Auction strategies

Hey everybody,

Josh Shepardson and I just wrapped up a 42-minute podcast covering various auction strategies, their logic, their weaknesses, and when they work best and worst. We also explore ways to disrupt the drafting strategies of others. For those looking for an auction strategy primer, this podcast should be a useful tool. Click here to download the auction strategies podcast (it is currently hosted for free on MediaFire).

Here is a rundown of the topics addressed in our podcast:
Auction draft strategies

  1. “Spread the wealth”
  2. “Stars and scrubs”
  3. LIMA (Low-investment mound aces)
  4. “Punt a category or two, win the rest”

Disruption scrategies

  1. Tossing out (hot) prospects early
  2. “Bid Chicken” and the Sidney Ponson theory of drafting
  3. “The Great Ryan Braun caper” and other ways not to get invited back next year.

Quick addendum note to the podcast: Whenever playing “stars and scrubs,” you generally have to avoid injury risks.

In an auction, no matter what strategy you employ, it is important that you, above all, remain flexible and adapt to the market at all times.

What are some of your favorite auction strategies and why? Sound off in the comments below!

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  1. Votto-erotic Asphixiation said...

    I play in several 6×6 head to head auction leagues with an 18.0 innings cap.  I find that I only need two starters to go with an arsenal of relievers every week in order to make said innings limit.  I start my auction planning by building from the end of the auction forward —— estimating the prices I’ll need to spend (and even overspend) to secure players essential to my strategy which is as follows:

    Grab 4 closers.  Normally I only have one “elite” closer (~$15), but look for this year’s bargains (Joe Nathan, John Axford, Matt Thornton, Craig Kimbrel, even Jonathan Broxton) to fill out the corps.  Three of these guys should come for a price around $12.  Since I also plan on using 2 elite middle relievers every day (3 in total, for $3) it makes sense to handcuff a couple of the more volatile saves guys (say, grab Kuo and possibly Chris Sales since Thornton is not established as a closer).

    Then look to fill out the starting pitching for as cheap as possible.  I look for guys like Brett Anderson, Daniel Hudson, Jake Peavy, Brandon Webb, Tim Hudson, cheap and I look to spend no more than $10.  Guys whose ratios are good, but who may not be a viable Ks or Wins target thus coming with a cheaper price tag.  I realize in the list above injury also plays a huge part in the cheap price tag of several of the pitchers, but this would be the time to take some risks.  I also will normally have one guy I’ll spend a little bit more on if overbidding has lowered his price tag such as Max Scherzer because of what I believe will be great/elite returns for a smaller price tag.

    I then target some hitters for my bench whom I really like, either because of how they hit RH/LH splits, because of multi-position eligibility, or because of their spot in the batting order.  Since I won’t have very many spots on my bench/roster dedicated to pitching I can maximize offensive matchups through the inclusion of several key bench players.  I’m a big believer in RH/LH splits and I target players (and as often as I can, veterans) who have very high RH splits (since they’ll see more RH starters and relievers giving me more opportunities to play them).  This year some of the bench guys I’ll be targeting are Manny Ramirez (projected to bat 4th), Adam Lind (ditto Manny, rebound likely), Carlos Lee (people forgot this guy can hit, likely to bat 4th/5th in dismal order, but still), Mike Aviles (2B/SS thin, dual eligibility, nice to have a back up), Omar Infante (Swiss Army knife), & Magglio Ordonez (high career BA, bats in front of Miggy + VMart, still got some years left in his bat).  You can get 3 of the above for around ten bucks.  Nice!

    I then target certain guys who I believe are viable top 10 starters at a position but whom I can get for cheap because they are undervalued/unknown quantities.  This year I have two that I will overpay to get late: Casey McGehee (3B) and Ryan Raburn (2B eligibility from last year).  Casey is going for ~$6 and Raburn for around ~2.  I’d go up to $10 and $5 respectively for their talents and I think they’ll perform more in the range of $20-25.  Gold mine.  Raburn is someone to keep your eye on this year (something I’ve said the last 2 years, and now he’s gotten playing time).  I’m a Tigers fan, and an astute one at that, so heed these words.

    I then look to get one of two tiers of catchers: Soto, Wieters, Napoli in the $4-8 tier, or Miguel Montero, Jorge Posada (he played 1B the other day, knee looks good!) in the $2-3 tier possibly also drafting Jesus Montero for his mid season callup (likely to cost $1-2).

    So far we’ve spent ~$70 of our $260 budget and acquired 15 essential players.  Lets review how this happened.  Relievers are cheaper than starters and have more consistent and lower ratios due to batters only seeing them once (BA by hitters seeing a pitcher once is around .210, twice is .240, and three times is around .275), the ability to maximize matchups (thank your Manager), and the ability to throw all out.  By effectively punting K’s and Wins to not only chase but lock down Saves, Holds (in my league), ERA, and WHIP, you’ve saved yourself a bundle.

    I also punt steals as there is no correlation between steals and any of the other standard 6×6 stats (AVG, OPS, HR, RBI, Runs).  Someone out there might say, but Runs!  That’s a correlation!  Only if your paper Gladiator steals with more than a 75 percent success rate, and even then the effects are small.  Runs scored has more to do with getting on base, bringing yourself home a few times, and hitting in a prime spot in the order.  Hmmmm, not surprising then that more Runs leaders look like Pujols than like Reyes.  By eliminating steals from a players value, good hitters without “speed” are often undervalued in a draft and come much cheaper (market efficiency, you guys!).

    Toss in some strategic choices for bench players, a couple of low $$ targets (only 2 is really necessary here) for your starting lineup, and a cheap catcher and you have $190 to spend on 6 big name players at the beginning of your draft.

    This year I’m looking to take a guy like Mike Stanton, Delmon Young, or Colby Rasmus in the $12-18 range bringing my total to about $175 to spend on 5 players.  That’s $35 a player guys.  For 5 players, mind you.  Spend that how you will!  Target a top tier SS (Tulo fits my hitting profiles more than Hanley —— ew, steals!) grab a top shelf 1B (Miggy will likely be AL MVP this year, last year’s NL MVP ain’t shabby either) and take it from there.  Want to get a 3rd big name for your UT spot (unfair contributions from Ryan Howard/Prince Fielder/Mark Teixeira) or a stud for your OF (Josh Hamilton) and then scrimp on those 4th and 5th players (Rasmus/Delmon Young + a cheap OF)?  Because that’s what I’m looking to do.

    I know this was very detailed, but all auction strategies should be, I think.  Start with things that are more certain (later round prices) and work up to a secure budget to spend on big names.  Choose those names wisely and you’re likely staring a champion dead in the eyes every time you brush your teeth in the morning.

    Hope this helped someone out there!
    ——The Commish

  2. Brad Johnson said...

    18 IP cap? Holy jesus, Roy Halladay could eat your entire innings limit some weeks…that’s waaaay too small.

  3. Votto-erotic Asphixiation said...

    Hahaha, thanks!  A lot of my middle-reliever strategy that has been a staple of my teams for years is in this podcast.  I’m glad to see it in there!  After all, it’s led me to win more than half the leagues I’ve entered.  The strategy practically sells itself, at least in the current market.  Who knows what we’ll have to do to get an edge once everyone gets hip to the happening.

  4. Will Hatheway said...

    Admit your tendencies: I, for example, am an avowed value guy; that’s good in many ways, but also suggests I relish the opportunity to be smug about getting more than I paid for to an extent that it can bite me in the ass if I’m in a shallow league, say, and I don’t fight those tendencies when “overpaying” for a few studs is the smartest thing to do in a situation where replacement value is so high. (Same goes for other parts of my life; e.g. it took a while to realize that, however “undervalued” the stocks I’d buy were, that didn’t mean much if it took years for others to catch on to my brilliant assessment).

    Adjust to the league setup: beyond flattening or steepening your valuation curve based on the level of league depth, take advantage of, for example, daily roster change settings and undesignated pitching slots by filling your bench with relievers who can pad your stats on days your starters aren’t going. Or let go of your love/hate for certain players if the scoring system changes; this seems obvious but is, psychologically, rather hard to do (e.g. I rostered a large number of players I never thought about before in a recent points-league draft that severely punished KOs for hitters and also spent a good bit on SPs—which I loathe normally—because that is what the point settings seemed to call for).

    In some cases, I don’t think it is the worst thing in the world to have some money left over in the end. If the setup is such that there will be desireable players late, I guarantee that you will be one of very few to have full agency when it comes to rostering them if you’ve saved some cash.

    Don’t punt categories … punt positions. I personally feel that the players I spend the most money on need to give me huge production. This means that I’ll tend to go after a number of others before I’d outlay enough to get H. Ram or Tulo, and I don’t like the idea of overpaying for mediocre or questionable production from the next few tiers, so I make peace early with rostering J.J. Hardy or whoever and then free myself to spend more on positions I feel will return more.

    Don’t diss the utility spot: if you’ve already spent big bucks on both your 1B and CI spots, but a first baseman isn’t getting the love you think he deserves, pay what you need to because you’ve got a place for him. Often I think that slot is taken as a given as a place for $1 guys taken at the end of the draft.

    Don’t try to push a player an extra dollar higher if you don’t want him. The risk/reward just isn’t worth it.

    I’ve had bad luck trying to get the cheap players I want if I nominate them early; while it would be nice to know you’ve got a bunch of cash even after filling up a number of roster spots on the cheap early, the reality is that when your competitors still have a bunch of money they will likely make you spend an extra couple of bucks that you wouldn’t have to pay later.

    Applaud players for certain pickups… psychology is very real, so it is possible that you can make someone hesitant about outbidding you later on in the draft if you’ve made them feel good about themselves.

    Try to get people involved in a conversation: if they’re “talking”, they aren’t fully into drafting.

  5. Ben Pritchett said...

    Great job, guys. I laughed. I cried. I learned more ways to take advantage of you both in the THTF league.

    Seriously though, great podcast. Keep it up.

  6. Josh Shepardson said...

    @ Will

    You raise some good points.  My favorite is the first that you address, admit your tendencies.  That is a huge part of auction drafting.  I, like you, relish the opportunity to look back at players I rostered who produced above and beyond their auction price.  At the same time, owning an entire roster of players who barely exceeded their dollar values doesn’t assure a winning roster.  Ultimately you still need to accumulate the stats, and sometimes getting that anchor and paying a premium for a first round talent is necessary.

  7. Richard Brown said...

    I was the victim of a “Rollins/Rolen” misidentification in 2007, my first year in an established NL-only auction keeper league.  I thought I got Jimmy Rollins for $29.  My competitor kept giving me a worried look so I thought I had him on the ropes.  I discovered my mistake when the commish said that I could not put Scott Rolen in the SS slot.  I have gotten ribbed every year since when we meet for our auction on the first Saturday after opening day.  By the way, the real Jimmy Rollins went for $33.

    I lost “Bid Chicken” last year when I got Chipper Jones for $6; I just did not want the other guy to get too good of a deal.

    My main disruption strategy is to nominate high-value players, particularly in positions that I do not need, to get money off the table.

    I have done better using “Stars and scrubs” perhaps since that has been easier for me to manage.  I always leave the auction shell-shocked.

    Thanks for the insights.

  8. Brad Johnson said...

    When choosing between spreading the wealth and stars and scrubs ask yourself:

    How much time will I spend scouring the waiver wire in this league?

    How much time will my opponents spend scouring the waiver wire?

    The more time you’re willing to spend and the less time your opponents are willing to spend, the more inclined you should be to use stars and scrubs. For instance, I will be drafting a very balanced ottoneu team because I don’t plan to check in very often (inside info for you Jeff). I have a draft tomorrow where I’ll probably be super stars and scrubsy. And for THTF? Who knows…

  9. Brad Johnson said...

    While not the best strategy in the world, I like loading up on elite relievers and doling out the harshness in K, rate stats, and SV.

    Throw in a pair of top class elite starters and a vulture like Tyler Clippard and you’re well on your way to sweeping pitching. Hope you have some position sleepers though because you’re basically splitting your costs 50/50.

  10. Jason B said...


    That last point you make (regarding stars and scrubs and the willingness to put in the time scouring the waiver wire) is a great point. I usually have to cover over for a shoddy draft and slow start by relentlessly working the wire over a six-month period. Usually helps me make a slow and steady march from eight place to about fourth.  smile

  11. Derek Ambrosino said...

    Great job, guys. A perfect primer!

    Here’s one other disruption strategy, though there aren’t the studs that fit this bill that there once were. Nominate players who are only Util eligible.

    Most disruption strategies are centered around trying to get others to spend their money imprudently, but this disruption strategy is geared toward getting a bargain for yourself early. Some owners may be wary of filling their utility position so early in the draft, and others may be leery of spending on the position to begin with. Some owners like to leave the util position open so they are able to accommodate the inevitable, inexplicably low priced quality player that happens in every auction. Throughout his prime, David Ortiz retained 1B-eligibility, but I’ve heard of this strategy executed to get bargain Travis Hafners and Jim Thomes in years past.

  12. Jeffrey Gross said...


    Thanks. I think that is definitely a good strategy. I will employ it in the future. Perhaps in a year, when Vlad is just DH-only eligible once again

  13. Sexy Rexy said...

    Jeff, did you ask me my advice on how to create a podcast and then not listen to a word I said instead to choose the most complicated podcast site that’s not connected to iTunes?

    Also, I’m super excited to listen to the most boring, driest podcast ever!

  14. Jeffrey Gross said...

    Yes. I asked you the question a few days ago, but traveled back in time to make sure I didn’t listen

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