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Fantasy Baseball Auction Strategies to Set You Up for Success

by Michael Waterloo | @MichaelWaterloo | Featured Writer
May 8, 2020

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Auctions are, by far, the best and most fun way to draft. When you have a snake draft, you’re held hostage to the draft slot that you were assigned, which limits the available pool of players to you based on who the others in your league draft.

While it’s the approach we are used to, shouldn’t all players in your league have the same chance to draft Mike Trout or Ronald Acuna? Should there be a 22-pick gap between when the player drafting first overall can draft again in the second round? 

Auctions allow for everyone to have the same chance to get every player they want, as long as they stay within their allotted budget.

But like snake drafts, there are many, many different strategies that you can implement, and having the freedom to target any player in the draft gives you even more approaches at your disposal.

If you’re a newbie to auction drafts, or if you’re looking to branch out from your current strategy, we’re going to take a look at just a few of the approaches that you can take when you’re building your team from the ground up with a $260 budget. 

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Balanced throughout

The most boring, although probably most sensible approach to take in an auction is to build the most well-rounded team that you can with the provided budget. You’ll need to take what the auction gives you, in a sense, but having this approach from the start means that you are going to stick closely to your player values and build this team like it was a team that you were drafting in redraft. You’ll look to grab a first-round player, a second-round player, maybe two third-round players, then a fifth-round player and so on. The thought with this approach is that you don’t want to have any real weaknesses at any position or any category leaving the draft. It may not have the most upside of any approach, but it has the best floor. Think of it as the Nolan Arenado of auction strategies. 

Hitter-heavy approach

Hitters and safer from an injury standpoint, and they are more predictable from year to year, so why not invest in them heavily throughout the draft? That’s the thought process behind a hitter-heavy approach, and it makes sense. If you just look at the year-by-year results of pitchers – both starters and relievers – the carry-over value that they have is less dependable than that of hitters. A lot of it has to do with the increased likelihood of injuries to pitchers compared to hitters. With the hitter-heavy approach, you can spend two-thirds of your budget to fill out your lineup, while investing the remaining third or even fourth to your rotation and bullpen. You’re going to have to get creative, though, with your pitching. You either have to commit to streaming each week, punt on saves in the draft, go with the reliever-heavy strategy to try to win WHIP, ERA, and saves each week while punting on strikeouts and wins, or take high-ceiling, low-floor pitchers for $5 or less. The pitching won’t be pretty, but when you see the heavy hitters that you roll out day in and day out, it works. 

Pitcher-heavy approach

On the opposite side of the coin is the pitcher-heavy approach. It’s definitely a high-risk, high-variance approach, but it, too, can work. More than ever before, elite pitchers are at a premium, and you see more and more hitters get pushed down draft boards because of the urgency to take pitchers early. Everyone wants that ace with a sub-3 ERA, 10 K/9, sub-1 WHIP, who throws 200 innings, but there are only so many of them to go around. With this approach, you’re able to lock up three of them, and end up with five or so top 20 pitchers, which gives you the advantage week to week in those categories. 

Of course, pitchers get injured, and those injuries can derail your season, but if you invested heavily in the position, you’ll be able to recover from an injury to an ace better than those who only have one or two can. 

Offense continues to go up around the league, so with this approach, you have the mindset that there are more than enough hitters to go around for each team, which will allow you to at least be competitive in the hitting categories over the course of a season. 

Stars and scrubs

I just published a stars and scrubs article that you can read in full here, but here is an excerpt that breaks down the strategy.

What is stars and scrubs, you ask? Well, the approach is in the name, as you’re literally trying to grab as many top-level, elite talents as you can afford and rounding out your team with low-cost options. The thought with the approach is that elite talent is the most valuable driver of success in fantasy, so stockpiling it, even if it makes you weaker in other spots, gives you a leg-up on your competition. The most obvious pro is that you get multiple first-round players that you cannot get in a regular draft. Do you want to grab three first-round players? You can do it, but you also have to sacrifice the majority of your budget to do so.

If everyone stays healthy, the team will be a favorite to win it all thanks to the elite talent on the team. But one of the cons to the approach is that if you suffer an injury or two to the elite talent that you acquired, you don’t have the balance across your roster to make up for the loss – even coupled with the replacement-level player that you find off the waiver wire.

Spread the wealth

If you’re spreading the wealth in your auction, you’re looking to not miss out on any runs or sit back and watch 20 players or so go by without bidding on everyone. You are managing your money carefully, and looking to be competitive for all player who interest you. The elite-level players are in play for you, but the fifth- to sixth-round players who typically see a decrease in price are also players that you’re looking to scoop up for a good deal. You’re the player that annoys everyone, because you aren’t allowing players to slip through the cracks at a fraction of their value. 

High-ceiling

You play to win the game, right? Everyone has a list of sleepers that they like, and they are usually players who, if they hit their peak, are able to be big contributors for fantasy purposes. With the high-ceiling approach, you’re looking to build a solid core early on, but target those players who can more than double their draft price should they deliver on their promises. The chances are that at least half of the players you take won’t, but even if two or three of them do, you’re able to recoup on any sunken cost that you have from earlier in the draft. 

High-floor

Boring is good in fantasy baseball, and that’s often overlooked. For every Ronald Acuna, Juan Soto, and Yordan Alvarez, there are rookies who get the call and don’t deliver right away. My favorite approach to high-floor guys is from Chris Towers of CBS Fantasy. A few years ago, pre-superstar breakout, Towers would say when seeing Andrew Benintendi going ahead of Christian Yelich that “Andrew Benintendi could be anything. He could even be Christian Yelich.” That’s the right way to approach the shiny toys. If in their best-case scenario they are a player who is going behind them, why not just wait and take the proven player instead? A lot of steady, productive veterans who have solid floors but not high ceilings are passed up for players who have to hit their 90th or 100th percentile in order to return value on the pick. The boring players won’t get any reactions in the auction room, but they’ll quietly produce all season long for you. 

Taking what the room gives you

As is the case with any draft, you want to take what the draft gives you. Come to the auction with your plan in pencil, not pen. You should have an idea of the players you want to target and how much above their value you’re willing to pay, but if there is a player who wasn’t on your board who is going for far less than what you think they are worth, you need to take them. This typically happens with the first player at a position or with one of the first few overall players off the board. The room is still trying to get a feel of what the market value should be, so if you’ve come prepared, you’re able to set the bar. It’s always fun when you can get a player in a tier for a significant discount compared to the other players who make up that same tier. 

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Michael Waterloo is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Michael, check out his archive and follow him @MichaelWaterloo.

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