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Five Mistakes Fantasy Players Make with In-Season Trades (Fantasy Baseball)

Jun 12, 2020

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One of the more interesting facets of fantasy sports is trading. Without trades, your team is hopelessly chained to the randomness of the preseason draft and the limited impact that you can find from the waiver wire. If you want to be a successful fantasy player, you have to be adept at the art of the deal. Here, we’ll talk about five mistakes that you should do your best to avoid.

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1. Being Too Attached

Behavioral Psychologists Daniel Kahneman, Jack Knetsch, and Richard Thaler once performed a profound experiment to display the presence of the Endowment Effect. That’s the tendency for people to retain an object that they own instead of acquiring the same object when they do not own it. The experimenters gave participants a mug and then offered them the chance to sell it or trade it away for an equally valued alternative. They ran this over and over again with the same participants, using different situations, and they came to an undeniable conclusion. When participants already had the mug, they assigned a much higher price to it than when they were given the opportunity to acquire it (about twice as much, in fact). There is something in our brains that immediately assigns a higher price to something that we own.

In my experience, this follows perfectly in the fantasy world. Before the draft, you may compare two players and say they have equal value. However, after you draft one of them, you probably won’t think that anymore. If you’re a normal person, you will likely assign a higher value to the player you just drafted, and all of a sudden, you won’t want to trade them for the player you had assigned an equal value to in the past.

This can result in missed trade opportunities. If you and your competition valued players pretty much the same before the draft, but then you add a 10 percent premium for every player that you ended up drafting, you’re not going to have an easy time making trades. You have to do your best to fight this — do not change your mind about a player just because you have rostered them. Avoid attachment and make trades when they make sense from a numbers perspective.

2. Loss Aversion

This is another classic psychological bias. For most people, not losing $5 feels better than winning $5. Some studies have even provided evidence that losses are twice as powerful, psychologically, as gains. This is the reason that football coaches will routinely elect to kick the extra point rather than take the better probabilistic choice of going for two. When you go for two and it does not work out, it hurts, and the coach gets the blame. Coaches are willing to give up points in the long run just to avoid looking bad in isolated incidences.

You probably remember the bad trades in your past more than the good ones. This is because our memories are tied tightly to emotion, and for most people, a loss brings out more emotion than a win. The advice from this is similar to the point about attachment: you need to shake off the loss aversion. Don’t be afraid to lose a trade. In a competitive league, a perfect trade for you may only work out 60 percent of the time. That still gives you four out of ten odds to lose, but that’s no reason to not roll the dice when the odds are in your favor. Make trades that make sense in the here and now, and then don’t look back.

3. Not Considering League Settings and Team Context

One of the things we harp on a ton here at FantasyPros is to know your league rules. In a rotisserie fantasy baseball league, the league settings are so, so important. A slight tweak like changing batting average to on-base percentage should change your player rankings pretty drastically. With that change, someone like Joey Gallo should move up the draft board multiple rounds. Your opponents often don’t consider things like this, or at least they don’t adjust their rankings enough. Again, focus on the numbers as they apply to your league settings and value players that way. Do not let their standard league ranking get in your way of making a great trade.

In a similar fashion, if you have a surplus in one category, your evaluation of a player that excels in that category should change. If you already have Adalberto Mondesi and Trea Turner, a guy like Jonathan Villar will be worth less to your team than to someone else’s. This would be a great situation to trade one of those three guys for someone that might come in lower on everybody’s rankings, so long as they help you in a category you need some help in. The opposite is also true: if you have Aroldis Chapman on your team but no other relievers, he probably isn’t doing you any good, and you can justify trading him for whatever the highest offer is.

4. Name Value

There are so many statistics to look at in baseball these days, and those numbers mean way more than a player’s name ever will. Of course, age and sample size matter, and you can gather a lot of that just from hearing a player’s name, but the statistics always tell you more truth than whatever your brain associates with a name. In baseball especially, there is so much opportunity to find great value in players just because they aren’t a big name. On the flip side, there are always players that get drafted way too high because of name recognition.

Intelligently consider the numbers first. The player’s name value should be nothing more than a tiebreaker.

5. Not Making Enough Trades

The Law of Large Numbers states that the average of the results obtained from a large number of trials should be close to the expected value, and it will tend to get closer to the expected value as more trials are performed. Even though a coin flip has a 50/50 chance to land on heads, flipping it 10 times will only result in an even split of head and tails 25 percent of the time. However, if you flip a coin 100,000 times, you can be sure that the results will be within a point or two of 50 percent.

What’s the point of this? Well, if you’re an above-average fantasy player, then your trades are not going to be 50/50. Say you’re the best fantasy player in your league (we both know this is how you actually feel). This probably means that you win more than half the trades you make. You probably won’t win 80 percent of the trades you make, but there’s a good chance you’ll win 60 or 70 percent. If this is true, you should want to make as many trades as you possibly can to heighten the probability of you coming out ahead overall.

If you would win 60 percent of all the trades that you make with me, but you only make one trade, you’re giving me a 40 percent chance to beat you in that trade. However, if you make five trades with me, my odds of coming out on top overall drop down to just 33 percent. The more trades you make with me, the better.

The moral of the story is that if you think you are the best trader in the league, you should make as many trades as your league-mates can handle.

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Jon Anderson is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Jon, check out his archive and follow him @JonPgh.

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