Thursday, July 14, 2011

Auctions vs. Drafts

-->Chris asks a question that's so deep in my wheelhouse that you'd suspect I planted it:
Never been in an auction league before. Any real advantages to it?
This is akin to asking me whether I'd prefer an ice cream sundae with hot fudge and double chocolate ice cream or a plain scoop of vanilla. While I'm sure that the scoop of vanilla is not without its charm, I'd probably wonder what I did to deserve such a bland treat.

I haven't competed in all that many draft leagues, but I have played in enough to tell you what some of the differences are. Whether or see this as advantageous or not probably depends on your preferences more than whether or not auction-style play is better or worse than draft-style play.

1) You must pay more attention during an auction
During most drafts, you look at your list of available players, quickly sift through that list to see who's available by position, and then pick a player. Then you sit there and cross players off of your sheet until it's your turn (if you're participating in an on-line draft, you typically don't even have to "cross players off" of a list, since the draft program will typically take these players out of the queue). 

Auctions don't permit this kind of passivity and, in fact, they discourage it. Just because you bought the first player called out during the auction doesn't mean you're not going to buy the next player or the player after that. There are plenty of twists and turns during an auction, and in many cases the "best player on the board" isn't the guy who you're going to be bidding on. This also means that you have to learn...

2) You must be aware of auction strategy - and figure out your own strategy as well 
Do you think it's better to try and target the players you want early or throw out the big names you don't want? Is it a better idea to throw out a mid-tier guy and hope you catch the room napping, or should you try to throw out everyone's favorite "sleeper" in the hopes that he goes for way too much coin?

Drafts are all about taking the best player on the board or evaluating position/category scarcity. Auctions have this elements as well, but there is a good deal more gamesmanship involved too. There's almost nothing more nerve wracking than bidding on a player you don't want...with the possible exception of having someone bidding you up on a player that you do want.

3) Your roster isn't constrained by where your pick is
In a draft, owner names are picked out of a hat to determine where your pick falls. If you don't get an early pick, you can forget about owning Albert Pujols (or, in 2012, Jose Bautista). While it is true that most drafts use a "snake" or "windshield wiper" format that balance out the rosters in terms of potential talent, there's something completely random about the idea that I won't have the opportunity to own Bautista or Pujols solely based on the luck of the draw.

This isn't true in auctions. If I want Pujols or Bautista next year I can have him...if I want to pony up the dough it will take to buy Pujols or Bautista. Or I can pass on the top players entirely and try to buy a balanced squad. Perhaps I will zig when everyone else is zagging, spend less money on hitting and put together a staff of power arms. Or maybe I'll dump saves or steals because I think the prices are ridiculous. Whatever I decide, it's my decision, regardless of where my position is at the auction table. 

The best part of all of this is that I'm competing with every other owner in my league with every player who is called out (at least until positions are filled and money is vastly depleted). In a tight league, no one is just going to let me walk away with the best player without making me pay dearly for that player. Likewise, I'll get to find out pretty quickly what a few owners' opinions are on that hot rookie phenom who surprisingly broke camp with the squad.

Auctions do require more preparation and more strategic thinking, but in my experience they're also more rewarding if you execute your plan. If your league is switching from a draft to an auction for the first time - or if you're leaving a draft league to join an auction league – be prepared for an experience vastly different than that of a draft.

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