Comparing a Mixed Auction to a Mixed Draft

I’ve always counseled that a draft list should be ordered by auction prices, but also pointed out that in a draft you don’t have the opportunity to get any player you need if you have the money to spend. Timing is key in the draft game.

So that each pick you make should be considered one part of a pair, taking the best player available now and keeping in mind how well they pair with your next pick. Even better if you can think two picks ahead, but the farther you go the easier it is to go astray. Think again of that draft list ordered by auction prices, which are particularly meaningful because an auction price usually means at least two people agreed on the penultimate price.

I recently had an idea that I thought might shed some light on what picks a draft league might make, based on how mixed auction teams bid on players in the auction. I took the winning bids in Tout Wars Mixed Auction last year and sorted them from highest to lowest. (These are columns B and C in the spreadsheet.)

I then pasted the Tout Wars Mixed Draft in draft order next to it. This gives a rough idea of the dollar values Mixed Draft teams assigned to the players they drafted based on the slot taken. (That’s column D compared to column C.) While the next column (column E) shows what price he actually went for in the auction. Subtract C from E gives you the differential between Draft value and Auction value.

One issue with this, which makes it less than ideal, is that the Draft took place on March 12, nearly two weeks before the Auction, which took place on March 23. This difference shows up most distinctly in the values for Roy Halladay.

In the draft he was taken in a slot that correlated to a $22 player, but in the auction 11 days later he went for only $7. This was not a matter of a difference of opinion, but rather a difference in the news.

On the other hand, Robinson Cano went with the fourth pick in the draft, a spot which in auction should have been worth $40. But in the actual auction he went for $35. That’s not a huge difference, but it sure seems significant. Cano was the 10th most valuable auction player, and the fourth most valuable draft player. What accounts for that?

My theory is that this is the premium a draft is willing to “pay” in a draft to buy the best position player, knowing that there will be an outfielder or first baseman who will be available later who will then be underdrafted because other teams stocked up on defensively thinner positions first.

This is supported because other players who were drafted earlier than their auction prices would suggest are Troy Tulowitzki (SS) and Buster Posey (C), and not supported because Adam Jones (OF) was way overdrafted. Was Jones an anomaly? Overdrafted because of a single player’s enthusiasm in this league?

Almost certainly yes, but this is also a caution about drawing too many conclusions about this one single comparison. Nothing here is definitive. The deranged thoughts of one expert in the draft, or two experts in the auction, can account for many differences.

Still, it’s hard not to be fascinated by the places where the draft league and the auction league diverged. Take a look and you’ll no doubt find plenty of interest.

I had hoped that the differences between the auction and the draft would clearly show the position scarcity I anticipated, and while there are examples of support (Cano, for one, and Hanley Ramirez for another) there are plenty of others (like Jose Reyes and Evan Longoria) that swing the other way.

And what explains Shin-Soo Choo going in the draft as a $18 player, but selling as a $27 player in the auction? Maybe that turned on the news, as he settled into his new team. Sorting out the whys is interesting, if not conclusive in any way.

So let me leave you with the one clear bit of info that comes from this exercise, the dollar range of each draft round:

Round 1: $47-$33
Round 2: $32-$27
Round 3: $27-$24
Round 4: $23-$20
Round 5: $20-$17
Round 6: $17-$16
Round 7: $15-$14
Round 8: $14-$13
Round 9: $13-$12
Round 10: $11-$10

And so on and so forth.

One comment from left field. I went into this expecting that the auction values would be more nuanced than the draft values, but while compiling this it seems to me that apart from the obvious gaffe overdrafts, like Choo, maybe the drafters have a better sense of value because they’re students of ADPs and know draft values.

So few players play mixed league auction that maybe these guys are winging it, they don’t really know what the right bids are.

I don’t know that for sure, and what I do know is that we need to compile more real world data to figure it out. But for sure the per-round price spreads suggest that loading up on the high priced players left is the way to go.