The mantra of “buy low, sell high” (BLSH) is as sacrosanct an axiom as there exists in the fantasy baseball universe. However, I think that a number of people adhere to its orthodoxy either improperly, or for the wrong reasons. So, today, I’d like to unpack the true meaning of this adage elevated to veritable scripture status.
The first thing that’s important to realize about BLSH is that it inherently assumes that prospective trading partners don’t have as good a handle on a player’s true value as you do. Fundamentally, BLSH is partly about perception, specifically that the market value of a player is lower than his actual value when he’s slumping and higher when he’s sailing. For that be true, there must be a gap between a player’s market value and actual value beyond the expected margin of variance that exists for all players.
If, by some miracle of forecasting, the exact value of all players going forward was known, BLSH could never be implemented. Therefore, the savvier your league, the less applicable BLSH is. A fellow owner in my leagues wouldn’t have any problem at all moving Carl Crawford to my team, while there is no conceivable way any owner would be able to move Willie Bloomquist to me, no matter what the respective stats say.
To savvy owners, the values of Carl Crawford and Willie Bloomquist are known, at least approximately so. In any case, no 100-at-bat sample is going to change those values; only new information will. Is Crawford actually hurt? Does Boston foresee his demotion in the order as permanents? In the absence of this kind of news, it’s actually rather difficult to sell high or buy low on known commodities. So, it doesn’t hurt anybody if you want to try to dangle Bloomquist and see if another owner will bite, but don’t assume that if you are considering trading Crawford or Jayson Werth you’re going to have to take a loss on the deal.
In my mind, BLSH is really a statistical mantra. The reason I don’t want to sell Crawford now isn’t because the market value for him is too low, but because I have faith in his talent and realize that the distribution of a player’s production is not uniform. Things tend to even out, or at least bear that way, over the course of a 162-game season.
When projecting a player’s seasonal output, we aren’t really saying anything about how those totals will be reached. Sure, some players have production patterns that relate to the calendar, but I tend to chalk more of that up as noise than signal. The point is that Crawford is going to have many bad games throughout the season, while also having a lot of good ones. We know nothing as to when those games will come. If those games happen to come in close proximity to one another at the beginning of the season, and I trade Crawford, I’m basically accepting a disproportionate amount of his bad games and trading a disproportionate amount of his good ones. And, that is the point of adhering to BLSH.
Think of a player’s season as your favorite musical group’s discography playing on random. You wouldn’t want to switch to playing another group’s collection simply because the first few cuts were weak. That just means your favorite jams are yet to come, and more likely to be packed tightly going forward.
BLSH really applies only to quantities about which there is significant unknown—rookies, unproven relievers thrust into closer roles, players doing things well beyond reasonable expectation, etc. In theory, Crawford’s value shouldn’t be at a low right now. It should actually be higher than it was at the beginning of the season, if we assume he is healthy and hasn’t substantially lost skill. If you have faith that the “numbers will be there” at the end of the season, then it just means that 95 percent of them will be packed into the 90 percent of the season’s remaining games. Buying low isn’t just about making a profit off a fellow owner’s emotional state, but about having faith in the ultimate symmetry and justice of baseball: that for every slump, there will be an equal and opposite hot streak.