Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Trading and Scarcity

My blogging partner got a little hot under the collar at what he considered a fluff piece on trading over at Fangraphs.

Over the last couple of years, I've (mostly) avoided commenting on what other sites or blogs are doing. I've stated on multiple occasions that one of the reasons I started this blog was to improve the quality of work that is currently out there on the Internet where Rotisserie League Baseball is concerned, and I'd rather write a strong piece and let the writing stand out for itself.

One thing the author of the piece (Zach Sanders) said jumped out at me.
To put it simply, in a trade there is no real “winner” or “loser”. For a trade to occur, both parties need to feel like they are getting something of value in return, and giving up something they value less. While we, as third parties, may be able to step in and render judgment on who got the better deal, both parties will still feel like they’ve won. That’s how trading works, and it always will.
Obviously, there's something to Zach's point in an extremely broad and general way. But sometimes we do make trades where we most definitely lose.

No, I'm not talking about dump trades. Neither am I talking about a retrospective look back at a trade made in July under the warm glow of hindsight in December.

A good owner sometimes makes straight up, this-year for this-year trades where he knows he's giving up too much in the deal but makes the deal anyway.

The most obvious reason for this typically centers on scarcity. Fantasy web sites always talk about scarcity when it comes to an auction or draft, but seldom discuss this phenomenon when it comes to trades. But why wouldn't the same phenomenon apply? If two or more owners were willing to overpay for a scarce position or category at auction, why wouldn't the same principle apply during in-season trading?

As an owner, the balance for you comes when trying to determine whether it is better to:

A) Pay for a scarce commodity at auction
B) Trade for a scarce commodity later, or
C) Refuse to pay for the scarce commodity at all

A number of touts rule out Option C entirely. I, on the other hand, often wind up dumping a category if I feel like it's too expensive either at auction and then later on in trade.

If you do wind up dumping a scarce commodity at auction, you sometimes might wind up trading for it later. And - in some cases - you might wind up paying more for that commodity than you expected.

Earlier this year, I swapped out Adrian Beltre for Juan Pierre straight up. I wasn't happy about dealing Beltre. Despite his fast start, I still believed he was in line for a strong year. And Pierre is the kind of player I hate: a one-dimensional, one-trick pony whose value in Roto is hyper-inflated because he steals lots and lots of bases.

However, I saw an opportunity to move up more than a few points in the standings by grabbing Pierre. Austin Jackson by himself was leaving me in a scrum near the bottom of the steals pile. Jackson plus Pierre was going to net me 5-6 points.

This doesn't explain away trading away Beltre's value in HR, RBI or BA, though. Why would I trade a superior player for an inferior one...not to mention three categories for one?

This is the other side of scarcity. In keeper leagues, it is a lot easier to dump for power than it is to dump for stolen bases. The trade for Pierre was made with the idea that it would be easier to get power elsewhere in another dump deal than it would be to get steals.

Without the benefit of context, I "lost" in a deal where I traded Adrian Beltre to get Juan Pierre. Contextually, though, getting a top SB option like Pierre (and keeping him away from my opponents) was a big win for me.

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