Evaluating a Slow Auction

Last week, I participated in a slow auction to kick off a 4×4 ottoneu league. I have done (and generally love) slow DRAFTS many times in the past, and those are pretty straight forward. They tend to work just like normal drafts, though the longer time between picks often leads to better research and fewer reaches, panic moves, etc.

But this slow auction thing – that was a whole new ballgame.

We used Couch Managers to run the auction and played with the settings a bit as we went. To start, we allowed three nominations per owner (36 total), with players being on the board for 12 hours and their clock resetting to eight hours if a new owner took over the lead on that player. After a couple days, we decreased the reset to six hours and added a fourth nomination per team.

The results were interesting. People clearly struggled to contain their exuberance in the early stages. Among the first five players off the board were $40 Miguel Sano and $21 Rougned Odor, both paid salaries higher than in any other ottoneu 4×4 league. And remember, off the board early means no (or few) clock resets – these guys got to those prices with limited bidding wars. Players who came off a bit later include $70 Mike Trout ($2 off his high price), $71 Bryce Harper (his high price), $10 Will Smith (another high price), $10 Nomar Mazara (yep, his high price), $16 AJ Reed, $55 Manny Machado, $45 Carlos Correa and $48 Kris Bryant (all their highest prices in all of the 4×4 universe). And that is just a sampling of the new high-price points this league set – there were quite a few more.

It seemed that as all those players sat on the board, sometimes for as long as 24 hours, there were two things at play driving up prices. First, when you have 12+ hours to watch a player you love (say, Machado), you also have plenty of time to talk yourself into upping your bid. Maybe you have Machado priced as a $40 player (remember this is a first year league, so no inflation) and when you have 15 seconds to bid, you can talk yourself into $41 or even $42, but your willpower can hold out at $43. Your willpower has to be a lot stronger when you go to bed to a $46 Machado and wake up to a $54 Machado.

The second is that all these players were going at once. In a regular auction, you might say that you’ll pass on Machado at $45 cause you can maybe get Correa to be your SS for $35. In this case – no such luck, and you know it. You watch Machado hit $45 and then Correa hits that price about an hour later, and there is still plenty of time to bid on either. And if you do talk yourself into bidding $45 on Correa or $55 on Machado at the last minute, everyone else gets a few more hours to talk themselves into even more.

There was also an early rush on hitters, which used up a lot of cash (this happens when you set new record prices on player after player), and by the time the top pitchers came off the board, there was a newly frugal mindset. By my Steamer-based valuations, the top 10 hitters are worth $453 and went for $553 in this league. That includes #10 Jose Bautista, who went much later in the process and for close to par value. I valued my top 10 pitchers at $438; their combined price was $421.

The last thing I noticed is that there were no sleepers, particularly at SS. All the time in the slow auction meant everyone could do whatever research they wanted during the auction – if you didn’t have a strong opinion on a name that came up, you could form one over his 12 hours. Guys that I was hoping to get cheap were not cheap. Eugenio Suarez, for example, went for $9, more than double his average across all leagues and 80% more than his average in 4×4 leagues.

His position didn’t help, as the dearth of SS talent showed up in a big way here. Machado and Correa went for big dollars, as noted above, but so did many others. $32 Corey Seager. $16 Jung-Ho Kang, $31 Xander Bogaerts – and then you had bidding wars on Suarez, Marcus Semien, Brandon Crawford, and even Ian Desmond, as teams jockeyed for someone, ANYONE who could start at SS for them.

All of this cause a major shift in my strategy. First, I stuck to my guns and refused to bid over my values (ok, that is not a shift, that is just what I do). Second, I decided to stock up on pitching. I grabbed four of the top 12 SP on my sheet (David Price, Jose Fernandez, Felix Hernandez and Dallas Keuchel) and eventually grabbed the 22nd SP on my list (Francisco Liriano), as well.

I also stocked up on solid bats, since I wasn’t going to pay the prices for the elite. My top ranked bat is Buster Posey, whose $29 price tag is $2 below his value on my sheet. He is the 18th ranked bat on my sheet. Typically, I figure I should have of each set of 12 bats (one top 12, one 13-24, one 25-36, etc.). I ended up with none of the top 12 and only Posey out of the top 35. But after that, I stocked up. Between ranks 36 and 60, I grabbed six more bats – Anthony Rendon at $20 ($23 value), Alex Gordon at $17 ($21 value), Ben Zobrist at $17 ($20 value), Matt Holliday at $13 ($20 value), Evan Longoria at $16 ($18 value), and Matt Kemp at $12 ($18 value). That actually left me heavy on top 60 talent (seven out of 60, instead of the expected five out of 60). And I grabbed eight more of the top 120 bats. Leaving me with 15 of the top 120, more than enough to fill my lineup without getting outside that group.

Shortly after the draft, I also traded Felix for some depth, getting back my now-second-highest-ranked bat ($26 Freddie Freeman, a $27 value at #28 on my sheet), Jake Odorizzi and Mark Melancon.

The net result is that there are a lot of top-heavy teams and very few exciting values (lots of $5 players who went for $1 at the end, but not many $20+ players bought at a discount). My team will have to compete with a strong rotation and a balanced lineup.

You can check out the auction on Couch Managers and my roster (or the rest of the league on ottoneu.

Chad Young is a product manager at Amazon by day and a baseball writer (RotoGraphs, Let's Go Tribe), sports fan and digital enthusiast at all times. Follow him on Twitter @chadyoung.

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If it better to pay up for a SS or wait on one?