For those of us who work in corporate America, your average day is pretty repetitive. You wake up, get ready for work, go to work, work all day, come home, eat dinner, then go to sleep. Day…after…day. Some people enjoy this routine since it allows them to know what is coming and it provides structure. Unlike those folks, the rest of us enjoy a little variety in our lives and wish to spice things up once in a while. If you want to experience a little spice in fantasy sports, I highly recommend that you try out an auction league.
Odds are if you participated in a fantasy baseball draft this season that used the snake style method, the top 10 picks were fairly set in stone. The “big three” of Braun, Trout and Cabrera usually fly off of the board first. These players are usually followed by Kemp, McCutchen, Cano, CarGo, Votto and Pujols. It may not necessarily be in that exact order, but I would be willing to wager that there is not a ton of variety that you are going to come across from league to league. For the people that enjoy structure, go for it and have fun in your snake drafts. In some ways, narrowing down who will be available to you based upon ADP (average draft position) by completing mock drafts is a security blanket. Due to the fact that auction drafts are incredibly unpredictable and the bidding can be completely different for the same player across two leagues, mock auctions are somewhat useless. Auction leagues present unique challenges that snake drafts don’t offer, and for those who are willing to give them a try, I think that they will find them far more fun to compete in.
I will admit that I was hesitant to even try an auction draft at first. Prior to competing in one I had already notched more than four years under my belt with the more common snake style format, and did not see what all the fuss was about. Sure, it would be nice not having to smash the refresh button 30 minutes ahead of my draft and figure out who I was almost predetermined to take in the first round. In many ways, I could envision myself drafting several all-stars, and I could have two of the best three overall players on my team. But how much different could it honestly be? And how hard could it possibly be to draft in an auction style instead?
As the commissioner in a long-standing “family and friends” league, I asked my fellow managers in 2009 if they would consider switching from a snake format to an auction style instead. Like me, not many had experience with that particular format but were curious to give it a try, so the vote passed. The weeks leading up to the draft were spent creating my standard cheat-sheets where I tiered the players based upon position, and I went into the draft feeling pretty confident that I would do well. Little did I know what that afternoon had in store.
We all met at my sister’s house for our draft party, and my friends started to trickle in and get their laptops set up. Time passed, many beverages were consumed (probably too many, in retrospect) and the obligatory trash talk started. Everyone settled down five minutes before the draft, logged into the lobby, and prepared for the fun to begin. We watched in anticipation as the countdown clock hit ticked to zero. With that, the first name was broadcast loudly across twelve laptops:
We all paused to make sure that was right and that my friend hadn’t accidentally hit a button by mistake. Wait, what? A closer? Seriously? As the first pick? What was going on? That was a pretty big curveball (or in this case, a cutter). Laughter filled the room. My friend who nominated Rivera was grinning ear to ear. A few bids were placed and with that, we were off and rolling. The unpredictability of who could be nominated took me by surprise. Without even realizing it, I had been involved in the bidding for three of the first five players. When we took our first break after an hour had passed, I realized something:
This was awesome.
It didn’t matter who was nominated, I could get in on the action. If I wanted to price enforce a player to make sure that another manager was not sneaking away with a bargain, I could. If I wanted to build an insane pitching staff or a loaded infield, I could. If those beverages had really taken their toll, I could have likely drafted the entire New York Yankees club. My team was entirely of my creation, and I was no longer shackled by a draft order on which players I could have. For those managers who are adaptable and can adjust their budget mid-draft, an auction style really lets them shine. Although you may go into a draft with a preconceived notion on how your “ideal” team will end up on paper in a snake draft, careful budgeting and skill in an auction draft will make those dreams closer to a reality.
Having played in auction formats now for over four years, I don’t think that I could go back. The ability to completely customize my team the exact way that I want is absolutely liberating. As I mentioned earlier, auction drafts give managers the ability to influence each other’s teams to an entirely different level. Do you think that your friend is getting away with highway robbery drafting Matt Kemp? In a snake style draft, there isn’t a lot that you can do about it. The pick fell to your friend, and now he gets to reap the rewards. In an auction draft? Not so fast, grasshopper. You can bid that extra dollar or two to ensure that your competition pays closer to full price.
Auction drafts also allow managers to be involved in each and every nomination. As auctions can be rather fast-paced, a manager will need to quickly determine if the player who is on the board is worth drafting or not. Rather than only being involved in a pick once every few minutes, each manager has an equal opportunity to draft each player, which leads to more action. Fantasy players who are knowledgeable and have done their homework can pounce on bounce-back candidates and sleepers before their competition know what happened to them.
Another unique aspect to auction leagues is the need to manage your budget. Most leagues default to a $260 pool of funds to play with. The ability to budget your players wisely and spend effectively adds an entire new dimension of strategy and skill. It really takes a sharp mind to meld a championship team, as you could (theoretically) be bidding on each and every player nominated for the better part of an entire round, rather than just one pick. Going into the draft prepped knowing the approximate value of players is essential. What are you willing to spend to get the players that you covet? Are you okay with paying an extra dollar or two for players on the local teams? Will you spend a little more on that popular sleeper pick or hyped up rookie?
Nominating players to bid on is also an acquired skill. It is easy to keep nominating the player who is projected to go for the highest dollar value, but an adept manager can also be very strategic about their nominations. Often times putting players who you have no intention on bidding on is a great way to reduce the amount of money that other managers have. Putting a player up to bid upon in a position that you already have full is also a sneaky way of ensuring you come out ahead. If you happen to know that your competition is particularly high on a player and they might overbid on him, throw them out there! These factors (among others) have really led me to believe that auction formats are not only more fair to all managers since they can bid on everyone, but also end up being more fun to participate in.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to say that auctions are for everyone. Auction drafts (on average) take longer to complete than snake drafts, mostly in part since every player can be bid on by multiple teams. In many aspects, it is still similar to a snake draft. As a manager, you still need to come into the draft prepared with your own set of rankings and have the ability to adapt your strategy on the fly. You need to pay attention to “runs” on players, especially if you subscribe to the idea of drafting according to position scarcity. Snake drafts are somewhat more simplistic since there is no budget to manage and when it is your turn, the majority of the time you would simply draft the best player available. It is a traditional method and easy to understand if it is your first fantasy draft.
If you enjoy routine, by all means continue with snake drafts. Also, feel free to order the same dish at your favorite restaurant and keep wearing that yellow tie on Tuesdays. Don’t forget to submit your TPS reports on time. But for a little variety and spice in fantasy sports, try and auction league. I bet that you’ll be glad you did.