Deep League Auction Strategy: Applying Draft Principles to Auctions

Christopher Rizzo discusses how to approach your auction when bidding does not go as expected.

When recruiting players in fantasy baseball leagues there are two formats that leagues generally use: either the snake draft or an auction. The snake draft is the simpler and faster of the two as teams do not have to calculate player value and bid on players based on a specified budget. Besides the bidding/drafting aspect of the different formats, there is one other major difference.

Assuming no trading of picks, each team in a snake draft gets one player per round such that there is roughly an even cascade of talent taken with each owner each round. If you are in a draft league of 12 owners, you are guaranteed your top pick will be either a top 12 hitter or pitcher. But in an auction the makeup of a team is dependent on how an owner chooses to bid on his players, and there is no guarantee each owner will get a "first round" type hitter or pitcher. If you think your league is overbidding the top players based on your projections, you can choose to not bid and wait until the league stops overbidding and you can find bargains.

This is where I want to discuss some of the problems owners can have if they are relying too much on their projections when the actual bidding of an auction is not matching with projection expectations. So let's say you're in the Fangraphs 14-team mixed league auction, and you've decided to use the Last Player Picked Price Guide for your projections. The bidding has begun on the players and the following has happened:

Hitter

Your Projection

Actual Bid

Overbid

Mike Trout

40

47

7

Ryan Braun

39

45

6

Albert Pujols

37

40

3

Miguel Cabrera

37

45

8

Giancarlo Stanton

32

41

9

Buster Posey

31

33

2

Prince Fielder

29

40

11

Justin Upton

29

32

3

Joey Votto

29

38

9

Carlos Gonzalez

29

37

8

Robinson Cano

27

40

13

Adrian Gonzalez

26

?


Matt Holliday

26

?


Andrew McCutchen

26

35

9

You have not taken any of these players because the bidding is just too high, and you figure at some point - but you don't know when - bidding must come down to below your projections. So now Adrian Gonzalez is called and the bid is currently on $26, already at the price your projections say he is at. You know at some point players must be bid below their projections given that there has already been $78 of overbidding that has occurred.

At this point in the auction, you have two choices: you either bid on Adrian Gonzalez or you wait until bids on players are lower than your projections to get a bargain. The issue with the first choice is that you'll have to overbid for Gonzalez. But the second choice can be much, much worse, because if you pass on Gonzalez you've now beginning to back yourself in a corner since you do not know how long the overbidding will occur.

A major problem that lurks is that by waiting out the league for prices to come down is that you run the danger of leaving a lot of money on the table if you do not get aggressive with your bidding. One of the facts about auction leagues is that although in theory half of the players that you project should be at a premium and some at a discount, at some point in every auction every owner will need to overbid on someone.

Why? Although you know that your opponents will begin to run out of the money in the "middle rounds", you never know which players will be those that come at a discount - it could be only the outfielders that come at a discount and all infielders are overbid. Also, the league as a whole could just spend more on hitting than pitching than what you projected. Preferably, I'd rather have the choice of overbidding on someone in the early rounds than be backed into a corner knowing I have to get aggressive later.

This is why it is important to take a strategy similar to a draft construct. This means that in a 12-team league, out of the top 12 hitters, you aim to get at least one hitter; out of the top 24 hitters, you want at least two hitters, etc. It's not necessary to do this for all fourteen "rounds", but at the very least make sure you have 4 of the top 48 hitters in a 12-team league. This way you avoid the trap of not getting top hitters on your squad. So if I am in a position where I am noticing the entire league is overbidding on players in the first round, I will look to be the owner with the lowest "overbid".

This approach is also important to use in keeper leagues. If I know that I have a top 12 pitcher already as a keeper, I will avoid bidding in the auction on whoever are the top 12 pitchers if they haven't been kept. The only difference between hitters and pitchers is that I will be more aggressive with hitters knowing the correlation of playing time and performance in a league's standings. While I might try to get 2 of the top 12 hitters, I will not aim to get two pitching aces.

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