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Skill, Luck, and ADP

Thoughts on how simply being average can be a path to success in fantasy football.

One of the fun things about participating in a seasonal hobby like fantasy football for a long enough time is you start to get a feel for the natural rhythms. And one of my favorite rhythms is the annual ritual starting sometime in November of debating how much of fantasy success is “skill” vs. how much is “luck”.

Now, the polite answer to the question is “when you’re winning it’s mostly skill, and when you’re losing it’s mostly luck”. Playoff teams want to brag about their brilliant moves, while non-playoff teams prefer to gripe about their bad breaks.

But if you want to be rude and actually take a shot at answering the question, you need to first define what, exactly, we mean by “skill” and “luck”. I usually use the following definition: your final record equals .500 + (your skill factor) + (your luck factor).

Over a single league, the luck factor dominates. But if we could theoretically get a person to play in a million leagues, the luck factors would largely offset and their overall record would closely approximate their skill level.

(There’s a bit of noisiness here, too. Certain years can be exceptionally kind or unkind to certain strategies— two years ago was a terrible time to draft RBs early, while last year was a phenomenal time to. Ideally, you’d have someone play millions of leagues over millions of years to truly isolate genuine skill.)

But for now, let’s accept this basic frame. Final Record = (.500) + (skill) + (luck), and as the number of leagues increases, luck offsets more and more until at an arbitrarily large sample size, all that’s left is skill.

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