Imprisoned by the Ranks

What I’m about to tell you is probably not going to make any sense, but I am going to say it anyways. You may not appreciate it; you may not even like it, and it might not even make any logical sense. That doesn’t change the fact that it may be true.

Selling low and buying high on players may actually be good for your team and its chances of winning. There, I said it. Now maybe we can try to understand this illogical, and counter-intuitive strategy for what it is. After all, what really makes sense in fantasy sports, anyways?

I am going to point out a few trades for you to look at. Brace yourself; you are going to laugh, and cry, at the poor soul on the receiving end of these deals.

  • Alex Rios for Jose Altuve
  • Eric Hosmer for Jose Abreu
  • Jay Bruce for Billy Hamilton
  • Justin Verlander for Jonny Cueto
  • Jean Segura for Michael Brantley
  • Allen Craig for Anthony Rendon
  • Matt Cain for Jon Lester
  • Shelby Miller for Jake Arrieta
  • Desmond Jennings for Nolan Arenado
  • Dominic Brown for Nelson Cruz
  • Manny Machado for Todd Frazier
  • Austin Jackson for Charlie Blackmon

Did you make it through that list without cringing? I know I couldn’t. So what was the point of showing you all those lopsided, horrible trades? Well, what if I told you that all of those trades are actually Owner One selling low and Owner Two selling high and that they actually happened last year. Let me rephrase that for you. These owners were cashing-in on Rendon, Brantley, Cruz and Abreu last year. And they wanted people like Rios, Verlander, Allen, and Segura instead.

You might not remember it because so much changes so fast in sports; but Owner Two was playing it safe and, in theory, playing the “smart money.” To say Owner Two was wrong on any and all of these bets, would be a gross understatement. If you can find preseason ranking lists or even early season ranking lists from 2014, it will probably blow your mind. The amount of change in just the first couple of months can be an eye-opener when looked at a year later. Rendon and Brantley weren’t even in the top 200 last year, but they finished the season in the top 25 in some lists. Dee Gordon, Charlie Blackmon and Corey Dickerson weren’t even ranked, and they all had a very successful season last year.

Here is that trade list again with early 2014 season ranks included next to their names.

  • (32) Alex Rios for (77) Jose Altuve
  • (37) Eric Hosmer for (143) Jose Abreu
  • (40) Jay Bruce for (118) Billy Hamilton
  • (51) Justin Verlander for (133) Jonny Cueto
  • (53) Jean Segura for (236) Michael Brantley
  • (69) Allen Craig for (216) Anthony Rendon
  • (72) Matt Cain for (151) Jon Lester
  • (94) Shelby Miller for (NR) Jake Arrieta
  • (98) Desmond Jennings for (164) Nolan Arenado
  • (108) Dominic Brown for (147) Nelson Cruz
  • (111) Manny Machado for (178) Todd Frazier
  • (126) Austin Jackson for (NR) Charlie Blackmon

After you see the ranks next to the names, it becomes even more apparent to Owner Two’s frame of thinking. Oftentimes, we are slaves to rankings. It is probably my biggest pet peeve about creating ranks for viewers to use. They should be mostly as a general guideline with the exception of maybe the top 25-30 names. The top players are predicted with a bit more accuracy so they are a little safer to ride any slumps. That being said, they are not impervious to error either.

I think a much more accurate and reliable way to judge a players worth is to one, recognize trends and two, identify one hit wonders. If you can, for instance, recognize downward trends with even a hint of accuracy, you may be able to avoid disasters. That and I feel intangibles can have at least as big of an impact on a career as any calculable variable could ever hope to have.

As an example, Justin Verlander has been on a steady decline for the last three years. He has pretty much fallen off the charts this year, and then you have to ask, why and how did it happen so fast? Well, first is his velocity. Believe it or not, his fastball velocity has been on a decline since 2009 when it peaked at 95.6 mph AVG and topped out at 101 mph. 2013 was a bad year by his standards; he never once threw for 100 mph and averaged only 94 mph fastball. 2014 was even worse. So what changed? Perhaps nothing changed in terms of baseball, but there were several other factors in his personal life. He turned 30 in 2013, he had just landed an absurd $200+ million dollar contract and he started dating Kate Upton. By anyone’s standards, it’s safe to say he “made it” in life at that point. Because these are not easily tracked and do not fall into your typical statistical category, many ignore. Are you going to tell me those life changing events (3 in one year) are not going to have an impact on your game and your work ethic? There is no other way of saying it, intangibles are worth tracking and make a difference to your fantasy teams chances. Just don’t forget that recognizing trends in any fashion, is also to your advantage.

I’m also hesitant to jump on the sophomore “one hit wonder” bandwagon that happens every year; buying high on players that had a great rookie season. I’m not saying I avoid them at all costs (I don’t), but I will not hesitate to sell him for this year’s “one hit wonder” if the move makes sense. I will trade in my all-star sophomore that is not performing for the guy that didn’t play like everyone thought he would last season but is now. That said, I will also sell high on the performing rookies and readily pick up those new-found sophomores. Brantley and Rendon are good examples of that last year.

If there is any key concept you should take away from this article, it’s that you should not be afraid to sell low and/or buy high if you think either trend will continue. I just provided a dozen examples of both for a single season, and believe me, this list barely scratched the surface from 2014. In fact, it was so common, that I now question whether buying low is anywhere near as successful as it may have once been. Bottom line, if you feel comfortable selling a player for 50, 100, even 150+ spots lower than you paid for him, go for it. You may anger some other owners or even risk ridicule if you are wrong, but if you put in the research and it seems to make some sense, it might not be far off from the truth.

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