The OTFBL draft was held yesterday afternoon/evening, and while a good time was had by all, it went in semi-typical auction draft fashion. Despite being a veteran of this type of thing1 , this was the first true roto auction I had participated in. I did however have auction draft experience (having done my Scoresheet league's auction draft for six years now, plus another one before that), so I kind of knew what to expect, as should every other person who has ever done an auction draft, since they all seem to go the same way.
For those who haven't done an auction draft, they generally go in stages:
The opening - The best opportunity for you to get the player you targeted for less than he should go for. The beginning of every draft has a bunch of guys with plans and paperwork and a knowledge that they're not, under ANY circumstances, getting away from that plan. There's no panic early, and no panic bids. If your fellow owners see Ryan Howard get thrown out and they've got him budgeted for $32 and the bidding hits 33, they're out. Add onto that those who've never been in an auction draft before - they may be timid, wanting to see how things go for the first few players to try to get a feel of the draft. Even experienced owners can sometimes sit a few players out just to try to get a read on their competition. This takes out a percentage of the owners, keeping prices lower since less bidders = less bids. It's also a great opportunity for guys who have question marks - unproven newbies (Dice-K), guys coming off serious injury, pitchers switching leagues. In my first auction draft, John Smoltz was the first player thrown. He was coming off his worst season as a pro and had offseason surgery on his elbow. Between the questions about Smoltz's health and the inexperience of us all in auction drafts, I got him for a price that was half that of comparable starting pitchers - something that is brought up almost every year at my Scoresheet league's auction draft. This opening time is a very short time though (usually no more than a handful of players), and sometimes doesn't exist at all.
The explosion - Once everyone gets comfortable, the major names get thrown, money starts flying, and everyone starts overspending. For a bunch of people who have plans and are so set in their ways, this part always happens, and there are several reasons for it.
- There are owners who decide that whatever their plan might say, one of their goals is to get a certain player, and money is no object - at least almost no object. Since few (if any) players are on rosters at this point, there's no real "restriction" on money here; dropping an extra $5 on a player is huge if you've only got $15 left to spend, but with $260 in your pocket, what's $5?
- There are owners who get caught up in the moment. You might not have targeted Albert Pujols, but when the bids start slowing down and his price is under his "projected value", there's no way that he can go for that little, especially to your competition. So you throw in a bid - a bid you never intended on placing in the first place - just to keep the auction going. And while bidding up later in the draft for lesser players might be considered a risky proposition, what's the worst that can happen here? You get "stuck" with a top-tier player? You can trade him later.
- It sucks to not participate. You can swear up and down that you're not going to pay the inflated market on players. But you look down at your roster, and there's no one on it, and all the big name players are going off the board. Sure, running low on money sucks, but as half of the NBA teams will tell you, having a crapload of money and no one to spend it on doesn't make you look all that smart in the end. When teams with a good chunk of change and no players on their roster see one of the last major players at a position get brought up, they'll end up getting in with theirguns blazing, causing the market to stay high a little longer until those guys blow their wad.
- It's fun. Just to add onto the point above, being a smart drafter and having fun at the draft can be two completely seperate things. To be good at poker, you have to fold a lot of hands and it can be boring as hell. Same with auction drafts - you have to know when to drop out, and it may lead to you sitting there with an empty roster for the first 30 minutes to even an hour while other people fill out their infields and start talking trade, and even start throwing comments in your direction about waking up. You want to play and to chatter too, so you'll get into the bidding just to be active, and that'll bring you into those big prices too.
There's no real timeframe as to when this period stops - it depends on your group, and when the majority of the league realizes that they've got to fill 80% of their rosters with $4 players. Everyone slams on the breaks, leading to...
The regret stage (or "F***ING STEAL") - Now that everyone realizes they have no money, the next wave of players that gets thrown goes for a discounted rate, with the amount of that discount directly related to how many owners actually kept their cool and have money to spend, and how many are hoping that they can fill the rest of their team with $1 players. In the case of the OTFBL draft, the discount stage was almost sickening, with players who were valued by "experts" in the $10-15 going for under $5. The crafty vets will "hide" players during the earlier stages of the draft by not throwing them out in an effort to get them to this stage, and getting them for half price (or more). The most cursing is done in this round, as owner favorites and quality starters get thrown and see their prices hover in single digits, while owners who overspent early watch in frustration because that player who is worth $17 is going for $9, and they can't bid more than $8 on any player. If you're in a keeper league, this is the place to get them. The starters will mostly trickle away here, with those who had the money filling out their rosters and getting into mini-bidding wars of their own, which then leads to...
The late surge - By the time the draft is in its later stages, you're going to have two types of owners - those who still have money, and those that have almost zero and will be throwing out the Alex Coras2 of the world. As warned before, those who do have money will end up flexing that power by overpaying for the last remaining "quality" at the position, and by quality I mean maybe the 20th ranked player at the position who may or may not lose their job during spring training. This leads to unrealistic prices being paid for said players, part because of the lack of supply, but also part because cap room at the end of the draft is useless, so if you have $20 left to spend on two players then bidding $12 on a $4 player isn't unreasonable - you're just not signing him to an extended deal.
The draft ends after what amounts to the mop-up portion of the draft, with $1 players getting thrown left and right and few bidding against you because they either want the draft to be over, they want to give you the "courtesy" of letting you have that player you wanted at $1 so you don't bid $2 on the player they wanted at $1, or because they can't bid more than $1 anyway. It's almost like a traditional draft at this point, with the little extra caution of waiting out certain owners who might be able to outbid you for that player that no one remembered to throw. There are few things worse during a draft than getting to this point, finding that $1 steal, and watching as that other owner uses that last extra dollar to go to $2 on him and take him away from you. That extra $1? Quite handy - it's almost like a wild card at that point, and if it's your throw and you have a few people in the draft that could be that $2 spoiler to you, you can always throw that desired player at $2 and block them in the process - a strategy I used in the OTFBL draft.
It's a load of fun though - much more enjoyable than traditional drafting - but it does have its drawbacks. Time is the #1 issue - regular drafts go quickly because when a player is mentioned, he's already on a roster. In auction drafts, it can take up to a few minutes sometimes to determine where a mentioned player ends up. Those minutes add up, and an auction draft can take up to several hours longer than a traditional one. My Scoresheet auction draft is spread over two days, just to give you an idea.
Then there's participation. A traditional draft doesn't require active involvement - people can create lists, and many drafts don't take place live. The lists are used and results are sent out, where you can keep your fingers crossed that you didn't draft a dead guy3 . Auction drafts don't work well like that. They work best in person, because they're damn difficult to keep track of. It's hard to make a list because a lot of auction strategy is conditional, so you end up getting into logical algebra4 with your lists. Plus, the person in charge of your list usually has a team of their own, so you're screwing them over too either by making them feel guilty when they're going after a player that you're going after too, or because they can't focus on their own strategy because they're too busy worrying about yours. The OTFBL draft was actually done online through a site's draft applet, but it too had flaws, especially when dealing with the flow of the draft and those teams that weren't at the draft and the applet's handling of their selections.
I had all intentions of going over the OTFBL draft in this article, but considering the length of the background for this one, I'll leave this as is and address the actual draft in my next post, which might be today or tomorrow, depending on when the rosters get posted and how busy I get.
1I hate the term "fantasy baseball". Fantasy sports in general have nothing to do with fantasy - No one's fantasy is to watch baseball and compute stats in a spreadsheet to see if your numbers are higher than others. Fantasies usually have to do with doing things that aren't really in the realm of possibility, or at least high probability. Fantasy camps use the term correctly. A person who plunks down the thousands of bucks to fly down to Florida and participate in a sports fantasy camp get to play the role of professional baseball player. Fantasies involve travel to distant planets or threesomes with Eva Angelina and Whitney Stevens, not sitting in a room with 11 other guys, laptops, Excel, and the Baseball Prospectus.
2I drafted Alex Cora in my Scoresheet auction draft this year on the first day - he may have been on of the first three players acquired for the league minimum, if not the first one. I broke my bank early in that one, but my justification on drafting Cora - he of the .298 slugging percentage last season that was below his on base percentage(!) - was that Cora had better than average fielding range at both 2B and SS, where I had starters who were below average, and since Scoresheet counts defense in their game, it was justified. I still stand by that, and openly wonder how Alex hit 10 home runs in Chavez Ravine in 2004.
3Steve Olin, 1993. I remember getting a call from one of the guys in my Scoresheet league (not my current one - this was a league I was placed in back in the pre-internet days where we sent in lists and got our results by postal mail) called to ask about potential trades, and I told him that I hadn't gotten my results yet. Olin had been killed earlier that week, and when he offered to tell me my roster, I told him "I know I got Olin, didn't I?" Sure enough, he was on the roster, and was my only closer. I was high on Olin going into that season and thought he was really going to break out that year, so I had ranked him high. Oddly, despite drafting a dead guy, that was the last time I won a Scoresheet league.
4$34 on Pujols using $1 increments unless current bid < $20 then increase by $3 until >$30 unless Pujols is one of the last three 1B, then $37 on Pujols if current roster >$140, $39 if current roster <=$140, unless roster size < 4