Auction League “No Scrubs” Approach

Yesterday, I participated in a 12-team NL-only auction league hosted by CBS (full analysis available soon from CBS). To add a wrinkle to the experience, I decided to try to construct an average team. No studs, but especially no scrubs. Just spend as close to $11.3 per player as possible. The main reason for this approach is that I wanted to stay away from the bottom feeders common in “Only” auctions. I was looking for regulars across the board. The strategy fell apart as my fortitude and simple rules failed.

First off, I wasn’t able to do much auction planning since I found out about it less than a week ago. Additionally, I didn’t want to use the traditional spread-the-risk approach of a bunch of $20 players. Mine idea was a No Scrubs approach. With $20 players, several $1 players enter the team. I wanted semi-talented players with jobs for every position.

After creating projections using the SGP method, I had to come up with an auction framework. In their book, Simple Rules, Donald Sull and Kathleen Eisenhardt go over how to create and utilize simple rules. Here their basic premise.

You want to make the rules as simple as possible to increase the odds that you will follow them. You can also limit your rules to two or three … to increase the odds that you will remember and follow them.

All right, I decided to go with just two rules.

  1. Targets players between $5 and $17 ($11 +/- $6). I would not be able to get every player for exactly $11, so I was going to need some leeway.
  2. Don’t overpay or reach for players.

I should have known these rules weren’t going to hold up. As the authors of Simple Rules state:

[I]nitial rules are often automatic, obvious and generally weak.

Well, I did follow one part to a “T” — not spending over $17 — but I didn’t with rest of it. To start the analysis, here’s my No Scrubs team, with scrubs, for reference.

12-Team NL-Only League
Player and Position Slot Cost Position Eligibility
J.T. Realmuto C 14 C,U
Francisco Cervelli C 5 C,U
Josh Bell 1B 16 1B,CI,U
Neil Walker 2B 15 2B,MI,U
Jung Ho Kang 3B 11 3B,CI,U
Ketel Marte SS 8 MI,SS,U
Joe Panik 2B 13 2B,MI,U
Eugenio Suarez 3B 14 3B,CI,U
Hernan Perez 3B 13 3B,CI,OF,U
Hunter Pence RF 17 OF,U
Jason Heyward RF 12 OF,U
David Peralta RF 17 OF,U
Austin Meadows CF 1 OF,U
Lucas Duda 1B 14 1B,CI,U
Steven Matz SP 15 P
Rich Hill SP 17 P
Shawn Kelley RP 15 P
Fernando Rodney RP 10 P
Robbie Ray SP 9 P
Vince Velasquez SP 13 P
Tyler Glasnow SP 8 P
David Phelps RP 2 P
Josh Hader SP 1 P
Grant Dayton RP RES P
Mac Williamson RF RES OF,U
Austin Barnes C RES C,U
Seth Lugo SP RES P
Chase Anderson SP RES P
Scott Feldman RP RES P
Chad Bettis SP RES P

Generally, I like the overall team balance but I wasn’t able to stay away from the $1 guys. That was my goal and here’s how I failed my goals.

Failure #1:

I overpaid across the board. While I rostered no studs, my team has a median value of $13. It needed to be $11. Overpaying caught up with me at the end with a $2 player and two $1 guys.

I still have no problems dropping $17 on players, I just need to make sure I allocated $5 for someone else. I didn’t have a structure in place to correctly deal with overpaying.

Failure #2

Middle infielders, especially shortstops, consistently went more than my values. I expected the top guys to go for more but owners were paying a premium penny for the bottom to mid-tier guys. I had to also pay up costing much-needed resources late in the auction.

Failure #3

I let some great deals slip through. My $17 hard cap kept me from picking up some great $18 buys like Eric Thames who went for $17 (valued at $25). The goal is to win and I can’t give up $8 of surplus value on top end players.

It’s time to work on my rules as Sull and Eisenhardt recommend.

[P]eople add rules, cut back, and then maintain a roughly fixed and small number of rules. They termed this simplification cycling. By engaging in simplification cycling, people update their rules for changing conditions while maintaining focus and flexibility by having only a few rules.

Here my new strategy rules to keep the scrubs off my team.

  • Create 10 player pairs with each equaling a $22 or $23 total. Additionally, one three-person group will need to be made for the odd number of players. If one player goes over $11, another player must be from what’s left of the $22 to $23. I normally like to use auction tables described in this recent article,  but for this strategy use the following table.
“No Scrubs” Auction Bid Table
Cost Cost Cost Actual Total Ideal Total
Player #1 Player #2 23
Player #3 Player #4 23
Player #5 Player #6 23
Player #7 Player #8 23
Player #9 Player #10 23
Player #11 Player #12 23
Player #13 Player #14 22
Player #15 Player #16 Player #17 34
Player #17 Player #18 (Player #21) 22(33)
Player #19 Player #20 (Player #22) 22(33)
Player #21 Player #22 22
  • Don’t spend over $17 on a player unless it is least a deal with a max bid of $23. If winning an overspend bid, use the three-person group for the overbid. If more than one player is won this way, remove one player pair and create two more 3-player groups. The $23 max bid allows for two $5 bids later.
  • Try not to over pay for players but track position inflation in the $5 to $17 range. Usually, inflation happens with the top players and deals will happen around the $10 mark. If the auction prices and personal values aren’t coming together, prepare to overspend for specific positions.

My rules are a little more complex but they give me a better framework to stay away from $1 bids. Additionally, it allows me to break my auction limit if a good deal presents itself. I wish I had a do over on the auction but I will be better prepared for the next one.

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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