Showing posts with label auction leagues. Show all posts
Showing posts with label auction leagues. Show all posts

Monday, March 11, 2013

Ten Tips For Dominating Your Draft or Auction

I hope your Fantasy Draft War Room doesn't look like this!
An article I wrote for Big Leagues Magazine called "Ten Tips for Dominating Your Draft or Auction" has been placed on the free site. Here's a sample:
Many experienced owners have long practiced waiting until the mid-rounds to start building their pitching staffs. With the number of great young pitchers on the rise some owners have fooled themselves into believing they can wait until the late rounds to collect starting pitchers. That may be possible in some very shallow leagues but if you want the opportunity to score big in the pitching categories you will need to collect some of the top two tiers of starters rather than settling for the leftovers. The pitchers at the end of the draft may seem a lot better than in years past but the best pitchers are also a lot better. So do not wait too long to get your first few starting pitchers. Unless you like having the worst pitching in your fantasy league that is.
You should see the Third Base Tiers either late tonight or early Tuesday morning.

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Auction Budget Split, 70/30?

I received this e-mail recently:
Hi there, I just read your entry here:

I'm writing to ask a question regarding the building the budget paragraph. I'm in a 16 team (5x5) weekly H2H league. We can have 22 players on our roster. That means 352 total players are available in the pool. Given this, would you still project to a 70/30 split on finances? How do you arrive at the 70/30 number in the 1st place. I feel like that is the one thing not touched upon in this article.

Many thanks,

Hi Michael,

The 70/30 split for hitting/pitching is based on the belief that hitting is easier to project than pitching. It takes into account the difficulty in projecting and unpredictable nature of some pitching stats by reducing your risk. Less money spent on pitching equals less risked. This is not by any means a ratio that you need to stick with. In reality the value of players should be 50/50 since there are typically the same number of hitting and pitching categories.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


Draft Inflation is one of the least understood concepts in all of fantasy baseball. Some people try to ignore it, which is about as practical as ignoring do so at your own peril.

A fantasy auction is not, as some claim, an example of a free market. Demand is fixed. We can have no more than five outfielders or two catchers (without using the UT slot). On the other hand, we must have no fewer than five outfielders and two catchers. Supply is the AL, we have 25 players each on 14 teams to choose from. Most importantly, the amount we spend is fixed. No matter what, we all have the same amount of money. But even though supply, demand and funds are finite and predetermined, the possible scenarios are practically limitless, more so in a keeper league.

I have heard owners say things like “Boy, the price for speed was inflated today”, or “Rangers will have inflated salaries since the auction is in Dallas”. I even heard one owner in a redraft league talking about what he expected the inflation rate to be in his auction. But, the cost of a single category cannot be inflated, nor can the salaries of a certain team be inflated. And pre-auction inflation cannot exist in a non-keeper league. What these owners were talking about were league preferences or tendencies. Your league may pay a lot for ace starters, or the top closers, or the speedsters, or whatever commodity is in the shortest supply. Every league is different. But when it comes to inflation, all keeper leagues are alike in the important particulars.

Inflation is a function of the value (projected) of the players frozen and the cost (actual salary) of those players. These two factors determine how much money will be chasing how much value in the auction. Assuming the value of the players kept is, in the aggregate, greater than their cost, inflation results.

Inflation should always be calculated as part of preparation for an auction in a keeper league. Calculated, not estimated or guessed. You can calculate it with reasonable accuracy even before the freeze date, provided you can fairly well project what the other owners’ freeze lists will look like. (And yes, projecting all the other freeze lists can be valuable part of auction preparation.)

It is simply calculated. Let’s use a mixed league example. A 15-team $260 mixed league has $3900 in salary dollars to spend. The non-inflated value of the 345 players frozen and to be purchased in a mixed league auction is also $3900. (This is a tenet of fantasy baseball...that the value of the players selected equals the total of dollars to be spent. I can go into this more deeply, but for now let’s just assume it is true.) For purposes of this example, let’s say the total projected value of all keepers in the league is $2060, and that the total salary dedicated to those keepers is $1363. To calculate a league’s inflation rate, you first subtract the total projected value of the keepers from the total value of the player pool, which gives you $1840. Then you take the actual cost of the players kept, and subtract this sum from the total league salary, which gives you the sum of $2537. So, you have $2537 auction dollars chasing $1840 worth of non-inflated auction value. This difference is what drives the price of players upward. Divide the auction dollars by the auction talent ($2537 divided by $1840), and you get 1.379. That means the league inflation is 37.9%.

Every player’s projected auction value must be increased to account for a this inflation rate. A $45 Crawford becomes a $63 Crawford. The $20 player now becomes a $28 player. A $1 player remains $1. The reason this player is a $1 to begin with is that only one person is able or willing to spend a dollar on him.

So, what do you do about inflation? Some owners may decide not to pay the inflated prices demanded by the auction. These owners will not get any of the best players. Eventually, they either give in and pay the inflated price, or they will wind up at the end of the auction with a large amount of money and little or nothing to spend it on.

As mentioned in a previous article, the object is not to come out of the auction with a team worth $260. The object is to come out of the auction with a team which will make a profit. But each dollar you spend on a player above his projected value reduces the overall value of your team. If you have $60 salary tied up in your keepers, have $200 to spend at the auction, and the inflation rate is 25%, then you should get only $160 in value for your money due to inflation. This would knock a big hole in the profits you have in your keepers. (The math on this threw me for awhile. I kept getting $150. But you’re not discounting $200 in salary by 25%. You are increasing the cost of $160 worth of players by 25%. It works. You can try it yourself.)

Keepers create profit. Inflation takes it away.

The task then becomes finding a way to counteract this phenomenon, or as the lapel buttons during the Gerald Ford administration said, “WIN" for "Whip Inflation Now”. This can be done, so long as you have a solid handle on player values and have calculated inflation accurately. But you have to be confident of your calculations in this regard.

Here are some things you can do, which will depend in part upon the knowledge and tendencies of the other owners in your league. These tips or strategy are designed primarily for leagues with very high inflation, which I consider to be 40% or higher.

In many auctions, the first people thrown are the biggest stars. I fully expect Albert Pujols to be nominated first in my mixed league auction this Saturday. Sometimes owners are hesitant to bid big on the first few players. They may be unwilling to bid the full inflated value on these early players. (They may decide that they want to wait “until the inflation goes down”.) But if your calculations show the inflated value of Hanley Ramirez to be $53, and he’s going once, going twice for $42, you have a chance to step up and get a substantial bargain. His non-inflated value might be only $36 in your league, but if you have grabbed him up for $43, you have added profit to your team.

Some leagues are much more savvy to inflation, and will not let those big stars go for less than their inflated values. Instead, these leagues will actually pay more than the inflated values for the big name players. They may believe, as some do, that inflation impacts the highest priced players disproportionately. They may think the key to winning is having big stars regardless of price. Or they may just have a serious desire to roster Albert Pujols. Whatever the reason for this tendency, you can use it to your advantage.

The dynamics of an auction in progress can impact the inflation rate. As mentioned above, the thing to do when the auction starts with owners paying less than the full inflated rate for players, this is the time when you step in and start buying players. The inflation rate will actually under circumstances. However, if owners start off paying more than the inflated value, inflation will begin to decrease. This will eventually yield bargains among the second tier players, as the owners have overspent. Patience is required for this to work, and you have to make certain there adequate value still on the board. Your money will do no good if there are no players to spend it on.

But what an auction in a league where the other owners have calculated inflation and are buying players at or near the inflated value? Finding profit is harder to do in this case. One thing you can do is to nominate a second tier player while there are still more valuable players available at his position. The other owners may not bid as aggressively on this second tier player if they have their eye on one of the higher value players. But, you cannot wait too long; you cannot wait until after all the stars are gone. If you do, you’ll be going up against owners with money who will bid your guy to full inflated value, or more, if position scarcity is a consideration.

You may also have some guys you are sitting on, guys you have picked to outperform what is expected from them. I would recommend sitting on these guys for as long as possible, only throwing them out when necessary. Of course, you may find that some other owner may be sitting on the same guy, in which case you might wind up in a bidding war.

Inflation rates vary from league to league and from year to year, depending upon the quality of keepers frozen. Some leagues have minimal inflation, near 10%, while other leagues may have inflation rates of 40%, 50%, even 75% or higher. Some owners feel that hyper-inflation can detract from the enjoyment of the league, and I have seen that happen. So where does super high inflation come from?

Various factors can contribute to extremely high inflation. There may be a large difference in skill levels among owners, with more resourceful owners picking players in the auction or reserve draft at salaries which make them superb keepers. It may be that the league has a keeper policy that is very liberal, such as being able to keep players for lengthy periods with minimal salary increases. Some leagues don’t assign substantial salaries to the players taken in their reserve draft. Some leagues have free agent or waiver procedures that increase the number of top keepers. Some leagues don’t start the contract of minor leaguers to running until they make it to the majors or even until they lose their rookie status.

There are some things you can do in your league if inflation is a concern in these areas. Make all contracts commence running at the time the player is acquired, and limit contracts to three years. If contracts may be extended, they should cost a substantial amount during each year of the extension. Assign substantial salaries to reserve draft rounds, such as $15 for the first round, $10 for the next few rounds, etc. Make the contracts of minor leaguers start running immediately. Require a minimum bid for free agents, such as $5. Don’t allow free agent bidding after the rosters expand in September. (Some of these ideas have been around since the beginnings of leagues with active rosters and large reserve rosters. Whether you utilize them or not can determine in large part what your league’s inflation rate will be. Semi-related note...I read recently of a league which misconstrued the language of their borrowed Constitution, resulting in their belief that a player being traded started a new contract clock. So, owners would wait until the third year of a contract, and then trade that player to another owner for a player in his third year. All the best players in the league had been under cheap contracts for years and years. They didn't understand why they had such massive inflation. They were shocked to learn the reason, and moved quickly to correct that misunderstanding.)

Whether you like it or not, inflation is a part of the game if you play in a keeper league. How you deal with it can determine whether you are a contender or a cellar dweller.

Well, that’s it for this week’s article. I hope it has deepened your appreciation of this topic, or at least has reminded you to be aware of the impact inflation may have in your upcoming auction.

Do you have any stories of crazy inflation in your league, or your own tips for beating auction inflation? Let's hear them in the comments section. I may have a new crazy inflation story or two after this weekend.

Good luck, and have fun!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


This week I'm offering up an idea to help get those last minute trades rolling, plus a look at how to make your post-auction reserve draft a success.

Tentative Freeze Lists. This is an exercise I always try to initiate in any league I am in, at least two to three weeks before freezes are due. You simply invite every owner to post a non-binding list of his anticipated freezes, and you start off by proposing your own. Most owners will respond favorably to this, even if they are not yet certain as to which players they want to freeze.

The exercise doesn’t always provide a great deal of information. If you’ve done your homework you should have already projected most of the freezes. But frequently an owner will list a keeper you didn't expect, or will indicate an intention to drop a certain player who appeals to you. Accordingly, the exercise can serve some very important interests, and create an opportunity to improve your own keeper list, even if you have already gone through the process of predicting everyone‘s freezes.

One benefit is that it tends to get owners active. Even though you may have been studying in earnest since January, there will be some owners who have given their squads very little attention since the end of the previous season. The idea of submitting a tentative freeze list will often spur these owners to get in gear and analyze their rosters.

Perhaps the most important function of the “tentative freeze list” exercise is that it can dramatically increase trade conversations and opportunities. I believe this adds enjoyment to the league, while giving you a chance to improve your freeze list. Owners may realize an area where they are weak, and look for trades to shore up that area. Owners may indicate that they won’t freeze certain players, giving you the sign that these players are available for the right offer. The mere increase in league activity can lead to trades.

The “tentative freeze list” and the trades that it promotes can allow you to establish better relationships with your fellow owners. This can come in very handy during the season when an opportunity arises for you to help each other by a trade.

In summary, it’s a great gambit…fun for all, educational, and helpful in maximizing your freeze lists going into the auction.

The Reserve Draft. Many leagues have a reserve draft after the primary auction, where owners are allowed to fill their reserve rosters in a round-by-round draft, often in a serpentine format. Some leagues have a small reserve roster, maybe five players, while the “ultra” leagues generally have a minimum of seventeen players on their reserve list. How can you best use this reserve draft to your team’s advantage?

Players picked in reserve drafts usually carry the salary of the round in which they are picked. Typically, first round picks have a salary of $15. Rounds 2 through 6 are $10. Rounds 7 through 12 are $5 picks. Rounds 13 to 17 are $2 rounds, but they still hold some treasures if you look closely enough.

My belief is that you should use your first round pick to find someone who can help you right away. Since these players carry a price tag of $15, few owners will use a first round pick to select a minor league prospect. So what should you look for in a first round draft pick?

There are almost always some valuable players who were missed for one reason or another during the auction. If you have kept up carefully with who was taken and not taken in the auction, you’ll have this information at your fingertips. You can sometimes improve your roster substantially, as this overlooked player may be better than one of the players you purchased.

For your picks in rounds 1 through 6, it is a good idea to back up players from your active roster. For example, if you bought Joel Hanrahan as one of your closers in the auction, and Evan Meek is available in Round 2 of the reserve draft, you might do well to add him to your squad. Likewise, if another owner has a shaky closer, you might be wise to use one of these picks to grab the pitcher most likely to pitch the 9th if that closer were to lose his job. Such a player might make a good trading chip, or he might turn into a full time closer.

Rounds 7 through 12 are where you pick up your prize minor leaguers and other prospects with the potential for substantial value in the future. These players will only be $5, so they will start their tenure on your team as a relatively inexpensive commodity. So, grab your favorite minor leaguer here, but know that the other owners will likely have the same game plan.

This is also a good time to pick up an injured player who may miss most or all of the year. You can add that player here without it costing you a roster spot or any budget dollars. Last year, Joe Nathan fit into this category in some leagues. Keep in mind that Round 7 holds the most strategic picks, since this is the first of the $5 rounds and where most owners look for future keepers.

Rounds 13 through 17 can be difficult. Here you can reach way down into the minors and pick up a player with great tools but a long way to go. Often, leagues do not start the clock running on minor leaguer salaries until they are activated, so you may be able to wait a couple of years for these flowers to bloom. In my experience is it noteworthy how many future stars were originally selected as long-shots in rounds 13 through 17.

The reserve draft moves extremely fast. You call a name, you get that player. For this reason, it is absolutely critical that you have a reliable method for keeping up with who was frozen or purchased in the auction, and who is left over for the reserve draft.

Well, that’s this week’s article. If you have any questions about the article, about specific player issues, or just want let me know what you think, please feel free to use the “comments” portion of the page, found below.

Good luck, and have fun!

Monday, March 07, 2011


This is the time during my auction prep when I typically begin work on my budgets. On the surface, this might seem a fairly simple matter. You have $260. You need 23 players. Pretty straightforward, right? Maybe not. Planning and executing auction budgets seem to be areas which create problems for even the most experienced owners.

Over the years, I listened to owners lament after their auctions “Man, I got so many guys I didn‘t really want“, or “How did I wind up with so little pitching?” These owners mystify me. How could they be surprised? It’s like going to the grocery store, and then being shocked when you get home and open the shopping bags.

A good owner should have a definite idea what his team will look like coming out of the auction, if not the specific players, at least the type of players. How you can accomplish this feat, and why it is important to do so, deserves to be addressed. Most of what follows will be directed toward owners in redraft leagues, but I will illustrate how the lessons can be applied to keeper leagues as well.

Where to Spend Your Money? There is considerable debate over how one should apportion auction dollars between hitters and pitchers. On the one hand, 14 of our 23 roster spots are hitters, while only nine are pitchers. On the other hand, half the points come from pitching. I have seen guys spend $100 on pitching, and I have seen guys spend only $40 on pitching. I have even seen guys attempt the $9 pitching staff strategy. In my experience, none of those approaches find much success. Neither do gambits like Sweeney and Labadini work against experienced owners, unless the goal is simply to finish in the money,

Two things I keep in mind while building a budget:

1) Hitters are as a rule more reliable than pitchers, and therefore safer investments; and

2) In most leagues, as much as 30% of the pitching value comes from pitchers who were not projected to have value when the year started, and who are not reserve picks or free agents purchased during the season.

These things have led me to conclude that the optimal salary allocation for a 5x5 budgets is 70/30: $182 for offense and $78 for pitching. Some will say that in a 5x5, you should allocate more on the pitching side. As I’ll explain later, this is not necessary, and will weaken your offense to an unacceptable degree.

Building the Budget. Okay, we’ve decided upon a 70/30 split for our auction dollars. What’s next? First we have to make certain that the dollar values we are using are realistic. By that I do not mean only individual player’s values, but the value of the player pool in the aggregate.

The math is simple. Assuming a standard 12-team AL-only league, there are $3120 in auction dollars chasing the available talent ($260 x 12 = $3120). Auctions are a zero sum game, so assuming nobody leaves money on the table, $3120 will be spent for the 276 players who will be rostered. The projected values for the 276 players must necessarily add up to $3120. If our projected dollar values do not reflect 276 players at a total of $3120, our calculations are incorrect.

So, working with the 70/30 split we have decided upon, we must decide how we can best spend our $182 and our $78. This is where the process becomes less science and more art.

Hitters. We know what it will take to compete in each scoring category (see last week’s column), so we have to determine which combination of players will produce the numbers we need. We should probably spend big on a 1B, maybe $25, since they normally produce big power numbers and are easier to replace than are some other positions. We should also consider spending a good bit at 3B, since they can also give you good power numbers. (Some people worry that 3B is a scarce position, but we’ll examine that idea a little later.) In the middle infield, I’ll typically allocate less money per position, maybe $15 each for the 2B and SS. Let’s say $5 for the CI and $5 for the MI.

This leaves the catchers, which is one of the most difficult decisions we have to make. Despite much theorizing to the contrary, position scarcity is not an issue in an auction. In fantasy baseball, it doesn’t matter where our production comes from, so long as it happens. So long as we don’t overspend at any one position (particularly ones imagined to be scarce), there should be no problem finding the hitters we need to stock a solid roster. That is because almost every position player in our playing pool will have a positive value. So long as we are spending our money to maximize that positive value, position doesn’t matter (although 1B and OF are generally easier to replace in the event of injury or sudden lack of effectiveness)
Catchers present a different problem. In standard leagues, we need two catchers, so in our 12-team AL league, we will go 24 players deep at that position. Unlike OF, there are insufficient catchers with positive value for everyone to have two of them. So we must decide how much of your budget you will dedicate to this difficult position. In my AL-only league, owners tend to overspend for catchers, making it nigh impossible to find a bargain. As a consequence, I‘m usually in the “cheap catcher” school. I budget $1 for each catcher. My goal, however, is to find two catchers who will not hurt me - two catchers whose production won’t be well into the red. We can usually find them, even if we are forced to rely upon backup catchers. So, for purposes of building this budget, let’s say $1 each or a total of $92 so far for our offense.

In the outfield, We are usually best off spreading our money around. Typically I’ll go with something like $30, $25, $20, $10, and $4 for the five outfield spot, and then $1 for DH/UT. I like to leave that position open for the end game. Since it is a utility spot, you can take the best offensive player available, regardless of position. That makes $90 for OF and DH/UT. Altogether, our offensive budget now looks like this:

C $1
C $1
1B $25
2B $15
3B $25
SS $15
CI $5
MI $5
OF $30
OF $25
OF $20
OF $10
OF $4
UT $1

TOTAL: $182

Tweaking the Basic Budget. By this point in our auction prep (whether redraft or keeper league), we have an accurate picture of the specific players who will be available for purchase. We have the template for our budget, so we can begin tweaking it to match up with the actual player population. Let’s say there are several 1B we wish to target, but we don’t think we can get one of them for our allotted $25. We simply bump our 1B slot up to $30 and our 3B slot down to $20. This will allow us to acquire the player we need without abandoning our budgetary plan.

Say we need more money for a 2B or SS, and that the most expensive OF we like has a value of $20-$25. We can just shift some OF dollars up to the infield positions. If our particular league has a tendency to overvalue or undervalue any particular position, we can tweak accordingly. Eventually our auction budget will resemble the original template, fine tuned to reflect player availability, league tendencies, etc.

Pitchers. How about our $78 pitching budget? We can start out with a template which looks something like this:

P $20
P $12
P $8
P $7
P $5
P $2
P $2
P $8
P $14

TOTAL: $78

Two things should be very obvious. First, we’re not going to get Felix Hernandez or Roy Halladay. Second, we’re not going to get one of the big name closers. But, that’s fine for us. Recall our assumptions regarding pitching. Even the best pitchers are not always reliable, and this holds especially true for closers. who sometimes have a tenuous hold on their jobs. Moreover, we are mindful of the potential for value in those pitchers who are not purchased in the auction.

Armed with this knowledge, we find a good starter to fill our $20 roster slot and serve as our anchor. If we happen to save a couple of dollars, we’ll increase our $12 starter slot to a $14 slot. We’ll look for starting pitchers (whether five, six or seven total) who have outstanding skills, but maybe lack the hype or the big names. In our remaining slots, we’ll try to cobble together some saves. We might actually get a real closer with our $14 slot, if the cards fall right or if we are in a mixed 5x5 league where some owners undervalue closers. Then we’ll look to fill out our roster with other relievers who have outstanding skills, and, ideally, a chance of stepping into the closer role at some point.

Last year, in my AL-only league, I was able to pick up Jose Valverde for only $14, since he was something of a question mark to AL-league owners. I also gambled by picking up a cheap Kevin Gregg. He was also coming over from the NL, and was serving as a setup man for Jason Frasor, who I considered to be a weak closer. In mid-April, Gregg took the closer job. My third reliever was Brandon League, who is usually available in the end game, usually undervalued and usually returns a nice profit.

We might decide to tweak this budget template as well as well. We may want a more expensive anchor for our rotation, or we may feel the need to buy a more solid closer. We may even decide to punt saves (although I would advise against that, for the reasons set forth in last week’s article.) So long as we know what pitchers are out there, and which ones we can reasonably expect to buy for the money we have allocated, we should be in good shape

Keeper Leagues. For keeper leagues, the process is not difficult. We simply pencil our frozen players into our budget form, placing them in the slot which that most accurately reflects their actual value. For example, if we have a $25 outfielder frozen at $12, then we put that outfielder in the $25 slot. We then take the savings we have accumulated from these frozen players, and use them to upgrade the other positions. This means we can target a $25 shortstop instead of being limited to a $15 player. On the pitching side, we do the same. We pencil in our freezes, and spread the savings among the other pitching slots. Now we put our new budget to work.

Using our Budget in Preparation for the Auction. As I mentioned last week, I don’t do practice auctions. I look at the results from other auctions, such as Tout Wars, but I rely more upon my predictions of what my league will likely pay for various players. Then I do an exercise in which I build roster after roster based upon the budget I have crafted, learning which combination of players will give me the statistics I’ll need to compete. Here’s how that works:

If we have done our draft prep properly to this point, we will have a list of all players likely to be purchased at the auction, and the projected dollar values of those players. Then we think in terms of what prices these players will actually bring in the auction. There will be some guys we believe will be overpriced at the auction, meaning they will go for more than they are worth. On the other hand, there will be players we believe will go for less than their actual value. These players will become targets for us, as will some players who may go for full price, but who we believe will meet expectations and remain healthy.

Making these judgments is generally easier in a league you have played in before, but you can still have a good idea who will be overpriced or under priced based upon hype, team he plays for, etc. For example, Mo Rivera will go for more than Joakim Soria in a lot of leagues, but for the money I would take Soria every time.

Now, having determined those players likely to be overpriced and those likely to be undervalued, and having targeted certain players as potentially good investments, we must identify players a) who are acceptable to us targets, and b) who are likely to be purchased for an amount close to what we have budgeted. In the AL we can forget about Felix Hernandez and Jon Lester, but we very well might land Max Scherzer, Jeremy Hellickson, or Brandon Morrow as our $20 anchor. We continue matching groups of players with each of our budget slots…ideally five or six possibilities at each position…and then do the same with the pitchers. We should consider contingencies as well. If we are shut out on our choices for 2B, can we make up for it by upgrading our SS or MI selections.

The Hard Part. Once we have generated a pool of targeted players for each roster spot, as well as alternatives based upon potentially adverse auction dynamics, we begin to put together different rosters based upon our target player pools and our budget. We tinker with them a bit. We imagine that we get Adrian Beltre early in the auction for only $20 of our $25 budget. We move that extra $5 to 1B, and now we are in the Adrian Gonzalez sweepstakes. We go through this process numerous times, imagining the various scenarios likely to unfold at the auction.

Each time we put together such a practice roster, we calculate the statistics the players would likely produce, based upon our projections. Then we compare those numbers against what it will take for us to compete.

This work is admittedly tedious. I used to do it on paper with a calculator. Now, I can do run these auction scenarios and statistical results using my draft software program. It calculates everything for me, and I can run a dozen different rosters in a couple of hours.

The point of this exercise is not just to get us used to working within our budget; we also become more adept at adapting to changing circumstances and adjusting our budget on the fly when necessary…saving a couple of bucks here and re-allocating it to another slot, or paying a few extra dollars to get someone we need and adjusting one or more slots accordingly. Most importantly, it gives us a realistic idea of how far our money will go and what kind of team we can put together. There is a very good chance, of course, the roster we wind up purchasing at auction will be better than our practice rosters, since there will undoubtedly be be a few bargains that fall our way.

Working the Budget in the Auction. The big day is here, and we’re ready for it. As we expected, the big names are getting tossed out early, and the bidding for them is hot and heavy. What should be be looking for?

One of three things will likely be happening: a) people will be very aggressive, all pumped up and overpaying, in which case we’ll sit back and let them overspend for a while, knowing the bargains will come later; b) owners will be more passive, meaning players could go under value, in which case we’ll wade in and start buying; or c) players will go for about what we think they are worth, in which case we will patiently and calmly execute our budget strategy. And patience is vitally important if we are to get the most out of our hard work and preparation. There have been auctions in which I didn’t buy a player in the first hour or more, only to buy six or seven in one round of nominations.

There shouldn’t be many circumstances in which we will bid substantially more for a player than we have budgeted. If we believe that Carl Crawford is absolutely crucial to our success in 2011, we should already have created a $40 budget slot for him. But, if we get carried away and spend $42 for Crawford when our budget for that slot was only $20, we likely will have caused problems executing the remainder of our budget plan. That’s where the discipline comes in.

On the other hand, what if we have $1 budgeted for a catcher, and we find Mike Napoli about to go for the bargain price of $6? Of course, we have to jump in and get him at $7 if we can. This is where the flexibility comes in. We don’t have to pass up a bargain just because it exceeds our slot allocation, so long as we find a way to allocate other budget dollars around to make up for it.

So, discipline and flexibility are the keys. We don’t want to find ourselves with $60 left late in the auction and nobody to spend it on. Likewise, we don’t want to find ourselves with $8 to spend and eight players to buy. I’ve seen people wind up in both situations, and it isn’t pretty.

Somebody may point out that in keeper leagues, it may be necessary to jump out early and make sure we get our fair share of the valuable players available. This is certainly true, but in a keeper league we will have factored the other owners’ projected freeze lists into our budget planning, and we will know who will be likely be available and have a sound idea of what it should take to acquire them. Then, after the final freeze date, we will have fine-tuned our budget and projections to account for any freezes we didn’t anticipate.

An Actual Keeper League Budget. The $182/$78 budget we worked through above is the actual budget I will use in my upcoming AL-only 5x5 Ultra redraft auction. In addition, I will use a similar budget in my 15-team mixed keeper league. Based upon my current plans for freezes, that keeper league budget will look like this:

C $4
C $4
1B $40
2B $15
3B (frozen $5)
SS (frozen $1)
CI $25
MI $5
OF $35
OF (frozen $33)
OF (frozen $6)
OF (frozen $4)
OF (frozen $3)
UT $2

P $20
P (frozen $5)
P (frozen $2)
P $20
P $15
P $10
P $2
P (frozen $1)
P (frozen $3)

This budget uses the same 70/30 split between hitters and pitchers. As you can see, the relatively low prices of my keepers allows me to allocate substantially more money for the players I will be purchasing. Of course, the specifics of this budget may have to be fine-tuned once final freeze lists are announced.

Inflation in this keeper league will be fairly high. Accordingly, it is important that I find some way to pay less than the inflated prices for the players I want. Otherwise, the profit I have built into my keepers will dissolve.

Let's Do the Twist. I have been using this budget approach since 1991, in keeper leagues and redraft leagues, but with a tactic that I haven’t seen the experts suggest. It may seem counter-intuitive, given what we have talked about so far, but it has worked well for me. If you take little else from this article, you may want to remember this little twist:

Conventional strategy and tactics for using a budget system as I have described ($182/$78) assume that I will actually spend $182 on offense and $78 on pitching. The assumption is that if I save $3 on a starting pitcher, I will add that money to another pitching slot. However, I do it differently, and for a reason.

If I save money on a pitcher, I don’t spread those extra dollars among the other pitching slots. Instead, I move that money to the offensive side of the ledger. Ideally, I will be able to spend at least $200 total on my offense. This strategy is justified by the fact that hitting is more reliable than pitching, and the fact that there is usually a large amount of pitching value left in the player pool after the auction.

Whether we tap into that extra pitching value by a reserve draft or by free agent pickups, it is usually much easier to bolster our pitching after the auction than to improve our offense. And the stronger our offense, the more options we have for improvement through trades and other in-season management techniques.

Well, there is this week’s article. I don’t expect that readers will rush out and copy the approach that I use. But I hope that it did give you some insights as to how you can use a budget to give yourself a competitive edge…and also explain why some of your fellow owners are pulling their hair out after the auction.

Good luck, and have fun.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Auction Keeper League Strategy

I have received this question so often that I feel it is time to write a post about it:

What is the best strategy to follow in Auction Keeper Leagues if...

The line above is usually followed by phrases such as "if my keepers really suck" or "I only have a few keepers but they are really good" and even "if all the good players are kept."

It is impossible to answer those questions well without a ton of information about the league, the owners, the rules, and rosters. I thought it might prove useful to some to share my own approach. By necessity (and enjoyment factors) I vary the plan a bit in every league. I think it is really boring to have multiple teams with duplicate rosters. I will not present this as a infallible plan. But this should give some of you a way to go and others some ideas to implement with your own strategies.

My Philosophy
KRS-ONE isn't the only one who thinks very deeply. After years of flipping and flopping I finally decided a few years ago that rebuilding in fantasy baseball is for losers. We are not running the Pittsburgh Pirates and unless you're in a very unique league there is no team with a New York Yankees advantage. Go for it. Every season. Rather than try to win every other year (I've seen some owners re-build for multiple years --sick) I try to finish first every year. If I fail to win a championship and finish second and third instead of rebuilding for the following year so be it. This doesn't mean I won't make a trade or pick up a player with the future in mind. You can very successfully do both.

Which Players to Keep
First and foremost, if you want to win do not keep players (aside from minor leaguers of course) based on what they might do in two or three years. Every player you protect should be a contributor to your success right now. While it is important to take a few chances on draft day, your protected list should be as full of as many certainties as possible. If you have young players with future value who you cannot stash in reserve or on a farm roster you must trade them for some present day value or future value that you can stash. If you are as obsessed with young players as I am this can be difficult but you get used to it when it results in winning more often.

The most valuable keepers are usually pitchers. It is much easier to replace the under priced hitter you put back into the available player pool than the under priced starter or closer. I like to keep as many under priced pitchers as possible so I can concentrate on hitters come draft day. I often attempt to trade my borderline hitting keepers for cheap pitching. Some years it works and others it does not. This year in my AL-only I tried to trade for a cheap Kevin Slowey and Phil Hughes.

Set Your Goals High
I often hear owners mention they set goals of finishing third in every category. That's sweet. I set a goal of finishing first in every category. Do I make it? Not usually but I've been damned close. Setting my goals high forces me to draft players with upside potential. This has the extra added benefit of building up my keeper list. It also gives me a little more room to screw up and still finish third in every category.

Building a Strong Roster
I use what is often referred to as a Stars & Scrubs strategy. However, the way I do it it is more of a Stars & Future Stars strategy. I plot out my budget well ahead of time and experiment by plugging various names into the different slots. If I have a very strong keeper list I'll take fewer risks but reach for my biggest upside sleepers. When I have a weaker roster I draft more sleepers but try to limit the downside. John Smoltz has a lot of upside if healthy but has very little downside. Russell Branyan has huge upside but also a pretty miserable downside. I usually split my budgets into 70 percent hitting and 30 percent for pitching. I split my roster into the following fairly obvious groups:

Catchers - I allocate enough here to buy one of the better catchers available. My second catcher will be a younger catcher with offensive potential. A lot of teams are willing to live with whatever two bucks will get them at the catcher position. I would prefer my one dollar guys to be corners and outfielders.

Corner Infielders - I like to have at least one stud at this position, if that stud is a inexpensive keeper all the better. In my optimum situation I end up with a stud, a steady vet and a young player with upside. Corners are usually among the most productive players on your team. This is not the place to be stingy.

Middle Infielders - I like to have a strong middle infield but if money is tight this is the spot I cut dollars from. I always seem to find cheap and productive middle infielders in the end game. I'm okay with drafting the good side of platoons and talented youngsters with bench roles here. Speed is especially easy to draft in the middle infield.

Outfielders - I do not feel comfortable unless I have two stud outfielders. When I have those two studs I grow very willing to take chances in my outfield. The outfield is a good place to do some gambling with your roster because mistakes are fairly easy to overcome. You can also find the widest variety of stats in the outfield.

Utility - When my utility does not need to be a qualifying Designated Hitter (as in a lot of AL-only leagues) I try to match positions with the biggest gamble I'm taking with the rest of my roster. This allows me to more easily replace that player if the gamble fails. I very rarely allocate more than a few dollars to this spot on my roster.

Starting Pitchers - I know a lot of fantasy baseball veterans who refuse to draft more than five starting pitchers. This is usually done as precaution against adding too many bad innings (which is difficult to overcome). I refuse to limit myself to a certain number of starters. I like to have at least five and actually prefer to have seven. This helps me be more competitive in the wins category. To pull this off you have to be careful not to bid on interchangeable fifth starters that appear at the end of a lot of major league rotations.

I usually look for pitchers with the following criterion (but there are always exceptions):
  • At least half a season of major league experience in the books, but the more the better.
  • A career K9 of 7.00 or higher
  • A career Ground Ball rate of at least 40 percent
  • Pitching in front of a strong defensive team (which does not require the team to actually be good)
  • A good minor league resume (majors is obviously better but also more expensive)
Relief Pitchers - Nine times out of ten I refuse to pay for saves. I usually manage to roster a few future closers while they are still cheap. In keeper leagues you have the advantage of looking beyond just the present season. I drafted Heath Bell two years ago and he's been worth rostering both seasons and now he is a closer. In the last two years in addition to Bell I've drafted Chris Perez, Joey Devine, Joakim Soria, Jonathan Broxton, Chad Qualls, Frank Francisco, Matt Lindstrom, and Grant Balfour. More often than not for less than five dollars each. In almost every case they have been worth owning well before they became closers.
Drafting future closers has usually been about drafting relievers with dominating stuff in bullpens with shakey, old, or injury-prone closers.

How to Stretch Your Budget Further
Never spend your available cash on mediocrities.. This is the kiss of death to fantasy teams. I buy the best talents available within my budgetary limits. I always place talent above roles. I would prefer to spend one dollar on talented Orioles starter David Pauley fighting for a job than on Jarrod Washburn who has a spot gift wrapped for him.

For every full price David Wright or CC Sabathia on my roster I plan to have a one dollar player. This will make it seem as if you have a lot more money to spend on the middle of your roster. If you find more bargains use any extra money on the middle of your roster rather than eliminating the one dollar spots.

Not every player needs to be an immediate everyday hitter like left fielder Ryan Braun is for the Milwaukee Brewers. For example, a player such as shortstop Emmanuel Burriss may not have a full-time role for the San Francisco Giants as the 2009 season begins but he is still likely to make a significant contribution to the fantasy teams that draft him. If he receives just 250 at bats he could steal 25 bases. At the right price a part-time player who contributes is worth rostering.

If you pay full price for a star batter be certain that said player will contribute in every statistical category. If you pay $35 dollars for a player you don't want him hurting your batting average. This is not to say that every player must contribute to every category. I'll roster a .250 hitter or two I just demand a discount.

Some Quick Auction Tips
The following bullet points are taken from my RotoExperts article "Dominating the Auction Draft" which is available for free as part of the RotoExperts Draft Kit if you register (again for free) as a member of the site. The article is a very good compliment to this one.
  • Vary your bidding style between frequent small increments and sudden big jumps. This will keep your rivals off balance and unable to anticipate when you are truly interested in a player.
  • Bid on as many players as possible. This will make it difficult for your rivals to discern your ultimate strategy.
  • You will hear that you should never nominate players you really want and you will hear that you should never nominate players that you do not want. Ignore these people and mix it up.
  • Hold off nominating your sleepers until most of the money is off the board. But do it before you run out of money yourself.
  • Follow your instincts. There is nothing worse than having regrets after a draft.
  • Draft players with upside potential, these are the players that have huge breakouts.
  • It is okay to pay for saves, just do not overpay.
  • Reserve some money and roster spots for the end game, there are always bargains at the end of an auction.
  • Watch the other owners as much as possible, everyone has a tell.
  • You are not running the Pittsburgh Pirates, there is no need to waste a whole season in re-building mode – just go for it.
  • Do not overpay for rookies, especially pitchers, no matter how highly touted.
  • However, do not avoid rookies altogether, a large percentage of breakout seasons come from rookies.
  • With everyday players, it can be beneficial to draft a mediocre player if he has guaranteed playing time. The more at-bats you can roster the better you will do in Runs and RBI.
  • Avoid starting pitchers without quality skills. They collect too many innings and drag down your ERA and WHIP.
  • The point of all this is to have fun, so do it.



Sunday, January 04, 2009

Ten Questions to Consider in Keeper Leagues

Every season owners in keeper leagues spend weeks if not much longer agonizing over which players on their rosters should be kept. Should they keep just the huge bargains or is a $45 Alex Rodriguez or $31 CC Sabathia too good to pass up? How do you decide? Every league is going to be different. In some leagues a $31 Sabathia is a huge bargain, in others it is the height of stupidity. Today I give you ten criterion to consider as you struggle through these decisions.
Ten Questions to Consider in Keeper Leagues
(In no particular order)
  1. Was it a fluke? A fluke could be a great season or a lousy one. Look at the player's progression over the last few seasons. Does the last season fit in that progression? I like to look at BB percentage, K percentage, GB/LD/FB percentages, HR/FB and BABIP for hitters. For pitchers K/9, BB/9, GB/LD/FB percentage, BABIP, and FIP. These are the factors in a players performances that are usually consistent from season to season. If they are a young player making steady gains then a great season can be expected. If their rates have been steady and were basically the same during a disastrous (or wondrous) season there is reason to believe the performance could have been a fluke.
  2. Would the player help you more from the Draft Pool? A $28 Josh Hamilton may not seem like much of a bargain on the surface. But if your league has significant inflation and Hamilton is certain to cost $40-45 or even more if you let him go, then be becomes a serious candidate to be kept, traded, or placed back in the pool. If you don't like his price compared to his expected performance then a trade should be attempted. Remember, just because you don't like a guy doesn't mean that others will not. Try to get his inflated value in a trade. Placing the player back in the pool can also be a good option if you believe he will be overbid. If one of your oppoenents will spend 15-20 dollars more than you believe a player will be worth that gives you an advantage over that owner (assuming that you're right).
  3. Is the player acually good or just cheap? Your five dollar outfielder may typically earn five dollars but that doesn't mean he's worth keeping. One of the most valuable commodities you have are your roster spots. You should be attempting to fill each and every spot with as much value as possible. To commit to a player with an extremely limited ceiling robs you of the chance to find a significant bargain at the end of your draft. Every season in every league there are players who come out of nowhere to become fantasy studs. If you keep every Willie Bloomquist you have at value you rob yourself of the chance to roster late round bargains like the 2008 versions of outfielder Carlos Quentin, starter Cliff Lee, or catcher Kelly Shoppach.
  4. Could you throw the player back and get him for the same price? In most leagues there is a limit to how long you can keep a player. If a player would basicly go for the same price that you have on him now, why not re-draft him and keep him longer. You might get him cheaper if he's called out at the right moment. By the same token he could end up going for more if you've read the market incorrectly. But if the player is someone you like long term it could be worth it for a longer term of service.
  5. Who else is available? You could own a perfectly fine shortstop but if there are several vastly superior options and you clog your only available shortstop slot you'll be cutting yourself off from any potential bargains. It is a good idea to keep your roster flexible so if for some unexplainable reason the bidding on Troy Tulowitzki stops at $7 you can pounce all over it.
  6. What does your budget look like in relation to the players you need? If you are spending 60 percent of your budget do you alsoH have at least 60 percent of the production you need to win the league? Can you get the remaining 40 percent that you need with what you have left? One of the things I always do before declaring my keepers is to calculate how much of the value I need is provided by my keepers. I'm usually not satisfied with 40 percent of my budget for 40 percent of my needs. So I tend to throw back players that are not bargains, even if they are at value. The exception being players at the top of the position rankings - I'lll keep an at value Joe Mauer, Chase Utley, David Wright and so forth but not an at value Derek Jeter, Trevor Hoffman or Bobby Abreu. The point is to pack as much value on your keeper list as possible balanced with keeping as many of your resources available for the auction as possible.
  7. Are the types of players you need available? In keeper leagues the player pool can take strange turns. There could be just one available closer and only one or two top tier outfielders. If that is the case you might need to keep a mediocre closer or alter your strategy to avoid closers altogether at the auction. Maybe the pool is woefully short on power. You may need to keep a slightly overpriced A-Rod to ensure you reach the stats you need. It is vital that you compare the needs of your team to the players available in the auction. If there are too few options you may have to make some changes to your keeper list or to your auction strategy.
  8. Who are your opponents keeping? You need to know who is in the player pool in order to make the best decisions on your keeper list. To do this you have to guess who your rivals are keeeping. In one of my leagues I've known owners to just call and ask. Usually I don't mind sharing this information to an extent. I tell the players I'm considering keeping and let them narrow it down themselves -- of course assuming that they'll do the same for me. This will help you figure out not just who is in the player pool but also what they might cost. This is extremely valuable knowledge.
  9. How much is the inflation in your league? Calculating a rough estimate of the inflation in your league before keepers are declared can give you edge on the rest of the league. It will help you figure out what the players in the pool will cost while you still have the ability to alter your keeper list.
  10. Can you win with this as your core? Your keeper list needs to provide you with a base of stats you can build on. This isn't the time to take chances. You look for upside in the auction. You need your keeper list to be as full of sure things as possible. However, just because Joe Blow expert with the magazine article doesn't like a guy doesn't mean that he isn't a sure thing, if you believe that he is. But you need to be honest about the size of the risk you are taking. If the player in question only costs a buck and you aren't keeping him ahead of anyone better then that should be fine. But if the player in question cost $22 and he has yet to experience major league success and nothing but a hunch suggests that he can this season, you need to look at things again.
Do you have other questions you ask yourself or items to consider when forming your keeper list? If so, please share them.