Tips for approaching fantasy baseball auctions

Auctioneer Mike Carr of Atlanta, Ga. strikes the gavel on a closed auction during the third day of the Real Estate Disposition Corporation's (REDC) Southern California Foreclosed Home Auction Series at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles on Saturday, June 6, 2009. Nearly $20 million was spent on the first day of the auction according to organizers. (AP Photo/Jason Redmond)
(AP Photo/Jason Redmond)

If you enjoy camaraderie, banter and unexpected twists and turns, then you probably love fantasy auctions. As much fun as drafts are, for me, the unpredictability of auctions makes them even more fun.

Auctions are even more enjoyable when you leave them with the satisfaction of knowing that you spent your budget well. That is not always easy to do. In addition to being unpredictable, auctions can move quickly. It’s easy to lose focus and miss out on a great value or get caught up in the moment and overbid on a player.

I have found the following six tips to be helpful for navigating the contained chaos that is auction day. While the freewheeling nature of auctions makes it hard to adhere to a set of hard-and-fast rules, if you use the following as guidelines, you will be less prone to making mistakes, or getting thrown off course when the inevitable mistakes do happen.

1. Have a set of auction values from a trusted source at your disposal. As in drafts, the key to success in auctions is to find value with every pick you make. Given that you are working with a budget constraint, the easiest and most reliable way to avoid overspending is to adhere to your auction values as a ceiling for how much you can spend on each player.

2. Be flexible with your auction values when the situation warrants it. When in doubt, it’s best to not exceed your auction values, but there are situations where it makes sense to loosen the purse strings. If, well into the auction, you notice that the league as a whole is spending more (or less) on a particular position than you had budgeted, it makes sense to adjust your values on the fly. This is particularly relevant if the league is out of step with your values with a position or set of positions you haven’t filled yet.

Let’s say you have waited on getting your first outfielder, and eight outfielders have already come off the board, all at prices that are at least $3 or $4 above than what you budgeted. You may have also noticed that winning bids on starting pitchers and catchers have been consistently lower what you anticipated. You can roughly estimate the rate of inflation on outfielders and add that to your outfielder values going forward. Then you can do the same with the rate of deflation for positions that are typically being filled more cheaply than you expected.

Finally, if you are in the latter half of the auction and are on track to be leaving money on the table, start identifying your top remaining targets — the ones who are notably more productive than the alternatives at their positions. Be prepared to spend at least a couple of dollars beyond your budget to bolster your chances of getting them.

3. Have a goal for your hitting/pitching spending split. In Roto leagues, owners will typically spend roughly 65 to 70 percent of their budget on hitting and 30 to 35 percent on pitching. Leagues will vary, so if you have historical information on your leagues’ particular splits, it’s better to use those as guides.

That guide is merely a starting point. For example, I have had success in recent years with using waiver and FAAB pickups to fill out the middle and back of my rotation, so I haven’t spent much beyond first two or three starters. As a result, I aim to spend just above 70 percent on hitting.

4. Try to avoid waiting until the end of a tier to fill a position. In drafts, just the opposite is true. When you’re not engaged in competitive bidding, it’s best to wait until a tier has been close to emptied out before looking to fill an open position. In that case, you are dedicating a relatively low pick to obtain a player who is only marginally worse than the others in the tier. In auctions, however, waiting for the last player or two in your tier can lead to inefficient spending, at least if your tiers are similarly populated to those of other owners in the room.

For example, you may be eager to get one of the top eight shortstops, but already six of them have been taken. You may not be alone in thinking that the remaining shortstops — say, Trevor Story and Jean Segura — could be a relative bargain. Yet there could be the temptation to bid above your set values for fear that you will have to settle for a shortstop in the next tier. Your auction-mates could be thinking the same thing, and the next thing you know, you are in a bidding war.

If you get engaged in such a competition, resist the temptation and drop out once the price exceeds your auction value. Better yet, if you want to avoid a drop-off into a subsequent tier, see if you can get a player at the position before a sense of desperation sets in.

5. Remember that there are always some great bargains late in the auction. It is unusual for a player from the top tiers to go without being nominated late in the auction, but typically, a handful of mid-tier players slip through. Late in the draft, most owners are low on funds, but it’s nice to have “the hammer” for the few standouts who deserve to go for more than a dollar or two.

6. Wait as long as possible to nominate your favorite deep sleepers. The risk in nominating a sleeper too early is that others may also be targeting your pet bargain-bin players. Then you could either get dragged into a bidding war or have to forfeit such a player to another owner. If you wait until the endgame — and if you keep at least $2 of your budget for that stage of the auction — then you can go the extra dollar if someone else nominates your deep sleeper for $1. If you get to the late endgame, where no one has more than $1, then it’s safe to nominate the players on your deep sleeper list.

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