HQVAULT: Overpaying—Does it ever work?

Over the nearly 20 years that BaseballHQ.com has been in existence, and going back another decade to the Baseball Forecaster newsletter, we have accumulated hundreds of articles on fantasy strategy. These reside in the Strategy Library section of the site, and many include timeless tips on all aspects of fantasy league play, at various times in the fantasy league calendar. In a new series to run throughout the pre-season, we will be highlighting selected articles from the Library as part of a HQVAULT series. We welcome reader interaction with these older articles in the comments section below. Enjoy! —Ed.


Overpaying: Does It Ever Work?
by Jon Enriquez

If you've read it once, you've read it a thousand times: don't overpay. The way you win at fantasy baseball is to get good returns on your investments, and you can't get good rates of return when you spend high.

But how inflexible is that rule? Is it ever possible to spend a lot of money on a player and still win? Let's consider some scenarios in which you might be tempted to spend high.

Almost every player has faced the prospect of high inflation. This is a constant in keeper leagues, when profits are locked into freeze lists and too much money is chasing too little value. What's the right response? Suppose you've found that your league is facing 20% inflation. You know that means that a $30 player ought to cost $36. Should you actually pay $36?

The answer depends on the strength of your own freeze list. You don't want to give back all of your frozen profits; if you start out with $100 worth of players frozen at $75, but you pay $185 for $160 worth of players during the draft, then you end up with a $260 team, and you finish fifth. What you have to do is look for bargains with respect to inflation. In this context, paying $33 for a $30 player is a bargain rather than a ripoff. If you can buy $175 worth of players for $185 at the auction, then you have a $275 team, and you finish first.

Here's a second possibility. Suppose you have budgeted $30 for a closer, but all the top ones have been bid past $40, and even some second-tier ones went into the upper $20s. The last front-line closer is up for bid, and your rival has bid $30. You had this player's price at $28. Should you bid $31?

This one is a bit easier. You have to be flexible enough to respond to what happens during the auction. When you write down $30, you should treat it as a guideline rather than a limit. It's usually possible to come up with an extra dollar in your budget, and a closer is a significant source of value. Certainly, you can bid $31 or even $33.

After that, however, you're faced with a tricky decision. If the bidding keeps creeping up, at some point "flexibility" will become "overpaying." There are no hard and fast rules for deciding when to stop bidding on this player, but consider these questions:

How many owners are bidding on this closer? It's easier to outbid one rival than two. Is the price approaching your rival's maximum bid? What about the nonverbal signals? Is he shouting "$32!" before you can finish saying "$31?" That might suggest that he's prepared to pay quite a lot. Is he taking a lot of time before bidding, and squeezing out a strangled "$34"? That could mean that he's about to quit. What are the alternatives if you don't land this player? Are there enough part-time closers and setup men available that you can get two or three of them for your $30? Or is the choice between this player and a lot of maybes and what-ifs? Are there any other $30 players on the board, such that if you don't get the closer you can go get that great second baseman instead?

It's tough to consider all of these issues in the time it takes the auctioneer to say "Going once... going twice...", but that's how you make the decision.

Here's a third situation. It's late in the auction, and all you need to complete your roster is an outfielder. Thanks to your diligent adherence to your budget, you have $6 remaining. While waiting for other teams to scuffle over a pitcher or two, you have identified the best player remaining on the board. You are getting ready to nominate him when the player before you nominates him and bids $4. You note that his price in the Draft Guide is $3. Should you bid $5, and accept an almost certain loss?

In fact, you should bid $6, and avoid losing him to someone else who might also have $6 to spend. There's no need to save your money, no one else on whom you'd rather spend it, and no need to minimize his salary for the sake of next season. This is the best player on the board, and that makes him worth every bit of $6 to you.

And that, in a nutshell, is the answer to the question about overpaying. If you define "overpaying" as paying a price above the one listed in the Draft Guide, then there are many reasons to overpay. But if you define "overpaying" as paying a price above the value in context, then there is no reason to do so. The question you should ask is not, "What does the Draft Guide say he is worth?" but "What is this player worth right now, in this context, to me?" The latter question is tougher to answer but far more relevant.

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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.