Thursday, August 27, 2009

Your First Fantasy Auction

Most of you have spent your fantasy football careers acquiring players at the outset of the season via the draft system. While there is a great deal of anticipation to drawing crumbled-up pieces of paper out of a hat to decide the draft order, an auction is a much more fun and enveloping ritual. In an auction, psychology and money management must be factored into a successful strategy when fleshing out your roster. In an auction, anyone can own Adrian Peterson, not just the lucky sap who drew a "1" out of the hat during a draft lottery. Throughout my years being involved in fantasy auctions, I have acquired a few nuggets of wisdom (sometimes, the hard way), and will now impart said wisdom to you. In short, a draft is like a game of checkers while an auction is more akin to chess.

KNOW YOUR ENEMIES – If you are in a league with your buddies, coworkers, or acquaintances, knowledge of your league competition is of paramount importance. Before your auction, gather as much intel as possible on your leaguemates’ favorite teams, favorite players, who they picked in previous years, and which university they attended or favor. It is also helpful to know if they’re generally spendthrift or frugal with their money. You’d be surprised how their spending habits in real life will mirror how they shop for their fantasy squad. If you are in a one-on-one bidding war with someone, you’ll know they’ll likely bid a bit over market value on someone from their favorite team, alma mater, or their best player from last season’s fantasy team that had a monster year for them. If you’re bidding on a handcuff RB with someone who owns the starting RB from the same team, then you’ll likely get them to prolong the bidding for a couple more rounds and deplete their funds more quickly.

KNOW THE MARKET – In the case of a fantasy auction, the “market” is defined as the remaining players available in the free agent pool before the auction ends in conjunction with the remaining people who can bid on a player. For example, in many auctions, you are only allowed to bid on your starting lineup first. That means if someone already bought two quarterbacks in a 2-QB league, that team is ineligible to bid on any more QBs. Fewer bidders means fewer people driving up the price, or, as I affectionately call these people, “Price Driver-Uppers,” which typically results in a lower price for a player. Even if an elite asset is still available, they’ll be cheaper if they’re acquired later in the draft (when people have filled up their roster spots and have run out of money) than earlier. Also, it is important to be aware of the remaining elite talent available per position. If someone has merely adequate wide receivers, and the only supreme talent left is, say, Reggie Wayne, then you will be able to gouge that person for extra cash by driving up Wayne’s price before dropping out of the auction (unless you also need Wayne on your squad).

USE THE DRAFT BOARD - Consider this to be “Know the Market: Part 2.” By using the draft board, typically mounted on a wall of the room you are auctioning in, you can see 1) who has glaring holes in the team they are assembling, meaning how much they will (over)pay for a stud to give them a better feeling about how their lineup will shake out come Week 1. Also, you can use the draft board to 2) see the number of people eligible to bid on a certain position by looking at their rosters, and get a feel for how much a particular player might cost. 3) It is important to use the draft board to establish market value - to see how much your leaguemates are paying for talent of all tiers. If Tony Romo went off the board for $30, then you can expect to pay at least as much, if not more, for Drew Brees. If someone paid $37 for Michael Turner, then, unless you have a dearth of talent at RB, you shouldn’t expect to pay more than $28 for, say, Thomas Jones.

KEEP AN EAGLE EYE ON YOUR FINANCES - Nothing feels worse than running low on money early in the auction when there are still a bunch of available players you wish you could bid on, but can’t because you know you’ll get outbid. Be judicious with your spending in the early stages. While you’ll have to pony up for top-tier talent, don’t overpay for someone whose stats can be matched by dozens of other players in the league. For example, don’t bid $24 for Donald Driver when there are 20 other receivers in the league who can also accrue 70 catches, 1000 yards and 6 TDs. Supply and demand is the fundamental lesson from Econ 101 you must take into account in a fantasy auction setting.

DON’T LOSE YOUR HEAD AFTER MAKING A MISTAKE – I remember one year, someone put up mediocre WR Curtis Conway for a dollar. I was sidetracked when I was flipping through my research on another player. Since I went to USC, and Curtis Conway was someone whom I had a favorable impression of from his Trojan days than in the NFL, I blurted out “one-ten” before I even realized what I had said. As soon as I heard myself say “one-ten” in reference to Curtis Conway, I felt a silence overcome the room, the hair on the back of my neck beginning to bristle, and a hot flush feeling on my forehead followed by a single bead of sweat trickling down the side of my face. I then heard the most dreaded sound you can hear at an auction after you realize you just overpaid for a player, “Out.Out.Out.Out.Out.Out.Out.Out.Out." I looked up at the fellow USC alum who started Conway’s bidding at a dollar. Only now, he had a huge grin on his face which made me want to smash his teeth in. He took a calculated risk by putting up Conway for auction, screwed me big time when I took the bait, and we both knew it. For the next hour, not only did I struggle with the ignominy of overpaying for Curtis Conway (his value was closer to a nickel than a dollar), but I saw a ton of quality wideouts go for a fraction of what I paid for Conway. I found myself unable to get over my gaffe, and wasn’t thinking clearly enough to gauge a bargain when it finally came my way towards the end of the draft. “Nah, I’m not paying fifty cents for Chad Johnson.” Sigh….Keep a cool head, everyone makes mistakes, it’s how we learn from those mistakes that defines us as quality fantasy GM’s.

BE ‘THAT GUY’ – At almost every fantasy draft or auction, there’s always one guy who gets under people’s skin. It could be an obnoxious tool who thinks his team in better than everyone else’s, or perhaps someone who criticizes every semi-questionable move made, or it could be someone who announces injuries or other bad news about a recent acquisition (someone who drafts Steve Slaton would elicit the faux-aside comment from ‘That Guy’, “Well, hopefully he’ll still have some value even if he loses goal-line carries to Chris Brown.” Don’t be afraid to be ‘That Guy’. Given the accounting and psychology factors, people are using their heads more in fantasy auctions, and are more susceptible to getting thrown off their game than in a draft setting, where they simply pick names off their cheatsheets. You may piss your league mates off, but given that this only happens once a year, you’ll have a lot of fun in the process. Besides, people love a good villain.

START LOW – If your opening bid is too high for a player whose value is in question, you may hear the above-mentioned “Out” chorus from your competitors. Coming off James Jett’s 11-TD season a few years ago, I thought I might throw out Jett’s name for a dollar in case one of three Raider fans in the room decided they wanted him (basically, me lashing out for the Curtis Conway debacle from a year earlier). As they knew I was a Bronco fan/Raider hater, and that Jett’s 11 TDs were a total fluke since they actually watched the guy play, they decided that I should get to keep him for the inflated price. Nothing bad can come of bidding too low for a player, but you might get stuck overpaying if your competition is wise to your chicanery.

DON’T PUT UP PLAYERS YOU LIKE – If your auction is structured that league members sitting around the room rotate in deciding who goes up for auction, then it is helpful to avoid putting up your favorite players or players you want on your team. If your mates know you’re a Dolphins fan and you put up Pennington, Ronnie Brown and Davone Bess for bidding, they know they’ll be able to milk you for more money by virtue of the fact that you couldn’t wait for someone else to put those Fish up for sale. Rest assured, the studs and your favorite players and sleepers will probably get introduced before the auction is over. If nobody introduces your favorite sleepers until the end, then you can get those players much cheaper when everyone is almost out of money.

MAINTAIN YOUR POKER FACE – During an auction, it’s easy to see when a fantasy owner really wants a particular player – they become the auctioneer. “Okay, Alex just bid $25 for Stephen Jackson. Tony, what about you? $26 for Jackson? Tony?” ThIs is but one of the most common “tells” during a fantasy auction. Instead of running the auction, act calm, cool, and aloof when you’re bidding on a player you like. Almost feign disinterest, and continue to bid, especially if you know someone covets a particular player. “$32 for MJD? Hmm, I dunno, he may not hold up all year as the featured back…aw, what the hell, make it $35.” This will infuriate your bidding competition, causing much delight to everyone else.

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