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Draft day is the most important day of the year for fantasy owners. Forget about your birthday, your significant other's birthday (well maybe not that one, unless you like couches or hotels) and holidays because none of them compare to the adrenaline rush of an auction fantasy draft. A successful draft does not guarantee a championship, but it puts you in the best possible position to succeed going into the season. You need to nail this auction, failure is not an option.

 

Player Nomination Strategy For Auction Drafts

You’ve done your homework and read all offseason, absorbing as much information as possible about the player pool and auction strategy. If you’re truly hardcore, you’ve done your own projections, rankings and auction values as well. You are as ready as you’ll ever be. It’s just like taking a test in college; either you know it or you don’t when you get in the room with your league mates on draft day.

Unless you’re a seasoned veteran with years of experience under your belt, an auction can be overwhelming at times, especially if you don’t have a strategy for nominating players and constructing your roster. Knowing when to nominate that breakout hitter or undervalued pitcher you’re targeting is a subtle area of strategy that very few fantasy owners understand, or even consider before they get into the draft. Just like professional poker players, most of the best fantasy owners in the world compete in Tout Wars or LABR, and are reluctant to reveal their pre-draft strategy, bidding, or nomination tactics. Sure, it’s all about getting the best value, but how do you actually go about doing it?

I always defer to fantasy baseball legend Larry Schechter, who is the foremost expert when it comes to nomination strategies for auction leagues, having won nine expert league titles since 2002. In his book "Winning Fantasy Baseball", he wrote about the idea that nominating is an advantage. “When it’s your turn to bring up a player, this is an advantage you have,” writes Schechter. "And you’re going to have to wait through several more players before it’s your turn again."

 

Larry Schechter's Auction Draft Nomination Tactic

The theory behind Schechter’s nomination tactic is that when it’s your turn to nominate a player, it’s the only time you control who gets brought up and at what price, so use it to your advantage to bring up a player you are interested in buying. It’s always a good idea to mix it up. You don’t have to nominate a player you are interested in buying every single time, but have a reason behind why you are throwing a name out there. If I want to gauge the market for starting pitching, I may throw out Max Scherzer before any other pitcher, just to test the waters and give me a better idea of where the rest of the league is going to value the other elite options. Trust me nobody is following your draft closely enough to figure out that you’re buying a lot of the names that you nominate, but it’s always a good idea, as Schechter says, to use your ability to nominate a player to your advantage.

At the end of the day, there is no correct strategy for nominating players that will guarantee that you get all of the players you want at a discount, you never know what is going to happen (which is part of the beauty of auctions honestly), but it’s much worse to not have a nomination strategy at all.

An essential part of any nomination strategy is to create a target list ahead of time. Nominate the core players you want to build your team around and your most coveted breakout candidates off your target list as early in the draft as possible, mainly so that you can adjust your strategy, and move on to other elite options or value picks, if you don’t get your initial target. There is nothing worse than having a pile of money to spend and limited options with no upside to spend it on late in the draft. Being aggressive early in an auction runs counter to a lot of auction advice you will read, but it can pay out if you’re still getting values and not overspending dramatically.

 

Get Some Money Off The Board Early

One strategic approach I hear often from fantasy owners is that they like to "get some money off the board early", nominating big-name players they have little or no interest in, and sit back, so that other owners will have less money to spend on. It’s a great strategy in theory, but I’ve found that often times in my experience, all this does is reduce the number of options left on the board and cause the owners who missed out on a stud they were targeting to become more desperate, like that mad scramble for the last seat during a game of musical chairs, and become willing to dramatically overspend on a hitter or pitcher you were trying to target at a discount.

Most fantasy owners, unless you’re playing in Tout Wars or LABR to be honest, have a general idea of players they like or don’t like and are very hesitant to drastically change their approach in the middle of a draft. I bring this up because I have found it to be an effective approach to bring out a hitter or pitcher that I am targeting as a potential value (someone I think will significantly out-produce their draft day cost) as early as possible.

Lets go with Jorge Soler as an example for 2015 auctions. If I nominate Soler early on when there are still plenty of big-name outfielders on the board, other owners may be hesitant to overspend on him that early in the draft when they still have other options left. If another owner is willing to overspend, going above and beyond Soler’s value, they were likely going to do that no matter when he came up, early or late. At least now I that if I’m not getting Soler and that I need to be more aggressive in going after some of my other outfield targets. If I sat back, passing on other options early, waiting for Soler, I would have either had to overpay to acquire him or pass on him and have fewer options to choose from.

 

Know When It's Time To Place A Max Bid

One final nomination strategy to keep in mind comes at about the two or three hour mark for most in-person auctions. It’s that part of the draft where some owners have had a few too many sodas, the pizza boxes are scattered on the floor, and it feels like an eternity since you reeled in Miguel Cabrera. This is the part of the auction when it pays to know how much your maximum bid (dollar value) on a player is and (if possible) how much your competitors have to spend. If I’m targeting Anthony Gose, for example, as a cheap source of stolen bases and I am willing to pay $2, I’m better off leading with an aggressive $2 bid than a $1 bid. If I bring him up at a buck and someone bids two, I then have to overpay if I want him. If I go aggressive and lead with two, then other owners might pass on him. I may have been able to get Gose for a buck, but it's better to get him for two, than not at all, if I want to grab him as a lottery ticket.

Even grizzled, gray-bearded, well-seasoned fantasy owners don’t go through an entire auction without making a mistake, so embrace the imperfection. Auctions are stressful, but remember, it’s supposed to be fun. If you create a nomination list ahead of time, be aggressive and strategic with the players you bring up in the early rounds, and operate with surgical precision in the late stages when everyone else is half asleep, you put yourself in the best possible position to succeed. If you have any nomination strategies or auction advice, feel free to share it with me on Twitter @GeorgeBissell.