Wednesday night I participated in my first mock auction of the year, which was hosted by Fantasy Baseball Express and Fantasy Auctioneer. Also, a big thanks to Brad Stewart at MLB Front Office for setting me up in it. Wednesday night also marked my first test drive of the new THT Projections, which will be available in the THT Season Preview Book.
The most important thing I can stress to you guys is the importance of patience in auctions. As the auction began last night, players started going for much more than I had them valued as. Six players ended up going for $40 or more, with Alex Rodriguez leading the way at $50. Another nine guys went for between $35 and $40. After 45 minutes of drafting, I hadn’t acquired a single player.
Granted, I’m often slow out of the gate when players go for this much, but being that I mostly play in drafts (although I prefer auctions) and this was my first auction of the year (and my first online auction ever), I was pretty nervous.
I was worried I was being too frugal and wouldn’t end up with a good enough team, or worse yet, wouldn’t end up spending all of my money. I knew better, obviously, but I just couldn’t shake the feeling. When you face inflation early, there will almost certainly be bargains later. That’s why mock drafts are so valuable, though. You get rid of all those jitters and reservations before the real thing.
When Joba Chamberlain came up and the bidding stopped at $8, I bid $9 and got my first player. I admit that this was a buy made out of impulse instead of strategy. $9 was more than I had him valued as, but when some players were going for $10+ more than what I had them valued as (see: $44 Albert Pujols, $41 Miguel Cabrera), I panicked a little bit.
When using the valuation strategy that I’ll present to you guys sometime in the near future, be aware that this type of thing could happen. You won’t be making many sexy picks early on, but you will likely come away with a solid team… if you don’t panic. If guys are going for too much early on, it simply means that there will be bargains if you wait.
Foiled pitching strategy
I also had a strategy for pitchers going in that acquiring Joba forced me to stray from a little. Since I think starting pitching, on the whole, is generally undervalued, I was hoping to grab one, maybe two, aces and fill out the rest with bargains in the $5-$15 range (which I expected there to be plenty of) and a couple of $1-4 guys I was high on. With 9 pitching slots, I wanted to get six or seven starters and get two or three closers or closers in waiting (Heath Bell, Carlos Marmol, Rafael Betancourt types) for a couple of bucks each.
To be more specific as to my strategy, I was hoping to get Francisco Liriano, Scott Baker, and a Dustin McGowan/Andrew Sonnanstine-type for a combined $10-11 for the back of my staff, a guy like Felix Hernandez for $10-$15, a guy like Erik Bedard or Scott Kazmir for $20 or less, and a guy like Jake Peavy for around $25. That would give me six pitchers I really liked, all at decent-to-great value.
Joba didn’t fit into any of these classifications. Granted, THT’s preliminary projections have him down for a 4.10 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, and 119 strikeouts over 116 innings, but he just isn’t a guy I should have taken given my strategy.
While I don’t believe in the theory that you should restrict yourself to spending 30% on pitching because ‘pitching is too risky’ — something that occurs in most all auctions and something I’ll talk about at a later date — this would only tie up exactly 30% of my funds (maximum) and allow me to be aggressive with hitters. That was my plan anyway, but many of the top hitters were going just a little higher than even what my planned aggressive bids would have been.
As this happened, I got a little overexcited with the pitching. I ended up switching gears and bought more top pitchers than I’d wanted.
Soon after acquiring Joba, I found C.C. Sabathia, Dan Haren, and John Smoltz on my team and four of my pitching spots filled. I contribute this to my growing fear that I wouldn’t end up with any good hitters and that I needed to make up for it somewhere. While I didn’t get any of these guys at a real discount, I did get them right around the dollar figures I had laid out, and in the heat of the auction, this seemed better than overspending for hitters. As I’ve said, this was obviously a huge mistake; it should have been obvious that bargains would come along later. Soon after getting these guys, these rational thoughts set in… just a bit too late though.
At the time, being active like this felt safer than being inactive. This is one of the biggest mistakes you can make. While being active feels safer than being inactive, it really just forces you to make mistakes. If it still seems possible to go through with your original plan, you need to do it. You likely spent much more time thinking about it before the draft than you will spend during the draft changing gears. This change in gears is often a split-second, impulsive decision that you will end up regretting.
The problem for me was that I spent a combined $66 on these pitchers, didn’t get any of them at a real discount, and strayed from a strategy that was still possible to see to fruition.
On the bright side, I did now have three of THT’s top six pitchers, and that’s before accounting for Haren’s move to the National League. If this were a real league, I don’t think I’d have much trouble in April or May trading a couple of these guys for a couple of nice hitters.
A small strategy I had going in was to call out players at scarce positions early and gauge how the market treated them. That way you can tell within the first hour or so if you will get discounts on these guys or be forced to pay premiums for them. I value positional scarcity a lot (the reasons for which I’ll be talking about another day), so for me this is a great way to plan out how I’ll be able to spend my money.
My biggest target among scarce positions was Russell Martin, and I wanted to see how much I would likely have to give for him. By calling out catchers early, I would also force some teams to fill one of their catcher spots before Martin was put on the block. For my second catcher, I was hoping to get a guy like J.R. Towles or Geovany Soto — who the THT projections had ranked 6th and 7th — at a bargain price later in the draft.
I ended up calling out (if I remember correctly) Victor Martinez, Joe Mauer, and Jorge Posada. When Victor Martinez was bid all the way up to $26, I thought that it might be difficult getting a discount on catchers. Posada came next, and when the biddings stopped at $12, I nabbed him for $13, a few bucks less than what I had him valued as. He wasn’t Martin, but he was still a bargain, which at this point were still few and far between. THT actually had Posada as the #3 catcher, with a .286 average and 19 homers in 458 at-bats.
Mauer then went for $16, higher than I would have paid, before I decided to throw out Martin. In retrospect, I absolutely should have waited longer (which goes back to the importance of patience), but I did end up getting him for a decent price of $21. That’s $5 less than Victor, and I actually prefer Martin to Victor this year.
After getting Posada, I should have waited to call out Martin and if he went too high, wait and go after Towles or Soto. They went for $6 and $3 respectively, making me really regret that decision. This is another good lesson you guys should learn from. Going into the draft with a plan and targeting a few specific guys is great, but you can’t get too obsessed with them. If a different, but equally good opportunity comes along, it is perfectly fine to adjust. Just make sure you make all of the necessary adjustments. In this case, that would mean forgoing bidding on Martin after getting Posada.
Small strategy when faced with inflation
While I wanted to throw out catchers early, the inflation that was going on made me change it up just a little. Since guys seemed to be overpaying, I mixed in a few top closers — who I knew I didn’t want, for reasons I discussed last year but will discuss again in the coming months — to get some money off the table. Jonathan Papelbon went for $19; J.J. Putz went for $18; Joe Nathan, Francisco Rodriguez, Bobby Jenks, and Trevor Hoffman went for $15; and several others went for $10 or more.
I think this is a good strategy to use when you find that some of the other owners are being frivolous with their budget. When this happens, I do not suggest going along with it and paying extra, which means you’ll be doing a good deal of waiting. As you bide your time, you can still take advantage of this market condition. Put up guys you know you don’t want, like closers, as they will probably eat up more money now than they will later on in the draft when owners realize that they can no longer be throwing money around.
Last bout of shaky decision-making
I’m going to be hard on myself for just one more quick minute, and then I’ll talk about the good decisions I made during the auction.
With four of my pitching spots filled, the last thing I needed was another expensive pitcher. I knew this, yet when Felix Hernandez was at $14 and there was just a second left to bid, I bid $15. I immediately realized my mistake and desperately hoped to be outbid. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen. With the extra ace starters, I no longer needed that $10-15 pitcher. I knew this, but I couldn’t help myself. I can’t say this enough. You just cannot get too attached to players. It will cause you to make mistakes.
The auction wasn’t all bad decisions for me, though. I’m only dedicating a small space to the good decisions I made because, frankly, you guys can learn far more from the mistakes.
Still, I got plenty of guys at good value; my favorite of which was Frank Thomas for $3. THT has him down for a .275 average and 29 home runs. That kind of production is a huge bargain at $3, even if he takes up your utility spot. Dan Uggla for $8 was also a nice buy. THT’s .265 batting average projection isn’t fantastic, but couple it with 26 home runs and Uggla becomes a bargain as an $8 middle infielder.
Flexibility versus patience
I’ve talked a lot this article about the importance of patience. I’ve also mentioned, though, that flexibility is important. This seems a little contradictory. How can you be patient but also be prepared to switch up your strategy?
Well, if at all possible, this flexibility should be planned out ahead of time. You need to have several contingency plans… the more the better. For example, you should have a plan for when you face inflation early, for when you face deflation early, for when the market seems reasonable, and for every other situation you think you might encounter. By doing this, it helps you to avoid making split-second, strategy-altering decisions that could ultimately come back to bite you.
I obviously didn’t do that for this auction, as I am still trying to work out my optimum strategies for each situation. You can be certain, though, that by the time my real auctions come around, I’m going to be ready. This auction provided some excellent insight into how I should approach auctions with early inflation.
I recommend you all take on this exercise. Do several mock auctions, make some mistakes, and figure out the best ways to approach the real thing.
I could easily have ignored some of the not-so-good decisions I made, played like it was part of my actual plan, or simply spent this whole article pointing out my good decisions. Doing this, though, misleads you and doesn’t allow you to learn anything. By pointing out my mistakes, I’m hoping to convey things that will help you avoid making them yourself. Going into this auction, I wasn’t trying to be perfect. I was trying to learn, and that’s exactly what I did.
I also think explaining my mistakes to you is a great way to show the importance of mock drafting before the real thing. Make the mistakes when it doesn’t matter, and you will be much better off when it does matter.
I have an expert mock draft at Mock Draft Central tomorrow night, so look for something on Tuesday or Wednesday about it.
On one final note, one of the reader leagues I helped organize a few weeks ago has had two owners drop out. If we have anyone else interested in joining a competitive league, send me an e-mail, and I’ll give that league’s commissioner your name.