My Crazy Mock Auction Draft

Yesterday, Eno Sarris published the results of our epic mock auction draft. Lucky for me, I have no life and I love auctions, so I was happy to draft for as long as it took. Heck, I’m ready for another seven hours of drafting already! I am a veteran of auctions, having participated in leagues that use this style since 2001. All the rules were standard, except we had 14 teams, instead of the 12 I have almost always valued players for. In all my years of experience in auctions though, every single draft has taken unexpected twists and turns. This one was no different. This is my crazy mock auction draft story.

Before I dive into my team, let’s discuss some things about auctions. Player values in 14-team leagues differ a bit from those in 12-team leagues. This is pretty obvious, of course, as there is now an extra $520 in team budgets chasing after an additional 46 players. When moving to the larger format, the elite players actually don’t gain any value at all. Instead, it’s the mid-tier $10-$15 guys that get a boost of a couple of bucks. This boost then makes room for the new 46 players who are all worth a few bucks at most.

The next concept is about those elite players. According to my favorite value calculator, only three players (all hitters) earned $40 last season, with Mike Trout leading them all at $42. After those top three, we see a steep drop-off to the next and fourth most valuable player, who was worth just $34. Surprisingly, there were only four hitters who earned values in the $30 range. On the pitching front, amazingly three closers topped the dollars earned list last year, followed by reliever/starter extraordinaire Kris Medlen. The top starting pitcher was Clayton Kershaw, who earned $31, and the rest of the starters quickly declined from the high and mid-$20’s to the low-$20’s and below.

So that should give you an idea of what players are worth in this format, or at least what they were worth last year. It’s only one year, of course, but generally the dollar value levels are the same, it’s just the names associated with those values that change. With that explained, it’s finally time to discuss what actually happened in our little mock.

To provide some context, I have included what each player earned last season in parentheses after their names. I drafted this handsome squad:

C $13 Mike Napoli C/1B-BOS ($11)
C $11 Jesus Montero DH/C-SEA ($10)
1B $5 Kendrys Morales DH/1B-SEA ($9)
2B $19 Aaron Hill 2B-AZ ($24)
3B $20 Aramis Ramirez 3B-MIL ($25)
SS $17 Ian Desmond SS-WSH ($19)
OF $12 Shane Victorino OF-BOS ($13)
OF $12 Carl Crawford OF-LAD (very negative)
OF $11 Alex Rios OF-CHW ($27)
OF $11 Nelson Cruz OF-TEX ($17)
OF $12 Desmond Jennings OF-TB ($12)
MI $11 Josh Rutledge SS-COL (-$2, partial season)
CI $7 Chris Davis DH/OF/1B-BAL ($17)
Util $10 Hunter Pence OF-SF ($17)
P $9 Jon Lester SP-BOS
P $10 Dan Haren SP-WSH
P $9 Jake Peavy SP-CHW
P $10 Brett Anderson SP-OAK
P $10 Jeff Samardzija SP-CHC
P $7 Matt Garza SP-CHC
P $8 J.J. Putz RP-AZ
P $6 John Axford RP-MIL
P $5 Jason Hammel SP-BAL

I had started typing in the pitcher dollars earned and then stopped midway. I realized the dollar calculator includes a ton of middle relievers and so starters values are much lower as a result. For example, Samardzija “earned” -$5 last season. Yes, according to the calculator, his presence in fantasy lineups actually hurt his owners.

There are two things you may notice initially about my team. First, yes, you added up those winning bid values correctly, I actually left $15 on the table. Oops. Second, yes, the most expensive player on my entire team was a $20 Aramis Ramirez. This was not my plan. So what happened?

Well, as my fellow drafters no doubt remembered as I voiced it several times in the chat room, the beginning of the auction was outrageous. Seven hitters went for at least $40! Another 17 players went for between $30 and $39! That’s a total of 23 players who went for at least $30. Remember, last season only seven hitters and six pitchers, for a total of 13, earned at least $30. And that includes three closers, which is incredibly unlikely to occur again. So we should reasonably expect around 10 players in total to earn at least $30.

As you could tell from looking at my team, I ended up sitting on the sidelines for a heck of a while watching everyone’s budgets shrink. I am actually pretty used to this situation. Typically in the early going of an auction, owners are excited to spend their money and all of the top guys are nominated rather quickly. No one wants to miss out on owning a first rounder, so they just keep bidding, regardless of what the player is actually worth. I understand it, as it’s tough to watch elite hitter after elite hitter get drafted by other teams and you fear that you won’t be able to compete without also owning one.

This is a myth though. It does not matter how you compose your team. The object in an auction, at least to me, is to accumulate the most projected value. Now of course, projected dollar values do not perfectly translate into standings points, but they are darn close. My plan in auction drafts has always been to never pay more than I value a player for — try to get as many players at as significant a discount as possible and be satisfied with however my team ends up. Whether that means getting two top players for several dollars below my values or getting no one above $20, it matters little, as long as the projected team stats are there when the draft ends. This all assumes of course that you spend your entire $260 budget, which I sadly failed to do.

So after this first phase of frenetic bidding, sanity eventually returned and bargains were to be had. Soon, I was winning every couple of players. The middle portion of the draft finally arrived and I was excited that my team actually had some players on it. Since everyone else spent a large portion of their budgets early on, I continued to win players and soon had the second most players on my team after being the last team to draft their first player. This generally continued as we headed into the last phase of the draft.

Unfortunately, by that time, I had only a couple of spots left, but lots of money. It was apparent that it would be impossible to spend my entire budget, so I simply identified the best players left and just bid until I won them fully knowing I had the money to spend whatever it took. Refusing to overpay in the early going meant bargains were fast and furious later on and I spent less than I expected on a bunch of my players. That’s the one downside of my value-based bidding strategy.

So now that I have shared exactly how the draft went and the evolution of my team, I will quickly get into specific players. On the whole, this appears to be a boom or bust team. I drafted many players who disappointed last year at a discount with the hope for a rebound. I also ended up being the winning bidder on several who had big years with the hope of a repeat, or even a slight regression still earning me a profit.

A lot of fantasy owners are understandably afraid of Aaron Hill. He has been extremely inconsistent, but given his history, we know that 2012 was no fluke. However, the specter of 2011 still lingers on our minds, but that just seems to be some random fluke, while 2010 was a BABIP-related disappointment. When I drafted Aramis Ramirez, he was one of the few I thought to be fair value. He simply refuses to experience any age-related decline, though of course that could come suddenly at any time.

I was absolutely shocked I nabbed Alex Rios for $11. Does no one believe in him? He’s been even more inconsistent than Hill, but you can’t just assume some good/bad year trend will keep continuing like it’s something inherent in Rios that he simply cannot follow up a good year with another good one. I never expected to draft Chris Davis as I was pretty sure I liked him less than most others. But yeah, I learned to expect the unexpected in this draft. Hunter Pence is going to be a bargain in this year’s drafts.

Jon Lester and Dan Haren? I’m a glutton for punishment apparently. I owned Lester last year and think he’s in for a major rebound. Yes, his strikeout rate was down a bit, but all his other numbers were normal. I think it was primarily bad luck. Haren? Ehhh, I’m much more worried about him. But at that cost and the move to the National League, I simply had to price enforce, and sure enough, I then heard crickets. I’m a big fan of Brett Anderson (who isn’t?), so hopefully he stays healthy, and I love Jeff Samardzija. My last player was Jason Hammel. At that point, I could have had any pitcher left and went with him. I think he was absolutely for real last season and his injury that cut short his breakout is going to make him a steal in drafts.



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Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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Kris
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Kris

Mike, value based bidding is the way to go, but leaving $15 on the table is awful. The one thing I learned very quickly in veteran leagues is to never underestimate the power of ego.

Almost everyone in the draft will rationalize inflating a stars value because they’re certain they’re smart enough to grab a $10 player for a couple bucks late or even on the waiver wire. Sometimes they’re lying to themselves but more often than not, finding a player or a group of players for essentially $1 or a WW-claim that produce a decent value isn’t difficult.

In an auction draft, it’s about finding surplus value. It’s infinitely easier to get $10 surplus value from a $1 player and a $50 player than it is to get $10 surplus from two $25 players. Even if you’ve overpaid for your $50 player, your $1 player can easily toss up 10-15 bucks in surplus value.

Because everyone bids for stars at 120%, they’re almost no money left at the end outside of an owner or two and this serves to make even more *good* players into $1 bargains.

It’s also abundantly clear throughout the season who you’re going to drop to pick up the hot hand when you’ve got 3 or 4 one dollar players. On your team, who exactly hits the chopping block? It’s all value, and you’re going to be unbelievably hesitant to give up on players.

Ray
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Ray

Just replying to say I fully agree, great points all around. I’m in a dynasty league so keeper values skew things a bit, but we routinely see 3-4 $50+ bids and there are about a dozen $40+ players every season. The team that doesn’t buy into this strategy–and mine was one of them for a few years–gets alot of the mid-auction ‘values’ but as you said, finding surplus value on a $20 bid is a lot harder than finding surplus on a $1-3 bid, and the $20 owner doesn’t have the $40+ studs to fall back on.

This is something I’ve reluctantly admitted the past few seasons and because of shrewd trades and waiver pickups I’ll probably be putting $80+ into two of Kemp/McCutchen ($45+) and AGon/Butler/Bruce ($30+).