Overcoming the scarlet drop

I’ve heard it said that once a man dates a model, it’s as if he is initiated into some sort of exclusive club, that some sort of metaphoric memo is distributed among models officially declaring the gentleman acceptable for dating among their class. This notion, nonsensical as it is, gets at the role context and labeling can play in the evaluation of a commodity. In our case, the commodity will be a fantasy baseball player.

Context can enlighten, but it can also obfuscate. I may re-evaluate a player’s perfectly objective value in the context of my team’s existing strengths and weaknesses, of his positional eligibility, or of dynamics relevant to his actual baseball team. These are behaviors are all among best practices for fantasy baseball GMs. But, today I’d like to talk about one specific dynamic that often changes the context of a player’s value – the premature drop, the scarlet letter.

About a week and a half ago, an owner in one of my shallow mixed leagues dropped Chone Figgins. At the time, Figgy was hitting .150 with four runs scored and one lonely stolen base. This is a H2H league, and the owner was lacking offense across multiple categories, so it’s understandable that he was just looking for a bat could just provide some semblance of balanced offensive value, and Figgins wasn’t doing it.

I picked Figgins up, having some faith in his track record, despite being somewhat concerned about his performance this year and last. My Ryan Theriot, Ryan Raburn, and Danny Espinosa middle infield was producing fine in that league, but they’re hardly a reliable murderers row, and I figured that I could use a contingency plan on the bench, and that Figgy’s speed and dual positional eligibility was a good fit for travel days and chasing steals, if and when needed.

This past weekend, when I heard Neftali Feliz had gone down, I scurried to the wire to pick up Darren Oliver and was faced with the decision of who to drop to accommodate him. At the time, I had a number of offensive players on my bench and was looking to choose one. I was seriously considering Figgins when a thought occurred to me.

My main league is also a shallow mixed league, and I’m a Figgins owner there, too. To be clear, I’m not a huge Figgins fan, it just worked out like that. It just so happened that Figgins was an option on the draft board at a point when I simultaneously determined that my biggest categorical need was steals and my biggest positional need was a middle infielder. See, context in action. But, I had never considered dropping Figgins in that league, either to make room for another pick-up, or for a hot starting second sacker. Hell, I was playing Placido Polanco at my Util spot (any time now, Kendrys Morales, I’m ready for you to return to the line-up) and I still didn’t even consider dropping Figgins to slide Polanco over to 2B and search for the best available bat to plug in at Util.

So, in one league, I’m willing to drop Figgins to speculate on who might be a short term, and quite possibly marginally effective, replacement for a disabled closer, yet in another, I have not even considered dropping him for other players who are likely far more valuable than Darren Oliver. That’s a pretty big gap in my evaluation of Figgy’s value from league to league.

First, let me get my rational defenses out of the way. There are some differences between the two leagues. For one, the league in which I hadn’t considered cutting Figgins loose is a roto league, so I can’t punt steals there and while I’m actually sitting toward the top of that category, I anticipate it necessary to need to get some speed from that position if I really want to be set up to compete long term. Additionally, I didn’t invest all too highly in Figgins in the first place and my team is set up so that if he just steals his 40 bases and does virtually nothing else, he’ll give me just about all I actually need from him.

With all that said, the dynamic clearly driving this internal inconsistency of mine is that in one league, Figgins has already been written off by somebody else. This distinction leads to two psychological effects. First of all, any player you pick up off the waiver wire is “found money,” which is much easier to blow on something frivolous. There’s just not the same level of attachment and investment in the commodity, even though the commodity being found versus purchased doesn’t make the commodity itself any less valuable. And, though this doesn’t change the value, it does change the way people behave. The second effect is that of one of the most well-established tools for oppressing people in human history—I’ve been primed to think of Figgins a certain way because somebody else categorized him as such. Once another owner treats a player like garbage, it’s easier for you to do so.

So, I paused, took stock of my opinions on Figgins in each context and did some investigation into his peripherals this year and last. I’ve met in the middle. I did not cut Figgins in the one league, and I’ve reconsidered and weakened the strength of my commitment to him in the other. And, this is where the practical advice is to be gleaned from this experience.

Each league is its own animal, and in addition to the legitimate value swings that accompany changes in roster and scoring structure, there are subjective swings in value that gradually and silently become codified based on the collective behavior and preference of those who make up that league. For those of you in multiple leagues, it’s prudent to consider whether illegitimate shifts in context are altering your opinion of a player from league to league.

At the same time, it’s worth noting the flip side of this dynamic. Some players, or players in certain situations, just aren’t incredibly attractive to the market and sometimes the lack of interest is for illegitimate reasons. A player endures a loss in perceived value when he is dropped, and players who are picked up from the waiver wire are often unable to fetch their true value in trades. Some people neglect a player’s true value and harp on the notion that they don’t want to pay market price for something you were lucky enough to find in the bargain bin. This may not be entirely rational, but it’s something you may have to train yourself to deal with.

Last year, perhaps you found it difficult to find another owner who believed enough in Mike Stanton to trade you something of value for him. Going into this season, those same owners probably salivated over him. Now, some of his owners probably can’t give him away. But, if he hits the wire, those same newly re-disinterested folks will once again become interested. Then, if he gets it going, he’ll be hard to sell for full price again.

The moral of the story here is that sometimes, just as in retail, the price for which an item most recently sold is a better indicator of its “market worth,” than its inherent value. You must strive to remain as objective as possible. Use these group-think tendencies to your advantage when you can, and above all, value an item for what it is – or at least what you believe it to be—and not what it costs.

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Great article. I myself picked up chone from unhappy owner.  No way I would drop him for a scrub player. Although I contemplate if he continues to struggle.

Jason B
Jason B
I think oftentimes the season is won or lost as much or more in the first 2-3 weeks as it is at the draft.  You’ll see some owners become disillusioned by slow-starters and trade them for 30 cents on the dollar (Stanton et al) and others discard useful pieces entirely (Dempster, etc).  Some will compound the mistake by discarding genuinely useful pieces for today’s hot-starter or flash-in-the-pan (Darwin Barney? Vincente Padilla! Ooh! He got a save!) I think taking advantage of these early season reactions and overreactions can really set a team up well for the season, or at least… Read more »