The fallacy of making trades that help both teams

by BaseballHQ.com on June 14, 2010 @ 10:01:01 PDT

 


It's one of the oldest cliches in the lexicon of sports journalism: The GM talks to the reporters about a deal and says, "This is the kind of trade that benefits both teams."

You hear it in Roto, too, as owners scramble to justify their moves and, a lot of the time, to get the unspoken approval of the other teams in the league. Of course, there is nothing wrong with a deal that genuinely does help both of the teams involved. And of course you have to pitch any deal to your competitors using some variation on the theme. Calling up and saying, "I have a deal for you that will do me loads of good and not help you a bit" isn't going to earn you any comparisons with Branch Rickey.

But you have to remember that the central essence of trading is to improve your team. Period. And the only reason to help a trading partner in the process is if it means you hurt your nearest competitors.

Look at the teams in this example:

Rank
Team
HR
Pts
SB
Pts
Total Pts
1
Albert
89
12
26
7
68
2
Bob
73
11
25
6
67
4
You
52
5
49
12
58
9
Sam
59
9
28
9
45
12
Zeke
66
10
23
5
44

You have estimated how everyone will do from here to the end, and you still believe you can make a run for the Yoo Hoo. You feel like you can hold your 12 SB points even if you trade one middling SB guy - and a decent HR guy in return could net you good gains in a tight HR race.

In this simplified example, the obvious choice is to offer to deal with Albert - a "trade that helps both teams." You have bags to spare, while he is untouchable in HR, so you swap.

But you haven't helped yourself at all - because you have strengthened one of the guys you're trying to catch in a tough category. You should be dealing with Zeke, hoping to put those extra SBs onto a team with a good chance to pass Albert and Bob. Or you should deal with Sam, to at least solidify his shaky SB position and help him stay ahead of the top two.

Naturally, this example doesn't take into account all of the other variables that affect the race. For starters, we are ignoring the impact of future value in keeper-style leagues. And in any league, the gaps between point levels in given categories will be wider or narrower than here, making it harder or easier to convince your trading partner to do a deal.

In the example, Zeke should realize fairly readily that he can hold his HR points or lose a place or two in exchange for potential big gains in SB (although you will be amazed at how many Roto players don't look at the categories in this fundamentally necessary way).

It can even be a good play to lose a trade on purpose, throwing the "good for both teams" philosophy right out the window. Suppose it's relatively late in the year. You have a big lead and a surplus in a category, or you have calculated that you are stuck - there are simply no more points for you to gain or lose in the category. Under these circumstances, it makes good sense to trade away whatever you can spare to a team who can pass your competition in that category. It's nice to get some value back, but you should do it even if all you get is a bag of magic beans.

Speaking of magic beans, the "moral of the story" is this: Don't worry about trading that is good for both teams. Make it good for you and bad for the teams you're trying to beat; the teams with which you are dealing are irrelevant. And whenever you deal, remember that moving someone else past your competitor in a category to cost him a point is the same as moving ahead a point yourself.

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