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Thursday 25th May 2017

The conventional advice offered by every fantasy baseball analyst is to buy low and sell high.  And of course, the notion makes perfect sense.  Buying low implies you are getting a capable player at a discount because he is off to a slow start and his owner may have soured on him.  Selling high suggests a player is performing at a clip better than normal and the trick is to find someone that believes the player will continue to perform at that elevated level.

The approach is obvious, which has led to a problem.  In order to buy low, you need to find an owner willing to part with a scuffling player.  The same pundit that that espouses the buy low, sell high theory implores you to be patient with your slow starters so you should be reticent to sell low.   On the other hand, the analyst that screams sell high is also pointing out how lucky the fast starter is, cautioning you against acquiring the player.  So sure, the axiom to buy low and sell high makes intuitive sense and has morphed into conventional wisdom, but let us be honest, do you really want to play in a league where the sharks are able to convince the minnows to pull the trigger on a deal of this nature?  What sounds great on paper is not so easy to manifest in reality.

Several years ago, I recognized this conundrum and first discussed what was considered to be counter-intuitive advice.  Since then, I have seen it discussed a few times, so maybe the idea is not so bad after all.  The idea is buying high.

A trade can be consummated in a variety of ways.  We will simplify this by segregating the reasons into three classes.  The first is a needs for needs trade.  Both parties value the players exchanged equally, but their respective squads benefit as each trades from strength to improve weakness, yielding a net positive on both sides.  The second is a present value for future value trade, the essence of which will be the subject of future site essays.  The final fits into the buy low, sell high mode where the participants have different beliefs with respect to the player’s worth.  The key to buying high is finding a player both partakers disagree with regard to a player’s value.

By means of explanation, if we can quantify a player’s performance, someone playing well may be scored to be 100.  It is universally accepted he is playing over his head so that score will regress.  Say you feel he will be a 70 player the rest of the way and I feel he will be an 80 player.  In order for you to agree to a trade, all I have to do is offer you a 75 player.  We both feel we are getting the better end of the deal.  Now, if I deal you a player I feel is a 70 and you judge him to be 75, that is even better.

There are two requisites in order to pull this off.  The first is the identification of a fast-starter you favor more than his owner and the second is finding a suitable player to offer in return.  The former involves some number crunching along with reading the tea leaves while the latter entails good old-fashioned horse trading.

I prefer not to use this space as a means to review player analysis, the site has and will be doing plenty of that.  But my means of a brief synopsis, my personal favorite metric to evaluate a hitter’s performance is his strikeout rate.  Keep in mind the reason a player is off to a hot start is usually because they have enjoyed a good degree of luck in a small sample.  This luck can come in the form of a fortuitous hit rate, resulting in a high batting average or an elevated HR/FB, rendering more homers than usual.  Both of these will regress.  My hypothesis is if the player is simultaneously exhibiting improved skill, the regression may not be as steep as others suspect.  The primary skill I track for hitters is contact rate, secondarily looking at walk rate.  If a batter is fanning at a lower rate, the possibility exists that his skills have taken an uptick, leading to better than expected numbers.  With respect to pitchers, I also look at strikeout rate and walk rate and if the hurler has improved, the regression due from a fortuitous BABIP or HR/9 may not be as extreme as my trading partner anticipates.  While I am not a huge fan of looking at last season’s second half as a harbinger of present success, if the player also demonstrated an improvement in skills the second half of last season, I will consider this season’s fast start to have a better chance of being real.

After identifying a player you suspect might be a trade target, you must then find a way to gauge his availability and find a suitable player to deal in return.  This should segue into the proverbial “tricks of the trade” column, but I think I will save that for another time.  I will however, highlight a few recommendations.

The bottom line is every competitor is different and there is no single best manner to negotiate a deal.  Actually, this would make for a fun message board discussion, so I will initiate a thread on our forum and invite your participation.  In short, the best means of working out a deal is to be cordial and keep your fellow owner’s needs in mind.  Of course, you want to improve your squad, but as the saying goes, it takes two to tango.  My rule of thumb is if I initiate trade talks, I will make the initial offer.  If someone wants one of my players, I will always consider an offer, but may not be willing to make the first offer.  You came to me; you show your cards first.  If the owner inquires about a player I am actually looking to move, I may in fact open serve.  If after receiving an offer, I feel there is a chance of hammering out a deal, I will respectfully decline, but make a counter.  If I sense the interest in my player is significant, I may not even counter, instead waiting on a second proposal from my opponent as a means to gauge what they may be willing to give up.  This is dangerous as they may move onto another owner and involves a gut feel of how interested in your guy they truly are.  Perhaps this makes me a bad trader, but I personally believe in being up front and honest in negotiations, even though I know there is a certain level of acceptable gamesmanship permitted.  On a personal level, I just need to make sure no one takes advantage of this, but in the long run, I feel it aids my ability to make trades, not to mention sleep a little better.   And to think, I am in the midst of contemplating shifting my day vocation from making little chemical thingies to selling them.  Unemployment will do that to you, but I digress.

In summary, if there is someone in your league looking to deal away some fast starters because the smart thing to do is sell high, and you sense that player is not going to decline as much as his present owner, drop them a line.  You never know, you could deal for this season’s Jose Bautista.  Or the real Jose Bautista.

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