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On March 7 and 8, LABR held their AL and NL-only auctions in Phoenix, Arizona. Last week, I recapped both auctions for Baseball Prospectus (links for the American League and National League). Today, I thought I’d take a deeper look at some of the auction strategies for two participants: Chris Liss of Rotowire in the American League and Doug Dennis of Baseball HQ in the American League.

I didn’t randomly select their auctions out of a hat for review. Liss and Dennis both had very strong auctions, even though they have completely different approaches and philosophies regarding auction management and roster philosophy. By analyzing what they did and how they performed, I hope to provide assistance to Baseball Prospectus readers preparing for their own auctions later this month and in early April.

Case Study 1 LABR AL – Chris Liss, Rotowire

For the purposes of this exercise, it is far more instructive to look at when Liss bought his players as opposed to the composition of his roster.

Table 1: LABR American League, Chris Liss, Rotowire Roster

Round

Slot

Player

Cost

My Bid

+/-

4

41

Kyle Seager

$24

25

1

5

58

David Ortiz

$23

21

-2

9

101

Koji Uehara

$17

18

1

9

106

Collin McHugh

$12

16

4

10

111

Tyler Flowers

$7

4

-3

10

116

Joe Nathan

$8

7

-1

10

119

Adam LaRoche

$20

19

-1

11

124

Jose Ramirez

$8

6

-2

11

125

Phil Hughes

$13

17

4

12

135

Alex Gordon

$18

23

5

12

143

Carlos Beltran

$12

12

0

13

145

Billy Butler

$13

10

-3

13

155

Oswaldo Arcia

$14

15

1

14

157

Rajai Davis

$12

9

-3

14

167

Coco Crisp

$11

16

5

15

172

Ervin Santana

$8

9

1

15

173

Taijuan Walker

$8

10

2

15

175

James Paxton

$10

5

-5

15

177

Drew Pomeranz

$6

7

1

17

203

Brad Miller

$4

12

8

18

215

Robinson Chirinos

$8

7

-1

19

226

Stephen Drew

$2

5

3

20

238

J.A. Happ

$2

1

-1

Total

$260

274

14

Unlike drafts, auctions often aren’t viewed as consisting of “rounds” and “slots”, since any fantasy manager may opt to purchase a player at any time. However, there most definitely is an ebb and flow to auctions that ties into when players are purchased. What makes auctions so challenging (and fun) is that while drafts can change based on the players taken and when certain positions come off of the board, auctions add the element of how much money is flying off of the table as well.

It is almost completely irrelevant when you purchase your players in an auction. Where the rounds and slots matter is based on the perception of other owners that if you don’t buy a player now or soon that you will be in big trouble because you won’t get enough value or (cue scary music) you will leave money on the table BWAH HAH HAH HAH.

Liss’s auction is presented as an example of a strong auction where he waited for a significant amount of time to pounce due to the fact that the first few rounds of LABR AL were a free for all.

Table 2: LABR Spending Rounds 1-8, American League 2015

Round

Cost

MG Bid

+/-

1

340

335

-5

2

287

279

-8

3

273

258

-15

4

243

218

-25

5

237

205

-32

6

182

155

-27

7

195

186

-9

8

148

147

-1

Totals

1905

1783

-122

Table 2 shows how much was spent in each round (bloc of 12 players) in LABR AL. The MG bid is what my bid was prior to the auction, not as you read this. My Yu Darvish discount is accounted for; my Marcus Stroman discount is not.

It is entirely possible that the majority of experts in that room completely disagree with my bid limits and think that I am out to lunch. But for the purposes of this exercise it doesn’t matter what I think. What is important is that Liss agreed with my assessment and handled this auction accordingly.

Don’t just take my word for it. Liss wrote about his auction for Rotowire. There is also a terrific audio clip embedded in the article where Liss talks to the crew at Sirius XM about his auction at the halfway point that is definitely worth your time.

Where I painstakingly put together a list of bid limits for my auctions, Liss is my polar opposite. He prefers to go by feel and instinct and plan out his auction more broadly. But because he has been playing fantasy baseball for so long and his instincts are so good, he saw the same thing that my bid limits saw: that relative to value, the teams in LABR were spending far too much money early. So instead of panicking and buying a player because he “had” to do so, Liss sat back.

My favorite part about Liss’s recap are the reactions to his early non-spending on social media. This is a common reaction to teams sitting on their money early, even when the league is spending too much money early. My take on LABR was that there was some slight overspending in the first two rounds but then Rounds 3-6 is where things got crazy. By my reckoning, between the 25th and 72nd players nominated, $935 was spent on $836 of talent, for an amazing $99 loss!

This panic is artificial and is one of the most common fallacies in fantasy baseball. If your values are correct, it is entirely possible to sit back and wait five, six, or even seven rounds before buying your first player. If the room is overspending, it stands to reason that significant bargains will come later. What Liss talked about on his radio interview is true: there is a point where you may have to buy anywhere from 2-4 players at a par price in order to ensure you don’t leave a significant amount of money behind. However, this is offset by the fact that if the player pool is significantly overpriced early, then the bargains at the end will also be significant.

As a result of Liss’ patience and understanding of this phenomenon, he walked away with one of the best teams in LABR AL.

Table 3: LABR Spending Rounds 1-8, American League 2015

Team

MG Value

Prorated Value

Winning Fantasy Baseball

277

281

Mastersball

274

278

Rotowire

274

278

Baseball HQ

265

269

USA Today

265

269

ESPN

264

268

Yahoo!

259

263

Fantasy Score

252

256

Colton and the Wolfman

244

248

Fangraphs

241

245

Sirius

234

238

NFBC

225

228

Totals

3074

3121

My values don’t quite add up to $3120 because most of the adjustments I made (Darvish) were in one direction. The prorated value column adjusts the values up to $3121 (damn rounding).

So Liss doesn’t even have the best projected team. Wasn’t the point of this exercise to show how superior Liss’s method was?

Remember, Liss’s valuations/opinions are going to be different than mine. He probably thinks he has the best team coming out of this auction. All 12 of the fantasy managers in LABR probably believe that. The point of this exercise wasn’t to show that Liss’s valuations were superior (we won’t know this until October) but to show that his approach was. Instead of hitting the panic button and overspending when everyone else was, Liss patiently waited his way into a strong contender.

Case Study 2: Doug Dennis, Baseball HQ

I am not a proponent of coming into auctions with a specific strategy. This is especially true when it comes to non-keeper formats. The name of my game is valuation; if you decide that you are going to dump saves or only spend $60 on pitching or only buy players with the letter “c” in their names, you are actively deciding to eschew opportunities to maximize your team’s value.

However, not everybody is me (the universe should be thankful for this), so I thought I’d take a look at Doug Dennis’s LABR auction.

This was Dennis’s 15th LABR auction and there was no secret to what Dennis was going to do. He was going to spend $230 on offense and $30 on pitching. He has used this approach nearly every year and has even won with this strategy.

Here is what Dennis’s team looked like after the auction:

Table 4: LABR National League, Doug Dennis, Baseball HQ

Round

Slot

Player

Cost

My Bid

+/-

5

60

Addison Reed

$8

13

5

6

64

Justin Upton

$27

26

-1

6

66

Nolan Arenado

$24

23

-1

6

67

Ryan Zimmerman

$23

20

-3

6

70

Matt Adams

$19

17

-2

7

76

Carl Crawford

$17

15

-2

7

80

Jimmy Rollins

$18

16

-2

7

81

Matt Kemp

$23

24

1

8

94

Francisco Rodriguez

$8

11

3

10

119

Chase Utley

$15

16

1

11

121

Yonder Alonso

$10

7

-3

11

126

Yasmany Tomas

$16

16

0

12

133

Arismendy Alcantara

$9

12

3

12

144

Jarrod Saltalamacchia

$7

9

2

13

148

Brandon Phillips

$16

12

-4

15

175

Carlos Martinez

$6

5

-1

16

190

Christian Bethancourt

$6

4

-2

20

239

Steven Matz

$1

1

0

21

241

Tanner Roark

$3

2

-1

21

249

Josh Collmenter

$1

4

3

22

263

Anthony DeSclafani

$1

3

2

23

268

Nick Vincent

$1

1

1

23

273

Pedro Strop

$1

1

1

Total

$260.00

258

-2

The first thing that might jump out from Table 4 is that Dennis bought the fantasy equivalent of a .500 team. Spending $260 to get $258 of value paves the road the seventh place.

However, when you execute a strategy like this, in some ways you are bulletproof. By my estimate, Dennis has a $217 offense; by his valuations, I am certain that he thinks it is significantly better. But even if I am right and he is wrong, it is fairly likely that Dennis will have one of the best offenses in LABR NL. He also purchased a balanced lineup, nabbing 13 everyday players on offense and a possible starter in Alcantara. In a format where the average fantasy manager will grab 10 everyday players, this should work out as a significant advantage for Dennis.

Like Liss, Dennis showed considerable restraint in the early going of the auction. But when Dennis decided to pounce, he worked quickly before the room could adapt. The technical term for this is “wielding the hammer”. If there is a question I have regarding Dennis’s strategy, it revolves around whether or not he would have been better off pursuing value early. Although it was not nearly as extreme as it was in 2014, LABR NL 2015 was more conservative than LABR AL was.

Table 5: Mike Gianella’s Shadow LABR $230 NL Offense

Round

Slot

Player

Pos

Price +1

My Bid

+/-

1

2

Carlos Gomez

OF

33

35

2

1

9

Javier Baez

SS/2B

12

14

2

1

11

Yasmani Grandal

C

12

14

2

1

12

Todd Frazier

1B/3B

27

28

1

2

16

Juan Lagares

OF

10

12

2

3

26

Charlie Blackmon

OF

21

24

3

4

40

Carlos Gonzalez

OF

24

29

5

7

77

Curtis Granderson

OF

12

15

3

7

78

Devon Mesoraco

C

18

22

4

10

120

Lucas Duda

1B

21

22

1

11

124

Brandon Crawford

SS

9

11

2

12

133

Arismendy Alcantara

2B/OF

10

12

2

12

138

Chris Johnson

3B

9

11

2

12

141

Wilin Rosario

C

12

17

5

Total

230

266

36

See? I built a $266 offense with my $230. Take that, Doug!

Of course as we all know with the benefit of hindsight this exercise is easy. I’m sitting back in my living room seven days after the fact, slowly sipping a delicious cup of hazelnut coffee, listening to a relaxing Sigur Ros mix, and painstakingly culling through the auction. Dennis had to make snap decisions and bid against active participants.

Despite the fact that I like my fake roster a lot better than I like Dennis’s real one, it’s pretty safe to say that I probably would not have put this roster together in real time. Just like in CBS, the cost for first basemen was prohibitive, and while it’s easy to say I would have gone the extra dollar for Frazier or Duda now, I’m not sure I would have at LABR, particularly after I had spent all of that money early. If I had missed on both of those guys, then I would have been stuck trying to decide not if I would abandon my plan and spend money on pitching but when this would happen. If I made this decision in the 12th round, my ace likely would have been Mat Latos at $10.

Something else to keep in mind is that my bids are designed for a $180/$80 hitting/pitching split. If you are deliberately spending more or less on hitting or pitching, your bids should be adjusted up or down to adjust for this factor. While this suggests that Dennis most definitely should have spent more money early, the danger of this is that if you make all of your adjustments on the front end, you run the risk of buying an extreme Stars and Scrubs team.

Table 6: Top 10 NL Hitters with MG Bid Limits Prorated

Round

Slot

Player

LABR

My Bid

My Prorated Bid

+/-

Andrew McCutchen

39

38

48

10

1

2

Paul Goldschmidt

38

37

47

10

1

9

Giancarlo Stanton

36

36

46

10

1

11

Carlos Gomez

32

35

45

10

1

12

Starling Marte

32

27

35

8

2

16

Anthony Rendon

31

29

37

8

3

26

Ryan Braun

30

30

38

8

4

40

Anthony Rizzo

30

28

36

8

7

77

Yasiel Puig

30

28

36

8

7

78

Freddie Freeman

30

25

32

7

Totals

328

313

400

87

There is not an industry standard handbook for buying an imbalanced team, so I am not sure what the “appropriate” adjustment would be for a $230/$30 team. I can tell you for certain that you shouldn’t simply prorate the values. Dennis could have purchased two of the big bats listed on this table and perhaps could have stretched and purchased three. But as I noted in the LABR NL recap, Dennis increased spending on hitting led to pitching discounts across the board and led to higher spending on offense across the board. Dennis would have had difficulty building his team.

If you are going to take an approach like Dennis did, the adjustments have to be made manually and also at the auction as you go along. This is another reason I am not a fan of strategic auctioning in a non-carryover league. However, because of the extreme nature of Dennis’s plan all he needed to do to come out of his auction with a superior offense was to have a middle-of-the-road auction. He accomplished this. Whether or not his plan works entirely hinges upon what he can do with his pitching, but as strategies go, Dennis hit the marks that he wanted to hit.