When asked if a trade is worth it, the most clichéd, copout advice a dynasty analyst can give is, “It depends.”
“Well, it depends on your team.”
“It depends on your roster construction.”
“It depends on if you’re trying to win now or rebuild.”
“It’s a tough one, but I usually like the side with the best piece in the deal.”
Golly gee sir, thanks a million! I wish I had thought of that before asking!
When Should We Seek the Best Piece in a Trade?
Fantasy football roster construction is like the NBA. Depth is great and can get you to the playoffs, sure. But, the strongest starting lineup is what wins championships.
Would you rather have four replacement level players, or one Kevin Durant?
Okay, that’s a simplified exaggeration. However, the point stands: four quarters rarely equals a dollar in fantasy lineup construction in a win-now circumstance.
We need to consider trades in an entire roster framework, not just values summed up on some trade calculator. More specifically, we need to evaluate a trade in a starting lineup points above replacement sense. This means:
- Net the projected points of the players being traded
- Subtract the projected points from any players relegated to the bench.
More often than not, the side of the trade receiving the multi-part package and surrendering the best asset is effectively buying an extended roster warranty.
The question is: at what point is the extended warranty worth it?
Let’s find out.
Back of the Envelope
Let’s look at an example of a trade offer that appears equitable or even rich on the surface but still ends up costing your team wins. We’ll use vanilla 0.5 PPR as the scoring format.
Team Luck Dynasty offers you DeAndre Hopkins + Tevin Coleman + 2019 1st in exchange for RB Todd Gurley.
Not bad, right? Hopkins, the 2017 WR1, plus team Luck Dynasty pitches the “Coleman on a new team next season” upside narrative. The first may be late given Luck Dynasty is receiving a top tier RB, but it’s still a valuable asset.
2017 weekly fantasy point averages show Hopkins at 17.5, Coleman at 10.3.
Todd Gurley racked up 23.4 points per week, good for tops in the NFL.
At first glance, 17.5 + 10.3 – 23.4 = +4.4 points per week. Most fantasy players would see that as a healthy profit. Furthermore, plug it into any player value trade calculator and the Hopkins/Coleman + 1st round pick side easily comes out ahead.
Now, past performance doesn’t guarantee future results, and porting the prior year’s stats is not a perfect proxy for next season. We all know that skill sets and situations are fluid. However, it’s a useful enough back-of-the-envelope estimate, as these are each young, ascending players whose skill sets should show no signs of decline for several seasons. If you feel these aren’t useful estimates, simply substitute a comparable player’s total you think is more accurate. For instance, if you believe Gurley won’t sustain his 2017 pace and will regresses slightly, use a player like the RB2 Le’Veon Bell’s 19.9 point 2017 season average instead of Gurley’s 23.4, etc.
First of all, which trade personality are you? In particular, if you’re a Hustler, then it’s probably an insta-accept.
For the rest of us non-Hustlers? Not so fast. Here’s what the math says when we incorporate starting lineup points above replacement:
Suppose you have a player like Devin Funchess as your worst starting player slotted into the FLEX. Funchess averaged 10.2 points in 2017. By looking at the trade in a points above replacement sense, here’s the total season points calculus:
Step 1: Net the traded player weekly averages:
+17.5 D. Hopkins + 10.3 Coleman + 0 for first rounder – 23.4 Gurley = +4.4 points per week. Note that while the 2019 1st adds equity to the roster, it obviously doesn’t contribute any points right now.
Step 2: Subtract projected points from players relegated to the bench:
4.4 – 10.2 Funchess = -5.8 expected points per week.
This calculation assumes Coleman replaces Gurley in the starting lineup and Hopkins replaces Funchess. Paradoxically, this two-for-one trade would increase the total player trade value equity of your roster, but it actually decreases this starting lineup’s projected score by –5.8 points per week.
Would You Like the Extended Warranty with Your New Purchase?
“But wait!” you might say. You aren’t losing Devin Funchess. He’s simply being relegated to the bench.
That’s true. By accepting this two-for-one deal and surrendering the best piece in Gurley, you are effectively relegating Funchess to an extended warranty role at the cost of approximately –5.8 points per week on average.
Again, the real question is: is it worth it?
The table below helps us answer that question. By using the handy Excel Solver tool to run Monte Carlo simulations across a large data sample from my own leagues (using 12-team, 0.5 PPR format) going back several years, we can measure the impact that trades will have on your seasonal win totals. In honor of our favorite clichéd response:
The “It Depends” Decision Tool
|Using Starting Lineup Points Above Replacement (16-game season)|
|Avg Weekly Point Differential +/-||Avg Seasonal Win Differential +/-|
Source: Author’s calculations
Converting Points into Wins and Losses
The left-hand column lists the average weekly point total your starting lineup expects to gain or lose in a trade. In the trade scenario above, Hopkins + Coleman – Gurley – Funchess = -5.8 points per week.
The right-hand column shows the average 16-game season win differential resulting from the change in weekly points scored by the starting lineup. In other words, you can expect an average weekly decrease of -5.8 points to cost your team about two wins on the season. On average, two fewer wins, and two more losses on your record. That’s the real cost of the Devin Funchess extended warranty.
If you’re a win-now team, it probably doesn’t make sense to forfeit two wins on the season. We don’t know where those two wins fall in the season, but it could mean a 6-7 regular season record instead of 8-5 and missing the playoffs. Or, it could hit later and mean a first round playoff exit. In this win-now circumstance, one dollar > four quarters. Decline.
However, if you’re a win-eventually team seeking to rebuild, establish a better WR corps, and you agree that the Coleman future upside narrative has legs, then the trade makes sense. Why? You’re receiving a 1st in the trade, and your record projects to worsen by two games, which improves next season’s draft position. Plus, you’re building total roster equity according to most player trade value calculators. The package fits your strategy better than a single superstar RB. Here, Great WR + Good RB + Good draft pick > Great RB. Accept.
(I did tweak some scoring settings and test scenarios of full PPR, 1.5 PPR for TE-premium, standard 0 PPR, etc. Interestingly, the points/wins thresholds didn’t change significantly. However, the rosters and results used in these simulations were drafted and constructed on the basis of 12-team, 0.5 PPR format. In summary, the “It Depends” decision tool above is probably a reasonable baseline for most scoring formats, but the more exotic your league’s format is, the more deviation you should expect).
You can apply this tool in a multitude of ways.
Say you have a replacement-level tight end like Austin Hooper who averaged 5.9 fantasy points per week. You trade a future first-round pick for Gronk, who averaged 14.8 (use Kelce in this example if you prefer). Adding Gronk +14.8 and subtracting the benched Hooper -5.9 = +8.9 weekly points for your starting lineup. The “It Depends” decision tool shows that +8.9 weekly points yields, on average, about a +3 win differential on the season.
Or, take the flip side. Suppose you’re the team with Gronk looking to trade him for a 1st, and your next man up at the TE position is a player like Hooper. You’re looking at about a -3 win differential on the season.
Decide according to your circumstances.
What’s more, this tool applies to virtually any situation. Superflex? Three-for-ones? Four-for-twos? Cross-position trades?
Check, check, check, and check. Do future draft picks have equity value? Of course. But, because future draft picks don’t provide any points currently, they should be counted as a zero in the present season’s weekly point projections.
Just One More Question
So the next time you’re offered some complicated trade package, just follow the simple, two-step back-of-the-envelope starting lineup calculations. Finally, check to see how many games you can expect to worsen or improve by on the “It Depends” decision tool. Match that result to your strategic goals, and voila.
Now, you might be asking, “What should my strategic goals be in a year where rule changes have outlawed defense and made the NFL into the Big 12 conference?”
On that one…well…