Diversify your bonds

When assembling multiple teams, some experts will stress that you should diversify your risks and try to avoid putting multiple seasons in the same players’ hands. Others will tell you that you should stand by your convictions and select whomever you think is the best pick at every situation and let your teams’ rosters form as they will; if that means you own the same players many times over, so be it.

You will either succeed or fail on the merits of your decisions whether you are in one league or 10. Personally, I think there are decisions where each underlying premise is appropriate.

This may seem like an obvious statement: My overall approach to diversity across multiple teams is to reject it when such a decision would have significant strategic implications but embrace it among like assets.

To take a really simple example, let’s suppose I’m selecting 12th in a draft league and the remaining players include Chase Utley, Adrian Gonzalez, Mark Teixeira and Ryan Howard. Well, if I’m committed to the position scarcity strategy and I’m inclined to select Utley, then I’d do so, and then do the same if the same situation presented itself in another draft. (That is, unless you want to switch your overall strategy from draft to draft in order to experiment, which is fine too.). However, if I want the bopper at this spot, then I’m going to select the player I like best out of the group in my first draft, but in my next draft, I’d take one of the other choices unless I felt very strongly for or against one of those players.

Truthfully, I don’t know whether Mark Teixeira will have a better season than Adrian Gonzalez in 2011, and it would be an abuse of the privilege of the influence I have as a writer here to imply that I do. I may have a guess, and may be able to back that guess with sound logic based on reasonable assumptions, but I’d rather hedge my bets than double down in this kind of situation. Further, the disparity between the final numbers of Gonzalez and Teixeira will almost certainly not be responsible for you winning, but a devastating injury to either could be the reason you lose. That should be a strong motivation for diversification.

Generally, I like to put together groups of similar types of players, either similar skill sets and risk factors or players of similar value at the same position. Within those groups, I often let the draft diversify for me by waiting for a player to fall to me. Then, I make a list of players who I like more than the community at large does, and this is how I balance aggression and patience. Each draft experience is unique, and often you wind up with different players for whom you have very similar levels of expectation.

Last year, I went after Nelson Cruz aggressively in my drafts. I landed him around the point that a lot of the starting aces begin to fly off the board. And, while I was tempted by some of those players, I reserved patience and basically acquiesced to which choice from a slate of similar options fell to me. This strategy also balances risk somewhat naturally. I assumed risk in reaching for Cruz, but I also sought value by allowing the market to dictate which (self-defined) elite pitching option would come with the lowest price tag. By repeating this kind of strategy, you’ll often assemble teams where you don’t have to sacrifice your strongest opinions to achieve diversity.

Anecdotally, I noticed several groups over the years that lent themselves to the strategy of diversity for diversity’s sake, either just letting the last one fall to you or picking from the group with intent not to duplicate a previous pick. One group that has plenty of similar options every year is the combination of first basemen who span veteran unspectacular known quantities and younger players who project to be good but may or may not be ready to make the leap. Another group that does not lend itself to much separation among its members is mid-tier closers with limited upside but solid grasps on their jobs.

At the end of the day, a successful fantasy player builds solid teams that balance types of value, maintain appropriate levels of risk and safety, and have enough flexibility and depth to weather slumps and injuries. Sometimes, within those parameters, your specific players overachieve and sometimes they underachieve.

Overall, it is more important to execute your general strategy than it is to check specific players off your wish list, and in this respect diversity is prudent and a symptom of a healthy system. At the same time, it is important to be aggressive in your attempt to capitalize on what you perceive to be inefficiencies in the pricing of specific commodities, and to the extent that such behavior leads toward homogeneity that’s healthy too.

I believe that many “experts” exercise similar strategies. While some experts rank players in a clear, linear fashion and offer explanations for selecting one very similar player over another, that doesn’t necessarily mean this person sees a clear distinction between those players. I’d expect most knowledgeable fantasy leaguers could craft a sound argument for either A-Gone or Tex. So, if you’re not convinced either way, why not hedge your bets? Risk aversion is important when acquiring your marquee players.

I want to clarify that the general principles I refer to in this article shouldn’t be interpreted as insinuation that I don’t give careful thought to the players I select. I do not mean to dismiss the differences in players by lumping together players whose individual situations may be very different from one another despite having similar expectations, and I’m not saying you shouldn’t have an opinion on whether Paul Konerko will outperform Adam Laroche.

Rather what I am saying is what economist Nassim Talib says, to be wary of conflating randomness that works to your benefit for your own genius. And, I’m saying what Branch Rickey said, that “luck is the residue of design.”

Superior skills enable you to contend regularly; rarely do you win a competitive league without a few strokes of luck, of randomness falling your way. Think of diversity as a way to increase the likelihood that you will be recipient of a stroke of luck that will either make or break your season, but compromising your overall strategy to achieve it is missing the point.

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Comments

  1. Scott G said...

    I agree that diversity is important for multiple leagues.Although I find that I tend to roster the same players I value differently from the rest. I always seem to have the same 3-4 guys that will be undervalued by most of my leagues that I cant resist. They tend to be players who make/break my seasons but not the elite.

  2. Sir Larry said...

    Well thought-out.  This has always been something that I have bounced around in my head around draft ‘season’.  Usually I end up asking myself in-draft right before I have the choice to draft the same player a second time: “do I really want to ride or die with this guy?”  It’s a tough one.

    My personal lean is probably to roll the dice and risk it.  Even if I have a small preference to pick one player over another, it is still more optimal to take that one player over the long-run.  The fact that I expect to play fantasy baseball for many years to come means that I am not overly concerned about tanking one year in particular.

    I guess I see it like the portfolio holdings choice of investing in multiple assets within the same asset class, or trying to diversify with few that are likely to offset the gains/losses (though their calculated value/growth may not be quite as good).  I believe that I am still young enough where I could take a down year and still recover in future years.

  3. John K said...

    It’s “Taleb,” I think.

    Interesting piece – I don’t know how I feel about letting a draft from a separate league influence my decisions in another.  Of course, I did decide last year that I would never play in more than one league.  I invariably pay more attention to my friends’ league than any others, and I don’t want to split my attention b/w multiple leagues.  I have the most fun with the draft, and I get excited for a season when I draft the players I wanted. 

    I can see your argument, and I’m not adding anything useful to the discussion here, so I’ll shut up.  Just wanted to register my $.02

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