Draft Strategy: Auctions

Also see: Average Auction Values | Head-to-Head Points-Based Strategy

Indiana Jones feared them, and Samuel L. Jackson shouted expletives at them from 30,000 feet … If you also have an aversion to snakes, even in the context of a serpentine-method fantasy draft, try an equal opportunity draft: the auction – you can import your results into the Yahoo! game with the offline draft tool.

Similar to purchasing livestock, antique cars or dates with Corey Feldman, auctions are the ultimate utopian experiment where equality is the norm. All it takes is a numbered paddle, the fast-talking Micro Machines guy (sold separately), a little strategy and a large pair of stones. The best part: anyone is fair game.

How does it work?

Each owner is given a budget of $260 to field a 28-man roster. Based on a pre-determined serpentine order an owner queues a name and people bid for the services of that player, usually under a one-to-two minute time limit. The highest bid wins. It's that simple – believe me, the rush you get squeezing out one more dollar to acquire a player before time expires is downright thrilling.


Last year, I towered over 12 of my fellow fantasy pundits in the Fantasy Auctioneer (www.fantasyauctioneer.com) NL-only Invitational. Thanks to a killer draft, I sat atop the standings from start to finish, winning by an insane nine-point margin. Below are 10 tips to help you replicate my success and emerge a formidable foe in your league.

1. Never Leave Money on the Table
In my very first auction a number of years ago, I left a stupid $7 on the table. Man, talk about a pine-tar-on-your-bat-George-Brett moment. Many probably think $7 may only seem like a 6-pack of microbrew good times, but in an auction it's the equivalent of soiling oneself in public. If I disburse my funds inappropriately again this year and leave seven large on the table, a Dave Bush, Richie Sexson, Brett Myers, or Francisco Cordero could be purchased in mixed drafts. Always find a way to spend your cash, no matter what.

2. Be a Pacifist: Don't Get into a Bidding War
No matter how large a man-crush you may have on a player, make sure to never go toe-to-toe with another bidder for his services. If you do, prepare to empty your pockets. Case in point, I exchanged blows recently with another fantasy pundit over who would win the rights to hammer thrower Rich Hill. When everyone else bailed at $6, we ping-ponged back and forth for another $5 until I decided my man-lust wasn't worth it. It took an enormous amount of restraint not to give into temptation, but it allowed me to devote more money to offensive depth – a very wise move. Remember, each extra dollar saved could help you acquire a great value later on.

3. You're Not Donald Trump, Establish a Budget
Before a paddle is lifted, make sure to have a concrete action plan in place prior to the draft so you know how much cash you are willing to devote to a specific position. Regardless of scoring system, league size or format, your $260 budget needs to be divvyed up properly. Generally, you want to set aside 70 percent ($182) for bats and 30 percent ($78) for pitching. My split in the '06 FAI draft was $179-$81.

The LIMA (Low Investment Mound Aces) plan is a well-accepted strategy that goes a step further in maximizing funds for offense without having to punt pitching. Pioneered by fanalytic Jedi Knight Ron Shandler, LIMA sets a $60 budget for pitchers. Of that $60, no more than half is recommended for acquiring saves. Ultimately, the purpose of LIMA is to draft for skill and let variable roles fall as they may. Since arms are more volatile, less money is budgeted.

Whatever you do, use an organized approach so you don't overextend your boundaries. Oh, and if you are wondering why so little should be allocated for a pitchers, outside of Johan Santana and Chris Carpenter, most mound menaces go for less than $20 in mixed auctions.

4. Advertise the Avoidable
Man, I loathe Barry Bonds. His pompous, kiss-thy-feet attitude, decrepit body and looming investigations are frightening. Inevitably, someone in an auction will be seduced by the Bonds of yesteryear and will overpay for his services. I won't be that guy. But I can pretend to be.

Before your draft, come up with a list of players you absolutely despise. When the time comes for you to nominate a player, simply look at your list, pick a needless name, then talk him up. If you wear a mischievous disguise you can whittle down your opponents' stacks and focus on the players you feel are destined for greatness.

5. Set a Ceiling
Look, we're all not Daddy Warbucks and have pockets lined with an endless flow of green. Before your draft ask yourself what your spending maximum is on a specific player. Ideally, you want to win a player's services for roughly 80-to-90 percent of their market value.

Normally, I have one or fewer $30 players on my roster at one time. If you spread the love evenly for practical producers – especially in deep only leagues – you land more skilled players instead of a handful of stars and unknown $1 fliers. On my championship roster from a year ago I had one $30 (Juan Pierre $33) and two $20 (Todd Helton $27 and Brandon Webb $20) investments. This allowed me to even out my spending and keep a cash surplus on hand when my foe's bank accounts began to run dry. In the end, it was the reason why I landed difference makers Garrett Atkins ($16), Brian McCann ($9) and Scott Olsen ($5). Like your doctor always preaches: do things in moderation.

Keep a cheat sheet of Average Auction Values (AAVs) handy to use as a budget guideline. We'll be publishing weekly AAVs from FantasyAuctioneer.com every Monday until Opening Day so you can keep abreast of pricing trends.

Just remember auction drafts should be conducted like buying a new car. Even though the sticker price might be affordable, there is no way you would ever pay the full price.

6. Play the Patience Game, But Not for Too Long
Axel Rose sang and whistled it best, "All we need is just a little patience." Take a tortoise approach and avoid going overboard too early. Very rarely do I chase a marquee name in the first 10-15 nominations. Why? When people have a briefcase full of bills they're going to spend lavishly and balloon big name player price tags. Jose Reyes, the sixth player on the block in one expert draft, went for a whopping $44, five dollars above his average cost. However, athletic Wonderboy Johnny Damon was nominated 28th and went for $15, a couple of bucks below his AAV. Make sure never to burn your cash stash too quickly, because a good value is just a couple of nominations away.

The patience game can also be detrimental. If you wait on a position too long you'll likely have to pay an abhorrent amount of cash for the last player in a tier. For example, Trevor Hoffman, the last tier one reliever in a recent expert draft, was nominated 44th overall. Since one owner had yet to invest in a closer, it was imperative for him to toll Hells Bells. Unfortunately, it punctured his piggy bank as he had to shell out a ridiculous $26 for Hoff's services, an idiotic six bucks over his AAV. Again, define your limits before your draft and have a cheat sheet nearby. When the tank light is about to turn on, it's time to jump in.

7. Hawk Your Friends' Funds and Rosters
One of the best "in-game" auction strategies is to gauge the competition's needs by taking note of their remaining surplus and roster holes. This will give you a peak into how much money they're willing to spend on a certain player or position. For instance, in any auction someone will eventually turn into a ruthless George Steinbrenner. This bully will hoard money in the hopes of bullying bargains out of other owners in the later rounds. It's important for you to drain their bank accounts by throwing out players on your avoid list, that could fill a need for them. Also, look at their roster and see what player they could be potentially holding out for. It's head games like this that can give you the perfect read on how to reduce a bully's power.

8. Shell out for Steals
Aggressive tactics on the basepaths have largely dwindled. Although last year saw a nine percent increase in players who stole 20 or more bases, compared to the run-happy 90s, the "no-go" 00s have seen a 13.8 percent decline in steals per year. Like the direct human impact on global warming, it's hard to discredit steals scarcity. What most people fail to realize is that base burglars are not one-dimensional fantasy scorers. For example, along with his Major League tying 58 steals, Juan Pierre contributed soundly in runs (87) and batting average (.292) in 2006. Was it unjustified to spend $33 in an only league for a three-stat star who makes you instantaneously competitive in the toughest-to-field fantasy category? Heck no. Steals command trade value and it never hurts to have an overabundance.

In most experts drafts speed guys command lofty price tags, but there are a few discounts out there. If you're unwilling to dish out the dime for marquee talent, chase unheralded base burglars Chris Duffy (AAV: $1.23), B.J. Upton ($1.55), Kenny Lofton ($6.07) and Wily Taveras ($4.29).

9. Never, Ever Pay for Saves
Closers are the most overrated and misappropriated position in fantasy baseball. Bullpen data noted in the "Baseball Forecaster" shows since 1996, on average, 9.9 or 33.7 percent of closers have failed each year.

And don't think big names are exempt from failure. Last year, perceived "safe" options Francisco Cordero, Brad Lidge, Eddie Guardado and Huston Street were replaced due to ineffectiveness or injury. Because of this uncertainty, never spend more than $30 on your bullpen. I spent a combined 19 smackers on saves in the FAI draft and sustained a middle-of-the-pack rank in saves the entire season.

Be smart and invest in minimal risk. Mariano Rivera, Francisco Rodriguez and Billy Wagner, although reliable, generally command inflated prices and will takeaway precious capital budgeted for offense. Instead, target less attractive closers like Jose Valverde (AAV: $3.05), Joe Borowski ($8.05), and Octavio Dotel ($3.65) along with multi-categorical next-in-liners like Mike Gonzalez, Jonathan Broxton, and Joel Zumaya. Have a head-above-water mindset, not a win by any means necessary attitude when hunting saves.

10. Plop, Plop, Fizz, Fizz, Oh What a Relief Joel Zumaya is!
Multi-categorical middle relief contributors are the Alka-Seltzers of fantasy. Along with Zumaya, Scott Shields, Patrick Neshek, Matt Capps, Jon Rauch, Aaron Heilman and Scott Linebrink are a few guys who vulture an occasional save or win, while aiding strikeout, ERA and WHIP totals. Geared more for "only" formats, they are fantastic late-round, low-dollar remedies that can calm the stomach of any pitching staff. Usually, I carry a couple of topflight middle relievers at all times. As a rule of thumb, look for relievers who sport K/9 marks above 7.00, an ERA below 3.25 and a WHIP under 1.20.

Now go out and make me proud!