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Analysis

The Art of FAAB

Todd Zola shares some tips when setting up your FAAB waterfalls.

The in-season grind is well underway. Trade proposals are being exchanged, waiver claims are being requested and FAAB bids are being processed. Today’s focus will be on the third of these: Free Agent Acquisition Budget.

For those unaware, FAAB bidding is a blind process where each team has a FAAB budget, with winning bids subtracted from their total. A FAAB run is conducted on a set schedule, such as once a week, or once a day. A few leagues use the Vickrey System where the amount subtracted is one unit less than the runner-up bid, but most take away the actual bid.

Leagues use varying budgets. An initial allocation of $100 or $1000 is the most common. Some leagues require a $1 minimum but, while others allow $0.

The FAAB process is considered superior to priority waivers or first-come, first-served since everyone has a shot at every available player via FAAB. All you must do is bid the most.

Therein lies the rub. FAAB involves deciding on a bid. Ideally, the level is just a few units higher than the next offer, but still low enough to leave ample budget to manage your roster for the rest of the season.

There are some fantasy analysts willing to suggest bid ranges for specific players, usually in terms of percentage of budget. For example, recommending 10-12% entails a $10-$12 bid on $100 budgets, or $100-$120 using a $1000 budget.

I regret to inform you that I am not one of said analysts. From my perspective, there are too many considerations specific to each league… and team… to pigeonhole a bid range.

For starters, a $10 bid in a $100 dollar league is not akin to a $100 bid in a $1000 league. Assuming no $0 bids, the former leaves a maximum of 90 more $1 bids, while the latter avails 900 additional $1 acquisitions. Now factor in some leagues of both types permit $0 bids, and “Bid 10% of your budget,” is not one-size-fits-all advice.

“OK, what if I give you my league FAAB specs?”

Sorry, still not happening. There are too many nuances germane to each team and league.

While setting bid prices for the initial auction draft isn’t an exact science, there are parameters leveling the factors enough so a reasonable price range can be determined. That is all thrown out the window in the FAAB process. In FAAB, it is all about supply and demand. Sure, supply and demand are part of the auction draft, but it is the key to FAAB bidding.

In one league, there may be four or five teams in need of a middle infielder, while in another, only a couple of teams will be bidding on the emerging second baseman/shortstop. Economics 101 teaches us the higher the demand, the higher the cost. Let’s say instead of one emerging middleman, there are multiple. Here, the supply is up, so the cost is down.

Even if both leagues were the same size, with the same roster and reserve composition, the supply and demand could be different. On one league, a team was able to replace Trevor Story with a solid reserve, or perhaps they can move Mookie Betts to shortstop and backfill Betts spot with a second baseman or outfielder. Maybe the team with Trevor Story made a deal to add a shortstop.

The supply of free agents may differ between leagues. In one league, a team manager took the chance that Jackson Holliday would be called up early, hence he was a reserve stash. In another league, no one has the foresight (or maybe the rules didn’t allow) to stash Holliday. Holliday being in or out of the pool influences the bids for other middle infielders.

The supply and demand dynamic also pertains to the scenario for each team manager. Does the team losing Trevor Story also need a pitcher to replace Shane Bieber? The more holes a team needs to fill, the less aggressive they can be on one player, assuming they don’t want to fill one or more spots with one of the lower quality players available.

Knowing the tendencies of your league mates is also critical intel, and something to which I am not privy. You may not be either, if it is a new league, or you are a rookie in the league. However, in long-standing leagues, it is crucial to “have a book” on your competitors. Who is aggressive early in the season? Who tends to nickel and dime for a bit, then open the coffer later?

If you and a competitor need a player from the same position, and they have a history of bidding a lot in the early going, you need to decide to be similarly aggressive, or settle for a lesser option at the position.

There are just too many involved factors for me to recommend a FAAB bid, or even a range. I will, however, share some tips that have served me well over the years. Many are extensions of what has been discussed, with a few general philosophies.

Divide your FAAB into Management Budget and Maintenance/Luxury Budget

I learned this from Rob Silver, the 2016 National Fantasy Baseball Championship Main Event winner. The NFBC uses a $1000 budget with no $0 bids and a FAAB run every Sunday night. Silver recommends coming up with an average allotment needed to manage a roster each week and setting aside that lump sum. The rest is my Maintenance/Luxury Budget.

Everyone should season this approach to taste, but my philosophy is the Management Budget covers moves like acquiring spot starters while the Maintenance/Luxury is responsible for replacing injured or underproducing players (the maintenance aspect) as well as upgrading with emerging players (the luxury part).

For example, over the years, I have averaged around $10 per week on acquiring a pitcher, or sometimes position player, with a favorable matchup for that period. There are 26 periods, so I start the season with a $260 Management Budget and $740 Maintenance/Luxury Budget. This helps me from being too aggressive, especially with luxury items.  Maybe I significantly upgrade my hitting but take away from my ability to manage my pitching staff. The points gained in hitting are lost because my pitching isn’t up to snuff.

The key to this approach is it is fluid. If I find more than $10 per week is required to maintain my pitching, I’ll adjust and take away from the Maintenance/Luxury Budget. Sometimes, I’ll get lucky and have some reserve pitching picks develop, so I don’t need to pick up a streamer, I can use my reserves. Here, I can reduce the weekly management allotment and shift it to the Maintenance/Luxury Budget.

Be Aggressive Early

This pertains to all formats. There was a time being frugal in AL and NL only leagues paid off with a huge addition at the trade deadline, but those days are gone. Injuries have increased while the inventory of player position replacements has dwindled. I’m showing my age when saying I can remember when teams carried 15 hitters and 10 pitchers. Now, many MLB rosters have an equal 13 hitters and 13 pitchers. If you don’t fill roster holes early, adding a stud for two months may bring you from eighth to sixth. Big whoop. Aiding this is teams are promoting prospects earlier than in days gone by. It’s better to upgrade early, even with a risky prospect, as opposed to treading water until the trade deadline.

The approach is more intuitive in mixed leagues, since the carrot of a player crossing leagues isn’t a consideration. Here, it’s all about having the upgrade for as many periods as possible. Feeding into this is, unfortunately, the demand for available players wanes as team managers lose interest in managing their teams, for various reasons. You don’t have to leave yourself with a bundle of Maintenance/Luxury Budget after the All-Star break since you’ll be able to address needs at a reduced FAAB cost.

Please keep in mind that this is tempered aggression. The main reason I found Silver’s advice so compelling is I would go goofy spending early, without regards to what I needed later. Combining these two philosophies has improved my game play.

Know Thy League

You can extract many of the points reviewed earlier and put them here. Decide how much you need an available player relative to your league mates. Compare your available budget… and other needs… with theirs.

If possible, rely on precedence to frame bids. This is shaped by league and individual manager tendencies. Chances are, the league has a typical amount it takes to acquire a closer, or starting pitcher since the number of times they are available is sufficient to set precedence. Sometimes, the league has a standard it takes to pick up a hot hitting prospect, regardless of position.

After determining the league trend, check if there is a team manager prone to bidding even more than the league usual, especially early in the season.

Miscellaneous Tricks

If it gets to the point where the players on which you are bidding are all similar quality, drop the bids to close to, or at the minimum. The notion is you don’t care which one you get, and there’s no chance all of them are picked up. Why pay more than necessary if it doesn’t matter who you acquire?

Don’t just look to replace injured players or add a spot starter. Use your Luxury Budget to upgrade reserves, even if you don’t have an immediate need. Trust me, at some point you will, and by upgrading reserves now, you may not need to dip into your Maintenance Budget later.

Always review the previous week’s drops. Team managers often lose patience with underperforming players and sometimes, these players don’t float to the top of the available player list when sorting by year-to-date production. If you take the time to note the drops, you know they are available and can often sneak them onto your roster as not everyone will be aware they were available. It’s this type of player that makes for the best reserve upgrade.

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