Some Basic Auction Strategy…..March 29th, 2010 by Eric Kesselman in General Guidance
Since it is the season for auctioning your fantasy team, thought I'd take this opportunity to post some basic concepts about how to approach things.
1) Have a Plan-
Much like sitting at a poker table, you should be able to articulate the dynamics of the situation that make things favorable for you. "What's your edge?" is a Cardrunners catch phrase that you should ask yourself going into a fantasy auction as well as sitting at a poker game. In poker the answer is frequently that your opponents misvalue the strength of their holdings. Misvaluations are plenty common with fantasy owners as well. I like to review past auctions and know my opponents' tendancies for mistakes. Generally I find that people are unable to manage their budget effectively, overspending early in the auction. I often find closers are overpriced. I routinely think that my opponents overvalue young, unproven players. Conversely, I find they undervalue aging veterans, especially if they are coming off an injury or down season. Figure out what mistakes your opponents make, and plan accordingly.
"Every battle is won, before it is ever fought." – Bud Fox.
The importance of preparation really cannot be understated. If you are serious about doing well in your fantasy league, take the time before the auction to master all the information available to you, come up with a price for each player, and have command of those prices. Unfortunately, a huge portion of your season's success hinges on your performance in the auction. You can always get lucky with a claim off the waiver wire, or a killer trade, but you can't rely on either of those things happening. So put the effort in now when it really matters. One of the biggest answers to the question of 'What's my edge?' will hopefully be that you are far more prepared than the competition.
When I have everyone priced out, I spend a fair amount of time reviewing and memorizing my prices. Having command of your own prices, especially for the weaker third of the player base is very important. Auctions move very fast, but you will have time to look to see if you wrote down $30, $33, or $35 for that star player before the bidding gets up there. However when a $5 player is on the block, you don't have time to waste looking over your sheet (and hopefully not flipping through a magazine to double check his statistics) to see what you want to bid. Good poker players often make all their opponents' choices awkward and uncomfortable. You need to do the same thing in the auction. When the $5 guy is being fought for, you need the be the first bid at $3. Your opponents won't like letting him go at $3, but bidding $4 isn't particularly attractive either.
If you don't know your valuations for the lower end of the field, you won't be able to get sharp bids in on time. Unfortunately, people tend to remember what their valuation is for Alex Rodriguez, but forget what they value Brandon Inge at. If anything, it needs to be the other way around.
3) Be Risk Concious, not Risk Averse-
This isn't a poker cash game, its more like a poker tournament. You need to win, not just avoid losing. That means you need to get lucky somewhere. If all your opponents are gambling it up, one or more of them are bound to get lucky and surge to the top. If you take too low risk an approach, you are destined for the middle of the pack. That doesn't mean you should overload on long shots either, unless you are in some multi-league format with a big grand prize. If you take too many longshots, all the losers will sink you even if you do find a few winners.
If you look over the rosters of the Cardrunners League you'll see a number of spots where owners are gambling. This also means more than buying $1 'sleepers'. It's the $5-$10 guys who you get $30 of value out that make your season. My team this year I'm gambling on cheap guys like Brett Gardner, Shaun Marcum, Justin Duchsherer, and Ben Sheets. I figure any of them can be $20+, and I don't think I'm liable to take a big hit from any of these investments. I like to gamble on low cost guys with good upside. This sets me up to either win big or lose small. You can see others in the league often taking the same approach, although some bigger gambles often pay off too. Derek Carty bought Brian Roberts for $18, while Roberts was dealing with an injury and the Baltimore GM was considering trading for help at 2B. While a potentially season sinking loss if Roberts does go down, it can be a bargain if he stays healthy. A couple of years ago people were bidding $30 for Jacoby Ellsbury before he even had the starting job. Ellsbury wound up winning the job and having a fine season- but even then they didn't make much on their $30 investment. Likewise people in many of my leagues went nuts for Matt Wieters last year. It seemed pretty clear he wasn't going to get to the majors to start the season (and possibly not at all), and you really had to wonder how much profit a $18+ catcher with limited professional experience could possibly produce in a severely truncated season. This kind of high risk, low reward play should be avoided. Choose your gambles wisely, both in quantity and quality.
Keep these basics in mind when going in, and you will already be a leg up on the competition!