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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, and 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.
Short-Term Pain for Long-Term Gain
Three weeks ago, I wrote about how complicated models tend to outperform simple heuristics (or rules of thumb) in environments with low uncertainty, but as uncertainty increases, that observation tends to flip. Two weeks ago, I gave two such heuristics that to maximize value in rookie drafts, and then last week, I talked about how maximizing value (instead of chasing wins) was the most sustainable path to long-term success in dynasty.
This week we continue our series on heuristics and value with what is arguably the simplest— and also the hardest— rule in my repertoire. I mentioned last week that a good heuristic is like a slogan, and if it takes more than 10 words to explain, you probably need to work on distilling down the concepts a bit more. I had a rule that I played around with for years but could never get successfully "sloganified". That rule was some variation on "always be willing to trade non-core assets for future firsts". I know— catchy, right?
This illustrates the importance of getting concepts stripped down to their core. That rule of thumb isn't especially helpful because it never explains what counts as a "non-core asset". Does it vary from team to team? Inevitably there will come a point when doing the right thing is hard, and if there's wiggle room, we're liable to convince ourselves that it isn't the right thing after all so that we don't have to do it. Maybe that "non-core asset" is actually a "core asset", and we can justify hanging on to him.
Fortunately, a few years back, when I was talking about this rule, someone suggested the perfect distillation to me: "Flexes for Firsts". Always be willing to trade your flex starters for other teams' first-round picks.
A Spoonful of Sugar Helps the Medicine Go Down
If a player is starting every week for you, he's critical to your team's success, and it's hard to imagine parting with him. If he's never starting for you, it's much easier to trade him for fair value when the time comes because your team doesn't feel any short-term pain.
Players who are seeing regular time in your flex spot typically feel like every-week starters. If you traded them, it would feel like you're taking points out of your weekly lineup, and that's painful. But in practice, they're more like the latter; flex production is easier to replace (because, by definition, you can draw from a replacement pool at multiple positions), and it's also typically less valuable (since your highest-producing players are "starters", so your "flex" players are giving less of a positional edge).
I mentioned last week that instead of "win-now" trades, contending teams should be more willing to make the opposite— trades where they take a short-term production hit for a long-term value gain. "Flexes for firsts" gives a useful framework for finding those trades.
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