Time to Buy or Sell?

Trade season has begun for those of us in ottoneu leagues. In the last couple weeks, the following names have been sold in my ottoneu leagues: Robinson Cano, Clayton Kershaw, Yasiel Puig, and Craig Kimbrel, among others. Justin Upton, Madison Bumgarner, and others have been put on the block.

My guess is that your leagues are seeing the same thing and that means that it’s time to make a call – do I fight for first or is it time to sell? The first place to look is at the standings, but – particularly in ottoneu points leagues – that is not the only place to look.

Let’s start with this – the hardest part of any of this is being honest with yourself. Is my team really good enough to compete this year? Are these standings legit or a fluke?

I am in a 20 team industry league that is extremely competitive with an extremely deep player pool (45 man rosters) and an extremely active trade scene. Early this year I was surprised to see myself in first (for about two weeks) and then bouncing around the top five (for 3-4 more weeks). And so I made a couple aggressive moves – I got out of Jean Segura (who I was never a fan of) and used that deal plus some prospects to add Jed Lowrie, Adrian Beltre, and LaTroy Hawkins. Remember, in a 20-teamer, some teams have no closers at all, so anyone getting saves is at a premium.

But realistically, I was probably being overly optimistic. Now my team has fallen to 11th and I have to reconsider. I already traded Beltre again, and now I am trying to figure out what to do with a number of other pieces. Had I looked at my team with an unbiased eye, I would have seen unsustainable starts from Brian Dozier and Charlie Blackmon, signs that Domonic Brown may not turn it around, and a number of old and injury prone players holding down key positions. Big mistake.

The next piece of the puzzle is how well situated you are to buy (or sell) even if you want to. In the original ottoneu league, I over-indexed on young prospects (David Dahl, Josh Bell, Sean Manaea, among others) knowing that a) other owners in my league tend to undervalue them and b) that in a year or two, they will have much bigger values than their prices. But that means I can’t use them to buy much now.

That meant that any buys I made would likely come at the expense of my current roster, which is what happened when I traded Julio Teheran and Charlie Blackmon for Robinson Cano, Michael Morse and Trevor Bauer. I am pretty sure that makes my team better this year, but I would have much rather nabbed Cano for prospects.

Selling can cause the same problem. In the aforementioned 20-team league, there are no prices, so I don’t HAVE to lose anyone for 2015. My most tradable assets – Max Scherzer, Carlos Santana, Brian Dozier, among others – are also my best keepers. I have a couple older guys (like Hawkins) and a couple injury prone guys (Jaime Garica, Carlos Quentin) who may be worth selling, but what makes them expendable also limits their value. In ottoneu leagues, a $49 Cano like the one I acquired can be a huge asset to a competing team but is not useful to a seller. Without guys like that in place, selling doesn’t do you much good.

Finally, make sure the standings are actually reflective of reality. This is particularly true in leagues like ottoneu with games played and innings pitched limits. A team can be leading HR or pulling away in points because they are overusing their bench players and accruing stats faster than expected, rather than because their team is actually performing that well.

Last night, ottoneu player @nakonech sent me a tweet asking if he should buy in his ottoneu points league. He is fourth but noted that he is on pace for 1500 IP, the two teams in front of him are way over that pace. In fact, the team in third has a pretty poor Pts/IP rate, but is on pace for nearly 1900 IP.

I’ve talked in the past about evaluating points leagues using the equation 1.296*Pts/G+Pts/IP. The reason is that you get 1944 games played between your 12 positions and 1500 IP, so if you take that equation above and multiply by 1500, you would get the total number of points each team is projected to get.

Using that equation to evaluate @nakonech’s league, I have good news and bad news for him. He is right that the current third place team is not all that good – they rank 9th. But his 4th place team actually ranks 5th. In fact, the team currently in 10th has the fourth best scoring average so far.

This doesn’t mean @nakonech needs to sell or can’t buy, but he has a pretty clear need, and that is offense. His 4.69 Pts/G is 8th out of 12 teams so far. He’s about to add new Twin Kendrys Morales, but that won’t be enough. So, @nakonech, I’d start buying up bats – find someone who can change your offense. Ideally, get it from This is How I TwRC+ – that team has much better potential than the owner may realize today.

The key to this is, look beyond what place you are in. The question right now is not “Am I in a good position?” but “Is my team actually a top team?” If you can answer that honestly, you can figure out the right path forward.

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Chad Young is a product manager at Amazon by day and a baseball writer (RotoGraphs, Let's Go Tribe), sports fan and digital enthusiast at all times. Follow him on Twitter @chadyoung.

11 Responses to “Time to Buy or Sell?”

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  1. Lucky Strikes says:

    I’m four years into an Ottoneu FG points league and figuring out exactly what the site standings really say about your team is still one of the trickiest parts of the game (particularly to those new to the format). In our league some of us are using this tool (http://goo.gl/e60G1B), which helps break down the standings even more so that you can figure out a) if you should buy or sell, and b) exactly what you should buy/sell. It incorporates the “1944” equation you site above, and also tries to project the league winner while showing the weighted margin of competition in an effort to give you a true sense of how far ahead or behind you really are (particularly helpful when you have multiple teams blowing away the IP limit early in the season). There are plenty of leagues where the current 8th or 9th place team is actually a true contender, and this spreadsheet can better help identify that. Hopefully other leagues may find it helpful, and I’m very open to suggestions on how to improve it or incorporate additional stats.

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    • mcbrown says:

      That spreadsheet is fantastic. And not just because it says I am the likely winner of my league. :) Thank you for sharing!

      If you want to make it SUPER slick, you could incorporate rosters and RoS player projections, because it’s not just the games/innings pace that needs to be adjusted but mean reversion as well. But of course that is a major undertaking. As a tool for aiding decision-making, this is already a huge step up from raw guesswork.

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    • Chad Young says:

      very cool stuff. tweeted out a link to your comment – hope you don’t mind. Interestingly, this speaks to something I’ve noticed in my points league, which is that my entire focus has been on power. My OBP, AVG, SLG are all below average for the league, but I have the highest ISO (.190) and my offense is third overall.

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  2. Eastern NC says:

    Sometimes, you sell, but then find opportunities to get better. I traded for Kris Bryant, but then was able to flip him, Springer, and Cashner for Darvish and Adam Jones. Springer looks nice, but his upside is…..Adam Jones.

    Pick a side of keepers, which one looks better?

    1. Goldie, Gomez, Harper, Yu, Adam Jones, Machado
    2. Goldie, Gomez, Harper, Machado, Xander, Springer.

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    • Chad Young says:

      Your lists don’t include Bryant, which it seems like they should. But just looking at the two lists, and taking out the overlapping players, you have Yu and Jones vs. Xander and Springer? Are there prices attached to the players? Assuming no prices, Yu is a huge value. But Bogaerts looks like the real deal and Springer may be more valuable than Jones as early as this year. If you only get to keep those 6, having Darvish makes a big difference because you have no pitching outside of him. And it looks like, in that case, you were going to lose Bryant anyway. For what it’s worth, I’d likely keep Bogaerts over Machado, assuming that is a choice you have.

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      • Eastern NC says:

        No prices, and Yu is my only keeper pitcher. Bogaerts could be the sixth over Machado. And yes, it woulda been hard to keep Bryant over the more established guys.

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  3. Bill says:

    Just traded Verlander and Singleton for Strasburg in a seasonal Yahoo 10 teamer, with a lot of good options on the waiver wire. Pretty good haul, right? I don’t think Verlander can right the ship enough to become an ace again.

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    • Chad Young says:

      I am all on board with that. Stras has been better than his numbers indicate and Verlander has been worse than people realize. In a 10 team redraft, Singleton is not all that valuable – solid 1B/CI/Util option, but nothing special.

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  4. MLB Rainmaker says:

    Given the length of the season, I don’t think you can sell anytime before July 1, not do I think it makes sense to attempt to before then.

    First, there’s ~9 weeks after the break before playoffs in most leagues meaning there is a lot of time to make up ground. Personally, I try to be middle of the pack by July with lots of prospect or returning injury guys so I have a strong second half team. For example, I’m very happy getting Cole Hamels and Mat Latos on the cheap because teams were worried about them missing time.

    Second if you do decide to seel, it doesn’t make sense to do so until teams are making a playoff run.

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    • Chad Young says:

      This totally depends on your league. In the original ottoneu league, selling usually starts by mid-May. First of all, it is not that hard to know (in some cases) if your team is bad, even by Opening Day. Second, if you have a non-keepable player, his value decreases as the season goes on, which means that a smart buyer will pay more in May (for 4-5 months of his production) than in August (for 1-2 months).

      So what will happen is 1 or 2 teams will put guys on the block. And the best prospects and other tradable assets get discussed early, which means that anyone else who might want to sell has to get in the game or risk missing out on the best values.

      Other leagues I am in, this is a much slower process. But in general, particularly in roto leagues, think you are better off selling as soon as you know you are out.

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      • Andrew A says:

        Depends on if your league mates understand that getting 10 weeks of improved stats is 2x better than getting only 5 weeks of improved stats. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard, “but you offered X and Y three weeks ago”.

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