Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Buy Low/Sell High

Several times a week I get a question along these lines:
Would you trade Alfredo Aceves and Johan Santana for Tim Lincecum? Should I sell high/buy low?
I'm not a big believer in the sell high/buy low concept, though this could be because I play in expert leagues and deep home leagues where almost everyone is as shrewd as I am. At its most basic level, buy low/sell high works best when there is an information gap, an owner who doesn't understand that there's a difference between a slow start and a player who has gone off the cliff.

Buy low/sell high has become one of those buzzwords in fantasy like sleeper. When a word or phrase gets used frequently and fantasy pundits or scribes attempt to grab hold of it like a talisman that explains everything away, it loses all meaning. If there's a player out there in March where we keep screaming sleeper, then he no longer is. If we keep saying buy low, buy low, buy low on Tim Lincecum, he's no longer a buy low guy. In terms of knowledge acquisition, we all occupy the same limited space. There might be some room to gain an advantage in a very deep league by trying to figure out when Alex Castellanos is coming up and picking him up while he's still in the minors. There is no advantage to looking at Tim Lincecum's high ERA and saying that his ERA is going to drop. Though reasonable people might debate how much that ERA will drop, reasonable people would likely agree that it will drop.

If you start sniffing around on Lincecum, what do you think his owner's thought process will be? Do you think that he'll think you're interested because you want to add a pitcher with a 5.83 ERA to your squad or that you're fishing because you believe that Lincecum is going to get better? What do you think your opponent will ask for? Will he ask for a marginal player because Lincecum's sucking wind? Or will he ask for something close to Lincecum's perceived preseason value?

Owners of mid-season disappointments have to hold firm to the notion that their players will bounce back somewhat and produce at least some value; otherwise they're giving away the store and will lose. And they have to maintain this stance in trade negotiations as well. There is nothing to be gained from simply giving away Tim Lincecum after sitting through 65-70 horrid innings and then watching as your opponent reaps the benefits. There might be a discount to be had, but it's going to be a small one.

When you try and make trades, what you should be doing is trying to incrementally improve your team. No one is going to hand you a $20 bill for that nice shiny penny. If you can get someone to give you four five dollar bills and two singles for that $20, that's where you're going to make out. Do this several times (if your league has a healthy trading culture) and you're going to win. Yes, I'm oversimplifying for illustrative purposes. But you have to recognize that everyone is going to be looking at the buy low/sell high concept in the same general way that you are.

The other problem I have with the buy low/sell high concept is that sometimes the disappointment stays disappointing while the surprise stays a surprise. If you tried to buy low on Ubaldo Jimenez last year, you failed. Likewise, if you decided last June that Jacoby Ellsbury was bound to fall off and flipped him for a mid-tier option in the outfield, you were sorely disappointed. We are a third of the way through the season. Tim Lincecum could get better, but with over five walks per nine entering tonight that big fat red flag is still present. You might be buying low...but you also might be buying too high if your guess is wrong and Lincecum doesn't right the ship and get his control back.

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