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What it Means to Sell High and Buy Low (Fantasy Baseball)

by Michael Waterloo | @MichaelWaterloo | Featured Writer
Jun 13, 2020

Buying and selling players at the right time is paramount to making successful trades.

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Trading in fantasy baseball can be a very daunting and challenging task, as you need to find the deal that aligns perfectly with all parties. It can be even more difficult in redraft leagues, where everyone is looking to win the current season with no focus on the future. 

Sometimes, in order to pull off a key trade, you need to take chances. The No. 1 rule of trading in fantasy sports is that you can’t be afraid to fail or make a bad trade. If you make a bad trade, big deal. You’ll recover. But if you don’t make a risky trade, you may miss out on a season-changing deal.

That’s where buying low and selling high come into play. You’ve heard these terms thrown around countless times, but these overused phrases take away from the true meaning.

See, the terms themselves are easy enough to understand. You’re looking to buy low on a player whose value isn’t what it was perceived to be since they aren’t living up to preseason expectations. On the other hand, you’re looking to sell high on a player who is overachieving compared to expectations placed on them before the season started.

Knowing how to execute these terms and put them into play is a challenge in and of itself.

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Actually Selling High

If you have an overachieving player on your team, there’s a good chance there will be skeptics throughout your league — especially if you post that you’re interested in moving the player. 

But when that player continues to perform at a high level after a week or so, more and more belief will be put into the player, whose production continues to help you in different categories. So much so, that you start having second thoughts on whether you should move them.

So this is where the key term comes into play. You aren’t going to trade them for what their pre-draft cost was, but you’re going to actually sell them “high.” You’re going to look to get back more than what their value is for a player putting up similar numbers, or someone with numbers that aren’t quite as good whom you believe will outperform your player going forward. If someone is going to low-ball you offers because you picked up the player off the waiver wire, they were a late-round draft pick, or there’s “no way they’ll keep this pace up,” then you hold. It’s as easy as that.

Actually Buying Low

The same school of thought above applies to buying low. You want to get a player for pennies on the dollar, as the old phrase goes. Every time you buy low, you’re acquiring a player whose numbers may be so disappointing to the manager that they’re looking to get rid of the player, no matter what.

But, in turn, you could run into a stubborn manager who knows the draft capital they invested in said player. For that reason alone, they may feel like they have to stick with the player because they are a lock to turn it around.

It’s typically harder to buy low than it is to sell high because of the above investment argument, but also because if a manager sees that you are interested in their player, they’ll think they are missing out on something. 

If you want to get a struggling star who went in the first or second round of the draft (this should be useless information after the draft happens, but fantasy managers hold on to draft results like they are the true gauge of a player’s value), then you need to make sure that you’re offering no more than 75 percent of that player’s true perceived worth in order to truly get the ROI you’re looking for.

How to Tell

It used to be easier back in the day to buy low and sell high, but given the amount of readily available information out there, it’s harder to have an advantage on astute managers. It’s like using the term “sleeper” when there are really no true sleepers anymore.

Besides looking at the surface and peripheral stats to see the causation behind the play, looking at a larger sample is helpful. If it’s a younger player, see if the results of their current play align with their past minor league numbers. Examine ballpark factors. Splits. Batted-ball data. BABIP. Change in launch angle. Change in exit velocity.

Look for any outlier that may explain why a player has either underperformed or overperformed so far. That will help you make the call if you should look to either acquire or trade said player.

Taking the L

You can do all the research you want, but a buy-low or sell-high trade might backfire. You have to be willing to eat the L and move on. An underperforming player just may underperform all year (2019 Khris Davis). A player who was drafted in the third round with lofty expectations may just have an off year (2019 Andrew Benintendi). A player in the middle of a perceived hot streak might succeed all season (2019 Danny Santana). A young rookie who may seem in over his head might just be a superstar (2018 Juan Soto). 

You won’t make the right call every single time. There’s a reason why a few times a year you’ll see the discussion on Twitter about the worst trades you’ve ever made. 

Everyone has a story, and whether it’s a thread of the best trades or the worst trades, best believe they were made because the manager was willing to take a chance and wasn’t afraid of making a bad deal. 

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Michael Waterloo is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Michael, check out his archive and follow him @MichaelWaterloo.

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