keyboard_arrow_uptop

One challenge with dispensing advice is that one size seldom if ever fits all. It is a tired bromide but one of the most significant challenges any fantasy analyst has is attempting to guide readers in their drafts or auctions when every league is different. They’re not quite like snowflakes (today is cliché day, I’m afraid) but depending on a variety of factors, how you should prepare for your league and how you should behave during your draft or auction can differ dramatically.

The examples below are not meant to be all inclusive. Rather, they are designed to give the reader a glimpse into my thought process and how I leverage my knowledge to create a successful experience when your draft or auction doesn’t follow a “standard” path.

Example 1: Hey Big Spenders

It is fairly common in home leagues to see fantasy managers who care very little about “proper” valuation and simply bid what they want to bid on a player. However, this also does happen to a lesser degree in expert leagues. Usually, this only happens in very specific instances when two fantasy managers are pushing hard on a player or during a rare pocket in an auction where talent is dwindling or money is plentiful. But there are cases when even expert leagues fall into the trap of spending aggressively for several players or rounds before adjusting.

Table 1: 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

In the case of LABR American League, the experts overspent a little bit early and then really pushed the envelope from Rounds 3-6 (players 25 through 72). According to my bid limits, the perceived overspending at LABR on these 48 players was $99, or a $2.06 overbid per player. This may not sound like much, but the $935 the expert market spent on these players was 11.8 percent above my perceived market value. I say “perceived” because it is entirely possible that the experts at LABR thought these prices were fair. It is even possible that the experts believed they were purchasing these players under market value. The purpose of Table 1 isn’t to pass judgment on how the experts spent their money in LABR in 2015 but to use it as an example of how to react when you believe a league is overspending at auction across the board.

One of the reasons that this phenomenon can happen is that there sometimes is a temptation to buy a player or players regardless of what is happening in the room. Some fantasy managers believe in “slotting,” where they have to buy players in certain price ranges regardless of what their actual values are. In other cases, there are some fantasy managers who fear that if they wait for too long that they will have too much money to spend on far too few players, and would rather go a couple of dollars over on a player or two rather than stress about having well over $200 to spend when most teams have spent $110-160.

If your bid limits add up to $3,120, you will ultimately wind up spending all of your money. In fact, there is an excellent chance that simply on valuation alone you will leave the auction with the best team. However, it isn’t merely enough to assume that this will happen, get lazy, and wait for the bargains to come. You will have to make some adjustments during the auction, including the following:

Plan to spend “par” on one player, or maybe two
Yes, this flies in the face of all of the advice above about spending discipline and not joining the crowd of drunken sailors at your auction and losing control of your fantasy baseball inhibitions. But it is likely that you will have to spend a little bit more on one or two players so that you don’t leave money on the table. This is not advice to spend as wildly as the rest of the crowd, but rather to go a little bit past your comfort zone. This works because if everyone else is overpaying the top players by $3-4 per player, there will be $3-4 bargains per player at the end. It is OK if you pay par or even go one dollar over on a player or two.

Be aware of other teams hoarding their money

By far, the biggest advantage of other teams overspending early is “running the table” in the middle rounds, when there is still a good deal of quality left but many of your competitors are down below $100 with lots of open roster slots to fill. This is where your auction—and likely your league—will be won. The larger your perceived bargains, the greater your chances of putting together a juggernaut. In this scenario, it is very likely that one or two other teams hold back and don’t spend their auction money either. Not only can this curtail your advantage, it can put you at a disadvantage if you and an opponent flush with cash are both chasing the same category or categories.

If you see this happening, make sure to check where the other teams with a lot of auction capital remaining have slots to fill. This is where you can even decide to pay “par” on a specific player or category (the first bullet above) and ensure your monetary advantage. Your opponent still might try to price enforce you on the players or categories you need, but this is a dangerous game if you stick him with a player he doesn’t need or want.

Be selective (but not too selective) near the end
In an auction where the money is flowing freely early, there will be a lot of bargains late. Unfortunately, this doesn’t merely benefit you but also benefits your opponents who spent wildly in the early going. If only one fantasy manager overspends, this principle will not apply, but if most of the room overspent, then it stands to reason that nearly every player is going to be a bargain at the end. This is a nice way of saying that your reward for maintaining price discipline early can easily be undercut by all of the bargains that everyone—even the idiots—can avail themselves at the end.

This is all a fancy way of saying not to simply take any bargain that is available. During a tight auction, you can and should take any bargain that comes your way. But in a looser auction, it doesn’t make sense to bid $2 on a $4 player when you have your pick of several $6-7 for $1. This is where price enforcing can and should go out the window. Get the players that best fit your team’s needs in this situation, and not the best bargains.

If you exhibit any kind of price discipline in this scenario, you should be able to walk away with a strong contender. Using the tips above should push you from strong contender into probable winner.

Example 2: One Bad Banana Ruins the Bunch

Another scenario I have encountered is when one fantasy squad embarks on an innovative strategy. This isn’t anything as rudimentary as dumping a category (although this can and does have a mild to moderate impact on a fantasy auction). No, this is when a team decides to try a strategy that creates a radical schism in its hitting/pitching spending that has a significant impact on the entire league.

To cite one example, Doug Dennis of Baseball HQ spends somewhere in the neighborhood of $30 on his pitching staff in LABR every year. In theory, a $45-55 shift in spending by one team from pitching to hitting shouldn’t have that much of an impact, but in reality the non-bidding by one owner on most if not all of the elite starting pitchers had a ripple effect across the entire auction.

Table 2: CBS, LABR, Tout Wars spending, 2015

League

Hitters

Pitchers

% Split

CBS NL

$2,081

$1,028

67/33

LABR NL

$2,228

$892

71/29

Tout Wars NL

$2,149

$967

69/31

CBS AL

$2,095

$1,012

67/33

LABR AL

$2,161

$959

69/31

Tout Wars AL

$2,178

$939

70/30

I included the AL-only results as well to offer some additional perspective on expert spending. The percentage split shows what percent of the league’s money was allocated to hitting versus pitching.

Dennis’s gambit makes for some predictable bargains on the pitching side, but it isn’t simply enough to know that there will be bargains and to sit back. You have to know when the bargains are coming.

Table 3: CBS, LABR, Tout Wars NL pitcher spending, 2015

Group

CBS

LABR

Tout

1-10

268

253

252

11-20

196

171

180

21-30

168

133

154

31-40

136

111

118

41-50

101

79

90

51-60

65

56

66

61-70

41

37

41

71-80

22

21

26

81-90

13

13

20

91-100

10

10

11

101-109

8

8

9

The best pitchers still get paid, and in comparison to Tout Wars the 11-20th most expensive pitchers are still compensated relatively closely to the LABR pitchers in a similar group. It is when you get down into the next tier of pitchers where the bargains sit.

There is another element to this analysis. Multiple teams dumped saves for the second year in a row in LABR, and as a result the prices fell.

Table 4: 10 Cheapest LABR Pitchers Compared to CBS/Tout

Pitcher

CBS

LABR

Tout

Diff

Lance Lynn

15

8

16

7.5

Joaquin Benoit

17

11

17

6

Jacob deGrom

18

12

17

5.5

Mat Latos

14

9

15

5.5

Jenrry Mejia

12

5

8

5

James Shields

21

15

18

4.5

Kenley Jansen

18

12

15

4.5

Hector Rondon

16

11

15

4.5

Trevor Rosenthal

22

15

16

4

Shelby Miller

10

6

10

4

Total

163

104

147

51

The price shift wasn’t merely based on Dennis’s price adjustment. Teams throwing aside closers led to a significant number of closers being priced below market value. The money didn’t go to other starting pitchers but rather to offense.

All of this does a thorough job of explaining what happened. But how should you apply this to your own auction if this happens to you?

It’s easier to answer this question if you have a fantasy manager in your league like Dennis who telegraphs his strategy beforehand and is all but definitely going to embark upon a set path. The best thing to do if you “know” a fantasy manager is going to spend less on a category or on hitting or pitching is to adjust accordingly beforehand. Had I participated in LABR NL, I would have moved my bids down $50 across the board for pitchers assuming a more conservative landscape. Given what has happened to closer prices the last two years in LABR NL, I would push my pitching prices down further assuming a third consecutive year of the closer market bottoming out.

What is trickier is if you are in an auction where a league is spending significantly less on hitting or pitching and you need to adjust on the fly. I have been in these situations a few times, and my general advice is as follows:

Don’t Overthink Your Bids. It’s easy to look at one or two prices being too high (or too low) on a type of player and getting overly worked up that better bargains are coming later. But a bargain is a bargain, and beating yourself up because you bought two closers you had valued at $35 for $28 when another fantasy manager picks up better bargains later is a losing game. You don’t want to keep buying closers, but be happy with the bargains you have, not envious of the ones that you don’t.

There is a Stopping Point. If there is pitching bargain after pitching bargain, it is fine to capitalize and great to build a strong staff. But if you spend $120 on $180 worth of pitchers, it won’t matter because you won’t be able to build a competitive offense. It’s okay to go a little bit over on your customary pitching split and spend $90-100 (I did this in Tout Wars in 2015 and won with a $93 pitching staff). But if you creep too far over $100 you are very likely to lose.

Don’t Redo Your Entire Spreadsheet. Do Make Adjustments. One of the worst things I have seen fantasy managers do in-auction is try to push prices down (or up) across the board on the fly as things are moving along. While the temptation to do so is understandable, there is too much going on during an auction to try and tweak your pricing on every single player.

What you should do is try to make a rough mental adjustment across the board. I generally try to pick up a +2 bargain on my bid limits in a typical auction but if I see that pitching prices are falling across the board I will adjust that to a +3. This works in the other direction, so I will look to push prices to +1 or maybe even par on the hitters in this example. This is a case where you have to go by feel instead of being mechanical. A rough guideline is good, but a mechanical adjustment on every player will distract you too much during a fast paced auction.

There is an old saw that the best chess player will have an easier time against the second best chess player in the world than he will against a good player because the good player will make mistakes that make him unpredictable. I view auctions that aren’t “tight” this way. In some ways they are more challenging because it isn’t merely an exercise in valuation (an area in which I excel) but rather an exercise in adjusting valuation as you go along. There isn’t a specific roadmap to follow, but if you adhere to the guidelines above you will likely have a more successful auction experience than if you remain too rigid and stick to bids that don’t anticipate real world conditions.