“The best QBs in a fantasy league are super valuable. Why not stockpile this position, capture the market and force my league peers to take trades that will help my team?”
This is a very common and very tempting mindset in single-QB leagues.
First, it’s doable: The top four QBs in ADP are currently spread across the first four rounds, meaning you could nab at least two with your early picks.
Second, it’s generally intuitive: if you draft Justin Herbert and Patrick Mahomes and they both have great seasons, other managers must notice. They will roll over to trade with you, and you can use this position to add any fantasy assets your team may need. It’s foolproof, isn’t it?
Hoarding the “onesie” positions (we’ll discuss QBs in this article, but the same goes for TEs) is generally a abominable Idea. If your league peers play correctly, your team will suffer massively from this strategy.
Hoarded Player Value
There are countless ways to rate players: with Dynasty Rookie Picks, FAAB or Wins Above Replacement. This article focuses more on the game theory of hoarding strategy, and we don’t delve too much into that how To rank players, we can simply use a FAAB (free agent budget or how much you can bid on the waiver over the course of a season).
Think, for example, of Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert. Let’s say both can be independently valued at $100 FAAB; That is, it is considered “fair trade” to exchange $100 FAAB for Herbert or Mahomes. I’m using $100 as a round number here: the true value is probably even higher, but this is just an exercise to get the point across.
However, something happens when you roster both this player: They’re not worth $100 FAAB to you anymore. Let’s say Patrick Mahomes has a slightly better year and is your starter more often. Justin Herbert now sits on your bench – in a single QB league – scoring you zero points for your lineup every week! In this case, Herbert’s added value to your team drops tremendously as its output doesn’t make it into your current lineup. Let’s say its value drops to $40 FAAB for your team; maybe he starts 40% of games because of Mahomes’ bye week and bad matchups (again, just picking a nice round number).
Well, that alone isn’t necessarily a bad thing for the hoarding strategy. After all, you certainly didn’t expect to start all your QBs at once! Of course, keeping Herbert in your roster makes less sense, but that’s the whole point of the strategy: swap him out for other teams. That should work, right?
A sequential game
We will delve into the game theory of fantasy trades here, hopefully at an understandable and accessible level. While some of these technical concepts might be alien, I hope that the intuition makes sense. First, let’s think of a trade as a “sequential game,” meaning that two players — here, the fantasy managers — make moves sequentially (one after the other). In this example, “Manager 2” has Justin Herbert (not yet hoarded) and wants to trade him. Manager 1 makes the first move by either offering $100 FAAB or offering nothing. If Manager 1 offers $100 FAAB, Manager 2 can either accept (exchange Herbert for $100 FAAB) or decline the offer. The boxes at the end of each “branch” show us the managers’ payouts.
Now consider the general case (no hoarding) where Herbert’s fair value is $100 FAAB. We have the same structure and the payouts represent a “fair trade”: if the trade happens (manager 1 bids $100 FAAB, manager 2 accepts) then both managers net $0 in FAAB since Herbert traded for his fair value became.
It is even better if trade can be mutually beneficial. Imagine that manager 1 rates Herbert at $100 FAAB while manager 2 rates Herbert at $98 FAAB, perhaps because they have slightly different opinions about his future prospects or their “team needs” are slightly different. In this case we have a “win-win” situation. Manager 1 offers $99 FAAB, manager 2 accepts and both receive a “surplus” of $1 FAAB. Manager 1 sends $99 FAAB for Herbert, whom he values at $100 FAAB, and Manager 2 trades Herbert away, whom he values at $98, but receives $99 in return. I shaded the branches with it would not happen so we could see how this game would end.
However, what happens if we have the above hoarding situation and manager 2 a much lower value for Herbert ($40 FAAB)? Well, Manager 1 now has many options he can do: he can offer $99 FAAB or $98 FAAB or $97, down to no offer. At each offer branch, manager 2 can either trade with Herbert or reject the offer: I only drew the branches for a $99, $41, and $1 offer to save space.
We can now think about what manager 2 will do in each of these branches. In the extreme case – Manager 1 offers $99 FAAB – Manager 2 will happily accept. He values Herbert at $40, which means he gets an excess of $99 – $40 = $59. Note that Manager 1 still has a $1 surplus on this trade since he values Herbert at $100 and sends $99 FAAB for him. At the other end of the spectrum, where manager 1 offers $1, manager 2 naturally declines: although Herbert is priced lower at $40 FAAB, that’s still far too much to accept $1 FAAB for.
The “breakeven” point occurs at the $41 FAAB offer: Manager 2 has a positive surplus (receives $41 FAAB for a player he values $40 FAAB) and would therefore accept the trade.
So what happens? The leftmost case (manager 1 offers $99) is certainly the ideal case for a hoarder: he gets a lot of value by trading Herbert away. However, the crucial point in this game is that Manager 1 can anticipate what Manager 2 will do. That is, manager 1 knows (at least with some accuracy, perhaps not as precisely as this toy example) which “stores” manager 2 will reject or accept the trade. Manager 1 can imagine the above tree and therefore chooses its branch as…
Voila! In the “equilibrium” of the game, Manager 1 offers Manager 2 $41 FAAB, who accepts because it is still in excess. Manager 1 will not offer a higher FAAB as he White that he can still win the offer by sending less FAAB, which is a better deal for him. The basis of this reasoning is that manager 1 is aware that manager 2 will experience much less value with Justin Herbert on his bench and can therefore discount the offer. Manager 2 could huff and puff demanding a higher FAAB trade and this could eventually work in some leagues. However, if Manager 2 only acts in his best interest, he will end the day on a trade that will earn him a positive surplus.
If you are not interested in the technical background of this idea, you can skip straight to the end. If yes, then we will talk about Nash equilibrium discovered by famous mathematician John Nash.
In the game above, each player has a number of different strategies. Manager 1 may offer different FAAB amounts (or no offer at all). Manager 2 can accept or reject the trade depending on what Manager 1 offers. A Nash equilibrium arises when two players use optimal strategies given the strategy of the other player.
What does that mean? Well, consider our specific case. Since manager 1 offers $41 (his strategy), manager 2’s optimal strategy is to accept the offer and trade with Herbert (since it represents a $1 surplus). The harder case is in the other direction. Since manager 2 rejects any FAAB offer below $41 and accepts any offer above $41, manager 1’s best strategy is to offer $41 as this minimizes the amount to send.
Note that manager 1 offering $99 and manager 2 accepting is not a Nash equilibrium. Manager 2 is pretty lucky – he gets a hefty surplus – but Manager 1 can do a lot better! He doesn’t optimize.
Hoarding is certainly a creative strategy and can be tempting. However, two key reasons make this a foolhardy strategy for your team. First, the “second” QB you field will have a lot less value to your lineup since they don’t start often. Second, the rest of the league will realize that you value that QB less, and therefore be willing to trade him for less. The offer will end up being much lower than what you expected.
I should reiterate that this is a simple example using simple, round numbers. There are many complications and deviations, but I think the broad outlines apply. A counterargument is that by drafting two of the best QBs, you pretty much guarantee that you have at least one elite QB on your team. You could argue that this is better than taking the risk of a player who could fully bust. I don’t buy that logic, though: Even if the RB or WR you draft in Round 3 isn’t incredible, it’s likely to still make important starts for your fantasy team. That means he’ll add a lot more value than the second QB warming up the fantasy bench!
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