Auction Nomination Order, Pricing, & the “Bumpy-Slide” Effect (Fantasy Football)

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This is the first year I started going back and looking at all the auctions I’ve been involved in to test certain strategies and thoughts about how auctions work. Unfortunately, I didn’t put my findings together before the season kicked off, but this is one article you’re going to want to sock away until before your auction drafts next year.

I think a lot of ‘experts’ including myself have been regurgitating a lot of auction strategies for years without questioning it. We see the same strategies over and over to the point that they’ve become rules. Have you ever asked why? Is it better for an opponent to pay $50 on a premium player we don’t want or $33 on a guy that’s normally $30? Why do we nominate guys we don’t want? When should we nominate guys we do want? How can we extract the most budget from our opponents? Where can we find discounts?

There are all sorts of articles that address these questions, but…what are they based on? If they’re not rooted in reality, then are they actually useful? Do they even make sense? If you’ve been doing auctions for a while, this article is going to make you question a lot about the strategies you use. It starts with how nomination order affects auction pricing.

Nomination Order and Auction Pricing

To look at how nomination order affects auction pricing, I looked at five auction drafts using the same settings(PPR scoring, 18-man rosters, QB-2RB-3WR-TE-Flex-DEF-PK starting roster) where nomination order was known. Only players that had AAVs(Average Auction Values) of $10 or more were used to ensure the players in the sample were drafted in all five of the drafts. Any players that had something that affected their auction prices(injuries, trades, roster changes, etc) during the course of the five drafts were removed.

I calculated the Average Nomination Position and compared them to the Actual Nomination Order for each player in each draft to get a Nomination Differential(ND). Positive ND values meant that the player was nominated after their Average Nomination Position and vice-versa.  I also converted the AAVs and Actual Values(AV) for each player for each draft into a premium or discount calculated: %=(AV-AAV)/AAV. Negative values represent a discount and vice-versa and here were the results:

As expected, player values increase when players are nominated early and fall as players are nominated later, but there were a lot of gems when you start breaking it apart including our first takeaway:

We can expect about a 10% premium or discount for players nominated around 25 spots earlier or later than normal.

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25 spots higher or lower in nomination order is a pretty huge number. It also excludes virtually all of the players with a top-36 AAV since those players Average Nomination Positions are so early that they can’t move up and rarely move down very far. This begs the question; if nomination order is fairly set for the top-36 players, then what happens with their pricing?

Top-36 Player Pricing

Pricing for stud players is largely flat:

Stud players getting nominated early or late don’t really come with a premium or discount. Think about this from a strategic standpoint. We can see that stud players nominated early don’t really get more expensive and don’t get discounted much even if they’re nominated a little later. If both of these things are true, then why are we nominating top players we don’t want early? A $50 guy we don’t want will still be about $50 if we don’t nominate him. A $50 guy we do want that’s nominated later…will still be about $50. This leads to our second and arguably most significant takeaway:

You want to use your first two or three nomination opportunities on STUD players you DO want. 

What!!!??? Intuitively we think that reduced budgets mean that we can somehow get our stud for a discount or, at a minimum, not pay a premium on them. It’s just not rooted in reality. If you’re targeting the RB6, does it matter whether they’re the third or ninth RB nominated? Not really-we just showed that the actual values probably won’t change much either way. Would it be worse to pay a little extra by nominating your guy early or find out your strategy is busted after a bunch of players you could have afforded are already off the board? Your sacrificing options to chase a discount that probably isn’t there.

As much as this seems to go against everything you’ve probably heard before, we do this with elite QBs and TEs already. Nomination order closely resembles ADP, but elite QBs and TEs tend to get nominated ahead of ADP. Why? We define drafts using these one-off position groups since there can easily be a $20-25 swing between someone’s top target and second choice. Auction drafters want to know if a significant portion of their budgets will go to these positions. Doesn’t it make sense to do the same with the RBs and WRs you plan on building your team around? Again, this only applies to top-36 players. Once you get away from the top-36, nomination orders vary wildly and the corresponding effect on pricing is noticeable.

Early and Late Nominations

When we take out all the players that get nominated close to their average nomination positions, we still see a trendline that passes through the 10% premium or discount around ND -25 and +25 but we also see a distinct vertical component right around plus and minus ND 25 to 30:

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There’s also a flattening that occurs after plus or minus ND 30. What results when we put it all together is something that I’m sure has a fancy mathematical term, but my son immediately recognized the shape.

Riding The Bumpy-Slide

Auction pricing ends up looking like something you see at any playground:

Prices are fairly stable when players are nominated near their Average Nomination Position and way ahead of or behind Average Nomination Position, but rise or fall dramatically around ND +/- 25-30. This leads us to our third big takeaway:

To extract the most value from your opponents, nominate mid- to late-tier players 25-30 picks before their Average Nomination Position(or ADP).

Since average nomination order isn’t widely available, we can use ADP as a substitute since nomination order is closely tied to ADP. Let’s say you have the 40th nomination, just look at the players around the 65th-highest AAV(or ADP) and pick the one you don’t want that you think will get the highest bid. Why not nominate a player even further back? The premiums you can expect to extract from your opponents flatten out after about 30 picks. If you use one of your first nominations on a guy with a $10 AAV, someone will probably pay $12, but someone probably would have paid about that later on too. We’re also dealing with percentages and not total dollars. Someone may pay an extra $3 or more on a player with a higher AAV even if the premium, as a percentage, is less. Their budget also gets reduced by a far greater margin(higher AAV plus premium) than someone with a lower AAV.

Don’t forget, it’s not like we only have one chance to nominate players. Wait a couple of nomination rounds and nominate the $10 guy then. $2, $3, and $4 premiums don’t sound like a lot, but you can easily extract $10-15 from various other teams by simply nominating players with later ADPs. You can burn even more budget combining this strategy with other nomination strategies.

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If this is true, then we can also find discounts in the Bumpy-Slide:

Nominate mid-tier players you DO like once they’ve fallen 30 spots from their AAV or ADP and you HAVE the budget.

Prices stabilize after players have fallen ND +30, so we can’t expect much more of a discount even if they fall more. We’re better off nominating them than freezing our budget waiting for more of a discount. This is IF you have the budget to roster the player. Very early in drafts and in the middle of drafts, everyone has a budget, but things switch as we get deeper into the auction. As auction drafts continue and budgets get depleted, premiums and discounts don’t matter nearly as much, which leads to our last takeaway:

The closer you are to the end of the auction, the more you should be nominating players with the highest AAVs or ADPs.

Your last few nominations should be pretty straight forward. You should always nominate players with the highest remaining AAVs, but now you’re nominating players you don’t like when your budget is depleted and players you do like if you can afford to roster them. There’s no reason to get tricky or risk getting a roster spot jammed with a weak player you were hoping someone else would bid on.

Conclusion

It might feel really weird, but we should be using more of our nominations on guys we do want more often especially with our first few nominations. We should continue to nominate guys we don’t want, but there’s a specific range of player you should be nominating to extract the most budget from your opponents and it’s not always simply the highest-priced player you’re not targeting.

Comments

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Alex says:

Awesome article. Auctions are so much fun and wish we talked about them more – very interesting analysis, thanks!

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