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The Fantasy Draft: Strategy and Tactics in Auction Drafts

Auction draft tactics fall into two basic categories Ė how much to spend and when to do so, and which players you should call into the auction and when to do so. In thinking about these issues, it is useful to explore the nature of these sorts of drafts. As a rule, buying players early in an auction costs more than buying players late in an auction. The reason for this is simple. Early in a draft, every manager is flush with cash and options. A player will probably be purchased by the manager who has the highest maximum bid for that player, and that playerís price will probably be fairly close to that maximum bid. In addition, an auction is a competitive environment, and managers will sometimes even exceed their maximum bids when they get caught up in the excitement. As the draft progresses, managers have less and less to spend. It often happens that late in a draft, a manager will be unable to bid on a player who eventually sells for a price far below that managerís maximum bid. This can happen even to managers who bid optimally, and it happens much more frequently to managers who do not bid optimally. The diminished competition late in the draft means the late draft is the best time for bargains. Sometimes bargains occur early in the draft, but theyíre less frequent and smaller.

Who You Gonna Call?

With that in mind, the basic strategy for calling players is to try to avoid calling out players you hope to get whenever possible. The reason is simple Ė by calling out a player to bid on, you are bringing that player into the bidding earlier than they otherwise would have. The earlier a player gets bid on, the more competition there will be to purchase that player. The players you should call out are the players whom you believe are over-valued, preferably high-profile players. For example, letís say a player had a breakout season last year, finally capitalizing on the talent that had made them a top (but underperforming) prospect for years. Banking on this past seasonís performance, a new team just signed that player to a huge, long-term contract. You donít buy it Ė this guy has always been talented but unmotivated, and now that he has a nice long term contract he will revert to his old, underperforming ways. This is a player you call out early for $1. Surely several of the managers will buy into last seasonís strong performance, the bidding will push sky-high, and there will be less money in other peopleís hands when a player that you actually like comes into play.

Similarly, if there are players that you suspect your fellow managers will overbid for, call them out as soon as possible. If your friend is in the league, and he just loves Michael Jordan, or if year after year people in your league always overvalue starting pitching, then by all means take that into account when choosing players to call.

Of course Ė donít use this strategy on a player who you might actually GET for $1 when you call out that bid. Although you could drop this player at the beginning of the season if you want, and you havenít lost a whole lot, it is a complete waste of the opportunity to call a player other managers would spend money for. Also, nearing the end of an auction draft there is less of this sort of potential for spending other peopleís money - you should probably just focus on calling players you would use in building your team.

The Bid Price of Success

Bidding tactics are somewhat subtle. You want to spend all of your money on players who deserve it, but you donít want to run out of money and miss out on huge bargains. You want to have money available late in the draft to be able to compete in the bidding (and prevent other managers from flat out stealing players), but you donít want to have too much money left late Ė so that you have money left over when no good players remain. A good rule of thumb is to stay below your maximum bid price by about 15% until about the middle of the draft. If you have access to auction draft management software, this can be extremely useful, but if you have access to a spreadsheet program that can substitute in a pinch. It is critical to be able to see at a moment which players have been purchased, at what prices, how much budget other teams have left, and what players other teams have selected. This can help you to decide whether you should be more aggressive in bidding (when there are relatively few players left, or when other managers are hoarding their budgets for late bidding), or more passive (when managers seem to be overbidding). This is a tricky business however, and if you just stick to your maximum bids that you have set out (bargain hunting whenever possible), you should be OK.

Of course, it is also possible to make bids purely to prompt other managers to bid higher. If this works, it's great - you've cost another manager money with no loss to yourself. The problem is that if it fails, you've just blown a bunch of your own money on a player you didn't really want. Because this cost is far more significant than the potential benefit, this is a very dangerous game, and is not really advisable. The basic rule should be that you should never make a bid for a player that you wouldn't be willing to purchase for that price.

Next Section - In-Season Management: Setting Your Lineup


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