Dealing With the Unexpected in Drafts or Auctions

Last Sunday, the FanGraphs Ottoneu League #2 did our auction. Chad Young, Brad Johnson and Scott Spratt have each given their thoughts on it. It was a unique auction (most are in some way) and by making a few early adjustments I was able to come away from it better than I expected.

To begin with, I hate to start any fantasy season in complete rebuild mode. I want to have a chance to win if everything goes right. Before last season was half way over I had about zero chance of winning so then I started a rebuild. I had the most free agent dollars, I picked up some $1 players (Harrison, Petit, Boxburger, House) and waited for a team to drop a high dollar player to free up some cash. The plan worked great by getting Joey Votto and Brian McCann. Also, I like prospects, even if they have limited upside, near the majors and picked up players like Matt Wisler, Carlos Rodon and Ty Kelly.

I had some OK keepers and I kept quite a few cheap young players. After we released our players for free agency, I only had 12 roster spots to fill and $17 per spot to spend. This per-spot-value was by far the most per pick by any team. I needed to improve with four starting pitchers, two relievers, two outfielders, a shortstop and a good utility bat. With the other three picks I was looking for some more pitching and another bat.

Looking over the available pitchers was like looking at a list of the best broken pitchers. Sadly, here are the starting pitchers I was going to target in order:

Cole Hamels
Yu Darvish
Justin Verlander
Michael Wacha
Ian Kennedy
Adam Wainwright
Cliff Lee
Shane Greene
Homer Bailey
Matt Cain

It was ugly.

For hitters I was looking to get Braun and someone else to fill the outfield. I was worried about some outfield battles brewing since every team needed two outfielders on average. Zobirst was by far the best shortstop and has some position flexibility. Martin Prado was another player with multiple positions, good stats and I figured I could get him cheap.

Finally, here are some general notes from previous auctions about the other bidders.
1. They are hesitant to bid right away. Good deals come early.
2. Prospects, IMO, get over valued.
3. People throw out big names early to get the money off the table.
4. There will be some decent inflation (10% to 20%)

On the draft day, everyone knew I was going to be a few minutes late (which I was). When I got to the draft room, everyone said I didn’t need to rush because another owner was gone and could not be found. No one had heard from him and we were going to go ahead and start. This was huge because this person had the largest budget and loved prospects. I had to make some quick assessments. First, 14% of the free agent dollars were off the table. I quickly adjusted my values down and it looked like I could make some real upgrades. Second, whatever in season free agent budget I had left would be effectively useless against his and the ten owners money. I figured it was time to either use it or lose it. I wanted around $20 left over. I just moved another $12 to my free agent pool. Also, if I really wanted to, I could get prospects for a reasonable price.

My one worry was him showing up mid-draft and driving up prices on everyone lelft. I figured I would have to adjust then. With the league tendencies of throwing out high dollar guys and being tentative, I figured I could get some of my players right away. Of the first 20 auctions, I won six of them (Wainwright, Verlander, Braun, Cargo, Zobrist and Hamels). This continued and I was easily the first person with all his slots filled. For prospects, I was able to pick up MLB ready Iglesias, Gonzales and A. Sanchez. When it was all done, I had $6 left over and with most of the players I wanted (still liked Darvish, but $36 was too high).

The only item which I didn’t plan on was having so many near MLB prospects available. I kept worse ones on my team. I put out some auctions immediately after the draft and was able to pick up Piscotty and Desclafani for $1 each. Overall, I was elated. I will need some players to stay healthy, but I feel good for now. Also, I haven’t ransomed my future.

I know everyone loves to hear about another person’s fantasy baseball team about as much hearing about wedding plans, but I will finally get to the point. Be ready and able to adjust to a changing situation. All of us planned on drafting with one additional person. With him not there, I needed to quickly figure out what has changed and take advantage of it.

Another example of a changing situation is when multiple teams are dumping a single category like Saves. One year I planned on dumping saves. I felt I would try the waiver market. I put out a closer in the live AL auction to get a feel for the room and four other people sat back in their chairs with no intention on bidding. Almost half the room was sitting out Saves. I knew immediately other players (hitter and/or starters) were going to be higher priced and getting Saves in season was going to be a mess. I didn’t pay for any of the first few closers up for auction, but pick up multiple good cheap ones right at the end at a huge discount.

Who knows what will come up and you can’t be ready for everything. In those unexpected instances try to take a break to find the new weaknesses. Bathroom break. Emergency phone call. If online “Lose your connection”. Most people will be nice and stop the draft while you figure it out a new optimal strategy deal with your kids .

Also, don’t throw away your old strategy, just adjust. During the draft on Sunday, I had more money to spend on my targeted players. In the other auction, I spent $5 on three closers. I got the advantage of both worlds with more money for hitters and not having to hunt for Saves in season against four other people.

Auction and draft plans can seem to go to waste when something completely unexpected comes up. Don’t freak out. Also, don’t ignore it. Figure out a way to exploit the change to your advantage. Acting correctly can be a huge way to get a leg up on your competition.

Jeff, one of the authors of the fantasy baseball guide,The Process, writes for RotoGraphs, The Hardball Times, Rotowire, Baseball America, and BaseballHQ. He has been nominated for two SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis and won it in 2013 in tandem with Bill Petti. He has won four FSWA Awards including on for his Mining the News series. He's won Tout Wars three times, LABR once, and got his first NFBC Main Event win in 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

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7 years ago

“I know everyone loves to hear about another person’s fantasy baseball team about as much hearing about wedding plans, but I will finally get to the point.” Perhaps I’m in the minority hear but I love reading write-ups like this. Keep rolling them out.