FAAB optimization: spend early, spend often

My father taught me how to play fantasy baseball. He’s been in the same AL-Only rotisserie league with his college buddies for 21 years and counting, and he uses his fantasy veteran status as an opportunity to confidently brandy about sweeping fantasy adages whenever he gets the chance. Some of them can be detrimental —for example, his proclivity for spending 50-60 percent of his budget on under six players in every single auction isn’t universally effective—but overall, there are a ton of useful nuggets of wisdom he’s passed down to me over the years playing together.

One of those nuggets is his FAAB bidding strategy. First, a quick recommendation: If your league still uses waivers, I’d urge you to talk with your league about switching to Free Agent Auction Bidding in the future. Sure, there’s some skill in managing waiver claims, and the process is a tiny bit simpler, but there is significantly more skill in taking a big budget and figuring out how you want to allocate your resources as needs arise throughout the season, rather than just selecting in an arbitrarily-ordered line. Not only is FAAB more comprehensive, it also more closely mimics what it would be like to run a real baseball team which, in the end, is what playing fantasy sports is vicariously about.

This strategy looks at FAAB from an entirely mathematical perspective. Quite simply, in most leagues there are either 25 or 26 fantasy weeks of the season, so with every week that passes, a player’s hypothetical FAAB “value” goes down by about four percent.

Think about it this way: a guy who you pick up in week five has the upside to give you production for the remaining 20 weeks of the season, whereas a guy you grab in week 15 can produce for a maximum of 10 weeks. That means, hypothetically, a player that you pick up in week five who has the exact same production as a player you pick up in week 15 is actually two times as valuable as the latter player. He has the upside to produce doubly in every category.

Even in the ratio categories, the two players’ batting averages or ERAs might be the same number, but the weight of that average or ERA over the greater time frame will count double to your overall team ratio. Clearly the opportunity for “counting stats” will also be doubled, given the player will have two times the number of plate appearances or innings pitched.

In mixed leagues, it’s easy to follow this formula to a T. I try to spend at least 50 percent of my FAAB budget in the first month and a half, putting in as many early-season speculative upside bids as possible. Sure, that makes me look stupid a high percentage of the time—like when I bid over 15 percent of my budget on the Royals’ Kila Ka’aihue in 2010 or two weeks ago when I, as a panicked AL-Only Greg Holland owner, luckily lost a bid for well over 20 percent of my $500 budget on Kelvin Herrera by exactly one dollar—but it’s also what got me Kris Medlen in more than half of my leagues last year, and Brandon Beachy the year before that, and Doug Fister the year before that.

More than any other time in the season, the beginning of the year is when previously unknown commodities can surprise, and allocating most of your budget during that span has the added bonus of providing much more opportunity for long-term value.

In single league formats, however, following this strategy has a slight twist. In mixed leagues there is no influx of talent that makes it more likely to find a huge amount of value on the wire later along in the season. However, in AL and NL-only leagues, talent doesn’t matriculate into the league at an even pace throughout the year. The existence of the trade deadline makes it possible, and even likely, that an otherwise impossibly good talent could be randomly placed on the wire at midseason.

There are always three or four teams that save almost all of their money until the deadline. As a guy who has been in an AL-only league for five years now, and tried the “Save It Up” strategy in three of those, I’m here to say: Do not be one of those owners.

Yes, it’s true that once in a while a stud will get traded into your league. And if you’re really, really lucky, you might get two at the same deadline. The problem is, there are basically never less than three teams with 90-100 percent of their FAAB budget still remaining at that time of the year. If you’re not one of those top two teams, you’re absolutely screwed, having wasted half of the season without adding any high-priced talent from the wire.

Even if you are one of those lucky one or two, though, you are committing yourself to spending 50-70 percent of your budget on this one player. That’s because the choice to bid on that traded player is almost always so obvious to the rest of the league that in order to make sure you actually get him, you have no choice but to bid one dollar more than whatever amount of FAAB the team one spot below you has.

Last season, three big names got traded from the NL to AL—Zack Greinke, Ryan Dempster and Anibal Sanchez. I had the fourth most FAAB remaining, and you know who I got? Omar Infante. For over 35 percent of my budget.

As a generality, I’d rather take a shot on five or six guys early in the year and hope one of them becomes a consistent contributor throughout. Even if I could have been in the hunt for Zack Greinke, the production of those five or six guys for double the timeframe has more potential value to my team.

When it comes to FAAB bidding, the optimal strategy is to spend early and often, because for every Matt Adams or Jordan Pacheco or Kila Ka’aihue there’s an Addison Reed and a Jose Bautista and a Buster Posey. If you’re going to add a high upside talent, they might as well have the opportunity to give you three or four months of production instead of just one or two, and given the high variance nature of players with upside, it behooves you to try to spread those resources out in as many avenues as possible.

As a loose rule, I try to spend anywhere from 40-75 percent of my budget in the first two months on four to six different players, and if you’re insistent on the “Save For The Deadline” strategy in single league formats, I would make sure you have 95 percent or more of your budget intact to ensure you’re one of those top two teams in FAAB at the time.

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  1. Moe said...

    That was more based on my hardcore sleeper love for him (and subsequently high bids on him in multiple leagues) last season than his performance this year—he has looked quite improved in a small sample so far.

  2. Moe said...

    I honestly think he’s going to keep the job for a while if not the rest of the year—I wouldn’t be afraid to bid in the 30-45 range, depending on your team needs at closer.

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