How to Make Your Head Hurt Thinking About Trades

Or…Where Does the 70/30 Split Go?

You’ve heard fantasy analysts refer to the 70/30 Hitter-Pitcher split during draft season. In most league formats, it’s common to allocate 70 percent of your auction budget to hitters. They’re more stable as assets and harder to replace in-season. Two months from now, a top 25 RoS starting pitcher will be on your waiver wire (identifying who is the larger challenge). You probably won’t find a top 10 third baseman. There are other reasons to allocate more budget to hitters than pitchers. For the purposes of today’s discussion, let’s just agree that the 70/30 split is a). a thing and b). a valid process.

Last week, I recommended buying high on Johnny Cueto. I used Brandon Phillips as a player you might want to use for that acquisition. After all, Cueto has been excellent, but he’s also an injury risk due to his recent injury history. Pitchers are always a risk to land on the disabled list; Cueto is doubly risky on that front. On the other hand, Phillips is a steady veteran off to a slow start. He derives most of his fantasy value from a nice spot in the lineup rather than actual skill.

Well, some commenters strongly poo-pooed my proposition. To paraphrase, only a crackhead would consider Phillips for Cueto. In the preseason, we paid $7 to acquire Cueto – because of the injury risk (ask anyone) – compared to $12 to acquire Phillips. Those numbers come from Fantasy Pros. So for the crackhead comment to be accurate, at least one of three things must be true.

1. Cueto is more valuable now than he was in March. Ok, fine. He has a 1.38 ERA, 3.21 FIP, .161 BABIP, and 98.4 LOB%. The FIP shows he’s doing just fine even with the piles of luck on his side. After all, there was a reason I recommended buying him.

2. Phillips is less valuable now than he was in March. Phillips’ swinging strike rate is nearly six percent higher than his career rate, which could indicate a cratering skill set. His power is also down, but we haven’t played enough baseball to worry about ISO. So maybe Phillips is worth much less now than he was a month ago.

3. We set the wrong values during draft season. If true, this is somewhat understandable. I think a lot of us were waiting to see Cueto throw a few real games before we went back to paying the $14 he cost in 2013.

So we have three believable reasons why a Phillips for Cueto swap lacks punch. So that looks like a bad recommendation, especially with another complete game under Cueto’s belt since the recommendation was made. Prior to the season, we had data suggesting that Phillips was roughly as valuable as Cueto once we consider the 70/30 split. A roster of only Phillips and Cueto would have spent 63 percent of their budget on hitting.

But here’s where I have a question – and I do mean a question, I don’t know the answer – what do we do with that information? In a vacuum, should we be swapping dollar to dollar or split dollar to split dollar? And which way do we split the dollar?

Addressing the last question first, we probably want to maintain a 70/30 split throughout the season. Even though a $12 hitter is similarly talented as a $7 pitcher, that doesn’t mean we should do a one-for-one swap at those rates. In fact, there’s merit to the opposite approach. Because hitter value is relatively scarce compared to pitcher value, it might be most “fair” to trade a $7 hitter for a $12 pitcher.

As for which method to use, a dollar-to-dollar accounting is elegant in its simplicity, and it’s easy to explain. It’s also worth recognizing most trades are initiated due to mutual need. Nobody is going to fuss over a couple dollars if a trade gains them three points in the standings. However, if we opt for elegant simplicity, then we’re throwing the 70/30 split out the window. Where does it go?

At the end of the day, this is purely a thought exercise. Using projected dollar values is a secondary means of evaluating a trade; it’s always best to use whatever scoring system is in place first. You should still think about dollar values when making trades. Sometimes, it’s not worth making a mutually beneficial trade if you’re getting pennies on the dollar. In that case, you can probably find a better offer with a little patience.


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JR Ewing
JR Ewing

IMO our split between hitters and pitchers is factored into our $ values, or at least it should be. If you don’t think Yu Darvish is worth $36 or James Shields is worth $14 because that blows your pitching budget, then you should have adjusted your dollar values. So if you’re using adjusted $ values then in a vacuum you should be trading dollar per dollar.