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Inside the WCOFF Bidding Wars

As a rookie entrant into Lenny and Emil's "World Championship of Fantasy Football" (WCOFF), I recognize that I am going up against the true fantasy football sharks, most of whom are no doubt Footballguys subscribers! The WCOFF can boast of being the current undisputed king of fantasy football contests, and attracts a powerhouse field of participants to its somewhat quirky format:

  • 12 team leagues
  • league champions and some runner-ups qualify for the big prize "playoffs"
  • 20 round live draft
  • $1,000 free agent spending money for use in bidding during the season
Now David Dodds and others here have you covered as far as some of the draft strategy goes, and clearly with 12 teams x 20 roster slots, leagues are taking 240 players/defenses off the market on the first day. Let's put that in perspective for a moment -- if every team took on average 6 RB's, 6 WR's, 3 QB's, 2 TE's, 1 PK, and 2 Defenses, then we're talking:
  • 72 Running Backs gone (eg every starter and backup, and all the obvious third stringers with potential!)
  • 72 Wide Receivers gone (both starters for almost every team, obvious third WR's)
  • 36 Quarterbacks (all starters, some backups)
  • 24 Tight Ends (all the starters with any kind of track record or upside)
  • 12 Kickers (probably quite a few teams would take more than one kicker and play the weekly matchups)
  • 24 defenses (meaning there are only 8 defense free agents...Oakland anyone? Anyone?)
After the draft the free agent pickings will likely seem slim as the season begins. It could be argued then that success at the WCOFF is about smart drafting and adept bench/start decisions on a week to week basis. The bidding aspect to the game might seem like an afterthought or the domain of desparate teams trying to fill injury/bye week holes.

Bidding Rules: The free agent system will be a “blind bidding” process. Each team will start with 1,000 free agent “dollars” for the season, and will be permitted to bid for free agents on a weekly basis. No team will be informed of any other team’s free agent bids until after the winning bids have been awarded. The team with the highest bid on any given player will be awarded that player. The amount of the winning bid will be deducted from the winning team’s free agent dollars. For each winning bid, the winning team must drop a player to make roster room for the free agent acquisition. If a team’s free agent dollars go to zero, that team will no longer be allowed to bid for the rest of the season.

Ah, but of course the wonderful things about the NFL is the surprises that show up every season. Players who were not even on the radar at the start of the season can wind up in prominent starring roles. So let's not write off the value of wise bidding so quickly, instead let's break down the numbers. To do this, I downloaded the full transaction files of each league from the 2004 WCOFF League Pages and built a database.

Total Accumulated Spending by Week during the 2004 WCOFF
Week  $0  $1+  $100+  $200+  $300+  $400+  $500+  $600+  $700+  $800+  $900+  $1,000 
39%  62%  30%  18%  13%  9%  7%  4%  2%  1%  1%  0% 
9%  92%  63%  46%  35%  26%  21%  15%  10%  7%  3%  0% 
3%  97%  84%  72%  61%  51%  41%  31%  21%  15%  8%  0% 
2%  98%  92%  84%  77%  67%  58%  46%  34%  25%  15%  1% 
2%  98%  95%  89%  85%  78%  70%  60%  49%  36%  23%  1% 
1%  99%  97%  94%  92%  86%  80%  72%  63%  50%  33%  1% 
1%  98%  97%  96%  94%  89%  85%  79%  71%  60%  44%  3% 
1%  99%  98%  97%  95%  93%  89%  83%  76%  67%  53%  4% 
10  1%  98%  97%  97%  96%  94%  91%  87%  81%  71%  59%  7% 
11  1%  99%  98%  97%  96%  95%  93%  89%  85%  80%  71%  30% 

There were 672 teams in WCOFF '04, and by week five, over 58% of them had spent at least half their free agent dollars. It's worth remembering that weeks 1-11 represent the league games and if you're not in the top two at the end of that, you ain't playing for the big money in the playoffs. So it's not a surprise perhaps that owners are aggressively seeking to improve their roster from early on. Still, you can see that having most of your free agent money left in the middle part of the league schedule gives you some formidable buying power

Highest "Winning Bid" Players during the 2004 WCOFF
Player
Team
Week
Pickups
Average
Low
High
Stats*
Aaron Stecker
NO
3
31  $790  $507  $1000  351 Yds, 1 TD 
Reuben Droughns
Den
6
17  $671  $457  $857  1,133 Yds, 7 TD's 
Amos Zereoue
Oak
5
30  $617  $402  $926  406 Yds, 0 TD's 
Kerry Collins
Oak
4
46  $473  $129  $995  3,160 Yds, 20 TD's 
Marcus Robinson
Min
6
14  $461  $300  $701  388 Yds, 4 TD's 
Mewelde Moore
Min
5
52  $435  $121  $807  592 Yds, 0 TD's 
Sammy Morris
Mia
7
37  $413  $79  $851  514 Yds, 5 TD's 
Leonard Henry
Mia
4
56  $381  $25  $916  105 Yds, 0 TD's 
Derrick Blaylock
KC
3
36  $375  $6  $888  754 Yds, 9 TD's 
Cedrick Wilson
Pit
2
16  $360  $100  $672  553 Yds, 2 TD's 
Brad Hoover
Car
8
12  $337  $60  $667  136 Yds, 1 TD 
Dorsey Levens
Phi
8
45  $321  $25  $951  401 Yds, 3 TD's 
Anthony Thomas
Chi
9
11  $321  $79  $676  340 Yds, 2 TD's 
Doug Gabriel
Oak
2
15  $311  $81  $703  477 Yds, 1 TD 
ReShard Lee
Dal
3
11  $250  $28  $827  82 Yds, 0 TD's 
Mike Alstott
TB
4
12  $237  $72  $503  303 Yds, 2 TD's 
Eric Johnson
SF
2
28  $227  $79  $533  711 Yds, 1 TD 
Jonathan Wells
Hou
5
24  $220  $1  $515  176 Yds, 3 TD's 
Vinny Testaverde
Dal
3
13  $216  $52  $602  2,666 Yds, 15 TD's 
Ki-Jana Carter
NO
3
48  $171  $1  $551  17 Yds, 0 TD's 
* Stats reflect the games from the week of the pickup through week 16 (end of the WCOFF playoffs)

Given the variance from one league to another (eg Trent Green was available in week five in one league) the above table only looks at players picked up by a minimum of 10 different teams (leagues) in a given week. What's the first thing to notice? Of the 20 highest average winning bid pickups, 14 were RB's, 3 were WR, 2 were QB and 1 was a TE. Team Owners were quick to bid up the prices on Running Backs with a chance to move into a significant role. When Deuce McAllister went down with injury, both Stecker and Ki-Jana Carter were hot buys!

It's still volatile though: Leonard Henry was picked up by a team in each of the 56 WCOFF leagues during week four, but ranged in price from $25 to $916 (and mustered a total of 6 caries for 8 yards the rest of the way). Did some of these pickups make big differences? You would have to think there were some happy Droughns owners, but most of the high priced free agent buys were of little to no help.

Top "Bidding Frenzy" Players during the 2004 WCOFF
Player
Team
Week
Pickups
Average
Low
High
Leonard Henry
Mia
4
56  $381  $25  $916 
Mewelde Moore
Min
5
52  $435  $121  $807 
Derick Armstrong
Hou
6
50  $105  $1  $310 
Ki-Jana Carter
NO
3
48  $171  $1  $551 
T.J. Houshmandzadeh
Cin
4
48  $143  $12  $413 
Kerry Collins
Oak
4
46  $473  $129  $995 
Curtis Conway
SF
3
46  $163  $10  $501 
Dorsey Levens
Phi
8
45  $321  $25  $951 
Wayne Chrebet
NYA
6
45  $70  $1  $212 
Ronald Curry
Oak
3
44  $126  $1  $350 
ReShard Lee
Buf
2
44  $121  $2  $700 
Justin Griffith
Atl
3
44  $94  $1  $427 
Ben Roethlisberger
Pit
3
42  $105  $6  $336 
Tai Streets
Det
2
41  $171  $10  $703 
Az-zahir Hakim
NO
2
41  $156  $5  $928 
Tim Carter
NYN
3
41  $100  $1  $328 
George Wrighster
Jac
4
41  $31  $1  $162 
Shaun McDonald
StL
8
40  $29  $1  $177 
Brad Hoover
Car
7
39  $59  $1  $353 
Reuben Droughns
Cle
5
38  $81  $1  $496 
Sammy Morris
Mia
7
37  $413  $79  $851 
Jabar Gaffney
Hou
7
37  $40  $1  $125 
Derrick Blaylock
NYA
3
36  $375  $6  $888 
Reche Caldwell
SD
2
36  $161  $16  $512 
Jerry Rice
Den
7
36  $134  $1  $1000 
Shawn Bryson
Det
4
36  $110  $1  $425 
Shad Meier
NO
5
36  $26  $1  $233 
Mike Cloud
NYN
9
35  $50  $1  $177 
Jerome Pathon
Sea
7
35  $45  $1  $400 
Clarence Moore
Bal
11
34  $116  $1  $572 
Verron Haynes
Pit
5
34  $88  $1  $317 
Eric Parker
SD
7
32  $142  $12  $397 
Kurt Warner
Ari
3
32  $132  $3  $504 
Aaron Stecker
NO
3
31  $790  $507  $1000 
Randy Hymes
Bal
4
31  $164  $2  $456 
Ken Dilger
TB
10
31  $27  $1  $150 

I know what you're thinking -- "someone bid $1,000 for Jerry Rice??"

The breakdown by position shows 16 WR's, 14 RB's, 3 QB's and 3 TE's who were picked up by 31+ teams in a given week (note that Droughns was picked up by 38 teams prior to the week five game at an $81 average compared to 17 teams in week six at $671). Still while it's clear that the prices are all over the map for even a hotly contested player, the bigger issue is are there spending patterns that were more conducive to success than others last year.

Let's look at whether bidding pattern differences can be detected between the WCOFF winners and losers:

Average Spending by Week during the 2004 WCOFF
Team Rank Week 2  Week 3  Week 4  Week 5  Week 6  Week 7  Week 8  Week 9  Week 10  Week 11 
ALL $91  $168  $163  $126  $91  $84  $58  $39  $30  $42 
Top 15 $38  $145  $228  $60  $157  $89  $89  $41  $17  $96 
Top 78* $76  $213  $172  $131  $108  $59  $53  $37  $24  $94 
79 to 672 $93  $162  $162  $125  $89  $87  $58  $40  $30  $35 
* 78 teams qualified for the 'big prize' playoffs

Analysis: the most notable point from this table is that the ultimate playoff prize winning teams spent little in week two compared to the non-playoff teams, but notably more in weeks four and six (to catch up in overall accumulated spending) and at the tail end of the season. Clearly there are some cause and effect actions here: teams off to good starts may feel less urgency to take risks on free agent players (you do have to drop a player from your current roster after all), and nearing the end of the season, team owners that feel they are out of it will lose interest and not be active in buying players.

Another important point is that the 'correct' bidding strategy in a given year will vary -- if the WCOFF was around when Kurt Warner had his breakout year, it's likely that spending you whole wad to get him in week two would have been a very wise move!

Highest Winning Bid Paid during the 2004 WCOFF
Team Rank Max Paid  $200+  $300+  $400+  $500+  $600+  $700+  $800+  $900+ 
Top 15 $490  100%  87%  67%  53%  27%  20%  7%  0% 
Top 78 $430  97%  73%  50%  33%  18%  15%  5%  3% 
79 to 672 $413  90%  72%  48%  31%  19%  10%  6%  3% 

Interestingly the most successful teams actually did pay out more for their highest priced pickup, but did so judiciously: one top fifteen finisher paid out $800, and two others paid $726 and $722 respectively, but none were up in the bidding stratosphere. Allowing some wiggle room for later moves seems important, but at the same time the best teams were not afraid to put in higher bids, with 53% paying $500+ for a player compared to only 33% of non-playoff teams.

What to learn from this

I'll spare you the math, but actually there wasn't much correlation between spending pattern and either wins or points. In fact spending in a given week, or total spending in a week, to either the wins or points was often neglible correlation (<.05) and only in the last two weeks of the WCOFF regular season (weeks 10 and 11) did it muster double digit numbers...and this is no doubt because the better teams kept at it, while the "out of it" teams made few moves.

So ultimately, here's what we know about the best teams in WCOFF 2004:

- Spent less than average in the early weeks, but more than average as the season progressed
- Were more likely to buy a player during the season in the $300-$700 range, but less likely to spend $801+
- Spent aggressively in the last week of the 'regular season' to set themselves up for strong league championship games, and playoff round weeks
- Had a higher "hit percentage" with their pickups

That last point of course seems obvious...outbid your competition for players who produce and you will help yourself, outbid your competition for players who are busts and it might hurt you.

Clearly how you draft is first and foremost the key to success in the WCOFF, followed by smart bench/start decisions on a weekly basis. The bidding wars may have only a mild impact in a given season, although some years a true star the equal of a first round pick might emerge from the free agent "slush pile".

One strategy tip I'd offer is this: when you find out who the other players are in your league, you might want to check their bidding records from the prior seasons if they are WCOFF veterans -- just as with poker, the more you know about your opponent's habits, the better off you are likely to be!

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