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The Fantasy Manager’s Dilemma: Roster Building and Game Theory – Part 1

As opposed to real General Managers, we can view our players more in terms of investments. We do not need to consider locker room dynamics, contract issues, or even the chemistry effects of continually trading players. While somewhat dehumanizing, it more closely resembles the world of stock trading. In fact, we sometimes refer to players as “shares,” a term taken directly from investment jargon.

By Blair Pierroz

Team building and asset management are the names of the game for dynasty. They are why we choose this torturous form of fantasy over redraft. Why let the pain of losing dissipate after just one ugly season when we can choose to prolong it for years in dynasty? Why let your favorite sports team monopolize all the fun of bungling draft after draft? As a Sacramento Kings fan, I have had a lifetime of training in just how not to run a team. 

As opposed to real General Managers, we can view our players more in terms of investments. We do not need to consider locker room dynamics, contract issues, or even the chemistry effects of continually trading players. While somewhat dehumanizing, it more closely resembles the world of stock trading. In fact, we sometimes refer to players as “shares,” a term taken directly from investment jargon. 

Using the “share” concept allows us to view our team more as an investment portfolio. When viewed in this light, running a team can become more straightforward. There are several ideas to pull from buying and selling stocks, such as diversification, risk, length of investments, and liquidity that can be useful. I will cover many of these ideas, going over mistakes and misconceptions I believe are easily avoidable in dynasty fantasy football. 

Some of these suggestions will seem like common sense but can be taken with a slight twist to gain an edge over your opponents. And even though they seem obvious, I believe you will find a number of your opponents do not strategize this way. I will explore this topic in three articles: Asset Management, Knowing your Opponents, and Staying Liquid. 

Asset Management 

Misconception: You don’t need to win every trade as long as you fill a need or create a more balanced lineup. 

I would argue that you should attempt to win every trade at all times, regardless of roster composition. Even if the relative value gained was only equivalent to a 4th round pick, that is still a win. 

Before you stop reading because you have decided I should not be giving advice (if that advice is just to win trades), hear me out. I promise I am not insulting your intelligence when I say you should strive to win every trade. Because the truth of the matter is, many players do not follow this line of thinking.

This misconception relates directly to maintaining a diversified investment portfolio. When choosing where to put money, a common strategy is to spread it amongst bonds, index funds, low-risk stocks, and possibly add in a few higher-risk stocks. Diversifying protects from putting all of your eggs in one basket that you drop directly onto the ground. 

This is where understanding investment strategies can be a hindrance. While there are similarities to dynasty football, it is essential to recognize their differences. Dynasty is a zero-sum game while investing is not. If I do well in the stock market based on a suggestion from someone else, we both can earn money. If I take a low-risk strategy of investing, I can be happy with my small profits. Diversifying my stock portfolio helps mitigate risk and ensure the long term appreciation of my assets. 

In fantasy football, there is only one winner each year. Reducing risk to build a pretty good team is one of the worst strategies available. Nothing is worse than being a middling team who is just short of competing, but not terrible enough to rebuild and get a high draft pick. I would argue you need to be either going for the championship or embracing the grind of a full rebuild. Reducing risk will only ensure you are always on the outside looking in. We need to scratch tooth and nail for each bit of profit because when we profit, our opponents are losing value. They will not give in easily, so it is vital to look at trades solely from a profit standpoint. 

Mistake: Attempting to maintain positional balance at the cost of overall value.

This is where the anguish of being a Kings fan has actually helped me. While there are plenty of examples of this mistake, the most recent is the most painful. I watched in horror as we decided to pass on a generational talent in Luka Doncic to take Marvin Bagley. While this was a really poor decision at the time, it has only aged like milk since, as Doncic has risen to be one of the best players in the league. The front office made two terrible choices in one by making this pick.

File:DUKEvUNC 2018-03-03 - Marvin Bagley III.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

First, they attempted to maintain positional balance. We have an up and coming star at the point guard position already with De’Aaron Fox. The team did not want to take the ball out of his hands and give it to Doncic. While they play similar positions, I still believe they could have easily coexisted. They opted instead to draft a player at a positional weakness that they believed would compliment Fox. The results have been mixed to be euphemistic.

The second mistake was that they also attempted to avoid risk by not trading back. They reached for a player instead of attempting to trade back with the Mavericks and at least get an extra first round pick like the Hawks did. If you are going to miss on a generational talent, at least get a first out of it… Bagley would most likely have still been available at that position of the draft, but they opted for the route that mitigated the most risk. Please, I am begging you, learn from my pain. It will help me bear watching Doncic run the league for the next decade or two knowing he could have been on my team.

Most dynasty fantasy owners subscribe to this mentality. They have an understanding of asset management and know that diversification can provide safety. They will always try to maintain balance across all positions, attempting to fill any holes they may have. They will often do the same in terms of the age of their players. They build their roster with a few aging vets who still have value, a majority of players in their primes, and a few young prospects that will hopefully appreciate and help the team in a few years. 

While maintaining this equilibrium on your team is good, most owners overvalue just how important it is. Except for a true juggernaut, most teams will win the championship with at least a few holes in their roster. It is not impossible to win your league while streaming the quarterback position or throwing an unproven rookie into your flex because your RB1 went down with an injury in week 14. 

Most owners will work tirelessly to fill any perceived hole they have on their team, ascribing to the philosophy of mitigating risk and diversifying. They will seek out trade partners who can give them an aging RB2 to take over in week 14 after that injury. This situation is where we can gain an edge in several ways.

  1. Take the day trader mentality. One fantastic trade that nets the equivalent profit of a first-round pick is great; however, ten good trades that net the equivalent of a second or third-round pick each are even better. Those fantastic trades are hard to come by, and if they are the only ones we are looking for, we miss out on a lot of only good trades. 
  2. Seek out those teams that have gaps at a position. Make them an offer before they realize an aging RB2 could fill in for their injured RB1, but do it delicately. Be sure the offer is relatively fair. We want to make a profit but not be so greedy that our opponent slams closed the door we are propping open with our foot. We have the advantage of not competing with other teams to get this deal done by being the first to approach them. Being overly aggressive will just tip them off to the potential of a trade that they will then seek out with a more reasonable opponent.
  3. Do not be afraid to create a hole on your roster if you are taking a profit. Trade away depth or your solid WR2 that you love and for whom you do not have a replacement. Too often, we miss an opportunity to gain value because of the perceived consequences.

This last piece of advice is the crux of my whole argument. Positional weakness is far less of a threat than most people realize. 

If we take the day trader mentality, a weakness will hopefully only be present for a short time. If your roster is in constant flux, you will only have a gap until you complete the next trade. This is even more true if you are making moves throughout the offseason. The offseason is when you can increase the churn of your roster to your benefit. A series of small moves can ultimately result in the only real change to your roster being an upgrade from a WR2 to a WR1. This string of trades will see you create a deficiency for a short time only to circle back and address it as the final move to upgrade one position.

A shortage in one place typically means a surplus in another. Accepting deficiencies allows us to hoard one position. This scarcity only drives up the price of the assets you are holding. De Beers has been employing this strategy in the diamond industry for generations. Diamonds are not nearly as rare as most people believe. Instead, De Beers has been sitting on a massive cache of them for years, releasing only a small amount at a time to drive up their price. 

In a Superflex league, sitting on five or more QBs achieves the same results. You now have reduced your opponents’ access to those assets and made yourself the most likely trade partner for QB hungry teams. I was able to trade Marlon Mack and a 4th round pick to a team that needed RB depth after having some pieces lose value during the offseason to acquire Drew Lock as my sixth QB. This was after the draft, and I identified that he had lost value in his RB room. Not only was this a great trade in a vacuum, but it also allowed me to corner the QB market for much of the offseason. 

File:Andrew Luck (44009880214).jpg - Wikimedia Commons

This surplus meant I could throw out several advantageous trades to QB needy teams without worrying about losing depth. I ultimately was able to get someone to bite and shipped out Phillip Rivers and 1.10 for Juju Smith-Schuster. He only had two QBs rostered and needed the depth as well. I didn’t need a WR at the time, but the value was just too great to pass up.

Not fearing positional weakness always puts you in the driver’s seat. You never want to be the desperate party in a trade. As the above series of trades highlights, I never needed to make any of the moves I did. Instead, I could sit back and pick out teams that had weaknesses I could exploit. And by being proactive, I was able to prevent the two teams from trading with each other, taking all of the profit for myself. 

Misconception: Build the team you want. It’s your league, have fun and make a team you like.

This is a fine sentiment, but sentimentality is for a different article. Teams tend to overvalue their players, which leads to missed opportunities because of emotional attachment to players. This is especially true for those homer players on your favorite team. 

Not only can you miss opportunities, but stagnation can be a death sentence for a team. Only seeking out specific trades and only taking them when it is a considerable win goes against the previous points I have been trying to make. Avoiding churn will only lead to the depreciation of assets as they age out or your window to move them closes. Piggybacking off of the first point, you should be trying to make as many trades as possible. Many small profits quickly turn into a much larger profit. 

Then if you so choose, this profit will allow you to go out and buy the players you truly want. Players do not need to be on your roster for a certain amount of time. If you don’t like a player you traded for at a value, just go ahead and flip him. Keep making moves, and eventually, you can work your way back to the players you like. I only suggest getting the grinding out of the way first, though. Don’t put yourself in a position where you need to make a trade. 

You will need to be constantly grinding for many of these strategies to work in conjunction. Try to always be in discussions for trades, knowing many of them will not pan out. In the next article, I will discuss how important it is to know your opponents. Studying their habits and rosters will allow you to identify those weaknesses that can lead to a profitable trade. So be sure to keep an eye out for the next two segments. Until then, stay safe, and keep grinding.

Blair Pierroz – Dynasty/Strategy
Ride or Dynasty
Twitter: @BlairPierroz

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