Most fantasy players think money management is about following a budget and spending cautiously. That's only the beginning. Money management involves spending as well as saving. We don't get any prizes if we have $13 left in our pocket after the draft. In fact, we're probably headed for seventh place, or worse. The critical skill is knowing when the time is right to spend. Here are some principles of sound money management.
Make a plan, and stick to it. It's the cardinal rule (in the American League, it's the blue jay rule), and it's worth repeating. The how-tos of making a budget are addressed elsewhere on BaseballHQ.com.
Adjust your budget to respond to changing conditions. This is the necessary corollary to the above. You might plan to buy three starters at $20, but what do you do when all the good ones are bid into the $30-$40 range? Should you take the plunge and buy one at $30, or should you spread the wealth and aim at four starters at $15? And either way you'll have to move budgeted dollars from one roster spot to another. This decision is essentially dictated by the availability of players and developing draft trends.
Here's a tool to help you keep an eye on player trends. Prepare a tally sheet with a list of player types – "four-category hitters," "ace starters," "speedsters," "questionable closers," "fourth outfielders," or anything else that's interesting or important to your budget. When a player in one of these categories is purchased, make a note on the sheet if his price is significantly higher or lower than his projected value. This helps you notice trends in time to act on them.
If you see that the first two or three speedsters are going for lower-than-expected prices, you can determine that it will be easier to buy steals – and to a lesser extent BA and runs, which tend to go together with speed – and that it will be consequently tougher to buy power. You might change your budget and nominating strategies accordingly. It's easy to mutter to yourself, "Jeez, I didn't think Bernie Williams would go for more than $35," but it's just as easy to forget its impact on the rest of the day.
Watch inflation. In some ways, inflation is the major "changing condition" on Draft Day. Players in keeper leagues know the importance of accounting for inflation when calculating bid values. But inflation changes constantly during the draft, and it's important to know when inflation is rising or falling so that you know how to adjust your expectations. Inflation is also a concern (though admittedly a much smaller one) in a startup league. In theory, all players should be purchased at par value. In practice, though, leagues tend to inflate prices in certain categories, so values are still affected.
Use draft dynamics to your advantage. There are a few tendencies in any draft that give you the opportunity for some maneuvering.
Exploit first-round hesitation. F.X. Flinn has written on BaseballHQ.com describing the psychological barrier preventing most owners from paying top dollar. Everyone is tentative in the first round, since no one wants to be the first to pay a preposterously high price. I endorse F.X.'s strategy, and offer a few other suggestions.
First, if your budget strategy turns on whether you get a certain player, put his name up for bid early. For example, you might try to get Mike Piazza for $35, but your fallback plan is to get two $1 catchers and spend those extra dollars on two outfielders. You need to know as soon as possible whether you will be working from Plan A or Plan B, and as long as your key man is still on the table you'll be working from uncertainty. If the player is good enough to be that critical to your strategy, it's not as though he won't come up early anyway.
Second, you should be willing to spend an extra dollar or two on the first player at any position you are trying to fill. The first players nominated are usually the best, and it's better to pay $41 for a $39 Mariano Rivera than to pay $32 for a $23 Troy Percival.
Finally, you should also consider nominating your favorite $1 special in the first round. No one wants to commit themselves to end-game players in the first round, but everyone has to get a couple of $1 guys. Most other owners will refuse to bid. And if the player goes to someone else for $6, you haven't lost anything and you've successfully taken $5 out of someone's hand.
Each of these first-round strategies has the secondary effect of confusing your opponents about your intentions. It's a near-universal strategy to nominate a player you don't want in order to take money off the table. Since everyone does this, opponents will assume you don't really want the first player you nominate and therefore underestimate your true top bid. In addition, if you buy the first player you nominate, with every subsequent nomination you force your opponents to wonder whether you are legitimately pursuing the person. Creating uncertainty about your intentions is always a great help on Draft Day.
Exploit chain reactions. Typically, auctions concentrate on certain types of players in sequence. The four-category hitters will be nominated first, along with the superstar starters. The closers tend to go in a group. Once the two top basestealers are gone, the rest seem to follow in close order. This happens because owners do not want to get shut out of key categories. They budget $30 for "a closer," and when they can't get the top six closers at that price they become more willing to overpay in that category. You can turn this tendency to your advantage in one of two ways.
First, if you see a chain reaction developing in a category where you're not interested, do all you can to encourage it. Bid quickly (but low) if you're price-enforcing. Make a chance remark about how relieved you are to have plenty of saves. Nominate another player in the chain, if you can. If, on the other hand, you want to avoid a chain reaction, shift gears and nominate a player outside the chain. In fantasy, as in pitching, it's important to change speeds.
Playing the end-game. By the late rounds of the draft, everyone will have $5 to $8 to spend on their last four roster spots. How should you maximize the impact of those last few dollars?
First, focus on your rivals; if you need two starters and an outfielder, you can safely ignore the owners who need catchers and shortstops. Next, determine your rivals' other needs and encourage them to spend money on them. Suppose there are two other owners who also need outfielders, but they both need backup closers. Go ahead and nominate a reliever; they will probably fight each other for the guy, taking money off the table, and if you accidentally get him you can trade him or replace him easily from the free agent pool after the draft.
Finally, identify where you want to spend your extra dollars, and spend them in a bunch. Suppose in this scenario you have $5 to spend, and you're most concerned about getting the best starter possible. Once you decide on the best one remaining, start the bidding at $2 or $3 for him. This forestalls the possibility of being outbid. In the end-game, perhaps more than at any other points of the draft, you're not interested in saving money but in spending it where it will do the most good.
Track your own. If you're not already doing it, keep a round-by-round record of your draft. Include the name of each player, his salary, the team that bought him, and if possible the team that made the last unsuccessful bid. You'll find this information very useful in analyzing trends after the draft and in planning trades.
Complicated? Not really. It's just the application of some well-known fantasy principles to the draft itself, along with a couple of concrete ways to help you keep focused on them. We all know these rules, but they can be easily forgotten in the heat of the moment. These principles will help you to save – and spend – your money wisely on Draft Day.
Ron Shandler began publishing statistical reports for baseball analysts and fantasy leaguers in 1986. Since then, his enterprise has grown into one of the largest information providers in the industry, producing quality products continuously and over a longer period than any other fantasy baseball company.
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