These strategies apply specifically to auction leagues. For Rotisserie strategies or Head-to-Head strategies, check out the guides specific to those formats.
Let freedom ring.
Oh, sorry -- you can't. You play in one of those draft leagues.
Don't get me wrong; drafts have their advantages. They're calm. They're orderly. They're safe. They're fair. Everyone takes turns selecting players of consistently descending value -- a process that should yield, as long as nobody does anything stupid, a relatively even distribution of talent.
Auctions, on the other hand, are complete mayhem -- equally enthralling and terrifying, capable of giving you a dream roster if you act decisively or a pile of leftovers if you don't.
The options are endless. Freed from the constraints of turn order, you can stretch your strategy to all the extremes a draft would never allow. Albert Pujols, Hanley Ramirez, Joe Mauer and Alex Rodriguez on the same team? Hey, the only thing stopping you is your own aversion to risk.
Ah, but isn't that always the downside to freedom? Without the orderliness of a draft holding your hand, preventing you from allocating your resources differently from anyone else, you could make a mess of a process that once seemed so clear and straightforward.
Perhaps that's reason enough for you to stay away, content and cozy with the same color-by-the-numbers approach your league has taken year after year. But if you want unparalleled control of your team, an auction is the only way to go. And in this piece, you'll find the confidence you need to make the most of that control instead of shrinking away from it.
Real-world economics don't apply
Think back to your earliest days of money management, when your parents gave you a piggy bank, a quarter, a pat on the head and the one explicit instruction to guide you forever after:
You most likely listened, clipping coupons, dining at home and opening a Roth IRA, all the while keeping an eye out for anything you'd consider a bargain.
But that was before your auctioning days, before Fantasy Baseball introduced you to supply and demand on the apocalyptic level.
It's a foreign concept here in the land of luxury. You never feel the urgency to spend, not when stores constantly restock their shelves. Waiting can only yield something better, and even if it doesn't, you can always buy the same product later, probably at a lower price.
Mixed | AL-only | NL-only
Not the case in Fantasy Baseball. Every position has a finite supply. Once it's gone, it's gone for good, no matter how much money you have left to spend on it.
If you get caught hunting for bargains, the entire procession of elite talent -- the kind you absolutely must have to compete in a standard 10- or 12-team mixed league -- will pass you by.
People who understand the value of that elite talent will spend whatever they need to spend on it, limiting your chances of finding a bargain. True, one solution is to forego all the elite talent and instead fill out a roster with middle-of-the-road talent, but with so many low-dollar sleepers capable of rising up and performing on the same level, that middle-of-the-road talent might actually have a harder time living up to its price tag. A $1 player can become a $15 player easier than a $15 player can become a $35 player.
Keep in mind your $260 budget is plenty big enough to accommodate a couple of $35-plus players, so take full advantage of it. Free yourself. Treat it like Brewster's Millions and do the one thing your parents said never to do: spend. For the love of Pete, spend. If you think you might need a player, take a stab at him, because once the auctioneer says "sold!" you'll have to make do with whatever rubbish remains.
I realize the distinction from real-world economics seems fundamental. Nobody operates under the delusion they could use their remaining Fantasy dollars to buy a Fantasy pizza. But when I see fellow Fantasy writers reflect on their auctions by making a list of "good buys" and "bad buys" and matching them up against a master list of projected auction values, I feel like they've missed the point.
A good buy is one that gives you something you want without costing you anything you need. Nobody can put a price tag on that.
Know your plan and be ready to change it
Of course, you can still end up making a bad buy if you hold too stubbornly to a plan, unwilling to change it when the bidding behavior of your opponents is completely different from what you expected.
Don't get me wrong: You need a plan. Without one, you'll either back down when the bidding gets high, uncomfortable with spending so much when you don't know the ramifications, or dig yourself into a hole at a position, spending $14 on Asdrubal Cabrera when you could have had Aaron Hill for $18.
You can avoid both of those mistakes simply by creating a budget. Before your auction, write down how much you intend to spend at each position and keep track of how far "over budget" or "under budget" you go when your winning bids don't hit their exact marks. It's the easiest way to tell during the heat of an auction if you need to scale back or shoot for more.
Of course, just because you create a budget doesn't mean you have to follow it to the letter. I used the exact same budget in two of my mixed-league auctions this spring and ended up with two vastly different rosters.
The difference came from the bidding behavior of my opponents. Each time, it forced me to change my approach midstream to take advantage of market inefficiencies.
In my first auction, the majority of my opponents shied away from the big-dollar players in anticipation of a bidding war for the middle-dollar and low-dollar sleepers. With so many people taking that approach, not only would the high-dollar players go for too little, but the middle-dollar and low-dollar players would go for too much because of all the money still floating around. Hey, they had to spend it on something.
The studs were actually the value picks, which seemed kind of backward to me, but I sensed it early and adjusted accordingly, making sure I acquired a larger number of them than I had originally planned. I figured if I had to pay big money anyway, I might as well devote it to legitimate big-dollar players.
My second auction couldn't have been any more different. My opponents took my "spend" doctrine to heart, throwing around their money with the kind of reckless abandon known only to the Steinbrenner family. It got so ridiculous, with nearly every early-round player pushing $40, that I felt compelled to ease up, realizing everyone would run out of money before the draft pool ran out of talent.
So instead of joining in the bidding war, I sat back and waited, content with swooping in later and gobbling up all the second-tier talent that I presumed would be plenty affordable by comparison. And it was. I landed Justin Upton for $26, Pablo Sandoval for $25, Derek Jeter for $24, Adam Lind for $23, Joey Votto for $21 and Jayson Werth for $17. None of those players are first-round material, but you'd never catch any of them on the waiver wire either. And I didn't have nearly as much competition for them with so much money off the board already.
Granted, those examples deal with two extremes that your auction probably won't reach, but the point is you might have to adjust your plan once you get a sense of how your opponents intend to bid. Just remember that no matter what extreme your auction takes, you have to start spending at some point to give your team a high enough ceiling to contend. A roster full of $11 players is the definition of mediocrity.
Everybody thinks like you do
So you have your plan. You have your budget. You know the exact stud you want and know the only thing stopping you from getting him is your own fear of spending. You'll get your man. The orderliness of a draft may have stopped you before, but this time, nothing can.
It's a romantic idea and one that seems infinitely possible in an auction. But when you have the freedom to choose, so does every one of your opponents. And the people who know what they're doing have a way of choosing the exact same things.
Say, for instance, you've decided you have to have one of the three early-round catchers. You don't care which one. You don't even care how the rest of your auction goes. As long as you get Joe Mauer, Victor Martinez or Brian McCann, you'll come away giddy as a schoolboy.
But you're no fool. You know you have an entire roster to fill, so when the bidding gets up to $29 on Martinez -- the first of the three catchers nominated -- you back down, figuring you might as well hold out for Mauer if you have to spend more than the projected $26 on Martinez.
But Mauer doesn't come up next. McCann does. The bidding gets up to $22, again $3 over his projected value, so you again wait, committed to nabbing Mauer instead.
But therein lies the problem: You've committed. You've put yourself in a do-or-die situation, forced to purchase Mauer and only Mauer in order to meet your one pre-auction goal. Only when Mauer finally goes up for auction do you realize the error of your ways. Everybody held out for him, and now with the only two fallback options good and gone, nobody wants to back down. The bidding gets up to $51, which will either wreck your budget or force you to back down and find some other way to spend that money you saved ... after who knows how many elite players have already gone off the board.
If you had it to do all over again, wouldn't you just buy Martinez for $30?
Granted, hindsight is 20-20, and you never know how an auction will unfold. But the pattern of behavior is more predictable than you think. It becomes especially critical as you approach the end of a tier at a particular position, which is why you shouldn't treat your own nominations lightly. Even though logic might tell you to nominate players you don't want, leaving your opponents with less money to compete for the players you do want, the opposite approach is sometimes better.
If you have your heart set on Jose B. Reyes but he's the last remaining big-dollar shortstop because nobody, including yourself, bothered to nominate him, he'll go for far too much once he finally does go up for auction. None of your opponents will want to miss out on their last chance to get a difference maker at one of the weakest positions in Fantasy. If you had just nominated Reyes yourself a couple rounds earlier instead of throwing Jimmy Rollins and Derek Jeter out there, you wouldn't have had to contend with so many people for him. Sometimes those players you don't want can do the most good just by remaining available.
Because in the end, everybody thinks like you do. It's not pessimism; it's fact. The same applies for sleepers. In drafts, everybody knows to wait until a certain round to draft them and not pass up better players in the rounds leading up to it. But in auctions, with the freedom of choice, everybody wants his favorite sleepers and saves money for them, which means when they finally go up for auction, they'll inevitably go for too high.
Which is yet another reason why you're better off spending early, building a nucleus of stable players instead of saving up for "your guys."
Dwindling dollars: When the auction becomes a draft
But hey, you want some sleepers. If you have to fill out your roster with $1 scrubs, then you'll have a team without upside, completely reliant on its big-dollar players.
I feel you, and I promise you'll get your sleepers if you adequately prepare for the endgame. But instead of targeting specific sleepers that somebody else is likely to target as well, you have to recognize the sheer volume of sleepers available in a standard 12-team mixed league and take whichever are most affordable.
Eventually, the auction will reach a point when every bidder can only afford $1 players, making it essentially a draft. When somebody nominates a player, he gets that player because he has nobody to bid against him. You want to delay that point as long as possible, enabling you to swoop in and steal all the overlooked sleepers, whoever they may be, for $2.
How? At some point during your early spending spree, you'll have to recognize the time to stop, realize you've done all the damage you can responsibly do, and sit on whatever little pile of money you have left. And it should only be a little pile, maybe twice as many dollars as you have roster spots to fill.
Now, the real fun begins. Your goal for the rest of the auction is twofold: to pounce on any potential bargains and to drain your opponents' money.
Get on the edge of your seat and prepare yourself to react quickly because as soon as somebody nominates a high-upside player who can realistically go for $2, you'll want to be the one who bids $2. If you have to bid $3 because someone else beats you to $2, it's not worth it. Every dollar is critical at this stage of the game. Plenty of other fish in the sea.
When your turn comes to nominate a player, don't nominate your favorite sleeper. That's what the $2 bids are for. Again, every dollar is critical, and you'd hate to have to go to $3 on someone you could have gotten for $2. Instead, nominate a player you could potentially get for $1 and wouldn't mind getting for $1, but wouldn't mind losing either. J.A. Happ is a perfect example. Nobody wants him because he seemingly overachieved last year, but for a buck? Come on. If other people bid on him, great -- you've drained their money. If not, then hey, you've managed to get a $2 sleeper for $1.
Obviously, you can cheat a little along the way if, say, you have the opportunity to nab your all-time favorite sleeper for $4. But you don't want to leave yourself with five empty roster spots and no flexibility to jump in when somebody else nominates a player you want.
Because eventually, if you stick to the plan, you'll be the last one with more than $1 remaining, leaving you with the pick of the litter as far as overlooked sleepers go. It's a great feeling. Getting there is kind of a chore, introducing a level of stress that might just convince you to stick with your safe, cozy draft. But if you execute an auction properly, you'll come away with a team unlike any you could have ever drafted.
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