Auction 101: Execution

Dan Meylor

If you read the first two installments of this series, you already know why auctions are better than drafts and that preparation is the first key to dominating your startup auction.  As I mentioned in the second article, there are two main factors to building a successful roster during an auction.  Preparation is the first step and was covered yesterday.  Now it’s time to move on to the second factor, execution.

Throughout my years of trying to navigate the landscape of auctions, I’ve learned some valuable lessons on what it takes to execute a game plan during the bidding.  This article will focus on just that.

Nominations

If you remember back to yesterday’s article, the first suggestion for preparing for your auction was to learn the rules.  Knowing how nominations are done is a big part of that.

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Whether you’re participating in a live auction or a slow auction, all owners should have an equal opportunity to nominate players.  In a live auction, there’s usually a predetermined nominating order so the nominations will be done one after the other.  During a slow auction, every owner typically gets to nominate a set amount of players in a specific time frame (usually one or two players every day.)

No matter what kind of auction you’re taking part in there are two strategies to use when nominating, the aggressive approach and the passive approach.

Those that employ the aggressive approach will nominate players they intend to bid on.  The primary benefit of this approach is that the bidder ensures that he or she has the money available to attack the players they’re most interested in.  Meanwhile however, the biggest negative to the aggressive approach to nominating is that every other owner likely has the most possible money to bid on the player with an equal amount of aggression.

The passive approach to nominations is crafty and takes a bit more willpower to execute.  The intent of this approach is to nominate players you’re not necessarily interested in paying a high price tag for.  The trick to using the passive approach is to identify players that the dynasty community values at a higher level that you do, or pinpoint players that will be bring high bids but do not fit into the budget you laid out in your preparation.

Personally, I use both approaches.  I just use them at different parts of the auction.

At the onset of an auction, everybody has their entire bankroll to spend so I prefer the passive approach to nominations.  This doesn’t mean that I just find the top-rated player and make somebody pay big money for him.  Instead, I like to find players that have spiked in value recently which I don’t believe will hold that value.  In all reality, I’m looking for “sell high candidates.”

A good example from this off-season for me is Jeremy Langford.  While I have him ranked on my cheat sheet as the RB30, the DLF rankings show that many of the brightest minds in dynasty rank him in the low 20’s among tailbacks.  Even better, there are people that see him as a low end RB1.

Obviously, this adds up to an ideal early nomination for me.  With any luck, there will be two owners in the auction room that see Langford as the answer in Chicago’s backfield and are willing to pay top-15 prices for his services.  Because all owners still have all their funds available, there’s a chance he goes for even more.

As the auction progresses, I try to stick to the passive approach to nominating as long as possible.  In a live auction, it’s also good to keep an eye on what players are being nominated and how much they’re going for.  If there was an intense back and forth between a few owners for Marcus Mariota that ended in him going for more that you expected, it’d be a good idea to nominate Jameis Winston next to try to keep those high bids rolling in.

Although the passive approach is my preferred method, there comes a point in the mid to latter parts of the process that being aggressive will pay off.

Once all the elite and second and third tier talent is already on rosters and you’re filling out the end of your bench, it’s important to attack players with that you’re interested in with your nominations – particularly near the end when the minimum priced roster fillers are being nominated.

Reading the Room

The most important moments of an auction come as the opening round of nominations are made.  Whether in a live auction or online, watching the first round of auctions closely is imperative to learning how the room is going to treat elite players and what to expect as the auction progresses.

In most auctions I’ve been a part of, the top tier of players go in the ball park of what they were expected to go for.  There are exceptions however.

Sometimes an auction room will be filled with especially aggressive bidders, hell-bent on getting elite players and willing to pay whatever it takes to do so.

If you remember back to the table in yesterday’s article, elite wide receivers should go for around 21% of a franchise’s budget in a startup.  That means that in a $250 auction, the top tier of wide outs should go for around $53 each.  Believe it or not, there are auctions where all of the top eight wide receivers go for between $63 and $68, or more than 25% of the budget.

In my opinion, the best way to react to a situation like this is to sit back and allow it to happen.  After the first 12-18 players are scooped up, the owners that spent early will have to watch their pennies while you’ll get cut-rate prices on multiple tier two players.  While you won’t have guys like Antonio Brown or Todd Gurley on your roster, you’ll have plenty of talent to contend for a title.

Every now and then there’s also an auction where the opening players go for massive discounts because market value hasn’t been set.  Typically this only happens in leagues full of inexperienced players or in extremely unique formats where owners are unsure how to value players early.  No matter why it happens, if it does, you want to be able to take advantage by swooping in and grabbing at least a couple elite bargains.  Doing the preparation that we talked about yesterday will put you in a position to do that.

Bidding

Perhaps the most exhilarating part of participating in an auction is putting in bids.  No matter if you’re in an proxy auction with Ebay-like bidding or a classic auction where your high bid is available for everybody to see, there are two ways to go about your bids, by creeping your bid up slowly one dollar at a time until you’re either the high bidder or can’t bid anymore, or by immediately putting in your high bid and letting the chips fall where they may.

Either is a fine strategy and I’ve been known to use both, but I will say that using the creeping approach to bidding will give you flexibility in slow, proxy auctions for when another player you’re interested is nominated.

No matter what bidding philosophy you use, always consult your budget before submitting a bid.

Price Enforcing

If you like to gamble, price enforcing may be your game.  If not, it’s most likely something you want to stay away from.

The age old rule for price enforcing has always been, “don’t make a bid that you’re not comfortable winning.”  In all honesty though, if you’re comfortable winning the auction at the bid you make, you’re not price enforcing, you’re trying to win the auction – so you’re simply bidding.

All things told, if you took the time to read these three articles as well as made the commitment to preparing properly for a draft by creating a budget, making a cheat sheet and building a plan for the auction, you worked too hard to throw it all away by attempting to make a fellow owner pay a dollar or two more for a player you don’t necessarily want on your roster.

Tracking

If there is nothing else you take from the third article in this series, I sincerely hope it comes from this section.

It’s imperative to a track the progress of the auction as it happens and it really is simple to do.  Remember the cheat sheet you created in your preparation that looked something like this?

execution 1

In the price column, keep a running total of how much each auction ends for.  After a bit of time, your cheat sheet will look something like this.

execution 2

Updating your cheat sheet will help easily identify bargains.  So when C.J Anderson gets nominated and is about to end at just $14, you know you value him equally to players like Eddie Lacy and Devonta Freeman, who went for $33 and $40 respectively, earlier in the auction.  Bargain!

Budget Adjustments

Now that you’ve identified the bargains and are in the process of building the next great dynasty, it’s time to edit your budget as you win players.  Once again, here’s the original budget (left) that we used as an example while preparing for the auction as well as an updated version of the same budget (right) after winning a handful of auctions.

execution 3

This budget (slightly altered for this article), is an actual budget I build for the Kitchen Sink 4 auction that happened recently.  As you can see, I built my budget in the hopes of finding value at quarterback while spending on a quality WR1, top end WR2, and targeting Rob Gronkowski (the league is TE premium.)  After getting what I thought was a pretty great discount on Dez Bryant early in the auction though, I was able to move those savings to my QB1 spot.  Instead of having to settle on a veteran in quarterback both spots as originally planned, I was able to get Blake Bortles, who went for close to what he should have considering Derek Carr went for $41.

So at this point in the auction, I had secured my core without over spending.  You can see I’m still $2 under budget (bottom right.)  You probably also noticed that I didn’t take advantage of the low price on C.J. Anderson but try not to rub it in.

As the auction progressed, my starting lineup as well as many bench spots continued to fill and my budget looked like this.

execution 4

After getting good value on LeSean McCoy and Matt Forte, I focused my attention on the tight end position for my final bench spot.  After losing an epic battle for Zach Ertz to Eric Hardter, I settled in on Julius Thomas.  (Note: I like to put my primary target for a position in light gray on the budget to remind myself that I have a bid in for that spot in the budget.)

Overall, my strategy played out well in the auction.  I focused on saving money early and looked to save even more money by targeting veterans at quarterback and running back (which isn’t a bad plan due to Kitchen Sink being a contract league.)  After grabbing some low end running backs and tight ends with at least some upside to fill my bench, I feel like my team should be a contender in the short term while still having a youthful base of star talent to carry me into the second set of contracts.

Conclusion

All things told, there are countless ways to build a quality team during an auction.  Some guys can build a winner by winging it.  Me, I’m not a good enough dynasty player to do that.  I need to out-prepare my competition to get a leg up.

There are a few more elaborate (some would say crazy) things I like to do when preparing for an auction but for now, that’s it.  Perhaps I’ll save them for the auction 201 class.

So what helps you dominate your auction?  We’d all love to read about it in the comments section.

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dan meylor
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