2020 MLB Draft Guide: Auction Draft Strategy
Howard Bender teaches you how to make a plan and stick to it plus some invaluable tips for success in your fantasy baseball auctions.
When it comes to teaching, I’ve always been more of a “do as I say, not as I do” type of guy. I like to take risks. I like to work off my gut-feelings and instincts as much as, if not more than, I rely on empirical data. I still do the necessary research to remain as informed as possible, but on many occasions, I like to take a left even when the directions say to take a right. It’s probably not the most sensible way to go about things, but I do always tend to end up in the right place.
It’s no different for me with when it comes to fantasy auctions. The way I go about my own auctions is not how I would instruct a beginner and I often encourage others to play it safe and straight rather than linger outside the box with overly-bold or unconventional methods. Obviously, there are certain leaps of faith you must take in regards to player selection, but this isn’t a piece about choosing players. This is a piece about how you go about acquiring those players in an auction format.
You obviously don’t have to take everything I say here as gospel. Consider it more of a guideline than anything else. After all, there is no one right way to be successful at an auction. However, what I can do is assure you that if you do follow these eight easy steps, you’ll put yourself in a much better place to win your league than if you don’t.
1. Strategy Goes a Long Way, So Have a Plan
This seems easy enough to follow, especially for the beginning player. Auctions can be confusing, overwhelming and even a bit intimidating if you don’t have a strategy picked out, so make sure you go in with a plan. You want to pay up for pitching? Go ahead. You want to invest in power and go cheap on speed? By all means. You want to spread your money around rather than using more of a “stars and scrubs” approach? For sure. Whichever way you feel you want to attack this auction is fine. Again, there is no one right way. To each his/her own. Just do it with purpose and with a methodology intact. The worst thing you can do to yourself is go in blind and just say you want to grab Players X, Y and Z and whatever else happens, happens. That’s not a plan. Set yourself up with a very specific strategy/game plan and follow through with it from start to finish.
2. Know Thy Enemy
When it comes to a fantasy baseball auction, there are two quotes that come to mind:
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat.” – Sun Tzu from The Art of War
“If you can’t spot the sucker in your first half hour at the table, then you ARE the sucker.” -- Mike McDermott from Rounders
Both apply equally.
Having a firm grasp of the player pool and using cleverly-calculated spreadsheets will only get you so far. Sure, you know which players are primed for a breakout and who the top "sleepers" are, but guess what…? So does everyone else. That crazy Google machine all the kids are talking about these days is readily available to John Q. Public and with the surplus of fantasy sites out there, few stones are left unturned. But if you know the inner-workings of the minds of those with whom you are competing, well then, the battle can be easily won no matter whose spreadsheet has the sexiest algorithm.
Think about it. If you’re in an auction and you know your brother-in-law just can’t be without Francisco Lindor , then you bid his ass up. If you know that your entire league subscribes to the “always wait on starting pitching” philosophy, then steal a few aces early to solidify yourself. You need to know when to zig before they zag. A working knowledge of the subject matter is one thing. A working knowledge of your opponents is what gives you that edge you need to win.
3. Nominate with Purpose
Bottom line -- not enough people put the proper thought into their nominations each round. Some just go down their rankings list and throw out the next uncrossed name they see. Some don’t even put that much thought into it. Always have a reason for your nomination. If you are looking to get people to eat into their money, start throwing out high-profile, high-cost names you have no interest in drafting. Or nominate their favorite players and watch them over-bid.
Sometimes you can even get away with nominating someone most consider a late-round pick and get them on the cheap. How many times have you seen a miser in your auction pass up on killer value early because he’s so focused on holding back his money to stock up on mid-level targets? There are a variety of reasons to nominate players throughout your auction. Just make sure you have one in mind before you throw out a name.
4. Put Together a Budget and Stick to It
You have a salary cap and you are not allowed to go over. The trick is to decide exactly how much you want to spend and where. You can break it up by splitting between pitching and hitting or you can split it up by individual positions. Both will work just fine. Personally, I prefer just a split between hitting and pitching (usually something near a 65/35-percent split in favor of hitting), but that’s me. This is your team and you can dole out the auction bucks any way you like. However, if you don’t set up at least a basic budget, then you could end up blowing all your money on outfielders and leave yourself nothing for starting pitchers (or infielders, or catchers, or whatever position you end up slighting). That’s simply no good. Take a look at the potential auction values of players on a few different sites just to get a basic feel. Make sure that those prices are based on the same format and/or criteria and see how they fit in to your budget.
Now when I say “stick to it,” there’s a little bit of wiggle room here. Let’s say you have a $260 budget and you decide to spend 65 percent on hitting ($169) and 35 percent on pitching ($91). If you feel comfortable with your first couple of pitchers and think you can get some supplemental hurlers for cheaper, you can certainly borrow from that budget to kick in a little extra to get the hitters you want. It’s not an exact science and if your 169/91 split ends up 160/100, well that’s OK to do. You’ll also find that you’ll get players for less than you expected and can always throw money back that you borrowed earlier. Again, it’s a guideline, not the gospel. You don’t go crazy and suddenly flip $20 to one side or the other, but a couple of bucks here and there is acceptable.
5. Use Tiered Rankings & Be Sensible with Your Targets
Player rankings are all well and good and can be very helpful when looking at the fifth-ranked outfielder versus the 40th-ranked outfielder. But how much of a difference is there between the fifth-ranked outfielder and the ninth? Maybe the fifth guy hits a few more home runs while the ninth steals a few more bases. Maybe the fifth guy drives in 20 more runs but the ninth guy hits 30 points higher in batting average. Sometimes, the difference in value is negligible as each guy can help you differently. That’s why you group them in tiers.
Player A may have an estimated value of $25 and Player B’s is $22. Both do roughly similar things for you with respect to the raw numbers, and while Player B may be considered cheaper, their overall values are extremely similar. Sure, taking one over the other may require you to target the categories you’ve slighted with one over the other, but for the most part, both players are likely to provide a similar return. Breaking up your rankings into tiers will allow you to pivot much more easily if someone is over-bidding on a guy you originally wanted.
As for being sensible, make sure you’re not just targeting the top guy at each position. You’ll never win them all. If you want a top-tier first baseman, then know you’re going to have to downgrade elsewhere. Use the above tiers to help you. If the top-tier first baseman is all about the home runs and RBI, then target a lower-tiered shortstop whose strength lies with stolen bases and runs scored. Even if you’re trying a “stars and scrubs” approach, you have to be very specific with your lower-tiered bargains. Don’t just haphazardly grab guys to fill out your roster.
6. Learn to Let Go
Yes, I know. You want Blake Snell . Who wouldn’t want him? The kid’s a burgeoning stud and you’ve got so many play-on-words jokes at your disposal, you’ll be entertaining the draft room all day long. But as much as you may want him, if you’ve only budgeted $30 for him and your idiot friend is jacking the price up to $40, you just might have to let him go. Of course, you don’t want to, but what you really don’t want is to blow up your budget to the point where you’re going to hurt yourself in the long run. Again, a few bucks here and there is fine, but the player pool is vast and if you don’t get to Snell that Snell, well maybe that $30 you budgeted can be flipped into acquiring someone like Chris Paddack . You may not have been originally targeting him, but now you can since you may have to downgrade to a cheaper alternative.
7. Don’t Be Lazy. Do the Math
If you’re doing the draft online, most web sites will show you how much bid money you have left and what your maximum bid can be for a player while leaving yourself enough extra money. It does not, however, show you how much money you have left based on your budget and potential allotments for hitting/pitching/individual positions. Do the math. Keep track. Yes, even if you’re down to just a few bucks, having the correct numbers in front of you is a must. The only thing worse than being that tool who bids more than he is able to and screws up the draft is the guy who leaves money on the table at the end and kicks himself for missing out on a big-named player earlier on because he didn’t spend $5 more.
8. Pay Attention at All Times
Unless there’s a life or death emergency or you’re using it to look up a player’s stats, put your damn phone away. This is league time. Text your girlfriend on your time. Got a funny story to share? Save it for after the draft or, if you guys are a bunch of wussies, when you take a mid-draft break to go squat and pee. There’s absolutely nothing worse than the flow of your draft being screwed up because some idiot isn’t paying attention. We’ve seen it a million times as some dipstick nominates players who have already been taken or, as we said earlier, loses track of his bid money and starts flashing money he doesn’t have. An auction is long enough without some nimrod extending your stay because of incompetence.
9. Watch Your Pre-Game Meal
In similar fashion to paying attention, you also need to make sure you watch what you consume and while the heading says pre-game, we can also include in-draft snacks. Got a sensitive stomach? Maybe scarfing down a plate of nachos doused in Cholula isn’t the smartest thing to eat. Sure, lots of people like curry. But most of those people need to put a roll of toilet paper in the freezer before they go out to eat it for a reason. Extra spicy wings? Undercooked chicken? A bowl of Colon-Blow cereal? Whatever the meal of choice may be, make sure it agrees with you. Guys who are in need of multiple bathroom breaks are a pain in the ass and end up grinding the draft to a halt. If you think this is you, invest in some Depends.
10. Don’t Be THAT Guy
Every league has that guy. You know the guy I’m talking about. He’s usually the guy who walks in with the half-drank case of beer and somehow thinks last call is five minutes away from whatever time it is when he looks at his watch. He’s also the clumsy oaf who forgets his fantasy magazine in the cab and asks if he can look on with you. He also doesn’t have a pen or a piece of scrap paper, let alone a clue as to just how much of a pain in the ass he is. You want to booze it up? Fine. Just show a little moderation. You want to smoke a joint? Go right ahead. Just make sure you don’t turn yourself into a Cheech and Chong movie and constantly have to ask which player you were just talking about. Drafts are supposed to be fun. I get it. But when one guy seems to be having the time of his life and 11 others are staring at him with seething hate in their eyes, guess what…? It’s not such a good time. Auctions, again, are complicated enough. If you can’t handle your liquor or your smoke, don’t do it. Save it for later. Not only will the rest of your league-mates appreciate your restraint, but you’ll probably have a much better team in the long-run.
Again, not the gospel here. Just a guideline. But a sensible one at that. Adhering to these eight simple steps will not only help you succeed at your auction, but your whole league will probably have a much better time. Good luck and I’ll see you all in the money this year!