Fantasy Football: Why Buying Low Is Better Than Selling High
Fantasy football can be a veritable chess match. While the draft and the waiver wire tend to be the most important components of building a championship squad, trades have the potential of turning a season around, whether it be in the right direction or not.
Trades should aim at bringing balance to a team specifically by trading away replaceable players for players that fix the team's weaknesses by giving them access to scorers who are unavailable on the wire.
Speculative trades in which the first team trades a player who is doing well but whose productivity seems unsustainable has its merits, but it is a dangerous proposition. The "Sell High," as it is often referred, is also dangerous because owners tend to disregard the principal rule of trading when these exchanges are executed—only trade a player that you could reasonably replace, preferably with someone already on your squad.
Another type of speculative trade is the "Buy Low" in which players who are not doing well but either have the potential for—or have shown the ability of having—substantial fantasy impact are targeted in exchange for reliable point-getters with significant ceilings to their game.
You will notice that a sell-high and a buy-low can be similar concepts, and that they vary from person to person. The reason is perceived value. But typically, if the player was traded for a similar-production option with a greater ceiling, then that player has been sold high. If a player was traded for a similar- or greater-production option with a lower ceiling, the buyer has bought him low.
Logic and experience will tell you that this type of trade is the one to make, particularly if your team is in the middle or near the top.
The Perceived Value of a Buy-Low Candidate
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In many leagues, only a handful of teams make the playoffs. This enables a mindset centered around the immediacy of winning the next matchup, as opposed to a balanced approach which also considers each player as an investment.
Injuries are the perfect example. If someone dropped or sold low for an injured player like Marques Colston, Arian Foster, Julio Jones, Beanie Wells or Darren McFadden, the team was probably a struggling one.
To a team that is doing well enough to be borderline playoff candidates, at worst, buying an injured player who would be an improvement if plugged into their squad down the line may be beneficial. To the team that is struggling, selling this player, even for a low price, may also be beneficial because they can't win games and enter the playoffs if their point-producers are not on the field.
To be sure, not every injured player is a candidate for buy-low. Sometimes, this approach can be a burden on the buying team. However, even busts attained using this approach are not disastrous. Why? Because the players you give in exchange for the buy-low are typically not the type of players who will make or break your entire season.
Not only injured players are good buy-low targets. Some players experience a slump, or may be surrounded by other players who are a hindrance to their fantasy productivity. Aiming for a player you believe can turn it around is a good investment because, again, the price you pay is a small one.
Perceived Value of a Sell-High Candidate
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By contrast, selling high on a player who has strung together a few impressive games may have extreme effects. The term "selling high" implies that the buying party overpaid for the player, either because their current productivity is unsustainable, or because they have a history of not being consistent producers.
Of course, not all players are bad sell-high candidates, but while the effects of buying low for a player and having him continue to fail to produce, selling high on a candidate may turn out to not be selling high at all.
After two good weeks, many felt trading Fred Jackson was ideal because his point production didn't seem sustainable and because last year—while he showed flashes of brilliance—he was not as large of a factor. Also, some felt his backup C.J. Spiller would cut into his carries. Trading him now is clearly a bad move, or at least the price has certainly been raised.
Similarly, Jordy Nelson pieced together a few good weeks, but the idea that there are too many mouths to feed in Green Bay has led to the belief that Nelson is a good sell-high candidate, but Nelson has done quite well, save for a game in Week 5.
Some will argue that trading some sell-highers would have been a smart move, such as with Chris Johnson due to his name recognition, Ahmad Bradshaw due to his injury concerns or Devery Henderson due to his history and unsustainable production.
While I applaud those who got good value in exchange for these players, it's not difficult to argue that selling all frequently mentioned sell-high candidates (Fred Jackson, Jordy Nelson, Wes Welker, Devery Henderson) would have been much more disastrous than buying all buy-low candidates (Marques Colston, Frank Gore, Arian Foster, Chris Johnson).
The Effects of a Buy-Low Gone Wrong
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Buying a player who is not producing well is usually a boom-or-bust proposition. If you buy a player who is not currently doing well, but has done so in the past, he may turn it around and be great as he once was or he may continue to do very poorly. Rarely does a player who is having issues become mediocre. The reason for this is that typically the only way the player becomes dominant again is if they fix whatever is wrong with them midseason, or if the team they are on begins to use them as they once did.
Keep this in mind when buying a player like Chris Johnson or Mike Williams (TB).
Usually, however, there is little wrong with buying a player who has the potential to be great, but turns out to be a bust. You likely didn't pay much for him, and if you weren't near the middle to top of the rankings, you shouldn't have been seeking buy-low players to begin with. The worst that can happen is that your expectations for that player are not met, and you move on with the rest of your team.
This is why buying low should be seen as an investment. Sure, it has its risks, but it's comparable to buying stock from a reputable company that is not doing well but might bounce back. Chances are the company will return to its former glory, or go bankrupt, so paying a low price for them is risky, but justified.
Also, it should be noted that it is not advisable to have too many buy-low players on your team. The same way that you would diversify a portfolio, having too many boom-or-bust, unknown-return investments can lead to disaster.
The Effects of a Sell-High Gone Wrong
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This is where it gets ugly, not only from a ramification perspective, but also in terms of defining who is who.
If the perceived value of a guy like Frank Gore is substantially decreased, then the person trading for him buys him low. But if the person who sells him is getting more than his current productivity, and it seems as if Gore's ceiling has been lowered, then that team has essentially sold him high.
To further the example, Gore was considered a sell-high after the first couple of weeks due to his ineffective play. He failed to reach 60 yards rushing each game for the first three weeks. After Week 3, his owner may have considered him a sell-high due to his retaining name recognition despite his under-productive start and got what he believed was a deal—perhaps a top-15 runner, or a receiver. What followed was disheartening, as he posted five consecutive games with over 100 yards rushing and four touchdowns.
Fred Jackson was also considered a sell-high candidate after Week 2, but for different reasons. He did not have the name recognition that Gore had and, in the past, had done only bits and pieces of what he did at the beginning of this year. His owner may have gone on to trade him for a runner and receiver, or for a nearly any possible player or combination of players. In hindsight, that's a trade they'd like to take back.
The risks do not always materialize, of course, and selling a guy like Devery Henderson who posted two back-to-back 100-yard, one-touchdown games for any top player was a good move, but at that point, so early in the season, it was a very large gamble.
What if Henderson's role had increased? What if he continued to post those numbers? He didn't, but had he sustained his productivity, almost any trade would have worked against his owner's favor. His is a special case due to the crowded New Orleans secondary, but there are other examples.
What should be learned from these examples is that while selling high on players who may not continue to produce or who are not producing but have high name recognition has its benefits, it should be seen as more of a gamble than an investment. And gambling is not fun when you lose.
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Because every slideshow should have examples:
1. Mike Williams (TB)
The only way this player will return to his 2010 glory is if he is utilized differently. He is being used as the reliable, possession receiver, and that doesn't look to be changing, given the amount of speedy receivers on this team.
Still, if they manage to use him in different ways, who's to say he doesn't rack up a few touchdowns in the fantasy playoffs? His play has been pretty poor, so you can buy him for a really low price.
2. Shonn Greene
Greene does not look like a candidate with an incredibly high ceiling. He's never been a big producer, fantasy or not, but they'll turn to him more as the end of the season nears. Expectations should be tempered, and it's difficult to buy a starting runner low, but there are some scenarios in which this may be a good move.
3. Josh Freeman
Just like his receiver, Freeman has regressed in terms of fantasy football this year. His production is way down. Still, there are over half-a-dozen starting quarterbacks whom I'd gladly hand over for this quarterback, given his potential.
The talk was that once Henne was gone, Marshall was as good as dead in FF. It turns out he's not.
If the Marshall owner in your league is still nervous about Marshall, you could calm him with a similar-producing receiver with a lower ceiling. Because Marshall has had a few bad games, there is also the potential that your Marshall owner is not in good shape. Exploit the situation.
5. Hakeem Nicks
When Andre went down I said I'd trade away most receivers for AJ. Weeks later, it'd be a much more difficult decision if I knew he'd miss through the bye. Still, Nicks will get his points, and his owner may be in trouble. If you have the depth, aim for him.
6. Brandon Pettigrew
Pettigrew is in fantasy football limbo in the minds of many owners. Very much overshadowed by Calvin Johnson, Pettigrew is still a relatively unknown name. Learn it.
If there is any TE outside the top 10 who may creep in, this is your guy. Find his frustrated owner and offer him something reasonable, but low.
7. DeSean Jackson
Speaking of frustrated owners. D-Jax has been invisible. Even after all the talk that he's a vital part of the Philadelphia offense, Jackson is not doing anything to prove his worth. Still, this owner has probably lost a few games because of Jackson, and if you can hand him a receiver who is doing only a little better, or is more consistent, it's worth the flier.
Jackson has the potential to win you games, and though he's difficult to start in shallower leagues, he'll be in consideration for a flex spot down the line.
8. Jake Ballard
Ballard has been called a waiver-wire addition for weeks now, which tells you how little people know about him. But if you play in a league with anyone who has any sense, he's been scooped up. Or maybe you did.
Either way, it's possible that he's not the starter on his owner's fantasy team. He seems to be more and more part of this offense every week, and his red-zone targets are plentiful. Aim, trade.
9. Roddy White
It's not likely that White can be bought too low, because he's still a consistent receiver, despite his many frustrating drops and under-productive games. With Julio exploding this past week, I can see some owners becoming frightened of White's possible reduced role from here on out.
Don't be fooled—if both men are given similar attention, White will outproduce his partner most weeks.
10. Chris Johnson
Many people ask me what I think about buying low on Chris Johnson. The answer is always, "it depends."
Do I think he'll do better than he's doing now? No, not really. Would it surprise me, though? Only slightly. If you can get him for garbage, like another runner stuck in an RBBC, he's definitely worth a look. If priced low enough, Johnson is the epitome of a buy-low candidate. His future production will either be great or terrible, he's got extreme potential, he's not playing well and he has frustrated his owner to the point that they've cried once or twice.
If you can get him for very, very little, there's no reason not to stash him on your bench and wait and see.