It's all about value.
Fantasy baseball is always about getting the most value, and that's especially true at the auction table. After years of listening to -- and sometimes employing -- this analyst's or that analyst's newfangled "surefire winning strategies," this season, in the annual League of Alternative Baseball Reality (LABR) auction, I decided to return to my 2002 strategy: Buy value. Buy only value. Why get cute?
After all, during that 2002 championship season, I spent $106 of my $260 on pitching, buying both Curt Schilling ($28) and Javier Vazquez ($21) simply because I valued them more than those prices. It's rare that I spend $100-plus on my pitching staff; that was just where the values were that year.
With that in mind, fine-tuning my price sheet was the top priority in advance of the 2014 auction, and seeking $1-2 (or more) bargains comparative to my prices was the goal, from the first to the final minute. I think I executed the plan well: Every one of the 23 players bought cost at or less than "book," and seven cost more than $2 less.
Granted, any reputable fantasy owner will complete his or her auction with similar results -- the age-old, "I love my team," post-draft comment -- if only because of our trust our own rankings, projections and dollar values. See, that's the key: Victory in an auction is entirely about generating your most accurate dollar values. You can take any of our dollar values to your auction table if you wish; if you do not completely believe in them -- and that means every single one of them -- it's in your best interest to print them out or drop them into a spreadsheet and make your own edits.
For the league specs, LABR is a pair of 12-team "onlies" (meaning AL- and NL-only) that use traditional Rotisserie rosters, 14 hitters (including two catchers) and nine pitchers, and 5x5 scoring. Auction budgets are $260 per team, with hitting typically amounting to 68 percent of the league's total spending, and in a rule wrinkle unique to LABR, a player bought in the auction cannot be moved to your reserve list unless he is either DL'ed, released or placed onto the restricted list by his major league team.
I'll spare you the dissection of every single buy of mine; a "buy value" strategy hardly meant I bought players I especially liked, but rather, felt were underpriced anyway. My team -- and its projected statistics -- is listed at column's end. Instead, here are a couple reactions I had that might apply to your own auctions:
• Look for the soft spots. Unlike in the National League, in which colleague Eric Karabell was ESPN's representative, the American League saw its top talent fetch higher prices, and often inflated prices. Two players sold for $40-plus and eight for $33-plus, compared to zero and five in the NL, and by my price sheet, the top 25 hitters sold for a collective $6 more than book and top 10 pitchers for a combined $2 more. That meant that, for this auction at least, many of the best values were neither the premium names nor the ones put up for bid earliest, and it meant that a patient strategy would've worked.
In this case, the "soft spot" of the LABR-AL auction occurred during the 15th round, at a point at which most teams had spent at least two-thirds of their budget, yet plenty of double-digit-priced players remained available. I'd argue that this began around the point Alexei Ramirez sold for $15 -- I bought him -- and continued for approximately four rounds of bidding, including brilliant buys of J.J. Hardy ($13, to Brandon Funston), Victor Martinez ($16, to Nick Minnix) and Raul Ibanez ($2, to Greg Ambrosius and Shawn Childs). By perfecting your price sheet in advance, you'd be adequately prepared to sniff out these "soft spots" [e] and they always exist in an auction.
That's not to say that the early-spending-but-late-bargains phenomenon will apply to every auction. Read Eric's LABR-NL analysis; he'll surely detail how the opposite was true in his. And that's the point, one I annually make: Bargains don't occur at a predetermined time; they can happen at any moment during the auction. The old adage, "Show up an hour late to your auction," no longer applies, and in fact now runs you the risk of missing the best buys.
• Carefully choose your nominations. This is most important if, like me, you like to bracket your players into value "tiers." You might value three players at one position similarly, and decide pre-auction that you'll buy one of them, preferably the one sold at the greatest discount. But how do you know which one will sell the cheapest comparative to your price sheet? It's not like you can, during your turn, say, "I nominate Andrew McCutchen, Carlos Gonzalez and Ryan Braun, all at the same time!"
This was particularly important in the construction of my LABR team, as twice I bought players from the same value tiers whom I believed would result in the greatest discount, only to watch another player sell for less: I bought Alexei Ramirez for $15, deliberately price-enforcing -- but properly price-enforcing, as I had him priced $20 and was more than comfortable paying $15 -- only to watch Hardy sell for $13 five players later. Given a chance to do it again, I'd be happy to let Ramirez go and instead take a $13 Hardy; although in fairness, doing so would've meant allowing Ramirez to sell for $14 and spending the same price, $14, to secure Hardy's services. Ultimately, it'd have made more sense based upon the construction of my team to have bought Hardy's homers.
The other instance was when I bought Mitch Moreland for $10 in Round 18, making a decision at the time that I could not risk waiting until a later round for Justin Smoak, whose power upside I deemed greater (but who was also a bit riskier buy). I decided that, based upon the money I had remaining comparative to that of my competition, Smoak would probably sell for more than $10, and opted instead for Moreland's lesser risk (and less power upside). Then Smoak sold for $7. Sigh.
These things happen during an auction, but one thing you don't want to do is corner yourself into must-buys by poorly choosing your nominations; it's an awful idea to nominate your least-preferred of three players in your value bracket, pay near or full price for him, then watch as one of the better two sells for a greater discount. Buy the best player at discount, and don't sweat the lesser one also selling cheap.
Now, let's talk discounts. Granted, these players might garner greater prices in your auction than in LABR, but since every such auction serves a reference point for your preparations, I'll point out a few for whom I'd have paid more:
Victor Martinez ($16, to Minnix): Even in analysts' leagues, DH-only players seem to come cheaply, probably due to the negative stigma of "clogging up your DH spot and reducing your flexibility." I think too much attention is paid to that; Martinez is easily a $20 player, and had I not already bought David Ortiz for $24, I'd have bid. And no, I wasn't upset about that "reduced flexibility" seeing Martinez sell cheaply.
Ian Kinsler ($19, to me): He earned $23 in LABR-AL in 2013 and while he has wide home/road splits, it's completely unreasonable to translate his road numbers into a full season of games at Comerica Park. I think $19 resides on the "down year" end of the Kinsler scale, and I think he has a chance of repeating the $23 earnings.
J.J. Hardy ($13, to Funston): Easily my bargain of the draft. He's a 25-homer shortstop who earned $22 in 2013, and whom I priced at a conservative $19. Had I not already bought Elvis Andrus, Alexei Ramirez and Ortiz, I'd have been bidding.
Daniel Nava ($5, to Ray Flowers): I'm not sure that Nava has much more room for growth, but the guy did earn $19 in LABR-AL last season and not much has changed regarding his 2014 outlook. He's also a great option for daily-league owners.
Casey Janssen ($14, to Funston): Injuries came into play here -- Janssen has been dealing with a sore shoulder recently -- so if you're using these prices for your own AL-only auction pricing, keep in mind that it was a factor at the time of LABR's auction; Janssen's setup man Sergio Santos sold for a whopping $8. Still, I'd say a healthy Janssen is the seventh-best closer in AL-only leagues entering this season, and that's certainly worth at least a $17 bid.