There's a lot of really strong dynasty analysis out there, especially when compared to five or ten years ago. But most of it is so dang practical-- Player X is undervalued, Player Y's workload is troubling, the market at this position is irrational, take this specific action to win your league. Dynasty, in Theory is meant as a corrective, offering insights and takeaways into the strategic and structural nature of the game that might not lead to an immediate benefit but which should help us become better players over time. (Additionally, it serves as a vehicle for me to make jokes like "theoretically, this column will help you out".)
Thinking in Bundles
Last week, I made the case that we should be thinking of player careers probabilistically. Instead of binaries like "he's a future star" or "he's probably going to lose his job" we should think "there's an X% chance he'll be a star" or "there's a Y% chance he'll lose his job", and then value the player as some sort of Schrödingeresque hybrid of the two possibilities. Provided we do a decent enough job of estimating X and Y, this will result in us being less wrong (on average) than all of our leaguemates over time.
This week, I want to talk about another neat feature of thinking about players probabilistically: it allows us to mentally "bundle" several players together to create fictional assets that are much more predictable than their component parts. That's right, we're talking about paradigms again.
First, let's step away from fantasy and look at finance for a minute. Someone can buy stock in a company, which will enable them to own a percentage of that company and share in its profits or misfortunes. Sometimes this can be a very good thing. Apple released the original iPod on October 23, 2001, for $399. If you'd put that $399 into Apple stock, instead, today it would be worth $168,127, a 420x increase. Other times, this can be... well, it can be a much less good thing.
Individual stocks are volatile. They can go "to the moon" or they can go to zero or they can go anywhere in between. This is why risk-averse investors will bundle a bunch of individual stocks together to create a portfolio. If you aggregate together a representative sample of stocks from a particular market, then the resulting bundle is much less volatile than its component parts and is more likely to more or less track that particular market as a whole.
If you bought stock in Myspace in 2005, you went broke. If you bought stock in Facebook, you got rich. If you bought stock in both you didn't get as rich as the Facebook-only investor, but you did a heck of a lot better than the Myspace-only investor. If you buy stock in all of the available social media companies then it doesn't matter who wins or who loses; if social media does well then you do well, and if social media does poorly then you do poorly. The goal becomes less about picking individual winners and losers and more about identifying markets that you want to be in.
Now here's an example of "buying into a market" in fantasy football. In 2021 I was coming out of a rebuild and hoping to compete for a title. Unfortunately, my top wide receiver was just the 24th player off the board at the position per preseason ADP. Which is bad because, in case you weren't aware, it's hard to win a title without a WR1 (Top 12 receiver) or WR2 (Top 24 receiver) on your team!
I was hoping to compete for a title. I didn't think I could win a title without any fantasy WR1s or WR2s on my team. And I didn't have a single receiver on my team who I thought was a fantasy WR1 or WR2. How on earth do we square that circle? Was I perhaps desperately working the trade lines? Nope, I was happy to enter the season with what I already had. Here's what that looked like:
Wrapping up dynasty roster eval ssn.— Adam Harstad (@AdamHarstad) August 30, 2021
Have a feeling this WR corps is going to give me heartburn this year. pic.twitter.com/Offxm2d5Ch
The thing that should jump off the page was the type of receivers I was invested in. I had three highly-drafted rookies in line for lots of early work (Chase, Waddle, and Moore). I had three more highly-drafted sophomores with mixed results in their first season but who were all poised for lots of early work (Ruggs, Higgins, Shenault). I had one highly-drafted third-year player who had shown flashes of high-level play over short stretches but had overall disappointed to that point, but who was poised for lots of early-season work (Brown). And I filled my bench out with a mid-round rookie (Wallace) and late-round sophomore (Watkins) who had earned camp buzz and could be in line for lots of early-season work.
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