In my last "Fantasy 101" post I gave a basic look-over of your standard fantasy baseball draft strategies: auction, rotisserie, and H2H. Today we return to the topic of auction drafts to get a closer look at the complex art that is the fantasy baseball auction.
First, it is important to know that trying to compare your typical snake draft to an auction draft is like comparing what happens on the battlefield in real warfare to what happens in Call of Duty. It's just not productive or a useful comparison whatsoever. One version (real warfare; auction drafting) is the "hardcore" version only for those serious about what they are getting in to. The other (Call of Duty, snake drafts) are for the more casual watchers of the sport. If you don't take fantasy baseball seriously, don't do auction. If you aren't good at making tough decisions on the fly, don't do auction. If you don't do well under pressure or under long drawn-out processes, don't do auction. Before you do auction, know what you are getting into.
Your Typical Auction Draft
Your typical auction draft throws you and 7 to 11 other players into a room with $200 each to spend at your discretion. Obviously, you can't spend over this limit, so if you spend too much and don't have your roster filled out, your maximum bid will start dropping, eventually to the point where you won't be able to bid more than a dollar. Not only does this mean losing out on players you like, but it means losing out on the ability to drive up prices for other guys. In auction, leverage is everything. Your typical draft will run north of 3 or 4 hours, so if you need reading glasses to combat eyestrain, keep them nearby. If you will have a tough time staying perky through the whole thing, keep sugary beverages nearby. And under no circumstances should you be predictable.
One feature that snake and auction drafts have in common is order. In snake drafts the rounds will go player 1-10, then 10-1, with each owner taking the player of his choice with his pick. In auction, every round goes player 1-10, with one twist. When you're on the clock, you aren't taking a guy for your team, you're nominating a guy to be put up for auction. Be savvy and use this to your advantage. Do your best to keep the better players on the board for as long as possible, and in the meantime nominate players you are less confident about to get people to waste their money early. Since nobody knows whether or not you actually want the guy you nominate, you can easily inflate a player's value and deflate a competitor's budget by using this strategy. What does this mean? More money for you to spend on quality players than everyone else.
The Early Part of the Auction
The early part of the auction draft is when all the overpaying happens, because everyone still has all their money. However, keep in mind that going big isn't always a bad thing. Just don't go crazy on all of the guys you want. It's okay to spend $35-$45 on Albert Pujols and complement him by spending another $25-$30 on Ryan Zimmerman or David Wright. Just keep in mind that the more money you spend on superstars now means the less money you have to build a complete roster later. If you're going to have a couple of $30+ superstars on your roster, that's perfectly fine, as long as you spend smart for the rest of the draft and know where to find cheap players who will outperform their auction value. What's not okay is buying Pujols at $40, Hanley Ramirez at $38 (throwing out a random number), Dan Uggla at $25, Felix Hernandez at $35, Carl Crawford at $28, and leaving yourself $34 to fill out your remaining 15-20 roster spots.
Remember, you can only drive up the price of a player for auction if you can afford to buy him in the event you aren't outbid. So being smart with your auction money is about more than just being able to have a complete roster. The auction draft is all about leverage, which means picking the right time and price to buy the right players. By being smart with money, I do not mean not making any picks early. Everyone needs to build their team around the best players they can get. This holds true in both snake and auction. The difference is that in auction there are some people who go top-heavy (spending $100+ on maybe 5 players) while others prefer to wait until everyone has reached the maximum bid level of $1 before getting any players.
Leverage, Mid to Late Rounds
Both of these strategies are flawed because they take away a great deal of leverage. The first idea may give you a handful of bonafide stars, but it takes away a balanced roster and the ability to make other managers overpay for players, not to mention it guarantees that you'll just be sitting there staring at your screen for the next 2 and a half hours before you can realistically do anything. The latter strategy is just as flawed because while it is a great idea to keep a few bucks in the bank so you can afford late-draft bargains, it is not a great idea to build your team on late round bargains. This gives you a weaker roster and may end up pitting you in a bidding war against yourself, as bidding wars between the money-hoarders are sure to inflate player value late in the draft.
The best way to go is by spending a lot of money in the right places and spending little money on guys that are sure to return more than what you invested in them. To a fantasy neophyte, landing Albert Pujols and Hanley Ramirez, widely considered the two best players in fantasy baseball, for a combined $75 would look like a stroke of genius. Who wouldn't want the two best players in the game? But to a real seasoned veteran, a true coup would be to get Pujols for $35, David Wright for $27, Wandy Rodriguez for $10, and Jake McGee for $3. Each combination I just presented totals $75 spent, but the latter represents a much more efficient use of money. Instead of just two top-tier stars for $75, the latter gives two top-tier stars, plus a very talented, under-appreciated starter and a young closer primed for a breakout season for the same price.
While even the efficiency of that package can be improved by leaps and bounds, that isn't the point. The point is that you need to spend smart, and always save money in your auction draft to spend at the end. By the time everyone gets down to maximum bid of $1, it is just your typical fantasy draft with each person selecting the player he wants. At this stage of the draft, there are still a bunch of very desirable players left in the queue. The best way to go is by building around the most cost-effective producers you can while saving up some dough for those late bargains. You won't regret it.
Just Spend it on Offense
Finally, the last tip I have to offer about auction drafting is this: if you're going to spend money, go for it. Just spend it on offense. Do not under any circumstances spend more than $12 on a closer or $15-$20 on a starter (and even then I would only spend this much on one starter, maybe two). Starting pitching is always overvalued, as it is a very deep position with a ton of very good under-the-radar performances and breakouts every year. Even in the auction you can fill your staff with a bunch of very solid guys who cost less than $15, even less than $10 apiece. There will always be someone willing to go north of $20, north of $25, even north of $30 for guys like Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, and Felix Hernandez. No matter how much you like an ace pitcher, if you're ever drafting with someone willing to spend that much on a starter, let him. He's just screwing himself.