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Selecting Relievers and Anticipated Discounts versus Realized Discounts

Nine weeks ago we began the positional series with the goal of preparing for upcoming drafts and auctions. My fellow writers have provided us with insights about decisions teams might make, how players will likely perform, and how valuable those performances will likely be. Over here at The Quinton, we have been working on trying to better act on those aforementioned insights. This being a week after reliever week (it was intended for reliever week—sorry Bret and Mike), we have come to the end of our journey; and while relievers, outside of catchers, tend to be the lowest earning position, they tend to have a great impact on the decisions we make. How so?

In short, saves is a weird category. Saves, for fantasy purposed, are produced by closers who, as we know, who produce little else and have high bust rates. And, still, saves makes up ten percent of value in traditional roto-leagues. There a lot of moving parts here and, for whatever the reason, we tend to go into our drafts and auctions with preset strategies regarding relievers. (If I had to guess as to the reason, then my guess would be that due to the high amounts of uncertainty and relatively small impact, it is helpful to determine what we will do regarding relievers so that we can devote our decision making resources to more impactful decisions such as which of the best players we will be selecting or how to properly value starting pitchers). There are many strategies and they tend to either be straightforward strategies (punt saves, grab a top-tier closer and bottom-tier closer, grab a middle-tier closer and a few of the top non-closer relievers, etc.) or if-then-else strategies (if I get Aroldis Chapman or Kenley Jansen, then take a mid-tier and bottom-tier closer, else grab two mid-tier closers—something like that).

These strategies for selecting relievers are helpful in allowing us to put together a coherent plan for drafts and auctions. However, it is not our goal to have a coherent plan. Rather, our goal is to select the best players available to us; which is easy to explain, but much harder to execute. Because we are always at the whim of our opponents in drafts and auctions (that is how they are structured to work), we are inherently forced to take what they have left us (either the price they have set in an auction or the players they have removed via selection in a draft), which is to say that these strategies for relievers are often unhelpful. Sure, we could devise a strategy for relievers heading into the draft that works out, but in order for that to happen and in order for that to be the optimal strategy, the draft would need to unfold almost exactly how we imagined it would. Maybe you are very good at predicting the finer details about how a draft will unfold, but given our (people’s) difficulty in predicting the complex, unlikely and unimaginable, most of the strategies I devise or hope to execute heading into a draft or auction will need to be tweaked or outright overhauled.

How, then, should we go about selecting relievers? In short, the plan is to use our competition’s desire to execute a preformed plan against them. If they reach to make sure they get a top tier closer or a closer in the top tiers, then we will happily take the hitters and starting pitchers being left for us and take lesser closers later. Conversely, if our leaguemates are all targeting (what they assume to be) late round bargain, we will happily take the top closers at a fair or possibly discounted price.

This advice is painfully simple and we’ve discussed many times before, so why keep repeating it? I keep doing so because while the advice is simple, it is probably the most difficult thing to do in fantasy sports—to lean into the uncertainty (in individual players and, more so, in roster construction and draft or auction flow) that our leaguemates consciously or subconsciously avoid.

As we have discussed throughout the positional series, the enormous complexity and uncertainty involved in drafts and auctions forces us into overly rigid plans that force us to miss out on opportunities. Very few of us, however, go into a draft or auction with complete disregard for values; rather, most of us go into drafts and auctions with assumptions about what will be undervalued and devise strategies that ensure that we are able to take advantage of those assumed values. There are several problems with this process and they are as follows:

  • Whether it is through attentional bias (we tend to perceive that which we have been thinking about), confirmation bias, the focusing effect, or normalcy bias (we do not expect to see that which we have not seen before), we are not good at predicting the unexpected (and rightfully so!), which tend to produce the largest discounts.
  • Additionally, by focusing on certain discounts and/or waiting for anticipated discounts, we are less likely to be able to be reactive to unanticipated discounts.
  • Lastly, we are not as unique as we think. Our competition is likely to predict that drafts and auctions will unfold in similar ways that we predict they will, which causes anticipated discounts to be less profitable than expected.

This is all to say that is fine to hypothesize about where discounts will be available throughout a draft or auction (and it can even be helpful), but we need to make sure we do not treat these as anything than what they are—hypotheses which can certainly be disproved. It is easy to become anchored to our assumptions given all the reasons listed above, so let us make sure to be checking and re-checking our assumptions throughout our drafts and auctions, while taking advantage of our opponents failing to do just that.

This marks the end of my contributions to the positional series this year. It has been fun. I hope we are all a little more prepared this year than before and that we are able to let our opponent worry and plan for the irrelevant, while we focus on giving ourselves the best possible odds with each decision we make. Good luck.

Thank you for reading

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Incredible article and draft insight! Great reality check to increase draft prep and prevent panic if your draft suddenly crashes from what you thought would happen.
Jeff, this is more of a big-picture question than a reliever-related one.

I understand searching for bargains. However, if we're successful in getting "too many" of these bargains, we'll leave the draft with unspent money.

So, where do you recommend planning to pay full, or even a bit above full, values? Top-tier hitters with established track records? Top-flight starting pitchers since the gap between the best and the rest seems to be growing, largely due to IP? Somewhere else?