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Deep Auction League Strategy: Knowing Your League Structure

Over the next few weeks I will be discussing general strategies and lineup optimization that owners should consider when participating in an auction league, specifically for deeper leagues.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

This is the first of a series of articles that I will be writing specifically about deep auction leagues based on my past experiences. These will be general strategies that are not necessarily specific to the 2013 season, but general rules to think about when preparing and participating in an auction. I have a number of years of experience playing in auction leagues and have been in the top half of my two most competitive keeper leagues since I joined both leagues two years ago. I did not win either year in either league, but in a very competitive league luck can play a major part in winning. A team that finishes first is not always considered the "best" in a league (well, maybe for that season, technically yes), but quite often the highest-regarded owners are those that are consistently among the top teams year-in and year-out, whether or not they come in first. For my series of articles the league types I will focus on are typical 4x4 or 5x5 rotisserie formats (i.e. AL/NL-only) that many leagues use.

I love auction leagues. Unlike draft leagues, owners have a lot more factors that they need to consider during an auction. Owners need to (or should) know the value of each player auctioned and often must plan and adjust their lineups and strategies accordingly if an auction does not go as planned. In an auction, if the league is overvaluing a particular category or its top players, how does an owner adjust his bidding? I've often heard that each auction is different each year. Often many owners will use dollar values - or interpolated values - from published fantasy baseball publications, while other owners will calculate their own values. I fall into the latter category as I calculate my own dollar values which incorporate league-specific factors, which I will explain in my next article.

I participate in deep auction leagues because it gives me the greatest opportunity to maximize my performance on Draft Day as well as minimize the influence of luck and outside factors (i.e. league rules and constraints) as the season progresses. The importance of doing well on Draft Day in a deep auction league cannot be understated. If you are in a deep league and do not have a good draft, it is incredibly hard to make up for your mistakes during the season unless all or a clear majority of your drafted players perform better than expected, an unlikely outcome.

After Draft Day, other factors come into play with how well your team performs. Injuries and playing time affect your players, but what about those "outside factors" that do not affect your players directly? For example, is it easy (or hard) to make trades in your league? How easy (or hard) is it to replace players in your lineup with players that were not drafted? Listed below are some aspects of your league that should influence an owner's approach on Draft Day:

Replacement level players. By replacement level I mean major-league players not drafted in your auction. This is what differentiates a shallow league versus a deep league. In a shallow league if you are able to grab an everyday player for $1, then most likely other available players that were not taken in the draft could perform just as well as the $1 player you drafted. In a deep league, the majority of remaining players in the free agent pool after an auction will be undesirable players: bench guys or the worst starting pitchers.

Free agent availability. How often can a free agent be added to your roster? Conversely, is it easy or hard to waive a guy off your roster? If it is tough to do so, you might be more conservative with your draft choices knowing that a risky pitcher cannot be easily replaced with a free agent or someone on your reserve squad. One of my deep leagues only allows free agents to be taken twice a season which puts a high premium on Draft Day. A few years ago I participated in a 12-team mixed league where each owner could FAAB bid on free agents almost daily. These types of leagues are ones that I avoid as it puts less importance on auctions as owners can easily make up for their earlier mistakes later on the season.

Utility positions/position eligibility. Is there a utility position in your lineup? Also, what are the position eligibility requirements (i.e. how many games played at a position) for hitters? The stricter these rules are the more valuable a multi-position-eligible player becomes in your league.

League history. How established is the league? Are the league rules robust enough so that a team cannot employ a non-conventional strategy effectively (e.g. all-reliever or punt power strategy)? Established leagues usually have rules in place to avoid owners who try something nonstandard, which I've never seen work but owners will try regardless.

Owners who do their homework, have a good grasp of auction strategy and optimize their lineups will do well in their leagues. Over the next few weeks I will discuss these strategies in detail further.

Next up: How to calculate auction dollar values, Part 1