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Auction Drafts: The Art of the Toss (Fantasy Baseball)

Apr 7, 2020

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I have specific buzzwords that, like it or not, I can’t help but use in certain situations. I write about predictions or picks against the spread, I constantly cite “perception.” When covering fantasy drafts, it’s “value” that takes the lead. And if I’m giving advice as to how to win a fantasy championship during your draft or auction, the one word I always highlight is “aggressive.”

Be aggressive. No, don’t go overboard, as there are cases where deviating too far from the mean is a bad thing, but, all else being equal, winning is based on making a move that separates your team from the rest. Usually, this happens when you are aggressive.

In an auction, there are different strategies to handle roster construction, bid enforcement, and other pieces of the puzzle that come into play when a player is on the board. It’s live, time is ticking, and decisions must be made.

And it’s also reactionary. Unlike a snake draft, where you have the ability to make a move when your turn arrives, each player nominated in an auction brings a new opportunity to either or bid or pass. If no one worthy of your hard-earned fantasy dollars appears on the board, then you wait. If a player is enticing, you try. Again, it’s a reaction to what someone else did.

Until your turn to nominate arrives. That’s when the fun begins. Every “round,” you will have a chance to make a nomination, also known as “the toss.” This is the one-and-only time you are not reacting to another person’s actions. Your move is the first action.

I actively give myself a pep talk before an auction draft. I have to remind future me of the following: bargains will be available later, it’s critical to save money, and there will be inflation early. The first two are somewhat within my control. The third is not.

Yet the third never fails.

As a whole, the first group of players nominated always go for more money than their respective averages. Part of this is due to other auctions lowering the overall average for a player in the marketplace — deflation from their average price, if you will — but the bulk of the premium paid is simply due to supply and demand. Everyone has money — supply — and the demand for the top players is high.

There’s a trap in that last sentence. Despite the fact that any player can be nominated early, it is almost always the case that the “top” players are the first names off the board. It’s a comfort setting. People are used to seeing the top names available in a snake draft, so they lean on the same familiarity from these names in an auction.

And people pay for them. Not only because they are the perceived best, but also because they are the perceived best and they are available at a time when fantasy wallets are full.

Armed with this information, is there any way to take advantage? Of course! Through the art of the toss.

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Players You Don’t Want

Nominate the most popular player that you don’t want to eventually buy. Stop. Let’s reread that sentence and pick it apart.

By nominating the “most popular” player, you have guaranteed one key component to making the most of the toss. A popular player has interest. Interest breeds buyers. And buyers, as in all economic scenarios, drive up the price.

Since this is a player that you “don’t want to buy,” the absolute best outcome from this move is that you didn’t get saddled with a player unfit for your team, and you drew valuable dollars from one of your opponents. In an auction, causing your competitors to lose their money quickly is just as important as saving yours. This moves you in the right direction.

Rookies and Players with Preseason Hype

As often as you can — and while it’s clear that money is still abundant — keep nominating players with hype.

Human psychology tells us that, when presented with a lack of information, people tend to fill in the gaps with what they want to hear. As much as we would like to believe that we can accurately project how a Minor League stud will translate to Major League Baseball, it’s an inexact science. Instead of focusing on what we do know, however, we lean on our human nature to skew toward the “best” outcome.

If we’re directly comparing two players where one has an established baseline over a lengthy career, and the other is full of unknowns, we might be able to draw better conclusions. In an auction, when the player full of potential — or hype — is on the clock, and we have no other information but our loose expectations, we incorrectly fill in the gaps.

Let someone else overestimate the hype. As long as you don’t want these players, get them on the market as soon as possible.

Players You Want

Until you do want them. And that’s when your level of care has to be the top priority.

Unfortunately, luck has to play a role this time. We try to avoid dependence on luck in anything related to predictions of future performance — such as a fantasy draft or auction — but it’s unavoidable everywhere. Not having your top sleepers nominated is a function of luck.

What’s not based on luck is your ability to show restraint. The earlier a player gets nominated, the higher the price. If you want to grab your sleepers at the lowest possible value, wait as long as you can to nominate them.

Make a Statement … or Don’t

If you’re ultimately going to be aggressive in a snake draft, it’s best to set the tone early. It will make those drafting near your slot realize that they have to adjust their rankings on the fly. In an auction, it’s best to be subtle. If your plan gets outed by someone else, then roll with it. If not, you can play the game of extracting money from your opponents’ budgets for a long time.

Using the aforementioned methods, we’re already planning to wait for the players we like, but we have to nominate someone we don’t want. The strategy? Nominate the player and then place a bid. In this setup, nominate someone for $1 and, as long as the player is still well below the average — people use this as a guide to not overpay, even though they eventually will — add another $1 to the bid. Do it a few times and then back off. Act as if you simply got outbid. It happens.

Savvy fantasy owners will catch on, and, if they’re budgeting appropriately, they will recognize you as worthy competition. The goal is to drain their funds before they can do anything about it, and that goes with lying low.

Price Enforce with the Toss

Did you know that you don’t have to nominate a player for $1? Many people don’t. Or, if they know, they don’t do anything about it.

Be different. Be the one that price enforces during the toss.

Everybody wants a discount somewhere, even if they don’t mind overspending early. Eventually, full rosters restrict the ability to spend freely. One way to speed up the process is by eliminating the discount during the toss. Nominate a player for $1 below the average price. Most likely, someone will bite. If they do, you’ve already locked in another premium paid by your opponent. Otherwise, you made $1 on your average. For this reason, pick someone you wouldn’t mind adding just in case you do win the bid.

The Discounts

There’s one final sneaky approach to the toss that could provide massive returns if successful. While still keeping with the theme of holding your deepest sleepers close to your vest, you can take a chance with a longshot.

Target one player that virtually nobody wants, but who you would accept with your final bench spot. Basically, the first person you’d cut if you had to, but with some potential.

Nominate this player for the minimum of $1. Let people obsess for a few seconds if they’re going to let the first $1 player go to you or if they simply must price enforce. If they add the second dollar, then let the player go. If not, the amount of money you have allocated per remaining roster spot just increased. That’s hard to do in the early stages, but it’s invaluable. It’s the opposite of grabbing the $1 targets at the end of the auction, and it gives you a little more leeway for the moments when you want to pay a little extra for a player.

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Mario Mergola is a featured writer at FantasyPros, as well as the creator and content-editor of Sporfolio. For more from Mario, check out his archive and follow him @MarioMergola.

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