By Pat Thorman

Last week we looked at some basic roster management tactics and discussed the advantages of familiarizing yourself with your league’s rules, website, and fellow team owners.  Hopefully by now you have a solid grasp of the general league environment in which you will be operating for the next four months, and have begun to open vital lines of communication.

This week we are mainly going to focus on two roster construction tactics that are exceedingly more effective to deploy during the early part of the season.  The first one has to do with a phenomenon known as recency bias, which not only skews perceptions within the finance and managerial world (where it is most commonly applied), it affects our judgments in all aspects of life, including sports analysis.  The other main topic we will touch on is purely fantasy sports related and is more of a nuts-and-bolts roster construction principal.  As always, please do not hesitate to relay any suggestions, related personal experiences, general thoughts or strategies that you may have in the comments section below.

 

Taking Advantage of Recency Bias

After a full week’s worth of games we now have a set of results to digest and then hopefully capitalize on, in our quest to improve our rosters.  Fortunately, inefficiency in player valuation now surfaces because overly-concrete opinions are being formed based on these recent data points.  Due to their dubious level of reliability, a good portion of these conclusions are incorrect.  The key will be to wade through these various points of view and identify which ones are the furthest off the mark.

One of the best ways to do this is to go back and retrieve your original draft rankings.  They may seem as if they are an ancient hieroglyphic by this point of the season, but in actuality they are still quite relevant when looked at in the correct light.  If we assume that your original rankings were strong, and you now adjust them for significant events (injuries, role changes, etc.) that have taken place since you last updated them, they can be a helpful barometer of how far from reality general opinion has swung.

A simple exercise will help to give you some insight on where general opinion has started to separate from reality.  Once you update your rankings for obvious value-altering events (not including strong or poor Week 1 statistical performances), head on over to your league’s player list.  Select “all players” (both free agents and “owned” players), and then sort by fantasy points scored in Week 1.  Then you will want to filter by position, and compare the list you see on the screen to your own preseason draft rankings.  The major differences here should jump off of the screen at you, as you are clearly presented with players who are most likely overrated to some degree (those at the top of the points scored list who are nowhere near the top of your draft rankings), and underrated (vice versa) based on the recent games.

This does not mean that you should run out and offer Kevin Ogletree for Larry Fitzgerald.  Nobody is going to fall for that, and it is not worth risking your reputation around the league on the infinitesimal chance that some donkey actually will.  But if you had Torrey Smith* as someone who you felt would outperform his draft position, you should still feel that way after his first game.  The fact that he is currently the 54th highest scoring wideout should not dissuade you from that opinion.  However it might ever-so-slightly sour his current owner on him just enough that, if they are in need of a running back, they can be convinced it would be smart to trade him for Michael Bush*, who will perhaps vulture touchdowns regularly enough to hang around his current running back ranking of 11.  Whereas before Week 1, that would have been a far tougher sell, a better case can be made by using some seemingly relevant recent statistics.

*- I am using those two players to illustrate a point about taking advantage of recency bias, and later on we will detail a few players that we think are now overrated, as well as some that are potentially underrated trade targets, in a separate column.

QB Robert Griffin III
Picture Courtesy US Presswire

If you doubt the true effect of recency biasit would be worth your while to cruise around the web and check out the large swings in opinion from not only the end of last season until now, but since just last week.   Right now it is all RGIII, all the time…and poor Andrew Luck is on a milk carton…right next to Wes Welker.  Wasn’t the narrative that Joe Flacco was holding the Ravens back in the playoffs?  Now his coach is yelling “pay the man!” after just one regular season win.  Kevin Kolb didn’t look so scared against Seattle’s supposedly vaunted defense, did he?  Jay Cutler wasn’t supposed to get good protection.  AP and MJD were supposed to start slow.  Mario Williams and the Bills defense was supposed to remind us of Bruce Smith’s old Buffalo unit, and Rex Ryan’s boys were the pretenders.

The list goes on, and despite all good sense telling us that Tim Tebow will still be taking over for Mark Sanchez quite often this season, that annoying recency bias is giving us just a liiiittle bit of doubt in the back of our minds that was not there before kickoff a few days ago.  Now is the time to take advantage of that small inefficiency in your opponents’ viewpoints before reality sets back in, because one 60 minute snippet of game action should not negate opinions carefully reasoned out over time.

Feeding into the recency biases of fantasy players are the multitude of fantasy analysts around the web.  Since the vast majority tend to get their information from the same sources, such as ESPN, Rotoworld and Yahoo!, a certain level of group-think begins to emerge.  The more fantasy players read about how good or bad a player is, and from differing sources, the more momentum that opinion gathers and it can really skew actual valuations.  These expert opinions are all based on the same small sample size of data, yet they disproportionately reinforce each other.  Combining high momentum group-think with recency bias solidifies the opinions, both correct and incorrect, of fantasy players …and the opportunistic contrarian can thrive in this environment.

 

Consolidation of Resources

If you have played fantasy sports for a long enough time, you undoubtedly have been bombarded with numerous quantity for quality trade offers.  Not many fantasy players, or real life general managers for that matter, are amenable to these offers in which they almost always give up the best player(s) in the deal.  However, for the team that is on the receiving end of the quality they are typically quite advantageous.  How exactly do you convince your fellow fantasy owners to accept such an offer?  What are the advantages of pulling off a quality for quantity trade?  Are there ever instances when it is in your best interest to be on the receiving end of the quantity?

Let us start with the last question first.  Yes, there are instances when it behooves a fantasy owner to take back more players in exchange for trading away fewer players of higher quality.  However it is a rare situation.  It usually occurs in deep leagues, or leagues that have many teams and/or roster spots.  Deep leagues do not have much, if any, talent available in free agency.  If an owner has several holes among their starters, either due to injury or other unfortunate circumstances, the best move may be to mortgage one of their few excellent players to procure multiple good players.  This will allow the roster in crisis to be patched up and hopefully puts it in a better competitive position overall.  Again, this is a relatively rare situation and hopefully is not a spot you find yourself in.  On the other hand, someone who is in a bind such as this makes a good trade target for the savvy fantasy owner.

Most of the time attempting to complete a quality for quantity trade will be met with resistance from opponents who have even an average level of experience.  The advantages of receiving fewer, yet higher quality players, for more numerous inferior players, are obvious.  You upgrade one or more positions, and at the same time free up valuable roster space to add prospects from the free agent list.  The more shallow the league you are competing in, the more advantageous it is to get quality for quantity.  The free agent player that you fill your recently opened roster spot with is of higher quality, and will come closer to the performance level of the average owned player in your league – lessening the value of those already-rostered players.  Plus, in shallow leagues most starting players on every team are of high quality, so to differentiate your team from the pack you must consolidate your resources and employ the cream of that crop.

One of the best ways to “trick” another owner into trading you quality as you trade them quantity, is to offer them a two-for-two trade in which you also take back their worst player.  They are not immediately turned off because they see an offer with an even number of players being dealt from each team.  The “other” player you propose will be a player you have no interest in rostering, and will drop once the trade is completed.  The other owner may even think that they are getting some small level of value in trade for the worst player on their roster, with whom they were not thrilled anyway, and this sometimes helps to grease the skids toward the completion of a deal.

If your league is sufficiently shallow, the best course of action actually may be to give up more total value in a trade.  If your free agent list is populated by players who you would like to add, but have no room to do so, why not make an offer that your opponent cannot refuse?  Whether it is a true two-for-one offer (or three-for-two, etc.), or one that you hide behind a two-for-two, if you upgrade one of your starters significantly enough it will not matter how good of a secondary player you needed to add to sweeten the deal.  Even if you trade two B+ players for one A player, and then pick up a B- player, you still come out ahead.

The more shallow the league, the less latitude you have to do this as the talent gap between the worst rostered player and the best free agent is wider, yet it is still an option as long as there are players on the free agent list that you would like to add.  This is typically the case in the early weeks of the season, as most owners have not yet had a pressing need to add the available quality players.  However as injuries strike, sleeper players begin to emerge, and underperforming players are dropped from rosters, the free agent list will begin to dry up.  So now is the time to act if you want to take advantage of inefficiencies in both the perceptions of your fellow league mates, and in the distribution of players currently on the free agent list versus on the back end of rosters.

For Fantasy advice, follow me on twitter @PatThorman

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