TTFBL Bottomfeeder's Report: Draft Night

In which lessons are learned and a handful of players go for wildly inappropriate prices.

If you'd have told me last Christmas that I'd be spending the next April Fool's Day doing an auction draft for a fantasy baseball league, I'd probably have laughed in your face. It'd been over a decade since my last attempt at fantasy baseball - a league I commissioned (commissionered?) based on Sierra Sports' baseball simulation game for Windows PCs and which flamed out spectacularly in the midst of Season Three, after which I lamely brought the league in almost entirely ownerless just to say I'd finished the season. Those guys weren't going to be playing fantasy baseball with me any time soon, and I didn't figure anybody else would ever invite me.

Then I stumbled across the Twinkie Town open invitation. I put my name in mostly as a lark, thinking my obstinately contrarian ways would convince people to steer well clear of me in their league.

Apparently I was wrong, because Adam Peterson responded the same day to let me know I was in. Perhaps he thought my contrarian decision-making process would be so ridiculously bad that he'd find it easier to win?

Anyway, that's how this idea was born -- figuring I'd likely spend most of the year hanging around the league basement, I figured I'd put up the occasional bottom-feeder report, if only to provide a cautionary tale of what not to do the next time you find yourself in a fantasy league.

First thing not to do -- prepare for an auction draft by assigning values to a computerized auto-drafter and let it run the draft for you. The reason not to do this is not that you'll end up with a sub-optimal draft (though you just might), but that because it frustrates the hell out of those owners that show up.

We ended up with two computerized auto-drafters in the TTFBL, and the opening few rounds of the draft were exercises in seeing which of those two auto-drafters were set higher. Well, after we figured out what was going on, anyway. For the first half-dozen picks, none of us could figure out why one or the other of the guys who weren't here were always the high bidder for a nominated player; every time I or someone else would try to bid up a player, the 'high bid' would simply increment by two and show the same high bidder as before. The computerized auto-drafters ended up with a good number of early picks that way, simply based on everyone else's confusion over what was going on.

(This is a big reason why Team 14, one of the auto-drafters, ended up spending over $210 of his $260 budget on five players, two of whom were first basemen. Again, auto-draft at your peril.)

Once we figured out what was going on with the auto-drafting, the next phase of the draft involved players trying to 'push' the auto-draft bots as high as possible for their players with the hopes of making them overpay and leaving them short on funds to fill out their rosters. This is where some of the most egregious overspending went on, either because of a wildly optimistic setting for the auto-drafter or, more commonly, when a human bidder who just didn't know when to stop ended up pushing the auto-drafter one bid too far.

(The guy who runs the Osiris Copperheads really seemed to have a problem with this: he overbidded the auto-drafters not once [Hanley Ramirez for $52], not twice [Jacoby Ellsbury for $39], but three times [Mark Reynolds for $33]. Even he had some ability to recover, though, ending up landing Johan Santana for $25 and Nick Swisher for $8.)

The strategy I chose to follow should be familiar to anybody who has played fantasy sports with a draft component: nominate players I have little to no interest in to get those players off the board and reduce competition for the players I really want. This worked really well early (I landed Ian Kinsler, Kevin Youkilis, and Matt Cain for less than $100 combined), but not as well as the evening went on. Either other players figured out my ruse, or we got to the point where the few players left who hadn't gone after the positions I was nominating decided they needed to get in at the last decent stop before things got totally out of control. In this way, I ended up losing out on acquiring Swisher, Matt Wieters, Joakim Soria, and Johan Santana, though I probably should have pushed the first and last ones a bit harder. The middle rounds were full of alternating rounds where people shied away from bidding wars because they didn't want to feel they were blowing their wad on a mid-range player, and frenzied bidding wars by people who realized if they didn't land the guy up for bid, they didn't have another name on their chart other than Nick Punto.

As is normally the case with these kinds of drafts, the really interesting stuff happened near the end, though in this case not all of us were awake enough to notice. (We got through the first hundred picks in about an hour and a half, not realizing that filling 23 roster spots for 14 teams would require over 300 picks. After pick 100, we got a 10 minute break. After pick 200, we had a two-minute break. After pick 300**, some of us snuck away from the keyboard to take a pee, and those who didn't probably used whatever soda bottle was handy.)

** - Pick 300, for those of you into trivia, was Carlos Gomez.

Cases in point:

- After spending $10 to land Ricky Nolasco in an earlier round, Adam snuck a $1 bid through on Joba Chamberlain in the wee hours.

- The guy running Nathan's Elbow ran up the bidding on Cincinnati first-baseman Joey Votto to $18, then landed Arizona wunderkind Conor Jackson for a buck late.

- The Smokin' Senors, who were apparently following a pitching-centric strategy involving Roy Halladay at $37, Justin Verlander at $31, Josh Beckett at $25, and Tommy Hanson at $20 ended up landing Scott Kazmir, who could end up having the best season of any of them, at $11.

- The only distaff member of the draft team (that I was aware of, anyway) going into sticker shock after landing Tim Lincecum for $42 and withdrawing from any bid competition after that to the point where she actually left $26 on the table at the end of the night still ended up with some nice bargains, such as Lastings Milledge for $2 and Kevin Slowey for $3.

The starkest image of the evening, though, came when I reviewed the draft logs after the whole thing was over (and poor Nick Punto hadn't been taken by anybody, even if the five-round serpentine draft afterward to fill out reserve slots): the auto-drafting Team 14, with the previously mentioned five guys for over $200, Cliff Lee for $22, David Ortiz for $4, and 16 guys costing exactly $1 each.

That's why you shouldn't leave your team's destiny in the hands of a computer.

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