How to Build a Budget: Part 1

How to Build a Budget
Part 1

by Patrick Davitt

Auction-based fantasy baseball is a lot like poker. In both games, a lot of players mistakenly believe that success is based mostly on luck - getting good hands (or good ballplayers) that will let you bet and win.

In fact, consistent success in poker and in Roto is the result of two factors: "reading" the other players at the table and managing your money.

The basics of putting together your Roto auction budget are pretty well known and have been widely discussed. The most important thing in understanding budgeting is this: The budget is designed to plan the acquisition of value, not to plan the spending of salary dollars.

Keeping that in mind, you first have to determine what batting/pitching "split" you want to use in your budget. Most guides suggest something like 67-33 ($175-$85 in the standard $260 league) in favor of hitting, to account for its relative consistency. More and more, the balance is shifting even more towards hitting - it's not uncommon to see 70-30 ($182-$78) splits recommended, and it's not unheard of to go as high as 75-25 ($195-$65). Ron Shandler's LIMA (Low Investment Mound Aces) plan calls for a $200-$60 split, which is about 77-23 in percentage terms. There are also "extreme" plans that call for 90-10 splits or that reverse the ratio and go 50-50 ($130-$130) or 40-60 ($104-$156), but we'll leave those to braver souls.

No split is intrinsically "better" than any other. In general, though, you should try to predict what your opponents' splits will be by looking at what they've done in past auctions, and by engaging them in informal, oh-so-casual "interviews" as the draft approaches. Then set your split two or three percentage points higher on the hitting side. Hitting is more consistent than pitching (even though the last few years has seen the emergence of pitchers like Justin Verlander, but remember Tim Lincecum and Roy Halladay in 2012), and you want to give yourself the upper hand in controlling your own destiny with the hitters in the draft. As well, as league-wide hitting splits go up, pitching prices will come down, allowing you to buy a decent staff at the resulting depressed prices - all the more reason to follow Baseball HQ's advice to acquire lesser known pitchers with solid Base Performance Indicators (BPIs) and let other players pay handsomely for "name" pitchers.

So let us say for the sake of progress that your league splits will be in around the 70-30 mark, and you therefore want to be up around 73-27. That means you should be trying to get $190 of hitting value and $70 of pitching value.

Now let's get into further detail by breaking down the splits into a per-player budget. If you believe in the eminently sensible approach of spreading your risk and balancing your roster to spread your risk, you will avoid the $30+ players. So your budget will start with something like this:

=========   ===========
29          12
25          10
23           7
21           5
17           2
14           2
14           1
12           1
 9          30 (closer)
$190   TOTAL   $70

These are not hard-and-fast fixed amounts, but the ceilings of value ranges. Using this example budget, you would bid on every elite player for that top slot, but realistically expect to get a guy in the $25-$29 range. Then you'd be looking at players in the $23-$25 range, the $21-$23, $17-$21 and so on. As part of your draft-day preparations, take your player valuations and draw lines to separate the players into the budget salary ranges, so you can tell at a glance if a player fits into your structure. Bid aggressively on players who are above your range, but always drop out once the ceiling is passed.

Don't wait to fill the slots in descending order. Bid on all players who fit your category needs, and then slot them into the appropriate slots on your roster budget. By maintaining budget discipline and managing your money, you should find yourself with a number of bargains. Add any of these surpluses to your remaining budget value ranges - again, not so you can overspend, but so you can raise the quality of players available to you. Craig Goheen advises that you assign all the surplus value to your highest remaining range. That's generally sound advice, but don't be shy about spending some surplus value if it enables you to get that really useful player in your $12-$14 range for $15.

You'll note that it isn't necessary to pre-assign salary ceilings to particular positions ($29 for OF, $21 for 1B, etc.) You can if you wish, but you run the risk of tying your own hands when a potentially excellent bargain comes up at the table - bidding dies out on Freddie Freeman at $6, whom you have down as a $14 value, but you don't have a $14 spot open. Bid the $7. Value is value.