This Is Why We Can’t Have Elite Things – Thoughts From An Expert Auction

Every auction is different, but the one constant in any given auction is that things can go careening off the rails in an instant. Last night, I participated in an experts’ auction along with a group of writers from Yahoo, RotoWire, Razzball and more. It is a 14-team rotisserie league with 27-man rosters, an innings cap of 1,450 and a standard $260 auction budget, with on-base percentage instead of batting average, and saves plus holds instead of saves. You can check the league out for yourself right here.

Let’s start off by taking a look at my team, which I drafted with an old friend of mine named Seth Oberlander. He has absolutely zero social media presence, but he might start Tweeting again if a few of you follow him. Anyway, about that team we drafted. Here it is, followed by a few general lessons about auctions, as viewed through the lens of this particular one (special thanks to Brad Johnson for teaching my HTML-challenged brain how to make these tables):

Pos Name Price Pos Name Price
C Russell Martin (PIT) $4 P Yu Darvish (TEX) $26
C Alex Avila (DET) $1 P Stephen Strasburg (WAS) $25
1B Freddie Freeman (ATL) $26 P James Shields (KC) $16
2B Matt Carpenter (STL) $17 P Tony Cingrani (CIN) $10
3B Martin Prado (ARI) $12 P Jonathan Papelbon (PHI) $6
SS Everth Cabrera (SD) $16 P Jeff Samardzija (CHC) $6
CI Chris Carter (HOU) $4 P Sean Doolittle (OAK) $1
MI Jonathan Villar (HOU) $3 P Drew Hutchison (TOR) $3
OF Shin-Soo Choo (TEX) $28 P Paco Rodriguez (LAD) $1
OF Jason Heyward (ATL) $16 BN Aroldis Chapman (CIN) $7
OF Austin Jackson (DET) $10
OF Dexter Fowler (HOU) $3
OF Christian Yelich (MIA) $7
Util Khris Davis (MIL) $6
BN Matt Joyce (TB) $1
BN Daniel Nava (BOS) $2
NA George Springer (HOU) $1

1. Recognize and react to trends in your auction. I can safely say that I’ve never spent my first $51 on pitching before last night. Yet, there I was, with Darvish and Strasburg as my first two players purchased. Why did I do this?

It was very clear from the start that the elite position players were being significantly overbid. Another owner in this league, Joe Bond, noted in his recap of our draft that the top 20 players were all inflated far beyond their value, and I completely agree. Miguel Cabrera went for $60, Mike Trout for $59, Paul Goldschmidt for $48, etc.

At this point, Seth and I had clearly recognized the trend, now it was time to react. While many other owners were emptying their pockets on the top position players, we quietly rostered Darvish and Strasburg. As it turns out, both were good values in the context of this particular auction; they’re both strikeout machines, and Darvish’s lingering neck injury is less worrisome in a league with an innings cap. I hardly ever advocate spending this much on starting pitching, but when you’re dealing with an innings cap and auction values like these, a couple elite K-rate starters are far from a bad investment.

2. Don’t blow up your budget too early.

This can manifest itself in a few different ways. Often, it’s splurging on one/two elite player(s) — one owner in the league spent his first $96 on Trout ($59) and Joey Votto ($37). Consequently, his 27-man roster has 13 one-dollar players. Another owner spent $179 buying five of the first 28 players nominated. With just $81 to play with, and 350 players remaining to be auctioned, he was a non-factor for the remainder of the auction.

3. Review your league settings and take advantage of any abnormalities.

The aforementioned Brad Johnson said in his article from Wednesday that “even experts can struggle when category changes are present.” I can’t think of a better way to describe how Kenley Jansen cost $19, Craig Kimbrel cost $17, Greg Holland $16…in a saves plus holds league. My $1 Paco Rodriguez and Sean Doolittle look even better through that lens.

Furthermore, you may notice in that table up there that this league has a “Not Active” roster spot. Seth and I decided before the draft even started that we wanted George Springer in our NA slot, as I have previously professed my love for him on this very site. As we neared the end of the auction, Springer still hadn’t been nominated. We decided to nominate him and spend our last $10 on him, if need be. Very few teams had much money to play with at this point, and those that did still had active needs to fill. We figured $10 would be more than enough.

I nominated Springer for $1, and much to my surprise, sat there and watched the clock wind down to zero. Less than half of the teams in the league rostered an inactive player, leading me to assume that the majority of owners forgot the league had a NA slot, or never noticed to begin with. Likely because of this, I got Springer for $1 and can just wait on him with zero risk.

4. Trust your auction values and don’t let other owners force your hand.

It would have been loads of fun to jump into the madness last night and bid through the roof on the top players. However, I had my auction values going in, and I spent too much time and effort preparing them to just toss them out the window. Don’t get caught up in the emotion of an exciting, overactive draft, because you will find yourself wondering how you spent so much money on [insert players here].

According to my auction values for this league, I overpaid by $1 each on Choo, Freeman, Prado and Martin, and by $3 on Cabrera. I’m not going to fret about a $1 overpay, and I’m okay with what we paid for Cabrera, seeing as he could conceivably lead the league in steals. Other than that, according to my numbers, it was fair value or better on 22 of our 27 players. Trust your preparation, not your emotions.


All that said, our own auction was far from perfect. If I could do it again, I’d still buy either Darvish or Strasburg, but I probably wouldn’t buy them both. I’m glad to have them, and got both for pretty good values, but in the end we still definitely ended up spending more than we wanted to on starting pitching. I’m not thrilled with the catching situation; both Martin and Avila are significantly more valuable in OBP leagues than ones that use AVG, but it’s still an underwhelming tandem. I also have no idea how we ended up with so many Astros.

At the end of the day, I got a bunch of really good values (I’m especially proud of my $3 Dexter Fowler) and a team that I like a great deal. It’s not perfect, but nothing ever is. All of the advice I’ve given here may seem sort of basic or obvious, and in a way it is. However, go back to what Brad said about how even experts get thrown off sometimes. It’s pretty easy to get swept up by the momentum of an auction; hell, I’ll freely admit that it happens to me sometimes, and I bet it happens to you too. It happened last night to a handful of intelligent people who really know their stuff. Keeping these basic tips in mind can make all the difference.

Scott Strandberg started writing for Rotographs in 2013. He works in small business consultation, and he also writes A&E columns for The Norman Transcript newspaper. Scott lives in Seattle, WA.

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Ben Suissa
8 years ago

you dont have very much power, does that concern you at all?