A beginner’s guide to auction draft nominations

Now that Yahoo! is entering its second year offering the auction draft option, more and more fantasy owners are opting for the budget-oriented alternative to the boring old snake draft. Auction drafts truly are fantastic for the fantasy baseball enthusiast. Whether you want to take “Stars and Scrubs” to a new level by purchasing Albert Pujols, Hanley Ramirez and Robinson Cano or you want to stock up on a deep, mid-tier roster, the auction draft gives you the freedom to pursue your fantasy dreams in new and exciting ways.

The auction draft does come at a price. First, they typically run nearly twice as long as a standard snake draft, making them a real investment in time and patience. Second, a successful auction draft almost certainly depends on having intimate knowledge of the entire player universe. And last—but not at all least—auto-draft really does not work. Not only will auto-draft ruin your team, it also lowers the quality of the draft for live bidders.

One of the most interesting dynamics of the auction draft is the nomination process. Typically, owners are free to nominate any player they want. The default nomination bid is $1, although a higher opening bid is allowed. What this means is that if nobody else bids on a player, the person who nominated him wins the round.The first pick of the draft could be Albert Pujols for $45 or it could be Mike Adams for $1. It’s up to the individual owners to decide who gets bid on and when. This brings us to the topic of today’s conversation: nomination strategy.

Unlike snake drafts, where ADP might cause you to pass on Drew Stubbs in the ninth round because you’re fairly certain he’ll still be there in the 13th, auction drafts virtually eliminate the chance that you’ll miss your favorite sleepers. The benefits of even a perfectly-executed nomination strategy are difficult to tangibly quantify. Yet a systematic approach to the nomination process could save you several dollars throughout the draft, dollars that can be used to increase your roster’s talent level.

Strategy No. 1: Never nominate a player you want

Most people figure out this strategy within the first 20 picks of their first mock auction. The purpose of this strategy is to eat up the payroll and roster space of your rivals with players that you don’t want anywhere near your roster. This, in turn, should lessen the pressure later on when players you do want are nominated.

Simply target any player you consider overrated and let your rivals go to town. This can be especially useful when you know something about your league mates. For instance, say you know that your rival has an unreasonable interest in the Yankees. Early nominations of Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, and Cano could leave at least one opponent hamstrung by the time your real targets are nominated.

Because many fantasy owners strive for impartial analysis, it is unlikely this strategy will accomplish much. While you may cripple the riffraff early, the other “smart” owners will reap the same benefits as you do. In fact, chances are they’re pursuing the same approach. Keep an eye out for this.

When it’s obvious owners are nominating players they think are overrated, sometimes a real asset sneaks out into the pool. In my home league last year, I thought I was going to hoodwink someone with Paul Konerko. He ended up going for a mere $3 (to an auto-drafter, no less) and put together his best campaign ever.

This strategy can be very entertaining when one owner pursues an extreme stars-and-scrubs approach. It’s not unusual for this type of owner to win five, six, or seven players in the first 20 minutes and then be forced to practically sit out the draft for the next two hours. If you manage to sneak a couple of duds onto that roster in the process, kudos to you.

Strategy No. 2: Nominate players you do want (in conjunction with strategy No. 1)

It is probably a bad idea to nominate your targets from the outset of the draft. Once everyone starts to settle in and you have established a pattern of nominating players that you really do not like, switch up the strategy and put forward a target.

You should use a very specific type of target for this strategy. Post-hype players like B.J. Upton and Vernon Wells probably work best. With any luck, your rivals will share your assumed skepticism and bid sparingly.

If you want to get the most out of this strategy, be sure to heckle owners when they win your nominated duds. Complain vigorously when you “accidentally” win your targets.

Strategy No. 3: Nominate players only you want

The purpose of this strategy is pretty simple. By stocking up on the back end of your roster early in the auction, more dollars and concentration can be focused on your expensive targets. With this strategy, you are looking for players who will cost only $1. They should be the type of player that you will happily allow a rival to take for $2 or more.

The easiest players to target with this strategy are elite, non-closer relievers. In any given week, a trio of Adams, Luke Gregerson, and Hong-Chih Kuo can be counted on to out-pitch Tim Lincecum. If you are willing to trade two roster spots and a few wins for $30-ish and superior rate stats, this might be a strategy to consider.

Other players you can target are prospects that you intend to stash (I did this with Carlos Santana last season) or potentially decent players with job uncertainty. Think of the Brent Morels and Dayan Viciedos of the world for this latter category.

The risk of this strategy is knowing when to stop. Late in the draft, you might learn that players you didn’t expect to be around for under $5 are still sitting on the board. You’ll be kicking yourself if Ryan Madson is standing between you and a legitimate breakout candidate.

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Strategy No. 4: Trick your rivals into joining the party (with strategy No. 3)

This is where the draft chat could prove useful. Owners often comment on the perceived draft strategies of other owners. Perhaps they are trying to prevent a rival from building too much value without risking his own resources. For example, maybe they don’t want to own Kenley Jansen for $2, but they don’t want you to own him for $1 either.

Sometimes after you acquire a decent $1 player early in the draft, the chatters will take notice. Take advantage of their attention by nominating somebody you expect to blow up in their faces. A reliever who notoriously struggles in April could make a good target, or maybe a truly execrable fantasy starting pitcher like Livan Hernandez or John Lannan. If your league mates have taken the bait, they will spend $2 or more on a player who could do a little damage to their roster.

Don’t forget to congratulate the winning bidder for picking up such a cheap “breakout” candidate (replace “breakout” with phrase of choice).

Strategy No. 5: Bid on everybody, win few

This is not a nomination strategy per se, but couples well with strategies No. 1 and No. 2. The rationale is simple: If you are always seen to be among the last bidders for a player, including those that you nominate, nobody will have any idea when you actually want a player. This will prevent your rivals from bidding on your target just to make you pay an extra $5. Once this pattern is established, you can mix the first two nomination strategies at your discretion.

The risk in this strategy is obvious: Don’t get caught overbidding. You will catch the occasional player you did not intend to draft, although this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Last year, Miguel Cabrera and David Wright both fell into my lap for $29 due to this strategy.

In conclusion, these are some useful tricks you can use in an auction draft to gain some value from your nominations. The more believable misinformation you spread via the chat feature, the easier this becomes. Readers with their own nomination strategies are encouraged to share.


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nolan
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nolan

Strategy No. 6

Nominate the Angels’ Ryan Braun, hope somebody bites.

Brad Johnson
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Brad Johnson

I have a friend who loves to do that with the Adrian Peterson’s.

Will Hatheway
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Will Hatheway
Thanks for this article … I want some more auction love on these sites! I read with interest about your “Mike Adams’” of the world, because creating a “composite ace” with just such guys is a favorite of mine, but I wasn’t sure if nominating them early could hurt because, while others are still flush, they might chuck a few bucks when otherwise I might get them for a buck at the end. Of course, that means I need to have the discipline none seem to actually have to have a few dollars over minimum left over at the end… Read more »
Will Hatheway
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Will Hatheway

Oh, and is there anywhere that has a MDC-esque average cost payed for auction draft players out there?

Brad Johnson
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Brad Johnson
I’ve always kind of eschewed MDC-ish stuff. I know that average cost type stats are just going to give me priors that could conflict with my goals. The less I muddy my instincts with average costs, the sharper I am. Besides, the more competitive the league, the less useful those average stats become. So to answer your question, I don’t know where to go offhand. As for the composite ace question, I suppose it’s a matter of knowing your league. For instance, in the leagues I’ve played in recent years, non-closer relief aces tend to get shuffled on and off… Read more »
Ian
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Ian

I have been able to get a rough estimate of average auction value from the formula

AAV($) = 55-9.6*LN(ADP)

I figured that out a few years ago from ESPN data, you can replace the 55 with whatever you expect the top player to go for. 

It’s not perfect, but it will give you some idea.

Will Hatheway
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Will Hatheway

Thanks Ian!

Brad – agreed on eschewing MDC … I just wanted to get a generic sense of the market. I certainly don’t let those values hold me back, but I enjoy getting a sense of what sort of squad I might be able to put together (e.g. say I don’t get Votto when I planned him plus Cain; is it possible, then, to pay the same I projected for them as to get Fielder and Kershaw, etc.).

Brad Johnson
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Brad Johnson

I’m a little unusual in that I take a lot of joy from improvising. So for most fantasy drafts, my prep work consists solely of learning which guys I like a lot and which guys I don’t like.

Bob
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Bob

Good info thanks Brad. Are there any other sites that you can do a mock auction other than CBS and mock draft central?

Any suggestions on auction software, I have used Diamond Draft and it’s not bad. Was looking at Roto champ, any others, your thoughts?

Brad Johnson
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Brad Johnson
The best software is going to cost some money and I’m stingier than Scrooge when it comes to the checkbook. I also take a lot of pride in doing things on my own. Maybe if I was playing a $500 league I’d look into supplementing my knowledge, but when I’m forking over $20ish to play, I prefer the challenge of relying on my own mental faculties, fangraphs, and Oliver. I know at least one of the guys in the THT Fantasy league uses a software program that he’s happy with so I’ll see if I can get him to comment… Read more »
Joe Dimino
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Joe Dimino
I’m the one Brad referred to earlier that uses software. I’ve used Benson’s software and RotoLab. One of the nice things about both of these is that they will calculate inflation during your auction and adjust player prices accordingly. It’s also nice to visually be able to see that there is one really good player at a position left, with a huge dropoff after, things like that. If you are in a standard league, I’d recommend going with RotoLab over Benson. I think the interface is more intuitive. Also a nice feature of rotolab is the ability to tune values… Read more »
Bob
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Bob

good info thanks, I would give Diamond draft a C+ as it has doubled it’s price in the last two years.

Any mock auction sites?

Brad Johnson
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Brad Johnson

Your best bet for a mock draft is to set one up with some buddies on MDC. I’ve not found a site where the owners typically stick around for more than half the draft.

Jason B
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Jason B

Also, for people that have “real live” auction drafts – i.e., not on the computer –

Rule #6: Don’t take ten minutes to nominate someone. There are literally 150 choices, and everyone has 15 roster slots left. You’re not going to slide Maddy Bumgarner through for a buck right now. GET A MOVE ON!!

(We host a live auction for football and baseball each year; there’s always someone who is “that guy”.)

Brad Johnson
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Brad Johnson
You can solve that problem fairly easily by adding a simple rule to the league constitution. Nominations: Owners will be asked to nominate players in a circular order. Owners who take more than 60 seconds to nominate a player will forfeit their nomination. In such a case, the top rated player on the draft board will stand as that owner’s nomination. If you want to really incentivize speed, instead of that last sentence, the constitution could read: In the event an owner fails to make a nomination, the next owner will be asked to make one on his behalf. Nobody… Read more »
John
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John

Brad check out fantistics software.. they project Quality Starts and Holds, an calculate inflation rates as well.

Brad Johnson
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Brad Johnson

That was incredibly coherent for an All-Caps post…

david kerstein
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david kerstein

wait till you get to be over 55!!!!!!!!!!

Brad Johnson
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Brad Johnson
This one’s for you Chattanooga- #6 – The nice thing about an auction draft is that you don’t get the same run on closers that always is a problem in snake drafts. When Soria, Wilson, Marmol, etc are nominated, they tend to sell for exactly what they are worth, between $10-15. It often is very worthwhile to pay for these elite closers. This isn’t paying for saves per se, it’s paying for a reliever who will contribute saves while shaving points off your ERA and WHIP and increasing your K/9. Combining several elite relievers goes a long way towards sweeping… Read more »
James Morgan
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James Morgan
In re strategy #4: It’s a risky move to nominate Livan, because you may only hear crickets afterwards, then he’s a lead wight on your roster. Your best tactic is to make every nomination with a specific purpose in mind, not a general one like getting money off the table in general. Another tactic that is sometimes useful is to nominate very early a 2nd tier player in a category or position eligibility where there are at least 2 Top Tier Players still out there. You won’t get a steal, but you may end up buying him for closer to… Read more »
chattanooga
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chattanooga
last year, I posted “10 simple rules to succeed in an auction draft” over at the fantasy cafe.  Here is that info, although if any of my league mates are reading this, please disregard (I’m talking to you, Les).  Remember, I posted this in march of 2010, so the names don’t directly correlate… but were definitely prescient Of course, this all depends on your roster specs, h2h vs roto, keeper league, add/drop limits, etc. but for a few tips: 1. if you really want a player, BUY THEM. go ahead and spend the extra $3-4 over valuation if you really… Read more »
Jeffrey Gross
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Jeffrey Gross

oh David, your strategy was a fluke, employed in a league with only 3 people who had previously ever played auction. You watch out, we’re coming guns blazing this year.

Jeffrey Gross
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Jeffrey Gross

Also, I plan to challenge well in the THTF league. I’m holding an ace up my sleeve in an amped up xWHIP calc that determines, once regressing batted ball data, expected FIP, expected tERA and expected BABIP (on top of the whole expected WHIP bit).

For hitters, I’ve got my zScore index smile. Look out world.

Then again, I did promise to draft pitchers exclusively based on velocity this year (Latos, Beckett, Liriano/Greinke/scherzer, and….Garza)

Jeffrey Gross
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Jeffrey Gross

Joe,

Can you give us more insight in to rotolabs? I was sincerely thinking about giving it a look, but tempted to try my self-perpetuated Z-score chart this year and hope I’m not as bad at math as I know I am nowadays…

DAVID KERSTEIN
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DAVID KERSTEIN

NOMINATE POSITION PLAYERS WHO ARE SURE TO GET DRAFTED AT A POSITION/CATEGORY YOU HAVE A STRATEGY TO TANK

I NOMINATED CLOSERS THE FIRST 7 ROUNDS AND NEVER DRAFTED ONE
THE PRICE BECAME SO HIGH PER CLOSER AFTER ROUND 5
THAT I GOT BOTH A GON AND MIGUEL CABRERBA FOR LESS THAN 25 EACH WITH TULO GOING FOR 31
ALSO DRAFTED HALLADAY, LIRIANO, AND WON THE LEAGUE WITH 4 PTS TO SPARE—JEFF GROSS CAN ATTEST

Brad Johnson
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Brad Johnson
James- Good stuff with the bidding values. I was thinking about doing a separate post on bidding but there really isn’t too much to say past the strategy you mentioned and the good ol’ $1 increment approach. The 2nd tier player strategy is also a good idea so long as you want the guy. It can be hard to pass up on the chance to bid on Jose Reyes by nominating Alexei Ramirez early for instance. On Livan, every year I consider 1-2 of my roster spots to be waste picks in a draft. Last year I got stuck with… Read more »
chattanooga
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chattanooga
@BJ- re: counterpoint #6 yeah, the “top tier” closers will sell for ~$15 a piece, but that’s an absolute waste of money.  Last year, you would have spent $60+ on a bullpen of Broxton, Nathan, Papelbon, and Fuentes…which would have been bested by my $14 bullpen of Thornton, Soriano, Feliz, and Axford. that extra $36 is a TOP TIER PLAYER.  You are welcome to keep paying $10-15 per reliever, but I will gladly take the “garbage” relievers and an infield of Pujols, Hanley, A-Rod, and Uggla, with Youk as the Util.  Which i had last year. There is SO much… Read more »
chattanooga
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chattanooga

…and @BJ:

LMAO at your “However, it can be extremely advantageous to pay for steals when they come in the form of the Carl Crawfords, Nelson Cruzs…”

Nelson Cruz was one of my $1 outfielders in 2009. wink

case in point.

Brad Johnson
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Brad Johnson
Well yea, if you don’t do your homework and pay elite prices for second-tier relievers you’re going to get burned (aside from Nathan who was hurt and Broxton who lost the strike zone). I invested $35 in a more elite unit of Mo, Bell, and Soriano which basically combined to be the best starting pitcher in baseball + 120 saves. If you take the scrap heap approach you’re either going to be middle of the pack in saves because you have a bunch of Thorntons, Adams, and Kuos, or you’re going to be using the Joe Borowski’s andd Octavio Dotels… Read more »
chattanooga
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chattanooga
considering Broxton was the consensus #1 closer going into 2010, I would hardly call that “spending indiscriminantly”.  I guess you could have gone with another “elite” from the top 5, like Nathan, Paps, K-Rod… Go ahead and cherry pick Joe Borowski.  at least you know what you’re spending your ONE DOLLAR on. We could play a game to test the strategies:  You take ANY 5 closers selling for an AAV of $10+ and I’ll pick 5 selling for an AAV of $5 or less.  we can compare stats at the end of the season and decide if the stats are… Read more »
Brad Johnson
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Brad Johnson

I don’t think I can match your rules this year. I’m only seeing Bell and Soria as worth the investment. Maybe Marmol too for the ridiculous k/9. I’ll gladly supplement them with a combination of Adams, Gregerson, and Thornton though.

Mike
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Mike

Ian or anyone that knows: 

What does “LN” in your formula
“AAV($) = 55-9.6*LN(ADP)” stand for? 

I’m betting it’s something obvious, but nothing is coming to mind. 

Thanks.

Paul Singman
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Paul Singman

LN in math is the natural log, which is “log base e”. Applying a log to the ADP values will help incorporate that the 10 pick difference between pick 1 and 10 is a lot more important that pick 90 and 100.

Paul Singman
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Paul Singman

Before someone points this out: *10 pick difference between 1 and 11 and 90 and 100.

Vince
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Vince
I play in a 12-team AL only league so there isn’t the depth of a mixed league; you don’t get a team of starters. As a result, I like using standings gain points (SGP) to value players.  Marginal SGP and position depth/inflation/scarcity will vary from year to year where players are kept in keeper formats, not to mention that all of these are of course dynamic during the auction. You need to establish baselines at each stat… (say 9.5HR = 1 SGP based on previous season homer totals in the league and the spread between first and last place teams)… Read more »
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