Startup Dynasty Slow Auction – Part 1: Auction Prep & Strategy
This year I’ve been fortunate enough to join two brand new dynasty leagues. One in particular, which the owners have been posting about under the hashtag #DitkaDynasty, is utilizing a slow auction format to put together our teams. The league is hosted on Fantrax, but the auction is done on Couch Managers. It’s been a completely new draft format for me and hearing others express their unfamiliarity with the format, I thought that it would be beneficial to walk through the auction in a three part series.
In this first article, I’ll go over the steps I took to prepare for the auction as well as my pre-auction strategy for building this dynasty team from scratch. In the second part of this series, I’ll dive into how my strategy played out during the auction and an analysis of my own team. Then in the final article I’ll breakdown the league at large and identify some overall trends & player values.
League setting are always important, so let’s give this article a bit of context:
Roster: 30 MLB, 20 MiLB (graduation based)
Lineups: 2 Catcher, MI/CI, 1 UTL, 9 Pitcher spots, 7 Bench – Daily changes
Categories & Scoring: Standard 5×5 & Roto
Dynasty Settings: Keep forever, no salary cap (auction for initial player acquisition only)
How the auction works:
In the beginning, each team nominates two players each, giving the league 30 players to bid on at a time. Bids are done similar to eBay bidding, where you can bid up $1 at a time, or set a maximum bid amount that makes you the highest bidder until someone outbids your maximum. After a player is nominated, they are on the auction board for 12 hours. If there is a new high bidder after 8 hours has past, the clock is reset on that player back to 8 hours. After the clock runs out on a player, the team that nominated them gets to nominate another player. They are encouraged to nominate new players ASAP. The auction is conducted over the course of a couple of weeks until all teams are filled.
Auction budget: $300 for 40 players, with a $1 minimum bid amount (last 10 players of our 50 player teams are drafted via snake draft)
Now that we’ve got all this context out of the way, let’s move on to how I attacked prepping for the draft.
Auction Prep Step 1: Create projected auction values for each player
Prior to doing anything, I knew that I’d need to formulate auction values for each player. The overall goal in an auction should be to maximize the value of your assets. Going into an auction without a ballpark amount for each player makes this goal unattainable. At worst, it could lead to gross miscalculations. There are a couple of ways to go about calculating dollar values and in the end I decided to utilize the Fangraphs Auction Calculator as a starting point. The main reasons I went with a tool, instead of building out my own values, is that it’s an unbiased calculation and a time saver. The tool takes your league settings, a couple of custom inputs and the projection system of your choosing (Steamer for me), and spits out dollar values. These dollar amounts are not perfect by any means, but for a first step, they worked perfectly.
Auction Prep Step 2: Find a case study
Pulling data from the Fangraphs Auction Calculator is all well and good if we’re looking for values in a redraft league. For this league, we’re missing some pieces of information about how prospects and younger players have an increased value in dynasty formats. Once again, I had a couple options to consider. I could create my own dynasty rankings, or I could find prospect consensus rankings and integrate into the Auction Calculator values, or just simply adjust the Auction Calculator values for age. All of these options seemed arduous, potentially biased and unfulfilling. Thankfully, I figured out a quick and dirty way to obtain dynasty rankings – by using the RotoWire Dynasty Invitational draft results (#RDI).
For those that are not familiar, the RDI took 20 of the top fantasy prospectors, including FWFB’s Justin Mason & Matt Thompson, and had them start a dynasty league from scratch. It’s been one of the best pre-season dynasty resources with a multitude of articles and tweets recorded about the draft. The league’s high-end fantasy baseball and prospect minds provide, what I consider, trustworthy default 2018 dynasty rankings. This draft became my primary benchmark and my case study.
Auction Prep Step 3: Turn dynasty rankings into auction values
After taking the first two steps, I realized I’d need to combine the two data sources. The actual process was pretty straightforward. I took the Fangraphs Auction Calculator values and threw away the names. What was left was just 1st overall: $57.50, 2nd: $53.90, 3rd: $51.60, etc. I matched up the rankings of the auction values and assigned them to the players in each spot taken in the RDI. These were the resulting auction values of the top 10 players:
1. Mike Trout $57.50
2. Jose Altuve $53.90
3. Bryce Harper $51.60
4. Mookie Betts $44.50
5. Trea Turner $43.50
6. Carlos Correa $42.90
7. Nolan Arenado $42.30
8. Kris Bryant $41.80
9. Paul Goldschmidt $41.70
10. Francisco Lindor $40.90
I want to reiterate that this was a quick and dirty way of coming up with projected auction values. In some cases I liked a players more, other players a lot less, but in the end I had a starting point for each player’s values.
I’ll also mention that the RDI was different in a few of ways that impacted the projected auction values. First, it was a snake draft and especially in the beginning of the draft, we don’t know if an owner who didn’t have the opportunity to pick a player had him valued higher than where he ended up going. Secondly, the RDI had 20 owners and this league only has 15. In a deeper league, the starting spots are stretched thin, making some mid-tier players a bit more valuable. Probably not the last difference, but a big one, is this dynasty is a two-catcher league, where RDI was only one. Catchers certainly deserved to have their auction values bumped up in our league.
Auction Prep Step 4: Develop a team construction plan
As far as I can tell, a manager’s goal will tend to slot into one of these three categories:
1. Win this year, we’ll figure out the future in the future.
2. Build a team that will be competitive this year, but hedge with some younger players. If we are winning, go for it. If not, build for the next year.
3. Forget about this year and possibly next year too, we are building a powerhouse team for the future.
This league is my first start-up dynasty league (I’ve only took over orphan teams), so I took a long time to examine which category I wanted my team goal to fall under. There are obvious pit-falls to all three, which weighed heavy on my decision. In the end, I decided to go with door number three: the tank job. Let’s do a quick review of all three categories to quickly outline how I came to my decision:
1. Managers that go all-out to win during the 1st season end up investing heavily in players that are likely to be at their peak value and are thus likely to decline in value. They are also the players with the least trade value. So not only are you investing in depreciating assets, but you are also more likely to be stuck with them. The strategy marginally increases their chance at winning the league in the first year, and significantly decreases their chances in future seasons. The deeper the league in MiLB players owned, the worse it will be.
2. The teams that fall into the second category come into the draft believing they can do something that is extremely unlikely. Build a team that is competitive enough to win, right now, while simultaneously building for the future, being competitive enough to win in subsequent years. Their minds are in the right place, but starting rosters from scratch, I believe this is nearly impossible. To think that you’re good enough to get a strong advantage over the managers in category 1 (win now) AND over all of the other managers trying to accomplish the same goal as you is simply over-confidence in your skill as a fantasy baseball manager. More than likely, you’ll have a 1 in X chance of winning in 2018 and most of the following seasons. X being the sum of managers that choose categories 1 & 2, minus those that choose category 3 (tanked).
3. In the tank job, you’ll lose in the first year and most likely the second. The goal is to have built up an incredible amount of assets by the third year to unleash hell on your opposing teams. Some of your bets will pan out, some won’t, but if you play your hand right, you will have the best team in year three, four, five, etc. You will have created a dynasty (which really is the GOAL right?). Let me ask you this question. Which team do you think of first when you think of the word “dynasty”? Boston Red Sox or New York Yankees? The answer is obvious, but you may or may not know that the Boston Americans (later the Red Sox) won the first World Series. You’re right, no one gives a crap. My goal is to build the Yankees. Also, tanking during a slow auction should be even more effective than in a snake draft. The main reason is that you have all players available to you. In the end, you have greater access to player bargains and the ability to take advantage of league wide spending trends.
I’m not going to lie and say tanking is my idea or original at all. I was certainly influenced by Tom Trudeau & Greg Wellemeyer’s strategy in the RotoWire Dynasty Invitational (outlined here). At first, I was very skeptical of the strategy, but after digging into it more, I became convinced that it wasn’t just a good approach to apply towards this dynasty league, but the best approach.
To actually apply tanking during the auction, I went into it with a few loose guidelines:
1. First and foremost, buy bargains according to my projected auction values. This seems obvious, but it can be difficult to apply “in the moment” of the auction. I’m trying to buy assets that will increase in value, so getting the best deals will only increase my return on investment.
2 a. Fade all pitchers. I don’t need to go into detail on why pitchers are bad long term investments, both in MLB and MiLB, both starters and closers. Yes, my rotation and bullpen will look like absolute trash in year one. That is the result of an accomplished plan. Trading is allowed and if I follow the plan, I’ll own the players that owners actually want to acquire via trade. This is where most, if not all, of my good starting pitchers and closers will come from in future seasons.
2 b. Fade catchers. Even though it’s a two catcher league, it doesn’t change the fact that catchers are bad long term investments.
3. Try to keep acquired players to 26 years or younger. When year three hits and I’m making the moves to win the championship, my oldest players will still only be 29 years old. The league is filled with superstars and emerging major league players in this age group, so following this guideline should not be difficult.
4. Buy upside, not floor. The Ditka Dynasty is a 15 team league and decent filler players will be available on the wire. My starting roster during contention doesn’t just need to have guys with playing time and counting stats. It needs to be filled with elite production.
5. Don’t only buy prospects! Didn’t think you’d see this one? In a 15 team league, I’ll need superstars to win. The best way to ensure you have superstars are to acquire ones that already exist. I went into the draft with the intention of getting at least two of these players.
After all of my preparation, I went into the auction with what I felt were the bare essentials. Projected auction values, an overall strategy and auction guidelines. In the second part of the series I’ll take you through how I utilized these three tools during the auction to craft my team.