Advice for the auction rookie

by on February 9, 2010 @ 00:00:00 PDT


Reader Question: I attended your Arizona Fall League Conference and as a result have been inspired to join my first ever "auction style draft" league. This is a basic non-continuing 4x4 NL draft league that has been in existence for almost 10 years. I feel comfortable with the players and dollar values but not so with an approach to employ with the bidding process. What advice can you give a rookie who is competing against seasoned "auction draft veterans"?

Craig Goheen: Bid conservatively early, and don't put players up for bids that you want. Let others do that, so they'll not know your strategy. But do put up names of high-priced players you don't want, making others spend their money. Track what the other GMs are doing, but ignore everything anyone says. Bargains will appear if you're patient.

Rick Wilton: Discipline. DON'T spend all of your money right out of the gate.

  • Pick up one or maybe two high-priced players ($30-$40) maximum. Balanced budgeted teams have a better chance than teams with four to six high-priced players and a bunch of $1 players.
  • Remember, if you are using the 260-unit salary cap for 23 players system, the average player's contract is worth $11.30.
  • Spend approximately 35 percent on your pitchers and 65 percent on your hitters.
  • During the second half of the draft, don't nominate a player unless you are prepared to take that player for your team.
  • Don't drink during the auction - it clouds the memory!

Frank Noto: Optimal bidding strategy dictates that you never pay full price. Typically, bid up to 85 to 90 percent of your price for solid regulars, the Barry Bonds and Greg Madduxes who deliver strong production year after year. Players who are greater risks might go at 80 percent of price - unless your projection for them has already fully accounted for their greater risk. And bid 70 to 75 percent of price for players with great inherent risk (those with uncertain roles or coming off major injuries).

Practically, this strategy means you will seldom draft last year's superstars - their prices will be too high (try to pick up one underrated star if you can at less than 100 percent of full price). You may not acquire anyone in the first two rounds. But if you are disciplined, you will eventually pick up big bargains when your opponents begin to run out of money, and will have an overall stronger team. The only times to adjust this strategy slightly are: 1) if it appears in mid-draft that you have set prices far too high (or too low), and 2) to account for scarcity.

Ed Spaulding: Don't be like a kid in a candy store and just start plucking items off the shelf. Be patient, do not overbid (especially early) and try to get a feel for what types of players are likely to go high and where the bargains are. (By looking at last year's prices, you may be able to go in with an idea.)

Think bargains. All the time. At every position. There is no way of knowing when a bargain will appear, but they always do.

Figure on paying no more than $3 for at least three or four of your pitchers. If you're in a 12-team NL, there will be 108 pitchers purchased but there will be 176 (plus others on the disabled list) available in the draft pool. That means 70 pitchers won't even be drafted and another couple dozen will be taken for $1 to $2.

In general, do not draft rookie starters at catcher or the infield or outfield spots. The percentage of players who succeed as starters in their first visit to the majors is very low.

Prepare carefully in the area of "second closers" and setup relievers. The best bargains are often found in non-closing relievers who have the ability to close and top setup men, especially on the stronger teams.

Rather than pay through the nose for a front-line closer, take 1-2 lesser ones and insure yourself with a couple of the pitchers mentioned above.

Save some money for the end game; there are bargains there and many owners will be limited to $1 players at the end.

Deric McKamey: Try to keep the other owners guessing by altering your bidding tendencies. You should always try to put a bid in on every player (as long as it's not a $1 player), even if it is a ridiculously low bid. You can vary your methods by bringing up players that you want and also players you don't want. Bid agressively at times and also wait near the end before placing your bid, regardless of whether you want that player or not. It's also a good idea to run up the big dollar players at a fast pace, so that other owners have little time to ponder the situation.

Paul Petera: Since you're comfortable with the players and dollar values, begin by making some lists. One list should have $20-plus players that you feel will not help your team. Early in the draft, it is players on this list you want to "bid up" on, but not buy. The more financially strapped the other owners are later in the draft, the better you are. The other list should be players below $20 who you feel will make an impact, and that others may not. Using's tools will help you with that. Lastly, determine how much you'd like to spend on pitching versus hitting, and keep that in mind throughout the draft.

Art McGee: One interesting aspect of an auction draft as opposed to other formats is that you can glean a lot of information from the bidding of other owners to help you make your own decisions. Try to find out which owners have been the most and least successful in the league. If you're bidding against one of the best owners for a particular player, you can have more confidence that you're bidding reasonably. If you're bidding against one of the league's perennial also-rans, it's a clue that you may have gone too high already. Be subtle, though - if the savvy owners figure out what you are up to, they can bluff the bidding higher!

Brent Hershey: Three words: Mix it up. The one thing you can be sure of on draft day is that the other owners will be sizing up the rookie at every turn. In a veteran league, the returning owners already have a handle on league-wide and owner-specific tendencies with regards to player valuation and the bidding process. They will want to know where you fit in: what types of players you buy, as well as what type of bidder you are. So to keep them off-guard, change your bidding methods liberally.

On any given player, be actively involved in the bidding process from start to finish (just making sure to get out in time if necessary). Then, if your auction rules allow, sit back and let the next player¹s price climb, and jump in near the end ­ even if the intent isn't to buy. When it's your turn to nominate, bring up both players you don't want (early in the draft) and those you do (mid-to-late rounds). Employing several of these bid strategies, and juggling them during the course of the day, will help keep your opposition off guard. And it should, in the least, net you a bargain or two.

Mike Shears: Trust your instincts.

Before the auction, see if you can get a list of last year's auction values. It may give you an idea of what the league vets value and if they look everything or nothing like, LABR or Tout Wars values.

Don't get caught up in the games the vets may play (like running up the bidding on a player you have no intention of using or tossing out a player for auction you don't want).

Don't fall in love with a player - the vets may sense this during the bidding and make you pay more than you intended.

Don't panic if you don't get the player you targeted - unlike a straight draft, you'll still have opportunities to get every similar player tossed out for bidding, provided you have cash left.

Do have as much fun as you would have in a straight draft!

Allen Hirsch: There are two approaches I'd suggest.

First: a contrarian value orientation - i.e. disciplined bidding on all undervalued players, while maintaining balance in all categories to compete across the board. This works best if you have confidence in your pricing valuations going into the draft, so you can be aggressive in bidding where the values may be as the draft unfolds. (I did this in a veteran league once and missed first by only a couple of homers and wins.)

You say it's a "non-continuing league," so that makes it very tricky, since you can't trade high-priced (over-priced?) talent to contenders to rebuild for next year if you fall out of it early. Nonetheless, the second strategy I'd recommend is to "load up" on a category that appears to be going relatively cheaply in the draft. If you can command a category cheaply enough, you'll have strength to deal from later to shore up your weakest category(ies). If all players are free agents every year, as your question suggests, then the key to this strategy is again your valuations going in, and being really disciplined in the auction whenever undervalued players' bidding lags.

The advantage of a non-continuing league is you have no draft inflation to adjust for, and the veterans have no leg up on you, since they start from scratch, too. Do you have access to last year's salary rosters, just to see what the values of key premium players were? Look at Alex Rodriguez, Hanley Ramirez, Albert Pujols and David Wright - that's a benchmark for the top-end pricing. Then look at the "sky's the limit" potential premier guys, like Matt Kemp and Evan Longoria. Finally, look at the possible "bargain end" guys like Raul Ibanez, Aubrey Huff and Hank Blalock - see where the undervalued talent in last year's draft was, with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. That should give you some insight to bidding and value tendencies of your fellow owners.

Every auction will be different, but if you do your homework based on the possibilities I've described, you should be prepared to spot the values and hold your own. Good luck!

Matt Carter: It's a fortunate thing that draft time coincides with the tax season. The Rotisserie baseball auction is really nothing more than an exercise in accounting. In a 14-team league, there is $3,640 to be spent on 322 players. If your player value list doesn't have 322 players and add up to $3,640, you could get caught with your pants down. Make sure that everything adds up before you walk into the auction. If this is your first draft, treat your list as gospel and verse. Don't get caught up in the culture of one- upmanship. Don't get emotional. Let a player go if he exceeds your bid value. If you stick to your player values, you will never get stuck with a player you would never draft. Finally, your league has been around for 10 years, so don't worry about price-enforcing. Other owners will do that for you. Just focus on your list, have fun and celebrate afterwards!

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