On Ryan Braun, dominant strategies and using draft picks for profit

I hope everyone enjoyed their Thanksgiving. I certainly did, getting to watch the Cowboys manhandle the Jets. As a housekeeping matter, I will not have a column next week as I will be hobnobbing with scantily clad gorgeous college girls dressed like princesses. Those readers with dirty minds (which I presume is most) will be disappointed to know it is just a family trip to Disney.

A reader posed the following question to me: he is in a 12-team mixed league, with two keeper slots. Each team can keep two players generally with their first two draft picks and can also keep two 2007 rookie qualifying players by replacing their ninth and tenth round picks with the kept rookie players. Among others he has Ryan Braun, Dustin Pedroia and Tim Lincecum. Not a bad choice to make! He asked which I preferred.

To me clearly the answer is Braun and Lincecum but with a strategical proviso and goal. Braun is an obvious choice even though I am down on him for next year and think he will be overrated. Even if I am right about him being overrated he is still clearly keepable under this scenario.

Both Braun and Pedroia exceeded their expected batting averages by 30 points or more (Pedroia exceeded his by 40). Pedroia’s value is strongly correlated with his batting average and if it plunges next year so does his value. Braun will still have power and speed even with a big drop in batting average. Keeping him as a ninth or tenth round pick would be quite a coup.

My advice is to keep Braun and Lincecum and try to trade Pedroia at all costs. It would be a tough pill to swallow to have to cut the reigning rookie of the year and get nothing for him. So this is a situation that calls for tough negotiating tactics but with the understanding that you will take what you can get.

I would represent to trading partners that I would keep Braun as a putative first or second round pick and would keep Pedroia and Lincecum with the ninth and tenth rounders. The rationale should be fairly obvious; if you devise a scenario that is feasible and believeable to others yet is not your true tactic then you have a much stronger negotiating position. He can then would push hard to trade Pedroia. The representation that Pedroia will be kept is necessary. Once Pedroia is gone, then I would keep Braun as a ninth rounder and keep a better player with the first or second rounder or just keep the picks open.

Why? Because I think Braun is overrated. If he isn’t a second round value next year then you take a loss with that pick. In mixed leagues flubbing a second round pick that clearly has risk attached to it (because of the difference between his expected and actual performance) is a situation to be assiduously avoided, and all efforts must be made. It is not about Braun per se, it is about managing the risk associated with the player versus the value of an important draft pick. Process vs. Results. It doesn’t matter that Ryan Braun is the player, what matters is that the asset involved has mostly downside risk and you profit more by letting someone else take that risk. If you are wrong in this specific instance so be it, it is irrelevant. This is what focusing on the thought process is all about.

If Braun is kept as a ninth rounder then even if I am right about him being overrated he will still overproduce for that slot. So you are virtually assured of a significant profit for that spot. If I am wrong and you get a true second round value in the second round and get Braun’s production in the ninth round then you have a good chance of winning the league. Getting second round value in the ninth round and fair value in the first two rounds is a significant leg up on the competition.

What you are doing is pursuing a dominant strategy (in a game theory sense). It isn’t quite a 100% dominant strategy, however it is close enough that the pursuit is required and though it may not be a perfectly dominant strategy the principle is perfectly applicable. In almost every scenario aside from injury you profit if he is your ninth round keeper. So you always profit in both rounds assuming you get fair value in the second round. If you keep him as a second rounder you could take a loss in some situations, namely those in which he underperforms and regresses to the mean.

So by trading him you get: True second round value + either Braun’s MVP caliber production or Braun’s still good production but not MVP production. All of these variables should be solidly in the credit column.

If you keep him as a second rounder you may turn a small profit in the second round depending on whether I am right. But you may get a loss of small to large proportions in both the second round and ninth round and will likely never have a large profit in either case no matter what happens. Almost all of the downside risk in terms of value lies with keeping Braun as a second rounder and almost all of the large upside involves keeping Braun in the ninth round.

This means that Pedroia has to go and if you have to cut him so be it. Pedroia is a marginal keeper as a ninth rounder anyway. Cutting him is far better than keeping him and Braun, since you then lose out on Lincecum.

As far as Lincecum is concerned, by any calculation he will be a top 100 player next year and should improve off of 2007. The Giants may stink again next year, but aside from W-L record Lincecum will be a top 15 or 20 pitcher next year, assuming strikeouts count. His expected ERA of 3.63 would have been top 20 this year, and of the top 20 only four had more strikeouts than innings.

If played right, this keeper scenario could be a windfall if you can get a taker for Braun who is willing to give up someone like Miguel Cabrera.

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