• Alex Cates

Auction Draft Strategy: 3 Year Review of Roster Construction

Updated: Sep 4

This will be part 2 of my 3-year review series. Each Saturday between now and the NFL season I will be releasing a new section.

Week 1: Snake Draft Strategy

Week 2: Auction Draft Strategy: Roster Construction

Week 3: Auction Draft Strategy: Nomination Strategy

Week 4: Are you smarter than ESPN: Lineup Decisions


In my last post, we reviewed snake draft strategies to see when to target certain players. today, we are reviewing roster construction during auction drafts. Should you go stars and scrubs? Balanced? Drafting for value? Spend it all on a Jonathan Taylor? Today we will dive into the results.


As a plug, if you want a personalized report of what strategies those in your league use. Check out Fantasyleaguereport.com. When you sign up for a free account this year, you will receive a pre-draft scouting report of your personal league. Check out my previous post on what Fantasy League Report offers.


The Data

We will be using the same process as the 3-year snake draft review. Auction drafts are less common so the dataset is smaller, but we should still be able to reach some conclusion. Specifically, we will be reviewing auction drafts from ~500 leagues in 2019, ~500 in 2020, though only ~120 leagues in 2021. This leads to ~5000 teams in 2019 and 2020 and ~1200 teams in 2021. All teams included missed no more than 3 weeks of setting a complete starting lineup (to remove those that stopped playing while allowing for people to drop out in the playoffs). Finally, all prices have been normalized to be a $200 budget. Remember to adjust any takeaways should your league use a different budget.


The data also includes users of fantasyleaguereport.com so if you want to contribute to the dataset, the easiest way to do so is to sign up.


How To Spread Out Your Budget

2nd order regression fits of the total spent on your top X players vs odds at a championship. Colored lines represent each year while the black fit with grey shading represents the mean and 95% confidence interval of the fit across all 3 years. The red horizontal line represents a team's base odds at a championship.


To start off, we will look at how much money you should spend on your top X picks. What's interesting here is we can see how consistent this is (to the point that the separate years can be hard to see compared to the average black fit)! As mentioned after the 2020 review, you basically want to approach the auction draft as a snake draft. You need a 1st round pick (a player that should cost around $60). Your top 2 players should cost around $100 total, which means a $60 player and a $40 player, or a 1st round pick and a 2nd round pick. and so on.


A rough breakdown of the implied price per player based on the 3-year average fits can be seen below

Player

Price

Top Player

$58

2nd Player

$40

3rd Player

$24

4th Player

$13

5th Player

$12

6th Player

$9

the rest of your roster

$44

I find this interesting given all the support for a stars and scrubs strategy. Here the data is suggesting that you should be paying up for your top player, but you should also fill out a roster with players at multiple pricing tiers.


How Much To Spend Per Position



When we breakdown how the amount of money allocated to each starting position affects championship odds, we see something odd. Specifically, we see very few trends. The 2020 and 2021 seasons may have some similarities for running backs and the flex position (with RB price optimizing around $30 and flex price suggesting you want an expensive or a cheap flex but nothing in between), but overall, each year is its own entity. I am not sure if this is due to injuries, break out players, or what, but the lack of a trend is interesting.


Overall, I think the takeaway is to focus on players and not positions. You should grab a $60 player, but that could be a running back like Jonathan Taylor, a wide receiver like Cooper Kupp, or even Travis Kelce at tight end.





Value Drafting

Value, in this case the difference between what a player cost and what ESPN suggested they should cost, is incredibly important for auction drafting. Since everyone has the same budget, the goal is to get the most bang for your buck and buying players at a discount is certainly the easiest way to do that. But as we have seen in snake drafts, it is not always necessary. So lets look at how accumulated value changes a teams championship odds.


Unsurprisingly, value is a good thing in auction drafts. This is true whether you look at your top 3 most expensive players, your top 6, or the entire draft. The 3 years are also pretty consistent again on this point. I will say an interesting stat is that most years, the crossover from hurting to helping you is a negative value (roughly -20 value). That means that while more value is always a good thing, don't worry too much on paying a little extra for a player you want. As long as you aren't going too crazy, it shouldn't affect your chances too much.


Limitations

As with most of my draft strategy posts, I am only doing the bare minimum to control for owner skill (did they set their lineup on most weeks). So, these results may be affected by owner performance. Additionally, I am including all league settings in this dataset. I have shown previously how different league settings may affect your draft strategy and I would assume there may be similar noise from different league settings here. So, take those into account when you are translating these results to your specific league.


Conclusions

To wrap things up there are a couple takeaways:

  1. Approach an auction like a snake draft: you want to have a first-round pick, a second-round pick, and so on. So instead of spending your money differently (say by grabbing 2 first round players at $60 each), instead think of it as being able to select the player you want most from each round.

  2. Don't worry about specific positions: Every year is different with regards to which positions you should spend your money on. I plan to follow the cliche rules of thumb (running backs and wide receivers are more expensive than QBs and TEs), but beyond that there doesn't seem to be a sweet spot for how much to spend on a starting position (at least not yet).

  3. Value is Important: Creating draft value can only help you, just make sure you are still getting the players you want. This will help you have the most fun with this game and as long as you don't go too crazy, you should still have plus odds at that championship.

Questions? Comments? Let me know at ac@alexcates.com. Want to read more breakdowns like this? sign up for my newsletter here. Finally, like what I do? Consider supporting me on buy me a coffee or by signing up for fantasyleaguereport.com.

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