“In this world, you get what you pay for.” – Kurt Vonnegut
So why are you still doing that archaic snake draft in your dynasty startup? It’s time to make the change to an auction where you have an opportunity to get whoever you want on your team. However, it is a very different mindset from re-draft when value takes on an alternative meaning. My first foray into a startup dynasty auction was not fortuitous and I spent the better part of a year trying to improve and salvage my team. This off-season, I participated in a few more startup auctions and have hopefully improved my methods. My focus will be to talk about what I have learned and how I prepare for these auctions.
This doesn’t change much from the approach to a traditional snake draft. However, understanding your league settings is massive when you look to construct a team in an auction. Values change significantly as you look through the following:
- Starting and total roster requirements – Is it a 2QB league? Superflex? Do you have a taxi squad?
- Scoring settings – Tight end premium? How much are interceptions penalized? Do you get big play bonuses?
- Rookies and Devy – Are rookies included or do you have rookie dollars? Can you purchase draft position? If there are devy players, same questions.
- Contracts – Are you tethered to your winning bid in the form of a contract? Are your years capped that you can allocate to players?
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For me, the difference in auction and traditional snake drafts revolves around the idea that your strategy is implemented through budgeting. With the entire player pool open for purchase, you have to use budget to quantify the strategy you choose to take. For me, I like to use the following process to help prepare for the auction:
Tier players – This is something I do for every draft. I don’t like to rank individual players for dynasty that I perceive having similar value and instead prefer to group them. I determine my tiers by a combination of player lifetime value (perhaps a future topic) and the aforementioned considerations. By doing this, I have more fluidity during the auction and don’t feel married to singular prospects.
Pricing strategy – Different from player strategy, pricing strategy is focused on allocating your budget based on the positions you plan to attack. Some of this is based on the considerations from earlier (like tight end premium) while also basing it on general draft strategy. Most teams like to build heavy on wide receivers in dynasty but do you prefer quantity or quality? Is your quarterback strategy focused on getting an elite option or filling the position with cheaper alternatives?
These types of questions help to take your total budget ($400 in the case of Ryan’s Kitchen Sink league) and come up with ideas for an allocation framework. Here’s an example using standard 12 team, PPR settings:
QB – 15% of total budget. 10-12% for QB1 and 3-5% for QB2. No more than 1% for a speculative QB3 if funds are available.
RB – 15% of total budget. 7.5% on RB1, 3% on RB2, up to 2% for RB3. No more than 1% for RB4 or later based on remaining RB funds.
WR – 60% of total budget. 20% total on WR1, 15% on WR2, 5-10% on WR3, 3-5% on WR4. No more than 2-3% on WR5 or later based on remaining WR funds
TE – 10% of total budget. 3-6% on TE1 and 1-2% on TE2. Add later speculative TEs for no more than 1% based on remaining TE funds.
Again, I can’t stress enough the fluidity of a budget structure like this but it gives you a good plan going into a draft.
Price tiers – Much like my rankings, I like to set a price goal for given tiers. For example, if I believe Dez Bryant, Julio Jones, and A.J. Green have similar values; I will assign a price point for all three instead of trying to find the $1 difference between them. Any projections have flaws so I feel more comfortable grouping players together and assigning values that way. It also helps as you are in the draft and see the player movement and team construction to see how your tiers are viewed in the marketplace.
In the Draft Room
Proactive and reactive draft room strategy – You always go in with a strategy in mind with your budget and your framework, but even “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry”. When participating in one league, the draft room overpaid for elite wide receivers, spending upwards of 25% of the budget on players like Mike Evans despite the superflex and tight end premium settings. You tend to see a variety of strategies by owners in an auction draft room implemented since everyone is available for purchase. Here are just some of those and how they can impact the room (names a nod to a favorite show of mine, The Big Bang Theory):
- The Gronkowski Exploitation – Simply put, pay up for Rob Gronkowski. The benefit is positional advantage and an alternative for an elite wide receiver. He’ll cost the same as top receivers or more depending on league settings. This strategy does little to impact the room since it is reliant on one player.
- The Elite QB Duality – This one goes out to the owners that chase Andrew Luck and Aaron Rodgers. It’s a strategy that gives you the ease of mind to forget about a position for the next 5 to 10 years, especially useful in 2QB and superflex leagues. DLF’s Russell Clay landed both in our Kitchen Sink 3 league and spent over 50% of his budget to do so. Similar to the Gronk strategy, this impacts one owner more than the field.
- The Late QB Utilization – Consider it the opposite of the last strategy and something that can disrupt an auction more than most. Multiple teams will employ this and it not only deflates the auction value of second and third tier quarterbacks, but it leads to overpayment at running back and wide receiver. More teams budget less for quarterback so guess where it goes?
- The Zero RB Conundrum – Another example of focusing on what not to spend on. Basically, accumulate late assets and play the odds that you hit there with a combination of later trades and rookies to make due at the running back position. Much like the last strategy, this shifts the balance of funds for teams to spend in other areas (most likely, wide receiver).
- The Youth Excitation – Thanks to the 2014 rookie class, this strategy is all the rage in the 2015 startup season. Just go super young across the board (think 25 or under) and play the odds that trades and player improvement will lead to a winner. Even as a secondary strategy, it has put unproven players in the price range of established stars.
The Youth movement was my strategy in Kitchen Sink 3 as I saw an arbitrage opportunity with rookie and devy money to load my team up and trust my player analysis will swing me above the probabilities that exist on youth potential turning into production. Risky for sure but it was the path I saw for a chance to create a strong team.
Team and player tracking – One of the biggest failings of a first time auction owner is being caught up in their own team and not understanding the positions of other owners. Not only should you know the financial situations of opposing teams, but also the prices they have paid for players and the relative composition of their rosters. As the draft progresses and you are filling out your roster, it helps to know who your competition will be on players remaining in your tiers. As I do with most quantitative things, I recommend setting up an Excel spreadsheet to keep pace with roster construction, pricing, and other points of interest.
After the Draft
Assessing the landscape – I like to let the euphoria of the auction process wear off before I really dig in to what just happened. Simply put, I place a trade embargo for a few days (barring something unbelievably tilted in my favor) to digest and understand the relative positions that each team is in. Some owners like to inundate you with trades early on, especially in contract leagues, looking to unload an asset they regretted purchasing in exchange for something they covet of yours. The thought is that the $50 price tag for Jordan Matthews will convince you of a fair value trade for your $37 Allen Robinson and $15 Donte Moncrief (all values from Kitchen Sink 3 results). Because of the nominal difference in cumulative auction dollars spent, some may go against their own rankings and see it as equal value.
Rookie and Devy Auctions – You didn’t think it was over, did you? Good because the auctions are way too much fun to only do one! Time to prepare for the next draft(s). The money is usually a separate allocation from your startup money and in some cases, is bid on as part of the startup auction. Much like the startup, you want to create your tiers and prices for the various players. If you have a Taxi squad or larger roster, it gives you flexibility to take some chances on upside guys (hi Zach Zenner) while a smaller roster will concentrate your efforts on fewer big spends.
Relax and have fun – It’s ok to not take everything seriously. This hobby is meant to be enjoyable. Don’t take trade offers personally and get the guys you like in the auction and through trades. This is the easiest way to ensure you have a great time.
This is meant to be just an introduction and my way to spread the dynasty auction gospel. Leave comments below about auctions you have taken part in and how you prepare.