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Auction Drafts: Bidding Tips and Tricks (Fantasy Baseball)

Jun 24, 2020

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There’s a special place in the collective hearts of many fantasy baseball players for auction drafts. It’s largely because of how well the two fit together. Fantasy baseball is so heavily based on numbers that the word we naturally use to describe how to handle a specific draft is “value.”

We always want value.

We don’t want to draft a player too early that can be selected later, and we usually don’t mind reaching for a player whose projected value is much higher than the going rate. An auction draft allows us to not only put value in the spotlight but make the playing field around it completely level.

Everyone has the exact same advantages and disadvantages, budget, roster space, and, most importantly, the opportunity to select a player. With all else being equal, how can we separate ourselves from the pack? Through the same action, everyone will take countless times during an auction: bidding.

Here are some tips and tricks to help you make the most of your bids.

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Incremental vs. Jump-Bidding

Whenever a player is nominated, the “market” has to set a baseline before incremental bidding can begin. If it’s an elite player, someone will usually increase the bid drastically to cut out the time it would take to reach this point naturally. Everyone knows that the top players — especially early in the auction — will not be cheaper than a specific price, so one fantasy owner will likely move the price up to this point.

If we’re watching a player’s price increase incrementally, we should take caution to not bid immediately after a jump. It happens too often by accident, so proceed carefully and, if possible, type in the amount of your next bid instead of clicking the “Increase $1” button.

Conversely, when you want to scare away other owners, make your move.

As long as you’re comfortable paying the price you will ultimately bid, then you can show commitment to a player — and the new going rate — by “jumping” the bid up to another level. If played properly, you’ll still be in a position for a discount. Start by setting this jump bid $1-$2 lower than the player’s average price or your own set cap. If nothing else, you’ve at least forced the discount out of everyone else’s hands.

Intimidate

When you “jump-bid,” you are aggressively telling the league that you want a specific player and will pay more to make it happen. There’s another way to deliver this same message.

As soon as someone bids for a player, immediately tack on another dollar. The operative word is “immediately.” When the bid increases again — even if it is a jump-bid — do it again.

As always, think about how this looks from the opposite side of the action. We’ll perform this experiment from the perspective of a man we will name “Standard Bidder.”

Mr. Bidder likes a player, sees a specific value, puts in a number, and makes the bid official. Then someone else increases it. “Fine,” mumbles Standard, and, within a few seconds, he raises the bid by $1. Again, the same person beats the current bid. Instantaneously.

Standard furrows his brow. Decision time. Not only has the player increased by a few dollars since the initial bid, but the same lunatic is responsible for these quick increases. If, nothing else, Mr. Bidder assumes that said lunatic wants the same player as he and Mr. Bidder has a tough decision to make.

You, dear lunatic, have made your point. You have told Standard, “I want this player, and I am ready to match you.” More importantly, you have put Standard — and the rest of the league — in a difficult position. This could all be a game. You could be bluffing. You could stop matching Standard’s bids at any point. He knows this, and he has to weigh the risk and reward.

Sometimes, you will get lucky and Mr. Bidder will drop out of the fight early. Or, you might actually want to bluff and raise the price by getting Standard out of his comfort zone. Other times, you will learn exactly how desperate he is to land this player. This leads to another edge.

If Mr. Bidder fails to land the player because you simply won’t quit, it’s reasonable to expect that he will be aggressive with the next similar player. If this fight were for a prospect expected to start the season with a Major League club, our friend Standard is likely to overpay for the next prospect expected to start the season with a Major League club. It’s a pattern.

Finally, there is one fantastic twist on this approach. If it starts to go on for a relatively long amount of time — and, most importantly, you are still willing to go higher — then pretend, for one increment, that you’re struggling with the decision. Your opponent will see one quick bid after another — a sign that you’re extremely interested — and then a pause while the timer ticks away and you don’t increase the bid. Your opponent will undoubtedly think that you are mulling over the current price. At the last second, match the bid. Now your opponent thinks that, while you debated the price, you begrudgingly accepted. But, on the next increment, instead of taking the natural time to consider the price, you immediately match it. You are not dropping out of this fight.

When to Deviate from Values

Thriving at an auction draft is as much art as it is science. In the beginning, everyone has the same budget and opportunities. By the end, some teams are clearly better than others. How did this deviation occur?

Roster spots, money, and players available are all driven by one metric or another. They are science. Price captures all of these elements. At least, it should.

Whether it came from the auction software or another fantasy website, nearly every fantasy owner has a “price sheet” or “price values” for the players. It is critically important to get a rough overview of what it usually costs to obtain a player. It is also incredibly dangerous to follow this blindly. Therein lies the art.

Every single player can carry a discount. It largely matters when said player is nominated.

Every single player can carry a premium. It largely matters how many interested parties have money available.

Every single player can deviate from the estimated price. You, too, must deviate.

One simple flaw that is constantly repeated comes from the fantasy owner who always wants the discount. If a player is a few dollars below the target price, this owner is buying. It’s nice in terms of the overall budget, but there’s also a reason why these players are being overlooked. The market — your league — has devalued them. Don’t forget that, if you use your resources too quickly — even if you saved money versus the estimated price — you are still trimming your remaining funds.

Instead of always targeting the discount, try to project ahead with the anticipation of eventually saving money or paying a premium. If you cut $3 off a player’s value, spend those savings aggressively. More importantly, if you want a player and you’re struggling to accept overpaying, you can do so in moderation with the understanding that you will save money elsewhere. Don’t remain tied to your value sheet.

The $2-Rule

The natural arc of an auction follows roughly the same path, each time. There is overspending early, a middle period in which some bargains are found, and the later stages when money is so scarce that players frequently get bought for the bare minimum of $1.

The typical theme of this area of the auction is the age-old debate between wants and needs. Everyone wants a player at a discount — especially the sleeper that has survived this long — but everyone also needs to fill a roster. People can’t overspend. Really, people can’t even spend. They can only place the minimum bid on any enticing player and hope that no one else has more to spend.

Be the person with more to spend.

Always try to budget for $2 per player toward the end of an auction. It’s usually the difference between a sleeper or complimentary piece going to your team instead of your rival’s. This small edge allows you to completely control the end of the auction and, while your opponents will brag about the steal they found in a player or two, you can make the same comment about a handful of other players.

Patience is Everything

At the end of the day, success at an auction comes down to timing. Some of it is luck, and much of it depends on the actions of others. Still, the price you pay for a certain player will usually be driven by timing. The later you can wait for a player to be on the clock, the less likely you will be overspending.

You will have to take chances, however, and paying for enough foundational pieces is important. Regardless, after the wave of high-end talent has passed — make sure you don’t miss it entirely — the bargains will arrive. Except, they aren’t the best bargains. Indeed, you’ll have second and third-tier players going for fourth-tier prices, but this is where mistakes are made. Paying for too many players at a slight bargain will still destroy your budget. Like the high-end options, we want some exposure. Savings help. So does having money to spend.

If you need mental support, write a note to yourself. It can be one word. “Wait.” Whatever you think is a bargain now will have more bargains later. Because you aren’t only competing with your opponents for players, but you’re competing with their wallets. Every player off the board fills exactly one roster slot and costs resources. Save your resources until you can fill multiple spots with the same amount that others dedicated toward one. Wait and trust that you will be able to find discounts. Exercise patience at all costs.

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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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