NL/AL-Only Auction Draft Advice
Lucas breaks down all the best ways to approach your AL or NL-Only auction drafts!
The purest way to enjoy fantasy sports is by drafting using the auction format, which allows all league managers to draft any player in the pool, not leaving their choices up to the fate of a random number generator like snake drafts do. Snakes are fun, but auction is the ultimate format. There are myriad auction strategies, and they differ vastly from Only-league auctions to 12 or 15-team auctions, to keeper league auctions with inflation being factored in! Below are some various thoughts and concepts that I believe will help you have a successful auction draft!
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Fantasy Baseball Auction Draft Strategy Tips
Have a Plan and Pivot Players
Heading into the auction, download a set of auction values (like these on the Dr.Roto.com premium rankings!), scan over the player pool to see which positions you want to prioritize and which you can skimp on, and make a plan. For example, this year I think 1B can be skimped on and you can still get a really nice value even if you cheap out on the position. Create a mock team on paper or in Excel, using realistic but mock auction dollar numbers, and play around with two or three plans. Whether you want to go with a big-time elite ace or invest heavily in the top of the draft board talent with the likes of Trea Turner or Bo Bichette, being able to pivot off your plan is hugely important, so make sure you know which players you want, and as long as there is a lot of talent left on the board, there is no reason to panic or overpay! In a recent auction I did, I had three plans, one each for whether I got José Ramírez, Salvador Perez or Shohei Ohtani, all three players are unique and elite in their own way, and I had a plan for what to do if I got them. Once I won my first player, it shaped the rest of my plan, so be prepped enough to think on your feet.
Stars and Scrubs
One of the most common strategies for auction drafts is the stars and scrubs approach. In this build you aim to spend a lot of your budget on a few truly elite players, then fill out your roster with cheap options, forgoing the middle tier of players. Going for multiple elite, top-five players is a great way to start off the team, but at what cost? In a 10 or 12-team league, this could be optimal, since the $1 players at the end of your draft will still be useable and the free agent waiver wire is rich with talent to replace the scrubs if they flop. In a 15-team league, this strategy can still be done, but it does carry more risk. If you suffer injuries or underperformance from the studs, the scrubs will sink you like a stone if you didn’t hit big on waivers. I am comfortable with drafting four or five $1 players if there was heavy bidding at the top because then the players going for a dollar will be better. In an AL/NL-Only league, stars and scrubs is insanely risky because the $1 players you get are oftentimes bench bats, and playing time/volume is king in Only leagues. Overall, if you are confident you can look for upgrades on waivers for your $1 players (if they underperform), then stars and scrubs is viable in 12 and 15-team leagues. If you are not as active in looking for upgrades, perhaps a balanced strategy is the best approach.
Instead of taking on any top-three round players, imagine landing five players that go in Rounds 5-6, all really solid, proven players with guaranteed playing time and good lineup placements. That is one of the benefits of a balanced approach. I am not usually a big proponent of the balanced strategy, because I want to chase the power-speed options at the top of the board and then fill in with cheap but good power after landing them. However, in AL/NL-Only leagues, a balanced approach is really the best strategy. I’d rather have José Berríos and Nathan Eovaldi over Gerrit Cole and a $1 back-end RP in an Only league. Volume is king, and by investing in the top studs in Only, you are opening yourself up to a lot of risks if the stud does get hurt since replacement level is atrocious with only half of MLB available. Additionally, having as much playing time, innings pitched and at-bats as possible is the path to victory in all league formats, but especially in Only leagues, where it is as rare as gold!
Know the Player Pool Dropoffs/Cliffs
This is especially true in AL/NL-Only, where the limited pool can lead to even sharper breaks in tiers than usual. Looking at just one specific example, in the NL 2B falls off a cliff FAST. If you do not get either Trea Turner or Ozzie Albies, there is a fairly large drop down to Jonathan India, who is a nice player, but he doesn’t measure up to the studs. You can either prioritize landing a stud in a scarce position to have a unique and powerful build, or you can take the approach that most teams’ 2B situation is weak, so it's okay if yours is too. Knowing the player pool is always paramount to success. I wouldn’t overpay a lot to land a player at a tough position like 2B, since the cheaper options aren’t bad, but there is a clear drop-off.
For Mixed leagues, the big drop offs is at closer and catcher. During the MLB lockout, there are probably only eight or nine locked-in closers with a secure job. Getting one is absolutely paramount in my opinion. Getting two might even be ideal to not have to be chasing mediocre RPs on the waiver wire. Additionally, there is another huge cliff at catcher, so be mindful of your targets for closers and catchers heading into the draft and try to not miss your targets if the price feels right!
Spend Early to Ensure Production
As you can see, there are so many different ways to do well in auctions, but the cardinal sin in my opinion is holding your money too long and seeing all the impact talent dry up. If you have a boatload of cash and haven’t spent much at the auction table, and the best player available is Rhys Hoskins, well, perhaps you should have spent up more on balanced profiles with more of an elite ceiling. The balance of when to spend, when to wait and when to try to have a hammer is difficult. A hammer is when you have more money than most if not all teams, allowing you to pick and choose the best players available with little competition. Wait too long, and the upside of your team goes down severely since the players left aren’t true needle-movers. If you spend it all up too early, then you may be left watching really good hitters and pitchers go for insane values. I like to spend up on a few power-speed studs to ensure some balance, and a high-tier pitcher or two, as well as a closer. Then I’ll let my opponents blow through their budget and wait it out until the values get really good.
Every nomination should have a purpose. Whether you just drafted an elite ace and want to nominate other aces to get them out of the pool and to get money spent or you want to nominate a top closer to test out how much closers are going for in a specific league, each nomination carries value. This can be true of all positions if you want to see the value of certain things in an auction.
Another key piece to nomination strategy is to nominate key “chess-piece” players that can shape your entire auction early. Not sure what your plan will look like without Salvador Perez? Go ahead and figure out whether you have him as early in the auction as possible to determine whether he will be a part of your roster or if you need to go another direction. The ultimate player for this exercise is Adalberto Mondesi. Your entire team’s roster construction will change dramatically if you have him or don’t. Getting this information early in the draft is absolutely paramount, so nominate those unique chess pieces for the auction to see if you get them and, whether you do or don’t, adjust accordingly.
Additionally, at the end of the draft, you can block your opponents from winning your value targets with a $2 bid by nominating your favorite remaining targets at $2, which will increase your likelihood of landing them since someone will have to bid $3 to top you. Especially if most are out of money by then, this is a great strategy. If you want, you can also try to sneak in $1 players in the middle of the draft, but this often backfires. When all the teams have money, all it takes is one manager to say $2 and you then have to go to $3 to get back your favorite sleeper you could have had for $1 at the end of the draft. I’d rather try to sneak my targets through at the end when few teams have cash or have their rosters filled out and can’t compete with me!
Have a Mini-Hammer at The Endgame
Depending on how heavy the spending was early in the draft, there is a good chance that there will be a lot of good values at the endgame of the auction. If the spending was timid, then this won’t be the case since the dollars have to come off the board at some point, but oftentimes having just $20-30 with 8-10 spots to fill can be powerful, since you can have your pick of the litter once your league-mates decimate their budgets. There’s no feeling more powerless than throwing out guys in auction for $1 and seeing $2 be bid repeatedly and then settling for unsavory options. By having a mini-hammer, you can shape the bottom of your roster really well as long as you bought some high-end performers at the top to ensure you can achieve a high ceiling.
Never, ever price enforce, which means to bid up a guy just to decrease someone else’s budget by making them pay more. The only time this is a good idea is when you would like to have this player at that particular price. There will be good values for teams. Not every player will go at a fair rate, some will be bargains. But getting the stats and profiles you need is much more important than preventing someone else from getting a deal. Price enforcing can tie up your budget in a hurry, and I will not engage in that. Let the other 14 managers duke it out when it comes to setting the market on guys you are not interested in.
Never leave any money at the table. This is a common point, and leaving $1-2 is probably okay, but leaving $5 or more is ultimately a waste of resources.
Avoid paying $2-5 for players you're not positive are worth much more. Why tie up a roster spot with a $6 player who isn’t necessarily a value. I am happy to spend $2-5 on a guy who is way underpriced, but I am very picky with this. I have seen Cavan Biggio for $3 in some auctions when players like Wil Myers or Riley Greene went for just $1. Wait to fill those spots if there are still gobs of talent on the board.
It never hurts to be greedy at the auction table early on. You can sniff out player values and wait for the best deal, so long as the supply of targets you have your sights on doesn’t run out. Sometimes you can sneak an ace through for $4-5 cheaper than comparable players if the room isn’t locked in at that moment. However, sometimes the last player in a tier of closers or catchers can be more expensive than better players in that tier because people don’t want to miss out and get stuck in a bidding war.
Do not be afraid to exceed your values if you want a stud and that is the market price. If the room is high, you have to pay the premium, or else you will be looking at starting with no top-50 players. I am happy to pay a premium for a star player if I have to since there is no replicating what guys like Juan Soto or José Ramírez can do.
Lastly, go into the auction with a firm plan, jot down different build ideas, try to get good prices throughout the draft, get your starting pitching, speed and saves, and then have fun with it. Auctions are a ton of fun because you can get any player you want, and everyone has a fair shot at them, as well as the endless strategy options they bring with them.