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June 3, 2013

Fantasy Freestyle

Is Dumping Early a Good Plan?

by Mike Gianella

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If you are in a keeper league and your team is mired in the second division, you are at least considering packing it in and playing for 2014. However, depending on your league’s rules and the aggressiveness of your competitors, some of the teams in your league may have already thrown in the towel and begun to play for next year.

If this is the case, does this put your squad at a competitive disadvantage? Or is it possible to be patient, wait to cash in your chips, and wait as long as possible to play for next year?

In order to review this premise, I went back and reviewed 10 years of data from one of my non-expert leagues. This data is admittedly anecdotal to some degree; however, given the continuity of the league and how long it has been in existence, using this data as opposed to pulling data from several leagues that have not been around nearly as long seemed better, even if the methodology is imperfect.

Timing of Dump Trades vs. Results: 2002-2011

 

Dumped 1st

Dumped 2nd

Dumped 3rd

Dumped 4th

Dumped 5th

Dumped 6th

Finished 1st

2

 

1

3

 

1

Finished 2nd

 

4

1

 

1

2

Finished 3rd

1

1

 

 

2

 

Finished 4th

1

 

1

1

1

 

Finished 5th

 

 

 

1

1

 

Finished 6th

1

 

2

1

 

 

Finished 7th

1

3

1

 

 

1

Finished 8th

 

 

1

1

1

1

Finished 9th

 

 

1

1

2

 

Finished 10th

2

 

1

2

 

2

Finished 11th

 

2

1

 

1

1

Finished 12th

2

 

 

 

1

2

The table shows what I have always suspected: Dumping early doesn’t necessarily provide any kind of tactical advantage. Teams that give up early are no more likely to win than teams that wait and give up closer to the league’s trade deadline.

This flies in the face of conventional wisdom that says that it’s better to dump early. The reasons for this seem obvious:

  • If you dump first, you have an opportunity to get the best young players. They will be long gone by the time July rolls around.
  • Dumping first means that you have a shot at getting players from every owner in the league. If you wait, some teams will be completely tapped out, and it will be a buyer’s market.
  • By getting your dump trades out of the way early, you can spend the entire season trying to pluck future gems off of your league’s free-agent pool.

All of these points seem fairly logical and coherent. Why is it, then, that it doesn’t work this way?

It’s a long season and an even longer offseason

If you dump in April, it’s certainly true that you have a greater chance of nabbing some of the best talent in your league. That talent, though, is going to sit on the shelf for you for almost a full calendar year. And—as we all know—a lot can happen in baseball in a full calendar year. Injuries can change the composition of your team in an instant. A young phenom who seemed like a sure thing last April might look like more of an above-average, everyday regular now. This doesn’t mean that your acquisition in July is automatically going to succeed while your acquisition in April is going to tank. It does mean that you are assuming the risk of a player’s future value for an additional amount of time.

The trade market isn’t necessarily better early

The assumption that you are automatically going to find 11 hungry owners dying to trade for your players just because you’re the first one in the pool is a fallacy. In April, everyone is feeling out whether or not his team is a contender or not. In a longstanding keeper league, you are not the only one who entered the season with next year on the brain. And not everyone has the same attitude about burning young players to win next year. In fact, a team might be more confident trading his young studs in July than in April. Second place in July has a more solid feeling than second place in April.

Teams that dump early are bad

A bad team often needs more help than one or two dump trades are going to provide. Teams in 11th or 12th place that are throwing in the towel are usually doing so because their star players are hurt, their ace pitchers are throwing up an ERA in the neighborhood of 7.00, and their lineup has holes. Dumping early will help a little bit, but sometimes these types of teams are run by bad owners who wind up on a three-year plan.

This last point is perhaps the most important one in this type of analysis. Being a high-quality owner is far more important than when you decide to dump or if you decide to dump at all. If you can win your league frequently and be competitive every year in your league, I would advise against considering dumping at all. However, if you do have to dump and play for next year, it should be a last resort, not a first line of defense. Pushing yourself to be as competitive as possible every year is what makes you a better owner; running for the bus at the first sign of trouble does not.

Mike Gianella is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Mike's other articles. You can contact Mike by clicking here

6 comments have been left for this article.

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