Auction Strategies and Tactics
By Greg Russell
August 30th, 2011

It can be overwhelming the first time a league switches from a draft to an auction format. If that is the case for you, take a deep breath and relax, it doesn't take that much to get well prepared. Many people find auctions more enjoyable than drafts and end up wondering why they didn't switch earlier.

Some people enjoy auctions because they are able to pick up favorite players. Some love the access to those elite players that in a draft only the top few picks can get. Others love auctions because the flexibility they afford allows them to build the truly strongest team possible.

No matter which of those categories you fit into, you will find useful information here. It is the latter group, however, those whose goal is to build the absolute best team possible, that this article is truly aimed at. So let's get down to the strategies for dominating your league's auction.

Have a price for every player

In order to build the best team you need to get as much fantasy production as possible for the money that you spend. To do this, you need to understand how much value each player brings to your fantasy team, and what that value is worth. Once you know this, you can tell during the auction whether a given player's current price makes him beneficial or not to your team.

In a good set of auction values, players who bring about the same value to your team will have about the same price. So it won't matter if you get a $30 WR and a $40 QB, or a $40 WR and a $30 QB. Both pairs of players will be equally valuable.

The first thing you need is a set of projected fantasy points for each player that represents your beliefs, or those of someone you trust, on what the players will score. Footballguys provides projections from a number of staff members, as well as tools like Projections Dominator for creating your own.

Once you have a set of projected points for each player, you can turn them into auction prices. Draft Dominator and the Value Based Drafting (VBD) Excel application can both handle the math of turning projections into auction prices. Draft Dominator uses a sophisticated method created by Maurile Tremblay which accounts for many things, even down to how one expects the 23rd ranked RB to start less fantasy games than the 1st ranked RB. It is the preferred method to use.

While it is very useful to understand the basics on how to calculate auction prices, going through the full details now would bog this article down. In the Appendix at the end of this article you can find a walkthrough of a basic method, as well as the location of the full article on Maurile's Auction Method.

For now, it is enough to know that you can load your projections into Draft Dominator, or use the ones supplied by Footballguys. Go into Setup and enter your league parameters and check the On/Off button under Auction Settings as well as entering your league salary cap. You can leave the other auction settings alone for now. They are more fully explained in Maurile's article and in the Draft Dominator help files.

The optimal strategy is a flexible one

To meet the goal of maximizing your team, you should be much more flexible with your overall strategy than you are in a draft. You may end up with a team with strong QB and WRs while being weaker at RB, or with a team with dominant RBs but weaker at the other positions, or your team might be very good but not elite at all positions. Since your prices reflect what your beliefs say the players' true value is, it doesn't matter, within reason, how much money you spend at each position. The most important parts of your strategy are acquiring starting caliber players for cheaper than their value, and spending most of your cap on your starters. Be flexible and willing to accept whatever of combination of starters give you the best ultimate team.

Spend most of your money on starters

For an auction where you start with empty rosters each year (e.g. a redraft league), you likely want to spend about 85% of your salary cap on your starters. You may wish to adjust this number as you gain experience with your league. Generally teams will spend a little extra on their primary backups, especially running back, but then fill out remaining roster spaces with closer to minimum price players. You will often want to save a little bit more money for the end than other teams, for reasons that will be covered later in the section on the Power of $2.

In dynasty or larger keeper leagues where salaries are kept or adjusted from one year to the next, you may need to allocate more money to players who may become starters in the future at a favorable price. The exact amount can vary widely based on your league, but as an example you might only spend 70% of your cap on starters in such a league, and use the other 30% for backups and developmental players.

Spend your entire cap

Some leagues may use bidding for waivers, and may use your same salary cap as the auction does. In such a case you will want to save some money for the waivers.

If your league is like most, however, any unspent cap room goes to waste. If you see that you have a lot of cap room left compared to the cost of the starters still available, you need to start spending money on the best remaining players.

Acquire good values when possible, but reinvest the savings in better starters

One common mistake that people make is they focus on making every player they acquire a good value, and end up with a lot of money left that could have paid for a better starter. They end up dominating the end of the draft and have great backups but poor starters.

Your last starting spot you fill should get all of the remaining money you allocated for starters. For example, you still need a starting QB and a starting WR, and have $40 left of your 85% cap allocated as starter money. When you pick up for $15 a QB that you value at $20, don't worry about whether the WR that you get is a good value compared to your price for him. You have $25 left, get the very best WR you can for that money, even if he is a poor value by your price. Though hopefully, you planned enough ahead that you will be able to find for that $25 a WR who you valued at $30.

Not only should your last starting spot get all of the remaining starter money, but you need to keep an eye on how much starter money you have left and what players are still available at positions of need. If the combined prices of the best players available at positions of need are close to your remaining cap room, that means you need to be getting all the best players left or you will end up spending on backups the money that could have improved your starting lineup.

Be willing to bid on anyone, but only what you're ok with if you win.

Since you are looking to build the strongest team, you should be willing to pay up to your price for that player assuming he is a) at a position of need, and b) fits into how you expect the rest of your starter money will be spent. If you already have a QB you may not wish to bid one up beyond what you would pay for a backup. If you have $40 left of starter money and only need a WR, you probably do not want to bid up a WR that you only think is worth $25 as you might get stuck with him for $20 and end up with a lesser WR starter than you could have.

Some people may say, "But I don't like Player X and don't want him on my team." If that is the case then you should have a low projection for him which means you are only willing to make low bids on him. If other owners value him more, they will outbid you. This is a case of where you need to make sure that your projections reflect your beliefs.

A good rule of thumb is to be willing to bid up to 80% of what you think a starting player's price should be. If you win him before it is time to bail out, then you got a great bargain. If he is a player that you truly do want even at higher than 80% of his price, continue bidding. The only way you should be spending over your price, though, is if it is necessary to get a starter worthy player at the position.

It is ok to overspend if it is necessary to get a starter at the position

This is a very important one. Some leagues are willing to pay every worthwhile starter at a position a price higher than the price that your projections say they are worth. Running back is the position this is most often the case for. You may find that if you do not overspend as well, you will not get starting caliber players.

This is a good thing for you when your league overspends. It means you will get value at the other positions. In such a case it is better for you to overspend than it is to end up with players who are not starter worthy. Just try to overspend by less than other teams do. If everyone else is paying 15% over your RB prices and you only pay 5% over, you will have more money to cash in on the values at other positions.

The first and last players auctioned from a tier tend to cost more

Many times you'll see an entire tier of players be auctioned off close to one another. Within a tier of similarly producing players at a position, the first such player auctioned off frequently tends to be more expensive than the middle players. The last player from the tier also tends to be more expensive as owners vie to not get stuck with someone from a lower tier.

The last starter-worthy RBs tend to be overpriced

In many leagues of twelve or more teams that start at least two RBs, and especially those with a flex, there are not enough RBs to go around that people are happy starting. As a result, the final few running backs often are the subject of intense bidding, and they may even be sold for more than a much better RB who was auctioned before the supply of RBs was depleted. You may wish to get your starters before 75% of the starting RBs are auctioned off.

A non-elite player nominated at the very start often goes for either a cheap or expensive price

Most people better grasp prices when they think of them top-down. That is, once they know what the most expensive QB is going for, they have a better feeling for what any other QB is worth. Since the top players at positions tend to get nominated first, owners figure out the prices fairly quickly.

Because of this, bargains can be found by nominating a player of above average quality before the studs at his position have been auctioned off. An example might be putting RB8 up for bidding in a twelve team league where each team starts two RBs. Since you already have a price for every player, you will know if the price for the player is a good one or not.

The opposite can also be true. Owners who have to wait to see the prices of the elite players may overestimate and so overpay for the player. In such a case, drop out as the bidding approaches your true price for him.

Seeing what elite players go for can guide you towards bargains

Just as the other owners will get an idea of what prices a position will go for based on the winning bids on elite players, so will you. This can help you decide which positions your league is overspending on, and which may hold a lot of bargains. Though you want to remain flexible, you should be looking for cues from each completed auction as to where the best values may lie so you can take advantage of them.

You can also try to use Average Auction Values (AAV) to have an idea of what prices players may go for. Use caution with such values though, as league configuration such as number of teams, number of starters and scoring system can greatly change auction prices.

Nominate top players you do not want or need

There are times to nominate a player that you do want, such as a middling player at the top of the auction, or at the end when you often get the player you nominated. The majority of the time, however, you want to nominate players that you do not plan on buying. As teams spend money on players you do not want, they have less money to bid on players that you do want. The best players to nominate are ones at a position in which you have already filled your starting needs. You may also wish to nominate players you know certain members of your league may especially covet.

Some people like to mix it up so that other owners cannot tell who they actually are targeting. While there is some merit to this, if you are following the earlier advice and bidding up every player at a position of need to 80% of his price, you'll be bidding so much people likely won't be able to tell which players you truly covet until the bidding is approaching the player's true price.

If you have overspent, stop spending and let the auction come back to you

This is a very important strategy that even some auction vets don't realize. At some point you might find that you've spent more of your cap than other teams, and you are getting pushed out of bidding. At such a time the best thing you can do, if possible, is to just sit back and stop spending. As other teams acquire players, their salary cap will continue to drop and eventually the auction will come back to where you can be in the running for players you still want.

If you don't stop spending, you may find that you get stuck with a player for a price you really can't afford in your current cap situation, and that knocks you out of the auction until the very end when the backup caliber players are being auctioned.

One caveat, you still do need to get quality starters. You may need to make a judgment call whether that last QB you are happy starting will be worth having little depth as you spend the bulk of your remaining cap to get him.

The Power of $2

At the end of an auction, teams may only have slightly more money than that required to fill their remaining roster spots with minimum priced players. At such a time, a team who has saved $2 per roster spot can often have their pick of the remaining players. This is sometimes referred as the Power of $2.

The dynamic plays out like this. Team A nominates a player that you want and bids $1. You quickly bid $2. Now if Team A wants that player, he has to pay $3 for him. When teams are low on cap room, $3 is a very big amount. A team with 5 roster spots to fill and $7 left would lose all of his discretionary money if he bid $3. He would have 4 roster spots left to fill and only $1 for each, so any $2 bid would beat him.

It is a very good idea to try to budget your money so when teams are down to their final roster spots, you have the Power of $2 on your side. Another thing to keep in mind is that you need to be quick to get your $2 bid in before someone else. If you have saved $2 for every spot, but someone beats you to put that $2 bid in, now you'll have to let the player go or spend $3. If you spend $3 then one of your roster spots now only has $1 allocated to it and someone else can use the Power of $2 on you when you try to fill it.

If you are particularly well set in cap room at the end, in some cases you may wish to open bidding for your own backups at $2 so that anyone wishing to go over you has to spend $3.

Keep track of your opponents' cap room and needs

If you are auctioning online, most sites give you the ability to see how much cap room is left for each team, as well as see their roster. Even if you aren't online, you can track the auction in Draft Dominator. This is very useful. If someone is low on money but still has starter spots open, you can likely push him out of the bidding for a player. If an owner has a lot of money left but lacks starters at a position that is being depleted like RB, you may be able to bid him up higher than he normally would go. Seeing how many teams need RBs and how many are left can also help you avoid being stuck overpaying just to have a worthwhile starter.

Incorporate Draft Dominator's dynamic auction price

Draft Dominator will display two prices to you. One is the auction price which is the price your projections say each player is worth before the auction begins.

There is a second price labeled as the DynAuction price. This dynamic price changes as players are auctioned off. If a player is sold for more than you believed he should, it means less money is available for other players so their DynAuction prices drop. If a player is sold for less than you believed he should be, this leaves more money for other players so the DynAuction price increases.

The Dynamic Auction price is what teams should now be paying for him now that money has started draining out of team caps. It can help guide you to what you might expect to see in the rest of the auction in the way of prices.

Go through a mock auction before your first real auction

One cannot overstate how valuable it is just to go through an auction if you haven't before. You will get experience on many of the things that have been mentioned such as keeping an eye on others' rosters and making sure you get worthwhile starters before they run out. You also will want to go through the end of an auction where the Power of $2 is at work. It can be difficult to find mock auctions where everyone stays around long enough for the end, so you might find yourself auctioning against a computer at that point. It is still beneficial to go through it once. You can find free mock auctions at ESPN and Yahoo amongst other places.

Leagues inexperienced with auctions tend to run out of money quickly

Owners who are new to auctions are more likely as a group to overspend early. Elite players frequently go for more than they should. Player prices through a position do not drop off as quickly as they should. If you are in such a league, you might wish to hold back your money at first and take advantage of the values that will present themselves. However, be sure that you can still spend your 85%, or whatever amount you choose, on starters who are still available.

Know your league's tendencies

Knowing which of your owners overvalue a position or a player can be very beneficial. For leagues with a history of auctions, much insight can be gained from studying previous auctions. Note where the bargains were found and when the prices went higher than expected. Note which owners go after studs and which held money back looking for bargains later in the auction.

Bid other owners up when you think you can

One of the best things about auctions is that you can affect other teams' rosters. When you see that a team is in need of a position that has few starters left, you may be able to bid him up higher than he would normally go. The more money he spends for that player, the worse players he'll end up with at other positions.

Owners who have a special love for a given team (i.e. homers) or ones you know are high on a specific player are another good candidate to bid up the price on. Just remember not to make a bid that you're not willing to live with should it win the player. Just as you are trying to hurt the other team, some owners will spot you making a bid for a player that you don't need, and will let you win the player even at a bargain if it will ultimately hurt your starting lineup.

If you are new to auctions, you may wish to wait until you have a few under your belt to start doing this heavily. Knowledge of the other owner is the key.

Relax and have fun

Most of all stay loose and don't sweat it when you make a mistake. Few people can look back at an auction and honestly say that they wouldn't have done something different if they could do it over again. Let yourself enjoy the benefits that auctions bring to fantasy football.

Appendix: Example of Calculating Auction Prices

Draft Dominator uses a method created by Maurile Tremblay which was first published in an article in 2006. The article is included with Draft Dominator. To view it, go to the Help menu and select Auction Pricing.

The following example takes much less into account than Maurile's Auction Method, but it is a good way to grasp the basics of how to go from a projection to an auction price. The values used are made up and for illustrative purposes only.

  1. From your projections, find the value of each player. You will use the same value that Value Based Drafting (VBD) creates, and call it your VBD-value:
  2. Choose a player at each position to be a "baseline" player that each player at his position will be compared to. As a starting point, choose the highest ranked player that you think should be auctioned for the minimum price.
  3. For each player, take his projected fantasy points and subtract those of the baseline player for his position. This will be our VBD-Value for the player.

    Example: You have Adrian Peterson projected at 232 fantasy points. You think RB43 Michael Bush is the first RB who should go for no more than the minimum bid. Bush you have projected at 84 fantasy points.

    Peterson's VBD-value = (AP's fantasy points) - (Bush's fantasy points)

    = 232 - 84 = 148

  4. Determine Total Money available in the league.

    Total Money = (# teams * salary cap).

    Example: 12 team league with a $200 cap, Total Money = 12 * $200 = $2400.

  5. Determine Discretionary Money, the price of filling every roster spot with a minimum price player.

    Discretionary Money = Total Money - (# teams * roster size * minimum bid).

    Example: 24 roster spots and minimum bid is $1

    Discretionary Money = Total Money - (12 teams * 24 roster * $1 minimum)

    = $2400 - $288

    = $2112.

  6. Determine the Total VBD-value in the player pool by adding them all together. So you might find that all of the player's VBD-values add up to 6950 fantasy points.
  7. Find Value Cost by dividing Discretionary Money by Total VBD-value.

    Value Cost = Discretionary Money / Total VBD-value

    Example:

    Value Cost = $2112 / 6950 fantasy points = 0.303 dollars per fantasy point.

  8. Now that you know how much each point of value is worth, you determine each player's auction price. It is the $1 minimum bid you previously subtracted out for his roster spot, plus the cost of his VBD-value. So:

    Player price = minimum bid + (VBD-value * Value Cost)

    Example: Your projections give Adrian Peterson a VBD-value of 148. His price is:
    Price = $1 + (148 * 0.303) = $1 + $44.8 = $45.8… rounded up to $46.

Questions, suggestions and comments are always welcome to russell@footballguys.com.

© 2011 Footballguys - All Rights Reserved