Buy Low, Sell High

The economics of fantasy trading. Keep your eyes open for deception in multi-player trades while packaging over-performers for true stars in this week's Buy Low, Sell High.


A commonly known principle in philosophy is Ockham's Razor which developed from the position "plurality must never be posited without necessity" or, in other words, "don't add extra stuff unless you have to". This principle can be applied to many things*, including fantasy football trades. The concept has previously been outlined in sporting terms by Bill Simmons who made an analogy between trade pieces and monetary values; a generational star is a dollar, a sometime all star is 50 cents, and a role player is 25 cents. The theory goes that, in economics, a dollar bill is equal in value to two 50 cent pieces. However, in sports this is not true. It is better to have talent consolidated into one player than spread between multiple less talented players. The principle is useful in fantasy football where roster spots are limited in general and by position. One player consistently putting up high numbers is less of a variable than two that are mediocre performers, even if cumulative seasonal output is equal.

To illustrate this principle let's walk through some hypothetical trade scenarios that might play out at this point in the season. Applying lessons from these situations to whatever trade you might concoct in your own league can help make sure you come out ahead.

Trade scenario 1: Willie Snead, T.J. Yeldon, Rishard Mathews for Adrian Peterson, Jerrick Mckinnon (handcuff), Player to be dropped for roster equality.

At first glance, most owners would would be reluctant to trade AP away for a motley crew of players that were low draft picks and waiver claims. However, owners might be tempted when they realize that, when grouped, Snead, Yeldon, and Mathews have averaged 26.8 points per week this season where AP has averaged 15. This argument is the pitfall of trading multiple 25/50 cent players for a dollar player. Even though Peterson's average weekly output is almost doubled by these three, AP only takes up one roster spot and consistently performs above replacement value. Owners of Peterson not only own his monster output, but also have roster space to plug in readily available players who are likely to put up numbers similar to any of these three. Snead (8 ppg) and Yeldon (7.8 ppg) can be readily replaced by players like Pierre Garcon (7.8 ppg, owned in 69% of espn leagues) and Doug Baldwin (7.8 ppg owned in 40% of espn leagues) along with whatever bench players the owner of AP already drafted. Matthews is misleading because his high average ppg (11) is inflated by two huge games. As the Dophins descend into disarray, Kenny Stills and Devante Parker emerge, and Jarvis Landry gets back on track; Matthews value drops back to reality. This makes Matthews a good player to package in a "sell high" deal, but not someone you want back for AP, even as part of a group.

Trade Scenario 2: Doug Martin, Giovani Bernard for Le'Veon Bell 

A classic trade of two 50 cent players for a dollar player. Martin (13 ppg) and Bernard (10) together have out performed even Bell's high average of 19 ppg. But, a closer look at Martin shows that 76% of his seasonal output has come in two games. In fact, Martin's 19 pts in week 4 and 33 pts in week 5 are each greater than his cumulative points before those games (16). We've seen this movie before during Martin's rookie season in 2012, when 20% of Martin's fantasy output came in one game. Owners of Martin are definitely not afforded the confidence of week to week high output that comes with owning Bell. Martin has not come within 6 points of his average weekly output where as Bell has not veered more than one point off his 19 ppg average and is the picture of consistency. Though Gio Bernard has been more consistent in terms of week to week output meeting his season average (all games within three points of average) he is in a tenuous backfield situation. Jeremy Hill still commands a significant portion of the carries and appears to be the red-zone back (Hill's 5 tds all come in the red-zone where as Hill has only scored 1 td rushing). The final point that favors Le'Veon Bell is that, if an owner were to pair Bell with the output of an average second tier running back (about 9 ppg), their average together (28 ppg) would greatly outweigh even two high performing players like Martin and Bernard (23 ppg). Further, if an owner had a bad draft or injury and can't compliment Le'Veon with anything other than a fringe flex player (about 6.5 ppg), the total (25.5 ppg) still out values Martin and Bernard without the added worry that Martin or Benard will have an off week and lose a matchup. Owners looking to sell high on Martin should look to make a move like this to entice skeptical owners by offsetting his inconsistency with a steady player like Bernard.

Trade Scenario 3: Todd Gurley for Devonta Freeman 

This trade of two "dollar value" players straight up is an ideal trade for both owners. It's simplicity precludes pitfalls like those outlined in the trades above, so neither owner is likely to get back something he didn't expect. Which owner won the trade simply comes down to perspective. Freeman has out performed Gurley on points per game thus far, but might not be able to sustain his white-hot pace where as Gurley may continue to rise. Gurley has put up 15 points in consecutive weeks, despite not finding the end zone. He is a bell cow (30 carries week 5) that can also break a long run at any time (52, 55 yrd lng in his two games thus far), a sure fire recipe for scoring anywhere on the field. At some point Gurley should start finding the end zone, and his fantasy output should begin to look more like Freeman's. Conversely, Freeman's carries have fluctuated significantly (4 games under 15 carries, 2 over 25) and his output, though strong without his td points, is still dependent on scores. Owners may be content to hold on to Freeman, believing that his hot start is not a fluke. But, if you are looking to sell high on the dirtiest bird since Jamaal Anderson, Gurley might be a suitable target.

Overall take-away: Owners looking to Sell high have the best chance of doing so by packaging mid-level players for a true star. Owners hoping to guard against a bad move should be wary of trades involving multiple players.

*Examples: word count, so do as I say not as I do

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