You may have heard it before, but it bears repeating: No two auctions are the same. How can they be? When every owner has a shot at every player, the civilities of turn order are lost.
The "appropriate time" to take a player has no meaning. It all boils down to who you like and for how much. Throw in variations in nomination order, which introduces the element of timing, and all predictability goes out the window.
With so many variables in play, sometimes you have to ditch your plan and adjust on the fly. Our recent AL-only auction demonstrated just that.
The format was standard -- traditional 5x5, 12 teams, 23 roster spots, with a seven-round reserve draft to follow. The participants were from all over the Internet. Guys we know. Guys we trust. Specifically, these guys ...
1. Mike Kuchera, FanDuel.com
2. Keith Cromer, Patton & Co
3. Tim McLeod, RotoRob
4. Paul Sporer, Baseball Prospectus
5. Ryan Carey, Mastersball
6. Nando Di Fino, CBSSports.com
7. Derek Carty, DerekCarty.com
8. Dean Peterson, Stats LLC
9. Al Melchior, CBSSports.com
10. Jeff Boggis, Fantasy Sports Empire
11. Grey Albright, Razzball
12. Scott White, CBSSports.com
So what happened? Chalk it up to great minds thinking alike.
While the stars-and-scrubs approach is perfectly viable in a mixed league, where the scrubs aren't actually scrubs but low-dollar sleepers, the bottom of the AL-only player pool isn't nearly as forgiving, making a more balanced approach a more advisable one.
Except when everybody else is doing it.
Nobody wanted to extend themselves for the high-dollar players in this auction, causing just about all of them to go for less than I had projected. It started with the very first nominee, Mike Trout, who I was praying I could get for my projected $45, thinking it'd be worth it to keep me from overspending on batting average and stolen bases later (both seemed like they'd be in short supply). I got him for $43.
Robinson Cano then went for $5 less than I had projected. Jacoby Ellsbury for $3 less. Yu Darvish for $3 less. And so on.
I could have taken the discrepancy as a sign my projected values were flawed, but something didn't add up to me. Those dollars I had projected to go to those three (and others like them) still had to go somewhere, and if they weren't going to other elite players, they'd end up trickling down to the middle tiers, making some of that group even bigger reaches than the elites, relative to production.
So I called an audible. I zigged while everyone else zagged, first by preempting a David Freese or Matt Dominguez type at third base (my original plan) by nabbing Manny Machado for $18, or $6 less than I had projected, and then by eschewing whichever of David Ortiz or Billy Butler slipped through the cracks (again, the original plan) by landing Chris Davis for $32, or $4 less than I had projected. Yes, the dollars were so out of whack that I considered one of my "bust" picks a value compared to what would soon follow. Is nothing sacred?
The showstopper was probably Dustin Pedroia for $24, a good $10 less than I had projected and a significant upgrade from Brian Dozier, who I had targeted for second base. Not long after that, Jose Altuve went for $25, validating my concerns about the middle tiers. While Carlos Santana went for $19, Salvador Perez went for $23. While David Ortiz went for $22, so did Norichika Aoki and Carlos Beltran.
In what world is that justified?
Granted, in every auction, you'll find a handful of players who go for too much or too little as a result of poor timing, but when a pattern develops that could drastically change the distribution of dollars the rest of the way, you have to anticipate it.
My approach to this one wasn't even close to the way I had made out my budget beforehand, but I think it delivered a better overall team. Not because the original plan was flawed, but because the original plan, with this particular group, wouldn't have been feasible.
A few other observations ...
• My biggest regret: Spending $12 on Jose Quintana. He's a fine pitcher and probably worth $12 in a vacuum, but my bid on him came at a point in the auction when the dollars were still flowing. A couple rounds later, I could have Justin Masterson or C.J. Wilson for about the same price, and both have higher ceilings.
• My greatest triumph (other than the audible): I liked landing Jed Lowrie for $13, particularly where I did. Guarding against injury is one thing, but I get the sense some experts are only willing to see the downside with him. They wound up spending $15 on Alcides Escobar and Erick Aybar soon afterward.
• The unsigned players -- most notably, Nelson Cruz, Ervin Santana and Kendrys Morales -- went for significantly less than projected, but that's because they're useless in this league if they end up signing with NL teams. Drafting them is a gamble.
• Closers. In league-specific formats, don't expect to get one for cheap. The Astros situation is one thing, but among the 14 with the inside track on a job, none went for less than $13.
The rest you can see for yourself. Apart from the bids being too bunched in the middle, preventing extreme highs and lows, I'd say it's a fine representation of what the AL player pool has to offer.