HumorFebruary 4, 2006

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The Tale of the Davis Auction League

By Adam Foster

Although I didn’t expect much competition from my rookie fantasy baseball peers in the 2005 UC Davis Auction League, I did solidify my baseball study habits (trying to crush them) and grow to strongly dislike trade voting. If you have never taken part in an auction league or you want to try to get new fantasy baseball owners involved in the game, you’ll find this piece of interest. Hopefully, it’s an interesting story for the rest of you, too.

“Let’s start the bidding for Marco Scutaro at three dollars,” the fantasy baseball rookie said. The crowd erupted in laughter. “Do you want to get someone who you can watch play in Sacramento?” one league member asked. The joke was on the rookie. He was opening the bidding on a player who was unlikely to make a contribution in the Major Leagues – more likely to play at a neighboring AAA venue close to where the fantasy baseball action was being held.

As a fantasy baseball owner I have convinced my mother to give the game a shot, fortified a relationship with my father as owners in the same keeper league, lured dozens of friends and family members into the lifestyle, traveled thousands of miles to watch my players play, pondered scouting for talent in the Little League World Series, read more than seven books specifically to enhance my ability to assess talent, and taught my grandpa how to use a computer so that he could play, too.

With the 2005 baseball season approaching faster than you could say cactus or grapefruit, I decided to give some of my friends at school have a taste of fantasy baseball. They knew that I tell time by innings and measure success in runs; they still accepted my challenge.

The Draft

Twenty dollars, a free night in February, and a commitment to follow the 2005 baseball season were all that it took to get into The Davis Auction League of Davis, California. Ten of my peers rose up to the challenge. We agreed to auction off players. Each team had $260 in crudely crafted fake currency and the assignment to draft twenty players.

Suhas, an experienced owner, was randomly selected to start the bidding on a player of his choice. He opted to see who would pay the most for Carlos Beltran, one of the most talented young stars in baseball. Jon E. was willing to pay $39 for the exclusive rights to Beltran. Bobby collected Jon’s money, meticulously counting each and every bill as any managerial economics major would, and the first minute of four hours of madness had passed.

We took turns putting players up for bid by going around the room clockwise – one rotation for each round. I knew exactly who I was going to target and kept relatively silent unless I was involved in bidding. Besides occasional smirks at my comrade’s mistakes, I was a robot. A few of the owners were quickly disturbed by my focus, preparation, and confidence.

“We can’t let Adam get Corey Patterson, too,” said Brett, one of many rookie owners in the league. “His team is already too good.”

“If you don’t want Adam to get Patterson, outbid him yourself,” Suhas said.

“I can’t afford Patterson,” said the league’s lone Dodger fan, Patrick S.

After a few moments of hesitation, Brett went on to outbid me for Patterson and encouraged the other owners to outbid me whenever possible.

Bobby opted to play favorites when it came to pitching. He selected three fifths of the extremely talented – but just as injury prone – Chicago Cubs pitching staff. Mark Prior, Kerry Wood and Greg Maddux were all his.

“Are you sure you want your season resting in Dusty Baker’s hands?” I asked Bobby, commenting on the Cubs manager who has a reputation for letting his starting pitchers throw too many pitches – which frequently leads to injury.

“Worry about your own team Foster,” Bobby replied. “My Cubbie pitchers will be fine.”

Prior and Wood both landed on the disabled list before the All-Star break.

Last year’s Fantasy Baseball MVP, Barry Bonds, went to Brett for $44 (the third most expensive player in our draft). Brett doesn’t really root as hard for any one team as he roots against the Giants. He told everyone before the draft that he was taking Bonds no matter what, set on putting the Giants slugger in his utility spot – our league’s DH equivalent – where the rookie fantasy owner thought he belongs.

Only Albert Pujols and Juan Uribe ended up carrying heavier price tags than Bonds. Pujols’ price was completely justifiable, as he is the best young hitter that baseball has seen in quite some time, batting .333 with an average of 40 homeruns, 125 runs, and 126 RBIs in his first four major league seasons. Uribe, on the other hand, was a slightly above average fantasy second baseman at best. Suhas made the mistake of not spending his money wisely in the middle rounds of our auction, leaving him with more money than he knew what to do with for the tail end of the draft and leading to Uribe’s hefty price tag.

Jason Schmidt ($37), Johan Santana ($35), Randy Johnson ($34), Tim Hudson ($33), Pedro Martinez ($29), Jake Peavy ($27), Eric Gagne ($27), Oliver Perez ($26), and Ben Sheets ($25) were the nine most expensive pitchers in our draft.
The most expensive position players by position from our draft were: C – Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez ($24), 1B – Pujols ($45), 2B – Uribe ($45), SS – Miguel Tejada ($36), 3B – Alex Rodriguez ($39), OF – Bonds ($44), OF – Vladimir Guerrero ($42) and, OF – Beltran ($39).

Rather than throwing most of my dollars toward the top talents, I searched for bargain players one tier below the best. I then hoped to find ways to trade for the top talents, risking potentially not having any top players on my team – it’s hard to win without studs.

Initially naming my team The Black Sox – playing along with the fact that a bunch of guys in the league brashly kidded about my success coming from cheating – I changed my name to the Yankees after our draft, formally acknowledging that I was the team to beat. I’ll admit that I was slightly apprehensive, though.

Study Habits

In retrospect, I didn’t have much reason to worry. My ten opponents probably spent less than twenty hours combined in their preparation for our draft. My weekly diet of preparation usually included a combined thirty hours of reading player updates, looking at statistics, complimenting my inferences with opinions from outside sources, and creating Microsoft Excel sheets to summarize my findings. Fantasy Baseball isn’t a game where you can wing it and compete with the best.

At an Oakland Athletics vs. San Francisco Giants spring training game right before the 2005 regular season began, I went out of my way to communicate with the A’s shortstop Bobby Crosby. Crosby had recently been hit in the wrist by a pitch, and there was hardly any information available about his injury. I found him shagging fly balls in left field during batting practice and yelled, “How’s the wrist feeling Bobby?” He acknowledged me by flashing thumbs up. Crosby was alright! It was now my duty to alert the world…or at least someone who would care. I went on to call my brother – Crosby’s owner in my keeper league. I let him know that Bobby would be fine. After all, for the committed fantasy owner, it’s hard to sleep when your stars are unhealthy.

In another effort to stay ahead of my competition, I once added a seventeen-year-old player to my keeper league fantasy team. The owners in my league questioned my sanity for putting so much stock into such a young player. Still on my roster, Felix Hernandez, that seventeen-year-old, has turned into a pitcher that keeper owners salivate over.

Additionally, I subscribe to Baseball America’s Prospect Report, a daily email summary of what went on with the top prospects in AAA, AA, A, and college the previous day. Thoroughly reading through this report makes it easy to keep up on heralded prospects like Joel Guzman, Delmon Young (Dmitri’s brother), Rickie Weeks, Prince Fielder (Cecil’s son), and Ian Stewart.

During the winter of 2004, the time of the year when the most studious fantasy baseball owners are busily at work, I routinely spent hours working on my fantasy baseball excel sheets on a daily basis. My accomplishment this particular winter was coming up with my own value over replacement player formula (also known as VORP). After putting weeks into perfecting the formula, I spent two uninterrupted hours finishing it. So impressed with my work, a college friend wanted to become partners and market my work as fantasy baseball ranking software. But after we met with a small business lawyer, I decided that it would be better to continue with my education at UC Davis.

“I put tons of time into my fantasy basketball excel sheets,” said Jim, an owner in my keeper league, when I showed a group of owners my work. “But this is beyond what I make for basketball. It’s like what the Moneyball guys do.”

Jim is a lot more rational than I am, though. Despite my first place bragging rights for all three of the leagues that I competed in during the 2004 season, my fantasy winnings totaled to a mere $145 (or about ten cents an hour).

The Love and Hate of Trading

A league needs its integrity. Owners cannot just go about trading all of their good players to one team in order to split the purse. For this reason, fantasy baseball leagues usually set up a rule that a certain amount of trade vetoes will block a trade – if six of our ten owners were to reject a trade it wouldn’t go through.

When I got Jon H. to agree to trade Miguel Tejada for Jimmy Rollins and Ray Durham two weeks before the season started, quite a few owners were quick to reject it. Led by Brett, my trade was vetoed on two occasions. Brett even went so far as to ask me to resign as commissioner, saying that trying to force the trade was against the founding principles of our country, thus making me an anti-American.

Although the league had given me permission to have the final say on all trades going into the season and I believed that the league was being irrational, I initially thought it would be in the best interest of the league if I organized a panel of arbiters to make a final ruling for us. Instead, I fell into the league’s “gang up on the best team” trap and added Hideki Matsui to the deal. With the Yankee slugger now included, the trade finally passed.

More importantly, my trade started a litmus test of allegiance. It took two more trades for me to figure out that the same five people had made a pact to reject nearly all of my deals. I needed to form my own allies as soon as possible.

Before I could establish my allies, I needed to verify exactly who was against me. Hearing from other owners and the owners themselves, I identified four of my five enemies; they were exactly the people who I had an easy time imagining turning against me, Brett, Patrick S., Patrick C., and Suhas. But the final rumored one, my cousin Michael, just couldn’t have turned his back on me.

Michael was the only member of our league that didn’t go to school with us. Also the only high school student, I let him in the league because he was family. I even let him sleep at my place the night of the draft and treated him to breakfast the next day. But a family Easter gathering solidified my nightmare: My own cousin had turned against me. This league no longer was a fun challenge to my friends – it was an opportunity to rob them of their hard-earned cash with a thorough beating.

Referencing my opposition as the Dark Side, I was able to get most of the remaining members of the league, Bobby, Jon H., Daniel, Alex, and Jon E., to loosely commit to my side, the Light Side (it should be noted that Daniel and Alex were added into the league free of charge as expansion teams when they could not make the draft, giving us twelve teams total). Patrick H. was the lone neutral member of the league. My Light Side and the Dark Side would need to attempt to persuade him in order to accept or reject my trades. He quietly enjoyed his power.

Davis Auction League Wrapup

My team ended up going virtually wire to wire, embedded in first place at the conclusion of every week of the season, gaining ground on a majority of the pack as the season progressed. Bargain pitching picks like Bartolo Colon, Livan Hernandez, Felix Hernandez, Derrick Turnbow, and BJ Ryan were what put me over the top, as my offense was only a notch above league average.

Pat H. and Jon E. finished in second and third place, respectively. Brett, Jon H., and my cousin Michael struggled mightily, barely finishing ahead of Daniel and Alex’s expansion teams.

After dubbing the group rejecting my trades the Dark Side, I was able to get all of my trades passed. But the Dark Side did manage to get within one vote of getting my midseason Carlos Lee and Brad Lidge for Beltran trade rejected. Beltran was pretty much my least valuable starter from that point on.

A day didn’t go by without Daniel prodding me for talking him into being an expansion owner, a league member wanting me to donate a player to them since I had “won the league back in March”, Patrick S. raving about the color blue, and Brett laughing about Barry Bonds being unable to help the Giants while he watched his fantasy team sink. I created a monster.

With some seasoned owners in line to join the league this year and a few of the less active owners unlikely to participate again, The Davis Auction League will be as competitive as ever in 2006. But I still have no intentions of finishing anywhere besides first place.

Adam Foster enjoys recruiting inferior fantasy baseball owners so that he can come out looking like a genius. Occationally, he'll say something in the Cafe that's worth listening to under the name shortsavage. You can find more articles by Adam at where he currently covering the UC Davis baseball and women's basketball teams.
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