Ottonewbs: Preparing for the Auction

How to prepare and strategize in non-first-year Ottoneu auctions.

Without a doubt, one of the season’s biggest highlights is the auction. This is the second auction for the Pitcher List Ottoneu Rookie League. Our first auction was a chaotic affair with a ton of big spending and lessons learned. With some experience, our second-year auction will be a different beast than last year, but we are still busy preparing for the draft and fine-tuning our strategies.

When heading into a second-year (or any subsequent-year) Ottoneu auction, there are many preparatory considerations that need to happen before draft day. One of the benefits of a non-first-year draft is that, as a manager, you have a lot more information available to you as you head into the auction. Therefore, you can have a more complete strategy than you did in your first-year auction.

That information includes: a list of your keepers so you have some idea of the positions and stats that you have and need, the keepers of other managers, the budgets for each manager, the roster spots that each manager must fill, an estimate of where we believe each manager is within their competitive window, an inference of some of our competitors’ potential auction targets that they might have, and some knowledge of the auction-style/tendencies of the other managers.

Certainly, that is a ton more information than we had at our inaugural auction! The preparation for the auction is no less rigorous, however.


Form a Plan


You should already have a plan in place. Every managerial decision should be a step along that path. The destination, of course, is a championship (preferably multiple), but you need to stay along the path towards that goal. Any diversion from that path can either add time to the process and lengthen the journey or, worse still, throw you so far off the path that you never arrive at your destination.

For this reason, you have to have a plan for how you are going to get that championship. The auction is a great way to push your team forward, and an effective auction is necessary to speed your team forward.

If you have a plan for your team, you know what you need to win, and you know how you are going to get/use it. This puts you in the best spot heading into the auction. If you don’t have a plan, how do you get one?

The first thing managers have to do is probably the toughest: you need to evaluate your team. This is a difficult process because it requires you to be very honest with yourself, your management, and your players. It can be time-consuming and humbling. You need to honestly (sometimes brutally) evaluate your results by taking a very hard look at your team with an eye towards the future. Some of these questions include:

Players: Are your players rookies/veterans? Are your players paid below/above market value? Are your players producing the necessary statistics? Which players are assets that can be traded? Which players are the cornerstones of your team? How far away from maximum production are your players? How do MLB teams evaluate the players? Are these everyday players that their MLB teams like and will play regularly at the heart/top of the lineup? Are your speedy players being given the opportunity to run? Do your power hitters have enough of a leash to stay in the productive part of the lineup even when they struggle? Are your prospects developing and being promoted as they should or as you hoped they would be?

Salary: Are my players overpaid? Which players are values? Does my team have enough salary-cap space to add the players I want (in-season and in-auction)? Am I squeezing out as much production from the salary I have committed? What am I going to do with these players, at their current salaries, when they go through arbitration at the end of the season? Are they still valuable to me? Are they drops if their salaries increase? How much salary do I have tied up in MiLB players, and how close are these players to contributing to my team?

Management: Am I filling my lineup every day? Am I ensuring that the players in my active roster are getting a full number of plate appearances? At the end of the season, am I maxing out my games-played and innings-pitched limits? Am I taking advantage of platoons? In which categories did my team do well? In which categories did my team struggle? How was my in-season acquisition of players? Did I add players who helped my team? Was I just beaten out in in-season auctions and missed out on valuable players? How did my trades work out? Did I use the trade block effectively? Did other managers make more/better trades than I did? What tools exist that can help me improve in the places where I struggle? How do I improve as a manager?

Future: What do I need to do to win?

This last one is the plan. After taking a long, hard look at your team and yourself, as a manager, you need to create a plan. Answer the question: What do I have to do to succeed in this league? Form that plan looking one-and-a-half to two years in the future. What do you have to do to have a winner by then? Sticking with this plan is essential, but steady evaluation throughout the process is also a huge part of it.

You need to take each key date in the Ottoneu season to evaluate your plan and how your journey is going. Adjustments can be made, but you need to always be asking yourself the question: Is this action a part of my plan, and does it help me get to my championship? If it is, go for it, but if it is a divergence, really question yourself and think twice before moving ahead.

This is an article about preparing for the auction, and I just spent 500+ words talking about long-term planning. The reason why is because the auction is the single largest moment where you can push your team forward and can set you up for future success or cause you to flounder. Also, what you do in the auction needs to have that plan in mind, or you will end up shooting yourself in the foot if you make errors. It’s hard to walk along a path to a championship with a serious foot injury!

With your plan in mind, let’s get ready for the auction…


Evaluate Your Team


You, hopefully, already evaluated your team before the keeper deadline (way back in January). This is still a good time to re-evaluate based on the new information that has arrived since you made your cuts.

What are my team’s strengths? What are the team’s weaknesses?

Many managers will look at their team and say something like, “I’m good at shortstop, but I could use a really good first baseman.” This is a huge error because a focus on the position of your player misses the point of fantasy: production! We need stats to win. We need more stats in the format’s categories than our competitors. Nothing else matters. From which position those stats come doesn’t matter as long as you are getting the stats you need to win.

What does matter when evaluating positional strengths/needs is understanding which players at each position can contribute the stats needed in each category. For example, if you are in a 5×5 Roto league, you are unlikely to find many stolen bases from the players who are eligible at first base. In order to get that category, you either need to get production from all positions and therefore roster the first baseman who can contribute his share of swipes, or find that production at another position and leave your first baseman to contribute in other categories.

When evaluating your team’s strengths and needs, this should mainly surround categorical needs. In a Roto league, in which categories do I have a strong base? In a points league, from which players am I getting the most points, and are there better options at that roster slot?

Some of this reflection should ask, “Do I see this production continuing into the season?” This goes a long way to evaluating the actual strengths/weaknesses of your roster. It is a way of evaluating your team with a look towards the future. It also evaluates your team in the short term, depending on where you are in the winning cycle.

Part of the evaluation of your team is to figure out how you are going to get the stats you need. This is a big part of the auction preparation process because it helps to identify auction targets.

Keep in mind, however, that getting the stats you need might be in the current season or in a future season. If you are in win-now mode, you need to get the production in 2021 but, if you are further away from competing, you need to think about the production that will be needed in future years. This takes many forms: a prospect on the cusp, a player about to breakthrough thanks to skills growth and playing time opportunities, steady production from an established player who has not begun the decline stage of his career.


Evaluate Other Teams


The evaluation doesn’t end with your own team. Proper auction preparation must take close care to understand the other rosters in your league. If we put aside the players on other rosters that you like and wish were on your roster (those are the potential trade targets of the future), in preparing for the auction, you need to be familiar with the needs of other managers.

This can be as simple or as complex as you wish to make it, but I like to keep the evaluation simple. For each of the other teams in the league, I evaluate their keepers on a simple scale of 1-5:

0 = No players at that roster spot.
1 = One weak player at that roster spot. By “weak,” I am including a prospect who probably will not be contributing this year. I also include a player who qualifies at a position but won’t be a meaningful contributor.
2 = One position player who is likely to get a full complement of games played but is an average player.
3 = One above-average player at a roster spot.
4 = Two above-average players or one superstar at a roster spot.
5 = Two or more superstars at a position or multiple positions.

I use this scale to evaluate each roster, and I assign a score to each roster spot based on the kept players on that team. I color code the chart to quickly identify the team’s strengths and weaknesses.

As you can see, I know that Team 1 needs a first baseman but is very strong at shortstop. This allows me to compare my team and its needs to the other teams. This will draw out who will be my competition at the auction for those roster spots.

An extension of this can also be to identify which statistical production each manager has in her/his keepers and which stats they may be looking for in the draft. This step can be automated by adding up projected stats to a spreadsheet.

Both of these pieces of information can give me a very good idea about which players may be targeted by other managers. I can then evaluate my auction budget in comparison to the budgets of my competition, and I can consider a plan to get what stats I need while making my opponents’ decisions more difficult.


Target Players


It is obvious that in preparing for the auction, we must evaluate the available player pool. Ottoneu’s collaboration with FanGraphs makes this much easier because it is very simple to find the available free agents at each position and export that data to a spreadsheet. In that spreadsheet, it is easy to see those players’ stats as well as bring in projections for the upcoming season. Ranking each position and evaluating targets is essential before heading into a draft. You should also have price targets for each player so that you can manage your budget.

As I have said, target stats, not positions. This is a little more difficult in a keeper league because you already have some players rostered who are eligible at certain roster slots. What if the stats you need are only available at a position that you have already filled?

Firstly, look for alternatives. This might mean a different player or a different position. Secondly, consider the player and the value you can add to your team with that player on your roster. Is your team better? Do you have a better chance of achieving your plan with that player on your roster? Is the player going to be a value or within your budget? If so, consider adding him regardless of your roster. Ottoneu is a trading league, and making a trade might be a way to alleviate your roster crunch.

Remember that other managers are targeting players, too. Be sure to identify the targets that other managers need and will likely become very expensive. If one of the other teams in your league is well set up at every position but needs a starting pitcher, you should find who their must-roster target will be. These are players that this manager will get regardless of the price. These are players that you, one, shouldn’t count on rostering, and you need to have another target and, two, you should price enforce.

It is sometimes easier to resign yourself to the idea that you won’t be getting a top player before the auction begins than getting your heart set on a player that was never, realistically, an option. It may also help save you a ton of money by avoiding a costly bidding war.


Nomination Strategy


Nominations are really important, and they often go underappreciated. Some managers just nominate players that they don’t want. The belief is that those players will draw money out and let you face lighter competition when your players do come up. This is true, but nominations can be so much more.

Consider your earlier roster evaluation prep (both yours and the others in your league). Let’s say that I am heading into the draft with a need for a speedy second baseman. I also see that Team 2 needs a second baseman. You could nominate a second baseman that you don’t want or doesn’t give you the stats you are looking for, then you can hope that your competitor for second base wins the auction. That’s a fine strategy.

Consider, also, some of that manager’s other roster needs. Do they have needs at other positions? Nominating another position that that manager needs is a way to draw money out of the auction room. If you want to get aggressive, nominate a player that you expect that other manager has targeted, watch the bidding to see if they take the bait, and, if they do, then force up the price!

To extend this, look for a similar need on two or more other rosters. You could generate a bidding war that doesn’t involve you for a player that you don’t want. It is amazing to nominate a player from your team’s position of strength and then watch your competition get into a fierce bidding war. It’s especially sweet when these other managers are in direct competition for players at your position of need. If this happens, continue to use the strategy in subsequent nominations.

When preparing for the auction, you may not be in a position to buy all the top players that you want. Especially in Ottoneu, budget is important. Let’s say that you believe that Ramon Laureano is an undervalued source of stolen bases and is due for a bounceback/breakout season. You want to roster him on your team because you feel like he is a bargain and can produce a huge surplus. We all have players that we love and want to add to our roster. Consider nominating Laureano early and putting him on your roster so that you can plan out the rest of your auction. Knowing that you have a cornerstone piece rostered will help you know how you can direct your remaining salary.

Let’s say, in a worst-case scenario, that Laureano is going to be my cornerstone outfielder who is going to contribute in stolen bases. I hold off on nominating him because I think that I can get him late at a bargain. Meanwhile, all the other outfielders and all the other stolen base options are nominated and head to other rosters. Finally, Laureano is nominated. Other managers start bidding because they need an outfielder or some stolen bases, and Laureano is the last option. Or, worse still, they see that you are stuck without an outfielder and without the stolen bases you need, and they start bidding Laureano up, just because they know that you want him so much!

Suddenly, the value is gone, and you are paying more than you wanted for Laureano and even more than he will earn in production. The players you passed on earlier could have been backup options in this worst-case scenario, but they are long gone, and you are left with a hole in your roster or a lack of salary. In other words, secure the cornerstone pieces early so that you can pivot to another plan if you can’t roster them.

There are many resources for auction strategy. Chad Young, Eric Dadmon, and Hunter Denson had an excellent PitchCon panel on auction strategies that I recommend viewing for other helpful tips.

Keep in mind that you need to win players in the auction that will help you enact your long-term plan. I can’t tell you who those players are because you know your team and your needs and your plan better than anyone. You need to find the players that help you the most and roster them.


Creating Target Prices


Having prices for all the free agents is something that you need before you enter the auction. You can use projections to create a dollar value for all players, but don’t just rely on the numbers that are provided. I find that going through each player and evaluating their “price” is helpful not only to tier the players at each position (and identify drop-offs) but also because I massage those prices into a range. If I need a power bat at third base, I might be willing to pay more than the listed value, and settling on a range of prices is more helpful than setting a hard limit.

There is always room to play around with prices, so be flexible, but make sure that you have assigned a target price for all the players because if you see a player going for a value, you need to be ready to jump in and grab that value. The action in the auction room can be fast and furious so having a single, simple document with your target price ranges is very helpful to reduce stress and mistakes.

Once you have a list of prices for all players, you can more easily see where values might be. Be sure to have targets at all price points (tiers) because it provides you with a backup in case you don’t get your number one choices (you often won’t!). We want to avoid our Ramon Laureano scenario from earlier and make sure that we have a strong enough knowledge of the player pool and potential values so that we have other options in case we can’t get our top target.

After you have your list of free agents at each position, move them all into one complete list of available players. In this list, you should have projected stats that you trust. I like to do conditional formatting for each category so that I can quickly see which players can provide stats in the categories that I need. This is very helpful to identify players who can help in certain categories, which might be much less expensive than the higher-tier options. It also lets you pivot quickly if you miss out on a stat from a player you had targetted.

This can also help you if you discover a value on a player you didn’t expect to win. Let’s say that you have Joey Gallo valued at $18; what if you win him for $8? (Hey, it might happen!) You need to be able to quickly find a player who can help you in speed and in batting average, while not hurting you too much in runs, RBI, and home runs. Scan through your list, and, sure enough, Michael Brantley is that player. He can now be a target at the higher end of his range because the circumstances of the auction have dictated it.

If Brantley isn’t an option, then another quick glance reveals that Yuli Gurriel might also be an option. These might not have been pre-auction targets but became targets because the value was presented, and you seized it. Make sure, however, that these in-auction value opportunities are part of your plan. You want to stay on track!

This isn’t work that you are going to be able to do in the auction room, so simplifying your resources in your prep is going to make your life a lot easier. The auction will throw you a lot of curveballs, sliders, and knuckleballs, so proper prep will help you put your plan into motion.


Final Thoughts


The last this that we want is to come into the auction without a plan. Your long-term managerial plan can be hijacked by a bad auction. This is why it is so important to prepare for all aspects of your auction with your overarching plan in mind.

Take time before the auction to really explore your team, the other teams in the league, and the available player pool. This will help reduce errors and will help reduce the stress of the auction; It will also give you a good understanding of the league after the draft and heading into the season.

There is so much going on that creating a simple price list is a way of making sure that you know who your targets are and what the budget is. To be honest, I like to have those prices printed out on a piece of paper, just in case I have any computer issues during the draft.

Also, having done the work before the auction affords you the time to watch how the auction is playing out. Take note of who is bidding and on which players (positions and stat contributors). The loser of an auction for a shortstop is usually a competitor for another shortstop. The loser of a big power bat will likely be in search of another power bat.  Nominate players with this in mind because strategic nominations can be very helpful for you.

Don’t idly stand by or multi-task during the auction. Especially early on in the draft, be sure to note the final player prices. This will give you an idea of inflation/deflation and where prices may go later in the draft. If you notice that premium players are going higher than your budget prices, be sure to adjust if you want a stud or take a chance on prices falling in the middle or late part of the auction.

If you go with the auction or decide to pivot, be sure to think about what your plan will be before it happens. You want to consider your options before being forced by the auction to make a last-second decision.

The plan is there to help both in the long-term pursuit of a dynasty but also the short-term goal of leaving the auction with a better team, one that will help you succeed this season and into future seasons.


Images courtesy of Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)

Mark McElroy

When I am not watching baseball or writing about fantasy baseball, I can usually be found cycling in and around Victoria, BC. I am a manager at Pitcher List and can be found on Twitter @markmcelroybb.

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