Last week, we discussed how tier rankings can be utilized in a snake draft. Today, we will explain how they can be used to help guide bidding in the auction format. But before we get into that, we’ll first talk about some general auction dynamics.
One of the primary differences between an auction and a draft is in an auction, the entire player pool is in play. If you want a player, you can get him. But the real repercussion of this is you can employ a variety of strategies not available in drafts. In drafts, you are restricted by the fact you take players in order of descending value. Sure, there are strategies within this you can deploy, but you are still limited by the downward spiraling nature of value. In an auction, you can purchase multiple first round players and balance that with several last round players. Or you can purchase a bunch of middle tier players, avoiding the stars. The point is, you can allocate your assets in a variety of different manners.
The difference we are going to focus on today is how auctions involve a dynamic completely absent from drafts, and that is the element of money management. Not only do you need to have a solid grasp of the player pool and the relative value between the players, you need to manage your budget in a manner to accrue as much talent as possible. In a draft, the serpentine nature of picks levels the playing field. In an auction, even though everyone starts with the same budget, it is possible to manage it in a manner to take advantage of market fluctuations, buying assets at below value, whereby accumulating more than what you started with in terms of value. That is, using the standard $260 as an example, perhaps you purchase $300 worth of talent, at least according to your projections. In a draft, you can obviously pick more than $260 worth of talent, but the point is, in an auction, this aspect of the process takes on a greater role.
Later this week, I will focus on some of the more abstract elements of the auction. The rest of this discussion will concentrate on the means I use to help manage my budget, and involves the same ranking tiers discussed last week.
As will be explained in Under the Microscope on Thursday, there is a lot of gamesmanship during an auction. To me, the key is to see through all of this and keep your eye on the prize, and that is making sure the available inventory matches up with what you need so you do not end up overpaying for the necessary pieces to the puzzle, costing you the ability to purchase the additional pieces you require to get the job done.
What I do is come up with a roadmap of how I want to spend my budget. Let us use the same $260 described earlier. I take the $260 and distribute it amongst the roster posts I need to fill. For the sake of this example, let us say the league has 14 hitters and 9 pitchers. I will draw 23 lines on a piece of paper and distribute the $260 amongst those lines. Here is where the tiers come in. The lines are not priced willy-nilly. They are patterned to take advantage of pockets of players bunched around certain values while avoiding assigning amounts where the inventory is low or unattractive. This gives me the greatest opportunity to not mismanage my money. As I will describe, the key to this procedure is being flexible, but even with that, you still want to have the maximum opportunity to fill each spot. Tiers help me do that.
Some people like to assign both an amount and a position to a line. While I may do that in certain instances, most notably for a closer and my catchers, I try to be a little flexible amongst the positions. The exception is when the tiers dictate that there are a plethora of desired players at the same position in the same tier. In this case, I will indeed dedicate both a price and a position to a line.
Now is where it gets fun. A successful auction is one where you balance getting players for less than value, filling in as much talent as possible around them. This is why you do not want to predetermine too many lines with both price and position. If a third baseman you value at $35 is at $30, you want to be able to put him on your $30 line and not bypass it because that must be saved for a second baseman. Or perhaps, if you feel strongly that you want to save that $30 line for a second baseman, you take your $25 line and add $5 to it, buy the third baseman and take away $5 from another line. This is the flexibility alluded to earlier.
Tiers are the key to this means of budget allocation. What you need to do is always make sure that there is available inventory to fill your open lines. Tiers are the easiest manner to do this. If you have a $20 spot and you note the inventory of players you expect to go in that range is dwindling, you need to make a purchase soon or distribute that $20 line to other lines that better match up with the remaining player pool. This is the biggest mistake made in auctions and it has nothing to do with your ability to evaluate and rank players. Having too much money left to buy the available talent is not the recipe for success. For me, tiers are an invaluable tool to track if I am properly budgeted to best acquire the available players.
I’ll finish with how I would approach an AL only and an NL only auction, based on this season’s player pool.
Looking at the American League pool, I do not see the separation at the top that is normally seen. That is, I do not see anyone I would be willing to spend $40 to buy. And it will be the nature of auctions to have the top players go for around $40. Instead, I will make my top line to be $30 so I am ready for a bargain in that range, but plan on buying the majority of my players in the high teens and low twenties. For reasons I will explain in future essays, I like to have a handful of end game spots, though I admit not as many as I used to in the past. While I am not married to this, I will likely spend about $185 on hitting and $75 on pitching, so that is how I will do the initial budget. My habit is to allocate $5 to a pair of catchers, and if one comes in under value, I buy him and adjust my lines. With that as a backdrop, here is how I might approach an AL only auction:
HITTING: $5 for 2 catchers, one player at $30, 7 at $20, then $10 to spend on 4 total spots, all adding up to $185.
PITCHING: $20 for a closer, $15, $15, $10, $5, $5, $2, $2, $1, total of $75
With the hitting, I am flexible around those $20 spots. If someone I like stops at $14, I put him on a $20 line an add $6 to one of the other lines or maybe add $3 to two of them. Or perhaps I take that $6 and add it to the catcher line or even a pitcher. But whatever I do, it is always using the tiers as a guide so I can make sure wherever I shift it, there are ample players there to buy.
In the National League, there are more top end players I like. It is just the nature of the different player pools. So I would likely make my hitting lines to be more striated. The pitching would be the same, though since some NL only leagues use 10 pitchers, I would have to add another $1 line, making one of the $5 lines to be $4.
The hitting may look more like
$35, $35, $30, $20, $15, $15, $15, $5, $5 and $10 for 5 spots.
If a player I like costs more than $35, I’ll take him and shift the appropriate funds off another line. If I see early on that the front end inflation is too rich for my liking, I will swerve to a plan more like the AL one.
So even though I am preaching flexibility, having these initial money lines helps keep me focused and my eye on the inventory, so I am less apt to have more money than there is talent available. I can put $230 worth of talent on my roster for $200, but if I mismanage my budget and can only buy $30 with the remaining $60, at the end of the day, I break even. But if I do the opposite and clean up on the bargains, I can buy $90, putting $320 worth of talent on my roster.