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".)
Given how much I see people complaining about all the turkeys in their leagues recently, I can only assume that Tanksgiving season is upon us. So this week I wanted to do a deep dive on tanking-- what it is, whether it's actually bad or has merely gotten a bad rap, why it happens, and what you can do about it.
What is Tanking?
Part of the reason discussions about tanking often don't go anywhere is that all participants are operating off of different definitions. I've seen some suggest that it's "tanking" for an eliminated team to trade Derrick Henry for future draft picks, or to cut Tom Brady for Desmond Ridder. This isn't tanking; this is just good management. Tanking is not merely making your team worse in the short run; if your short-run prospects are bleak, the best way to become competitive again is to transfer your short-run value over a longer window.
When discussing tanking, I use the following definition: tanking is taking any actions that one otherwise wouldn't take if draft order was not a consideration. There are reasons other than pure draft order to get what you can for Tom Brady or Derrick Henry today. There are not any reasons other than draft order to, say, bench Tom Brady and Derrick Henry in favor of clearly inferior options.
(As an aside: if Team A and Team B are in a dogfight for the first overall pick, and you have acquired Team A's first in a trade, then deliberately setting a bad lineup to hand Team B an extra win would also trigger this definition of "tanking". You're doing something you wouldn't do if not for draft order considerations. In my opinion, this is a feature, not a bug; anything meant to outlaw deliberately losing to improve your own draft pick should also outlaw deliberately losing to improve any other picks you might have acquired.)
I've Seen Some Suggest Tanking Is a Viable Strategy. Is Tanking Really So Bad?
... Is That It?
Okay, fine. Some of the reasons that people oppose tanking are self-interested and, therefore bad, of the "if this high pick goes to that team it won't go to me instead" or "if this team gets into the playoffs because it was handed free wins against tanking squads, then I won't get into the playoffs instead" variety. This is a bad reason to oppose tanking because fantasy football is a zero-sum game, meaning anything that is to one team's benefit is to every other team's detriment. Managers giving into self-interested motives is why they tend to veto fair trades that make their top competitors even better. I think trade vetoes are bad because I don't think you should let self-interest scuttle trades. So how is it not hypocritical to oppose tanking despite similar arguments?
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