Speaking auctionby Paul Singman
April 01, 2010
Yesterday I partook in an auction draft for a league run by Yahoo expert Scott Pianowski in which the other participants were also members of the Friends and Family League for the most part. This was the first truly competitive league that I have been in with an auction draft, so it is mostly an experiment from my perspective.
The league has 13 teams, we started with $260 in our budgets, and there were 25 roster spots to fill. First I'll start off by sharing my team so you guys can critique it and tell me where I went right and where I went wrong, and on the right is a table I made of the 20 players on whom the most money was spent for your perusal.
C - Russell Martin - $1
+------------------+------+ | Player | Cost | +------------------+------+ | Hanley Ramírez | $53 | | Albert Pujols | $51 | | Tim Lincecum | $43 | | Roy Halladay | $41 | | Álex Rodríguez | $41 | | Ryan Braun | $41 | | Chase Utley | $40 | | Prince Fielder | $40 | | Evan Longoria | $40 | | Miguel Cabrera | $39 | | Ryan Howard | $38 | | Mark Teixeira | $38 | | Troy Tulowitzki | $37 | | Matt Kemp | $36 | | Dan Haren | $35 | | Adrián González | $35 | | Ryan Zimmerman | $33 | | Matt Holliday | $33 | | Justin Upton | $33 | | Félix Hernández | $33 | +------------------+------+
1B - Adam LaRoche - $6
2B - Placido Polanco - $3
3B - Mark Reynolds - $26
SS - Everth Cabrera - $8
MI - Orlando Cabrera - $2
CI - James Loney - $7
OF - Ryan Braun - $41
OF - Adam Lind - $25
OF - Andrew McCutchen - $17
OF - Shane Victorino - $10
Util - Hideki Matsui - $3
Util - Michael Bourn - $6
BN - Chase Headley - $5
BN - Clint Barmes - $2
P - Felix Hernandez - $33
P - Gavin Floyd - $6
P - Jonathan Sanchez - $5
P - Ted Lilly - $3
P - Heath Bell - $14
P - Andrew Bailey - $12
P - Francisco Rodriguez - $10
P - Matt Thornton - $2
P - Daniel Bard - $2
BN - Gio Gonzalez - $3
Instead of focusing on my team though, I want to share my thoughts on auctions in general. First off, fantasy players in general, the "experts" included, are terrible at auctions. Snake drafts have been around awhile and most people have figured them out, but auctions are breaking into internet mainstream for the first time and people's lack of experience with them is quite evident.
For me, I often found myself thinking of the round equivalent when a player would get drafted in a serpentine draft to determine the relative dollar value of the players. To parallel this to something, it was a lot like learning a new language. If you are learning French and you see the French word "courir" you think "courir translates to run, which means moving quickly on your feet." While if you are fluent in French and you see "courir," translating it first to English is unnecessary since you have built an intrinsic association of "courir" to moving quickly with your feet.
In the same way, "Round nine" is something I intrinsically understand because I have done a ridiculous number of snake drafts. I can tell exactly of what caliber a player is if I learn he was picked in Round nine, while telling me he was worth $18 has less meaning to me. As I participate in more and more auctions though, I'm sure I will begin to become more comfortable with them and learn to "speak auction" fluently.
My first observation about auctions is that they require an increased commitment to drafting compared to a standard serpentine draft. When someone misses a snake draft, it is annoying but somewhat tolerable. When just one person is not in the auction, however, multiply that annoyance by 100 times since in your draft room you will have a computer autobidding that bids on every single player until you surpass its programmed dollar limit. Essentially it destroys the auction.
Auctions are also another hour to two longer than their snake draft counterparts, making them quite the exhaustive experience. Plus you are potentially involved in acquiring every single player, so you cannot take as many mental breaks as you can in drafts. Of course, it is hard to stay completely focused for the full four hours or so the auction is in action so a few moments of drifting off are inevitable.
One of the more intriguing dynamics at play during an auction is what I will term your "community responsibility" to pay attention and bid on certain players at times, even when you do not necessarily want them. In theory this should not happen as everyone theoretically has a set price level for each player and the person willing to bid the highest will simply get that player. However, let's say Jorge Cantu gets nominated and since you already have a third baseman you know you are not going to target Cantu. Instead of paying attention to the auction and bidding up to your theoretical price level for him, you instead focus on something else and expect the other people in the auction to pay attention and keep the prices honest.
For most players you can get away with this but every once a while in the auction I participated, it seemed like all of us simultaneously drifted out while a certain player was nominated and then a player would go for an insanely low price. That's how you get Denard Span for $7, Raul Ibanez for $6, or even Justin Upton for $33. Some people will consistently rely on everyone else to bid truly on every player, which is unfair to everyone else and causes the auction to not play out fairly.
Overall my biggest gripe with auctions is the high level of commitment, focus, and time they require, but I feel it is apparent auctions are a more desirable drafting format if you do have a group of guys willing to make the commitment. There is a sort of natural beauty to the way auctions work—an evident fairness because every player can potentially be on your team, unlike in drafts where the preset order decides your team's fate, at least early on. Auctions also allow you to be more creative in the way you construct your roster, allowing for possibly two "first-round-pick" type players or any sort of combination thereafter.
I welcome auctions with open arms into the mainstream fold and think it is great the main fantasy providers now offer them for free. But if you are considering switching your home league to an auction-based draft, make sure everyone is willing to increase their commitment level to the draft because otherwise it will spell disaster.
Paul has been managing fantasy baseball teams for many seasons and writing for THT Fantasy over the past three years. He is currently a student at UPenn welcomes readers' thoughts at his email here or in the comments below.
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