Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Finding your way with FAAB

FAAB stands for Free Agent Acquisition Budget. It is one of the best answers fantasy leagues have devised for allocating free agents in the fairest possible way. It is fast becoming the norm as players just don’t have the time or inclination to be locked to their computer screens in order to secure the best free agents. It’s not a perfect system, but using FAAB as a way to obtain free agents insures at the very least that everyone has an equal shot at the best available guys every week.

Now that the NFBC Main Event drafts are in the books owners are emerging on message boards posting their respective squads. Much like real major league teams our fantasy squads all start the year tied for first place and for the most part fantasy players are usually feeling pretty good about their teams as Opening Day approaches. Of course the feeling often doesn’t last long once the games begin. For many owners the early weeks of the season will resemble being a fan of the Kansas City Royals or the Washington Nationals these days. Early season excitement is quickly replaced by the reality of a flawed and less than competitive team than the one we thought we drafted. That’s where using and managing your FAAB for the season comes in. Since there are no trades allowed in the NFBC, your FAAB budget is the only tool at your disposal to improve your squad, manage injuries and look for new talent.

If you have never played in a league with FAAB before, here is how it works in an NFBC league like the Rookie Invitational. Everyone will start the year off with a $1000 budget to spend on Free Agents. FAAB runs every Sunday night from Opening Day until the final FAAB period in Week 26. You are free to bid on any available player in your free agent pool. Highest bid for a player wins. Unlike some leagues that use FAAB, you don’t get a discount on your winning bid in the NFBC. If you bid $200 on a player and the next highest bid is $25, you still pay $200. You can bid on as many players as you like in any given week and back those bids up with multiple conditional bids. This helps ensure that even if you lose out on your top target, the system moves down your subsequent bids until you win a player for the upcoming scoring period.

I'm entering my third season using FAAB in the NFBC - so I will humbly submit that I myself am still honing my skills using it from week to week. Every league is a different collection of owners and personalities. The free agent pools will be slightly different from league to league. It can be intimidating for a new player, but my experience has been that it adds an extra layer of excitement to the competition as Sunday brings everyone together to formulate bids and eagerly await the results. Successful management of your FAAB budget can often mean the difference between a finish in the money or a slide down the standings, so having an idea of how to approach the FAAB process is as important as all the draft prep you did leading up to the season.

There are many different theories about how to use your FAAB budget and attack the free agent market. Often you will find yourself employing multiple approaches every week as you bid on different types of players in multiple leagues. Everyone has their own style but for simplicity I’ll filter them down to three basic groups which I will name Hoarders, Big Spenders and Cheapskates.

Hoarders are those players who believe that you need to save as much of your FAAB as possible for that big score later in the season. This strategy applies more to NL or AL leagues - because they will always have the Superstars switching leagues at the deadlines. So - while I am not saying you should all spend wildly and irrationally early on - don't hoard your FAAB either. Most NFBC teams are mixed leagues, so there will be no superstars coming into the player pool. The closest we will get is the hot prospect or the closer out of nowhere. The fact is many of the top prospects and closers-in-waiting were probably drafted in your league. So I don't advocate extreme hoarding of FAAB in an NFBC mixed league.

Big Spenders are those players who you will see on the boards shouting "Spend Early and Often". These owners tend to feel that FAAB is useless if you leave it on the table at the end of the year. They also tend to believe that money spent earlier in the season can have a bigger impact on their team and season simply because the player purchased will have more time to provide a return on the investment. I can't deny the reality that a player acquired in Week 2 will have a bigger chance to impact your place in the standings than the guy you get in Week 22. But you don't want to be the guy who runs out of cash and can't make any moves at all in September. The Big Spender likes to get the big prize free agent and while they often hit pay dirt, many times they get very little production for the investment. But the Big Spender also has the confidence that he can manage his team with less if necessary and often the money spent early can be enough to put them over the top. The only problem with being a Big Spender is you only have a couple of shots at taking this approach – so when you swing and miss – it hurts worse because everyone will remind you how much you spent for Jordan Zimmerman or Jordan Schafer.

Cheapskates are the guys who won’t overbid for anyone and often load up their bid pages with multiple $1 conditional bids in an effort to save money. They will make reasonable bids on players they like – but they won’t break the bank to get them. The downside to this is the often miss out on impact guys simply because often they won’t overpay. Part of being a Cheapskate is finding bargains. You’ll find these types of owners throwing low cost free agents against the wall to see if one or two will stick. They are often the guys you swear at when you go to the wire to look for a player, only to realize that they already picked them up. Cheapskates differ from hoarders in the respect that they will make moves – but they are more prudent than the Big Spenders– so they try to value their bids correctly.

I would say most new owners start out as Cheapskates until they get their FAAB legs under them. A few lost bids and the aggressive nature of most will make for some spirited bidding. It is a challenge to try and figure out who might be your competition for a particular player in any given week. You never know where or who that crazy bid is coming from. Sometimes it will come from that last place team sitting on a big pile of FAAB at the All Star break and sometimes it will come from you. Sometimes it won’t come at all. Sometimes you’ll want a guy so bad, you will allow a little of the Big Spender in you to take over only to realize that you outbid the next guy by WAY too much. Those bids will make the Cheapskate in you angry and likely start the cycle all over again. That’s life in the world of FAAB. It can be maddening but it is never boring.

As we look forward to the first FAAB period of the season - here are a few tips and observations to remember this season:

1. Keep in mind other team’s needs when bidding. This seems pretty basic, but I always see guys bid against themselves and overpay for mediocre players. If you need a replacement catcher don’t go overboard when you will likely only be competing with a couple other owners for his services. The exception to this is with saves and steals. These stats are always highly sought and always overpriced. There will always be someone willing to pay for them and often it will be the guy who doesn’t need them. When it comes to speed and saves always assume that you are not alone in chasing these commodities.

2. Keep track of other owners FAAB budgets. Most league services will provide this info for you, but make sure you check it out before bidding. If you have an idea who you are going up against for a certain player, this can help you decide how high to go. This can be especially important late in the year as money dwindles. Say you are chasing down a money spot and the guy in front of you needs a certain player. He only has $20 left in his budget and you have $100. A bid of $21 will make sure a difference maker stays off his roster at the very least.

3. Trust your hunches and speculate with $1 bids. I mentioned this above, but it bears repeating. If you have a feeling about a guy who is available and you have a reserve spot to play with. Drop a $1 or $2 bid on him sooner than later. If he doesn’t pan out then just throw him back for your next experiment. One of the best times to implement this strategy comes right before the trade deadline. I always try to read the landscape and grab a guy or two who may or may not come into a chunk of playing time at the deadline.

4. Be wary of buying high priced rookies. In the NFBC there are no $0 bids. Once you are out of money, you are out of moves. Sure it can be nice to land the next big thing, but you will always end up paying more than there are usually worth. If you are going to go after young players try to do it via speculation. Once the guy you had a hunch on isn’t a secret anymore, the value of that player in relation to FAAB quickly dries up. If you do want to try and make a splash of a signing – then realize that you likely will only get one or two of them a year.

5. Keep some money in reserve for September. This can be the difference between winning and losing often. Nothing worse than getting to Week 26, needing to replace multiple players and having nothing in the bank. I would suggest having no less than $10-20 left for the final two weeks of the season.

6. If you are out of the running, still spend your FAAB. This for me is all about being a good player. It can be especially frustrating in an overall competition like the NFBC to hear about owners leaving big piles of unspent FAAB on the table at the end of the season. You can’t win every year, but you can always help make your individual league worth winning. Never give up and never stop bidding on players. It keeps everyone honest and your fellow owners will respect that you stayed active until the bitter end. You paid the entry fee so you owe it to yourself to get your money’s worth. Every week you participate in the FAAB process will help make you more efficient and effective at it.

7. Vary your bidding habits. Don’t be predictable and keep them guessing. If your league engages in some friendly trash talk, don’t be afraid to bluff from time to time. Always assume that someone is tracking how you bid so they can exploit it down the road. If you keep spending $2 on 2 start pitching every week, eventually someone will start jumping the guys you want by going to $3.

8. Set a weekly budget for yourself. If you find that the Big Spender in you wants to take over then set up a budget for yourself for the season. This will help you meet the goal of having money available to you in the final weeks. You can work backwards from the last week or month of the season and try to stay within the boundaries to make sure you don’t come up short in crunch time.

9. Conditional bids are your friends. Don’t be afraid to back up your primary targets with conditional bids if necessary. If you absolutely need to come out of the FAAB period with a P, the conditional bid process can usually guarantee that you will come away will someone. I often will target a specific SP, and then back him up with as many as 10 other names that are more speculative. The worst thing you can do it come away empty handed when you need a body to plug in your lineup.

10. Enjoy the process. FAAB is fun if you let it be. Don’t let it get to you. After the dust settles relish your victories and be good natured about your defeats. Feel free to rub some salt in the wounds of others, but don’t be a jerk. FAAB can really add some life to leagues, but the fun will evaporate if people get to amped up over it. As the season goes along you will begin to get into the flow of FAAB. Good luck and happy bidding!

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