Before the Auction
The advice below is designed primarily for mono league, auction formats. However, the same principles apply for mixed league formats as well.
For fantasy players, the unveiling of PECOTA means the simultaneous unveiling of the PFM, our Player Forecast Manager. One of the most versatile valuation tools in the industry, the PFM allows you to customize valuation based on your league’s format. This is particularly useful if you are not playing in a “standard” 5×5 Roto format, as most “expert” commentary (including mine) focuses almost entirely on 5×5, Rotisserie valuations.
While having the PFM’s valuations in hand is a strong tool, simply walking into your auction with the PFM dollar values isn’t nearly enough. In fact, if you are doctrinaire and use the PFM to try and run your auction with no tweaks, you will likely lose your league. Here are a few adjustments that you will need to make, and the reasons why you will need to do so.
When working with the PFM, turn ON the SGP feature
The theory behind valuation is so established that few know or understand what SGP is or how it pertains to valuation modeling. The acronym is short for “Standings Gain Points” and is an attempt to measure how each category impacts the standings. An explanation of the differences between SGP pricing models and non-SGP models (commonly known as scarcity models) is too in depth for the scope of this article. However, it is sufficient to know that SGP limits the value of some categories, particularly stolen bases and especially saves. While it is feasible that Billy Hamilton’s “true” earnings will be $38.79 in NL-only, paying a one-category player 15 percent of your budget is extremely risky. More importantly, even if Hamilton somehow does produce this value, winning your league by 50+ steals if you buy Hamilton, Dee Gordon, and Trea Turner because you followed the PFM to its “logical” conclusion is useless if you lose every other offensive category.
A bid is not a projection and a projection is not a bid
Even with the SGP turned on, Hamilton is still a $32.15 player in NL-only. Even though he could earn $30 or more if he does what PECOTA says he will do (626 plate appearances, 92 runs, nine home runs, 42 RBI, 72 stolen bases, .249 AVG) it is more likely that his price point in the expert NL-only leagues will stop somewhere in the lower to mid-$20s. Is this because the PFM or PECOTA is a poor projection tool? Not at all. In fact, PECOTA and the PFM work quite well at projecting what a player might do. But where projections tell you what a player could be worth, bids are more instructive regarding what you should pay.
I run through this explanation every year when I roll out my bid values, but there are several reasons why you may not want to pay exactly what the PFM says a player will be worth. These factors include but are not limited to the following:
Positional scarcity— As an example, the PFM makes this adjustment for catchers. Depending on how your league plays out, you might want to add even more money to the catching pool to ensure that you purchase a good one. This is particularly true in two catcher formats.
Proven stars— It is worth paying a little extra for the superstars who are almost “guaranteed” to earn $30 or more in mono formats, or $25 or more in mixed. The PFM says that Mike Trout is going to earn $32.12 in AL-only this season. I have no problem paying Trout $40 based on his prior earnings and due to the fact that he is one of the safest commodities in fantasy.
Category bias— As noted above, steals and saves tend to get discounted in fantasy leagues. Paying $30 for each one of your closers because “that’s what the PFM said to do” is a formula for losing.
Rookies— The PFM is generally reliable about not pushing rookies too far past their earning limits, but it is a good idea to perform a reality check. Paying more than $20 for a rookie hitter or $15 for a rookie pitcher is generally not a good practice.
Keeper versus redraft – PECOTA generally favors established veterans based on prior performance. While this is a good way to build a winner in redraft leagues, the value that rebuilding teams place on younger players must be accounted for in keeper formats, particularly in leagues with a lot of this-year for next-year trades.
Part-timer bias – There are some players at the bottom of the PFM rankings in each league whose earnings are projected between $5-10 who are likely to only cost $1-2 in mono league formats. The PFM is right that these players could earn $5-10, but the endgame of most auctions is saturated with fringy bets of this nature These players could earn $10-15, but it is far more common that they will earn somewhere between $1-5, or even be squeezed off your roster altogether by a more useful midseason call up. In deeper leagues, you do need players like this on your roster, but there is no need to pay a “par” price.
Your league determines what the market price is. The PFM does not.
I cannot drive home this point enough. The PFM is a useful starting point. It is not a substitute for using solid judgment based on your league’s specific trends. If middle infielders are typically more expensive in your league than they are in the PFM, adjust your bids. If the top players go for $5-7 higher in your league than they do in the PFM, adjust. If you have been in an established keeper league for 3-4 years or more, you will have a better idea than the PFM does of how your league’s auction dynamics work. Using the PFM’s “preferences” to determine which players you should or should not buy is strongly recommended. Using the PFM as gospel truth is not.
In the next couple of weeks, I will provide additional guidance on using the PFM that will be released with my auction bid limit values for mono and mixed league auction formats. However, the notes above are an excellent primer as you begin to review the prices and the stats in the PFM and start planning for your auctions next month.
At the Auction
The PFM’s usefulness doesn’t stop at the prep stage, as both PECOTA and the PFM itself make strong allies while the bids are flying. The two most important factors for you to track during an auction are the composition of the team you are buying how hot/cold the prices in the room are running overall. Knowing both at all times, and as you make the most important decisions in that room, can give you an incremental advantage over your league mates each step of the way.
We often hear the term inflation referred to in terms of determining proper bids for keeper leagues—and that certainly is the most extreme use—but there is inflation in every auction, even pure redrafts or initial keepers. Fortunately, the PFM is designed to keep track of this. You can continuously enter winning bids for players as your auction progresses and it will automatically refresh the valuations. This way you’re never looking at stale valuations. We all know you need to adjust your bids when $1800 of value according to your valuations has sold for $2000 at the halfway mark. With the PFM, not only do you know exactly how much you need to adjust, but it also adjusts for the types of players who have been taken. For example, if a whole bunch of speed guys are still available and inflation has heightened, it will skew less inflation towards the speedsters and more towards the slightly rarer commodities.
Yet, at the same time, using the spreadsheet version is paramount when gauging the overall effectiveness of your team across your league’s categories. It may seem simplistic, but using the aggregate of the PECOTA projections you’ve already purchased in order to see where your potential holes are as a roster can be such a useful tool when deciding how to make those final decisions. When I auction, I’ll go into the previous year’s standings of my league and pull in both the fourth-best team in each category and the fourth-worst, then track my own team to see where I stack up. As all projections are naturally a bit conservative, the important part is not that you break that fourth-place barrier everywhere, but more that you know just how competitive your team should be in all of the categories.
Decisions need to be made just a handful of seconds during auctions. So any time you save due to faster and more accurate valuations and breakdowns is a process improvement.
During the Scoresheet Draft
There’s a long history of connection between Baseball Prospectus and Scoresheet, my favorite simulated fantasy game out there. The coolest result of this connection is the Scoresheet Draft Aid—the system designed specifically to help you optimize your Scoresheet draft. I use it when I draft my BP Kings team (yes, that league is still around) and you should as well. To get a primer on how to use it, here’s an article dedicated to just that written by Rob McQuown a few years back.
After the Auction
Once your team is complete and the games begin, the most important function switches from the PFM to the Team Tracker—a tool that allows you to keep a close eye on your players across fantasy league sites. You can load up your teams, your watch lists, your friend’s teams, or any random group of players you want. Then as the season goes along, you can look at what they all did yesterday, or have done over the course of the last several days. But that’s not all—you can customize the statistics you want to use to be able to view these teams, and toggle back and forth easily between them.
There are many ways that we, at Baseball Prospectus, help you compete for that fantasy title and these programs and projections are just the beginning. In addition to our heightened preseason fantasy content and our regular season advice, you can access the Bat Signal—our fantasy answering service—with a Super Premium membership, and get answers to any specific questions you may have swiftly by your favorite BP fantasy experts. So come join us and experience all of these great resources.