The hardest thing

The hardest thing to do in fantasy baseball is to sell high on a known stud. Well, perhaps that’s actually misstated; it would be incredibly easy to sell Miguel Cabrera right now—owners would line up around the block. But, the action that requires the most self-discipline is to sell high on a known stud. But, objectively, it’s the proper move.

Let’s think through a rational approach to trading Miguel Cabrera.

I think it’s agreed that if Cabrera finishes this season at 110/40/130/.330, he’d have justified a first overall pick—even if somebody else winds up as the top overall producer.

Cabrera, as great as he is, is essentially a known quantity and when it comes to known quantities, we can think of potential production lines in terms of probability. An “average” Cabrera season represents the most probable outcome, and as you travel away from that mark—in either direction—the probability of such a season decreases. I’d consider the hypothetical season line I proposed above as slightly toward the good side of average for Miggy— maybe half a standard deviation to the plus, if I had to estimate. Now, here’s the question: Does his start to this season change those expectations?

Essentially, it does not. Miguel Cabrera is still a known quantity. There’s was a non-negligible probability for him to produce a .350/45/150 season before the season started, and that probability still exists. But, the fact that he had this torrid first quarter that has him on pace for a season out of the 1930s doesn’t necessarily make the +2 standard deviation more likely than the average season, or more likely than such a season was on draft night.

So, while it is exciting and very tempting to think that Cabrera is in the midst of re-calibrating his ceiling, at the age of 30 it’s more likely that he’s produced 35 pdercent of his full output in 25 percent of the elapsed time frame. That’s the essence of selling high.

Further, if Cabrera does wind up posting a significantly better-than-average season, all he’d have to do to achieve that would be to be his “normal self” for the rest of the season. To have a fantastic season, by his own standards, all he really needs to do is be 100 percent of himself for three quarters of the season after having been more like 120 percent of himself for another quarter.

So, the takeaway here is that the two most likely outcomes for Cabrera throughout the rest of 2013 are that he is either his average self, or less than that. If you are selling him, you are most likely selling a quantity worse than what you acquired on draft day, or most cautiously, the same quantity you acquired.

However, one would have to assume that his value on the market is higher than ever now. And, this is why, as hard as it may be, the right thing to do today is to sell. Solicit offers at the very least!

Part of the reason Cabrera owners are reticent to trade him is centered on the potential failure of the players for whom they trade more than a relatively irrational expectation of future super-Miggy production. Cabrera is probably the most consistent producer in the game and a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. I’m sympathetic to this line of thought. Reliability is an important facet of a player from a fantasy perspective, but it is a hand that shouldn’t be overplayed.

Generally speaking, I would not suggest swinging for the fences when trying to trade Cabrera. You want to increase production while not substantially increasing volatility. Therefore, I would not simply look for the pre-ranked top-25 player who is just having the worst season and blindly try to add him. If you are going to try for the biggest elite player turnaround possible, I’d suggest qualifying that strategy by looking for the player who best fits this archetype: the most historically consistent player still in the neighborhood of physical prime whose early season swoon has the weakest external explanation.

Some of the highest pre-ranked players off to bad starts don’t necessarily fit that mold well. Albert Pujols comes close, but it seems he’s less than 100 percent physically more often nowadays. Either a DL stint or playing through lingering pain are harbingers of disappointment.

Josh Hamilton fits the bill somewhat too, but I don’t think he’s been very consistent. His two best seasons have been somewhat anomalous. Last year, he posted career high home run and RBI numbers, and in his MVP season he put up an uncharacteristically high batting average. Plus, he’s been injured fairly regularly. He usually finds a way to be elite, but it’s hard to determine what to expect in terms of how he’s going to get there, which is a problem from a team-building standpoint.

Matt Kemp kind of fits the bill, but is coming off an injury. And so on, and so forth.

If you are comfortable with the rebound potential of any of those players, they make fine targets, but I wouldn’t stay away from a trade simply because you can’t easily identify a perfect target who has been a major disappointment. Another strategy would be to ask for a pretty reliable high-level player who is chugging along only a bit below expectation and then try to add on top of that.

Owners of Joey Votto or Andrew McCutchen or Adrian Beltre are probably not dancing in the streets right now, but these players have been fine thus far. Perhaps there’s some “value” to be gained in adding those players, and you can add an additional highly useful player into the deal. That’s a second way to win. If you were to ask for one of those players plus that team’s best closer or second best (or in some cases, best) starter, you could probably get it.

At the very least, Cabrera is so hot right now that there’s almost no offer you could propose to another owner that he’d consider offensively bad. Announce on the message board that you are entertaining offers. Create a bidding war. You can always say no.

Do something! Create action. Derive information.

There are likely owners in your league willing to overpay for Cabrera, but the burden of drawing them out is on his owner’s shoulders.

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  1. Cliff said...

    at the start of the season, I traded Miggy away in my 20-team dynasty league, and im curious how you guys feel about the trade…

    A: Miggy, Felix, Josh Willingham, Allen Craig

    B: Ryan Braun, Kershaw, David Wright, Michael Young

    the way I saw it, Braun was pretty much equal value to Miggy…ill take Kershaw over Felix, and Wright over Craig…at the time, i sold low on Willingham but he was going to ride my bench anyway. thoughts? did i need to get more?

  2. Will H. said...

    ” it’s more likely that he’s produced 35 pdercent of his full output in 25 percent of the elapsed time frame.”

    This reminded me of the ROS projections that become lower than the initial full-season projections (on a rate basis); isn’t that the gambler’s fallacy? Not that this is at all directed at you – like the piece – just it reminded me of that nagging question.

  3. Brad Johnson said...

    This statement threw me for a loop so I’m going to comment on it before reading the rest of the article.

    “at the age of 30 it’s more likely that he’s produced 35 percent of his full output in 25 percent of the elapsed time frame.”

    I don’t understand your reasoning. You implicitly state that Cabrera is likely to produce 65% of his projected pre-season output over 3/4 of a season. It seems that we should expect him to produce 75% of his projection over 75% of the season. So, given the 35/25 ratio above, I would expect him to perform at 110% of his pre-season projection.

    From there, the remainder of the season has an error bar – a couple SDs for that 75% could be anything from 50-100%, so my expectations would be production somewhere between 85-135% of our pre-season projection. My SDs could be too big/small, they’re just guesstimates for example’s sake.

  4. Jack Weiland said...

    @Brad Johnson – I think what he meant by that is that you would expect him to produce 75% of his output over 75% of the season, and the fact that he’s produced 35% of his output over 25% of the season means he will (going forward) produce 65% of his output over the remaining 75% of the season.

    In other words, he’s using up his production and it’s all going to even back out.

    Right? Correct me if I’m wrong, Derek.

  5. Will H. said...

    @Jack – but what Brad and I both reacted to was that that doesn’t make real sense; every day he has a baseline ability, so one would expect to see that any given game, rather than expect that he had a pool of a season’s worth of baseline games to begin with which, again, is the gambler’s fallacy.

  6. Jack Weiland said...

    This issue came up with a reader on one of my Waiver Wire columns recently. I suggested at least looking into dealing Kershaw, because they had excess starting pitching, but they didn’t want to do it mostly for emotional reasons (Dodgers fan).

    That has to play a part in all of this, no? Or are we cold, calculated fantasy robots? Where’s the line, eh? This is (after all) for fun.

    It’s interesting to think about, at any rate.

  7. Todd said...

    I’m with Brad. And if anything, Cabrera is MORE likely to out-produce his 75% of a season projections the rest of the way, because it is possible, even if not especially likely, that he’s increased his baseline. When you combined that with Cabrera’s already top-tier production and reliability… as a Cabrera owner, I can’t see any reason to move him. Sure, if someone blew me out of the water, but this seems like an attempt to get cute that has much more risk of backfiring then potential upside.

  8. Hunter said...

    My (possibly erroneous) take: this advice makes much more sense in deeper leagues, much less in shallow leagues.  Since Miggy is pretty much the undisputed number one in fantasy, we are not really looking to upgrade on Miggy, but get two valuable pieces in return.  The problem is, in general, in a shallower league it’s generally better to have one elite player than two very good players (due to the relative qualities of players available on the waiver wire.).

  9. Jack Weiland said...

    @Hunter – I would say that’s the case in deep leagues for the most part, as well. I play in a very deep dynasty league, and the team winning the trade more often than not is the one getting the best player in the deal.

    Depth can be acquired by scouring the waiver wire, or by making other trades for undervalued targets. Stars are stars, though, and they’re damn hard to get.

  10. Todd said...

    “Stars are stars, though, and they’re damn hard to get” – which is why you don’t sell high on Miguel Cabrera. Keep high!

  11. Jerry Esses said...

    I fail to see the logic in your reasoning. 30 yo players don’t fall off, and even if he does slightly, he is still worth more than any other player out there. Plus, you mention the “bird in the hand”. you KNOW what you’re going to get with Miggy, so why think of trading him for some “maybes”?

  12. Cybo said...

    In my keeper league (IF I had him) hes going nowhere. In a redraft, hes worth 2 first rounders or maybe a 1st and a 2nd. I’m assuming an average 12 team league so basically 2 top 25s.

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