager. Are you better at streaming pitching than hitting? If so, maybe spend a little less on SP. Do you want to churn and burn those closers on the waiver wire? If not, plan on purchasing a high-end RP (or two) for saves. You may find that you prefer a balanced approach with your hitters and a stars and scrubs approach with your pitching (or visa versa). Just like a snake draft, auction drafts are far from a finished product when it comes to your team; there’s going to be a lot of turnover. Because auctions give you a little bit more freedom in your build, you can lean even more heavily into those in-season strengths.
Part II of this series will tackle Auction Day and how to deal with the ebbs and flows of the auction. We’ll also touch on nomination strategy and how to avoid bidding wars. Until then, keep preparing for those drafts and build those game plans. Baseball is almost here (hopefully)!!
Photos by Alexander Schimmeck/Unsplash and Tingey/Unsplash | Adapted by Ethan Kaplan (@DJFreddie10 on Twitter and @EthanMKaplanImages on Instagram)
And remember, if you prepare a perfect set of auction values, stay disciplined on auction day, and get all the players you want at their exact dollar value on your cheat sheet, you’ll probably finish in the middle of the pack 😉