Aug 5, 2010
Let’s just get this out of the way. If you haven’t tried an auction league yet, you need to. Anyone can dominate a boring serpentine draft. The same cannot be said for auction drafts. With ESPN offering free, online auction leagues, you have no excuse for not joining one. Since I wrote The Awesomeness of Auction Drafts (AAD) last summer, I have received incredible feedback from Bruno Boys Nation requesting more auction content discussing advanced auction strategies. Some of you even wanted me to share my personal secrets and strategies. Well ask and you shall receive. Let’s take a look at some advanced auction concepts and some of my personal strategies.
Please note: If you haven’t read The Awesomeness of Auction Drafts, I would recommend doing so before continuing. That article introduces the concepts and strategies this article will expound on.
Being aware of changing auction conditions is crucial. Maintaining flexibility to deal with those changing conditions is even more important. The best way I’ve found to do this is make sure you don’t tie up too much money into a single player or position. Does this mean you won’t get Chris Johnson or Adrian Peterson? Yes, it does. In my experience, you are far better off with three RBs at $20 a piece than one RB for $60. In auction leagues, I’m a big believer in depth and bargains. Personally, I refuse to lock 25% of my cap into one player. This strategy has many benefits. Unlike my opponents, I won’t have a roster of three $40-$60 players and 12 $1 players. I’ve seen owners in expert auction leagues gleefully spend more than 60% of their cap on one player. Needless to say, their season hinges completely on the performance and health of that one player. Another benefit is I will have money available should a bargain present itself late in the auction. At the next auction you participate in, keep track of the teams that spend a lot of money early on one or two marquee players. Then keep track of the number of times they moan and groan as high upside players fly off the board at bargain prices when they have no money left to bid on them. Don’t be that owner. As I wrote last summer, you want to leave the auction with the best team, not just a couple of the best players. Maintaining flexibility will allow you to achieve balance and depth for your team. You won’t be dependant on one or two players each week like other owners in your league will.
Obviously, it is critical you nominate the expensive players as early as you can. Get your opponents spending large amounts of their auction cap early. People get excited when the big names start coming up. I can assure you, the earlier you nominate them, the more money they will go for. By doing this, you are not only tactfully removing your opponent’s flexibility, you are conversely increasing your own. As we will discuss later, by getting these big names off the board, you are also establishing the values by which all other players will be evaluated and eventually priced. Auctions are a zero sum game. For those of you unfamiliar with game theory, a zero sum game is a situation in which a participant’s gain or loss is exactly balanced by the gains and losses of the other participants. The most common zero sum game is poker. Auctions are no different. Your team gains when your opponents make mistakes. Your opponents gain when you make mistakes.
I wrote in AAD that patience is a virtue in life and in fantasy auctions. Patience goes hand in hand with the flexibility concept. If you are patient, flexibility will be easy to attain and will almost happen naturally. At every auction I’ve ever participated in, there are always one or two top 20 RBs still available late who end up going for ridiculously low prices. Needless to say, you want to be the owner with money late to cash in on these bargains. You will have money available if you stay patient, flexible, and resist the urge to lock more than 25% of your cap into one player.
This is one of the many reasons flexibility is so important. The dirty little secret in fantasy football auctions is that a player’s value changes during the auction. Obviously, you won’t be informed of that by looking at auction cheatsheets filled with arbitrary values of a player’s worth in a run of the mill scoring system that doesn’t match your own. But Matt, how can Aaron Rodgers (homer, I know) be worth $42 before the auction starts and then be worth $35 or $50 if he’s still available half way through? I’m glad you asked. Well, if Peyton Manning and Drew Brees went earlier in the auction for $47 and $45 respectively, Rodgers is probably worth $50. If those same two players went for $30 and $32 respectively, Rodgers is probably only worth $35. It is all relative. This concept doesn’t just apply to the marquee players. It applies to ALL players. In an auction, a player’s value is best ascertained by comparing him to his peers. You have to compare a player’s current bid to how much other players at his position went for. Looking at this in a different way, every closing bid gives you more information to a player’s value because you can compare and contrast to come up with an accurate assessment of a player’s worth. You’ll see this in action when I discuss specific examples below. Hopefully, you realize printing off an auction cheatsheet and using it without adjusting for the changing auction values will result in a long season. But Matt, this really sounds like a lot of work! Trust me, it is if you do it right. But until you win an auction league, I don’t want to hear you bragging about how great a fantasy owner you are.
While we’re on the subject, your league scoring system and setup/rules will also impact how the auction values change. Bruno Boys Marc and I saw numerous examples of this during the FEXDA auction this past spring. FEXDA is an expert dynasty league with individual defensive players and an auction draft. It is, quite frankly, one of the most wickedly sick and epic expert leagues I’ve seen in my 11 years as a fantasy football writer. FEXDA also has a unique scoring quirk that scores TEs separately. Under this scoring system, Dallas Clark was the #3 overall scorer in the league last season. Marc and I knew this would obviously impact how much the TEs were going to go for in the auction. Since it’s a dynasty league, our major targets were Jermichael Finley and Brent Celek. We assumed Clark, Antonio Gates, and maybe Vernon Davis would go for more money than Finley and Celek. We estimated $25-$30 should be able to land either Finley or Celek. Much to our chagrin, Finley was the first of the big TEs nominated. We got to our ceiling of $30 quite quickly. Finley ended up going for $37 when the bidding closed on March 10th and I am quite sure the team that won him was prepared to spend more had we pushed the bidding. Believe me, we thought about it, but we were worried about getting stuck with Finley at $38 or $40 and then watching embarrassingly as Clark, Celek, Gates, and Davis all went for around $30. Did you see how the flexibility issue came up already? Because Finley was the first of the marquee TEs to be nominated, we had to walk a thin line of maintaining flexibility and not overspending early. I can pretty much promise your amateur opponents won’t be thinking about flexibility early in the auction like Marc and I were. Needless to say, that will give you an edge. Now that Finley was off the board, he established the high end of what the top tier TEs should go for. With Finley at $37, we put Clark at $40 and thought Celek should be between $33 and $35. Clark ended up going for $45 when the bidding closed on March 14th. This gave us more information to assess Celek’s value and we still felt $33-$35 was pretty accurate. Vernon Davis closed at $35 on March 16th and Antonio Gates followed the next day at the same price. This gave us all the information we needed on Celek. On March 18th, the bidding on Celek closed at $34 and we had our elite TE for the next 8 years. I know this was a long example, but I hope you realize how it relates to the points I have made so far and how you can implement this process into your own auction preparation.
Value Based Drafting
I’d like to take you back in time for a moment to the summer of 2001. iTunes was just a few months old and no one had thought of Twitter and Facebook. The iPhone and iPad were still sketches on a cocktail napkin. In other words, things were still pretty normal. I had just graduated from high school and, between graduation parties and baseball games, began preparing for my August fantasy football draft. Back then, ESPN didn’t use the words fantasy and football in the same sentence, much less together. They thought it was a game for nerds and geeks, a fad that would never become popular with the general public. Like always, ESPN didn’t jump on the bandwagon until they realized it was a cash cow. And to think some people are foolish enough to believe the Eastern Seaboard Programming Network was a pioneer in the fantasy industry instead of a Johnny Come Lately. The major places for fantasy information in those days were the 3 or 4 preseason magazines available and the Internet, which was still in relative infancy. One of the magazines I read religiously was the Fantasy Forecast Magazine, which still isn’t bad today as far as fantasy magazines go. That year, the magazine had an article called Principles of a Value Based Draft System written by Joe Bryant, a fantasy expert I still have a lot of respect and admiration for. The article was considered groundbreaking to anyone in the fantasy community with a triple digit IQ. Bryant’s well written article introduced a concept called Value Based Drafting (VBD). To quote from Bryant’s timeless piece: “In its simplest form, the value of a player is determined not by the number of points he scores, but by how much he outscores his peers at his particular position.” That, my friends, was Darwin’s Theory of Evolution applied to fantasy football.
The VBD principle was intended for use in regular serpentine drafts because auctions were virtually unheard of in fantasy football back then. I don’t know if Bryant knew at the time his VBD theory would pretty much be the end all, be all of auction drafts. Remember how I said earlier the best way to ascertain a player’s value during an auction is to compare him to his peers at his position? That came straight from Bryant’s theory. Though VBD still has many disciples for serpentine drafts, it has all but been replaced by Average Draft Position (ADP) drafting, an incredibly lazy and ineffective strategy used by fantasy football owners across the country. Needless to say, ADP is absolutely useless in auctions because there are no draft positions. This, my friends, is where Bryant’s decade old VBD concept comes in. Bryant used his theory to assign player values to where players should be drafted in a serpentine draft. Players who significantly outscore their peers at their position are obviously worth more than players who do not. Back then, Exhibit A was Tony Gonzalez. For years, Gonzalez was the league’s only premier TE. He was posting WR type numbers while his peers were perfecting their blocking. Very good arguments were made that Gonzo’s value could justify a second or third round pick in a serpentine draft. Today, I use Bryant’s concept to assess a player’s value during the auction when values are changing with every final bid. If you’re going to participate in and win auction leagues, you have to forget about ADP and embrace VBD. It’s a blast from the past, but its still as relevant as ever, especially during complex, constantly changing auction drafts.