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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.
Theory Describes Reality
It won't come as a surprise that I'm a big fan of theory. I love any conclusion that can be reached from first principles using reason alone.
For instance, managers tend to be higher than consensus on the players on their own team. This is why those players wound up on that team. Given this, here's a favorite observation of mine: if you asked a manager in August to estimate each team's chances of winning the title, those chances will sum to 100%. If you asked all 12 managers in your league to repeat the exercise, you'd wind up with twelve sets of odds that all summed to 100%.
But if you took each manager's estimate for their own odds and summed up all of those, this would total more than 100%. And why shouldn't it? After all, each manager is higher on his or her own team than the rest of the league is. As a result, your leaguemates collectively overestimate their own title odds. (Most likely you do, too.) Given this, future first-round picks must collectively be underpriced in August because everyone thinks they're going to be drafting later than they actually are (on net).
The great thing about observations like this is they're either true or not. As a writer, my job is to persuade you that my observation is correct, and walking through the steps from premise to conclusion is a powerful way to do that.
But the thing about theory is eventually, it has to survive contact with reality. There's an old quip by economist Ely Devons: "If economists wished to study the horse, they wouldn’t go and look at horses. They’d sit in their studies and say to themselves, ‘What would I do if I were a horse?'" We can sit around and ponder life as a horse as long as we want, but if we then go out and observe a horse and discover it behaves far differently than we'd reasoned it must, then we must discard our theories and create new ones.
Before the season, I wrote that for any measure of dynasty value that corresponds even weakly with future production, if you manage to consistently increase your team's value over time, you must necessarily increase your team's production. And if you increase your team's production, you must necessarily win games. As a result, my focus as a dynasty manager was typically on increasing the value of my team rather than winning any one individual game, assuming that eventually wins would be the necessary byproduct of my efforts. I wrote:
"The entire instinct to sacrifice value to increase your odds of winning in the short term stems from, in my opinion, a fundamental misunderstanding of fantasy football. It imagines a much more deterministic universe than actually exists, one where the best teams win and the worst teams lose."
Last week, a reader approached me because he was in the finals in a league that didn't have a trade deadline, and he wanted some advice on a potential deal. I offered my opinion, and then after the games he followed up to let me know how things turned out. With his permission, I wanted to share his story.
Win-Now Trades: A Case Study
This manager, as I mentioned, was in his league's championship game, but Footballguys' tools projected him as a slight underdog. He had the opportunity to trade a young player who wasn't starting for him to acquire an aging running back who was projected to be a significant improvement to his starting lineup-- significant enough for Footballguys' tools to project him as the new favorite.
I told him that I thought the prospect he was giving up was more valuable than the running back he was acquiring, and then I walked through a probability matrix for all win-now type trades. In these types of deals, there are four possible outcomes.
- You win the league but still would have won it without the trade.
- You win the league and would NOT have won it without the trade.
- You lose the league but WOULD have won it without the trade.
- You lose the league, and you would still have lost it without the trade.
I explained how, no matter what the two teams look like and no matter what player(s) are being acquired, the two most likely outcomes are #1 and #4. (Which outcome is more likely depends on whether you're currently favored or not, but one of those outcomes is always the most likely and the other one is always second.) In practice, there's almost always a 90+% chance that you will ultimately wind up in bucket #1 or #4. In this case, you sacrificed value and changed nothing.
Outcome #2, on the other hand, is the brass ring of "win-now" trades, the situation where making the trade pushes you from a loss to a win. In this case, almost no matter how much value you had to give up, the trade was worth it. If you're looking at a very big upgrade to your starting lineup (with no commensurate downgrade elsewhere from players you have to trade away), then maybe the odds of #2 are as high as 6-7%.
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