Pop quiz: two teams both average 105 points per game. Which team is better?
Alright, alright, we’re going to need a bit more information to answer this one. Let’s say they both average 20 points per game at quarterback, 30 points per game at running back, 45 points per game at wide receiver, and 10 points per game at tight end. Which team is better?
It seems we need to drill down a little bit deeper, still. Let’s say that the first team starts two running backs who both average 15 points per game, while the second team starts one running back that averages 25 points per game and a second running back that averages just 5 points per game. Now we finally have enough information to answer. Which team is better? Think about it for a minute and form a hypothesis. Then scroll down for the answer.
No, really, think about it for a bit. I’ll wait.
Do you think you have an answer? Good!
I’ve asked enough trick questions in the past that regular readers might now be suspecting me of another bit of legerdemain. On its face, the easy answer would be to say it’s a trick question and both teams are equally good because they both score the same number of points.
But this was not a trick question. (Or, I suppose, it was a trick question whose trick was tricking you into thinking there was a trick when there was no trick.) Assuming all else is equal, (and, indeed, I’ve engineered our hypothetical to this point so that all else truly is equal), the second team is better than the first.
The reason for this is simple. The second owner has managed to concentrate more of his value into fewer roster spots.
There are many advantages to a “studs and duds” approach to roster building in dynasty, relative to a “solid performers at every spot” approach. For one, “studs” tend to have much longer NFL careers than “solid performers”, meaning the former philosophy is more stable over the long term, while the latter has to continually replace key pieces.
But even ignoring differences in expected career path between studs and solid performers, concentrating more production into fewer positions has intrinsic value. The more you can distill your production down, the better off your team is.
It might seem rich for a man with ADHD to extol the virtues of concentration, but let me make a simple case for why this is so. Let’s think back to our two hypothetical teams and imagine both are very active on waivers.
Let’s say they each scoop up a promising young RB prospect, and that prospect plays his way into a timeshare. Over the latter half of the season, this young, talented, timeshare back averages 10 points per game.
What does that do to each team? The first team gains itself a quality young backup and trading chip. The second team improves its starting lineup by five points, and is now outscoring the first team by five points per week.
This underscores a simple truth: if a team has solid players at every position, it is exceedingly difficult for it to improve. In order for the “no weaknesses” team to improve its starting lineup by five points, it needs to add a 20 point-per-game running back. 20 ppg running backs are rare and valuable commodities, and quite difficult to acquire.
If, on the other hand, a team has terrible players at some positions, it is exceedingly easy to improve. At the extreme, a team that is forced to use a below-replacement starter can improve to replacement level for free, or very near to it. (This is a feature of the term “replacement level”, which represents the level of production that is freely available in most leagues.)
There are risks inherent in concentrating value, too. Injuries become a much higher-variance game, for one. An injury to one of the “duds” doesn’t bother the “studs and duds” owner in the slightest. An injury to one of his or her “studs” can cripple the team. In contrast, every injury to a “no weaknesses” team hurts, but none are crippling.
In dynasty, though, I would say the higher variance is a feature, not a bug. As I’ve written before, the goal in dynasty is always to finish first. Barring that, the goal is to finish last. The top finisher wins a trophy. The last-place finisher gets the 1.01 pick.
That’s sort of an extreme statement- I’d rather finish 2nd than last, too, because I still consider losing the championship game to be a successful season. But regardless of our personal thresholds of success, the worst place to land is right in the middle, in that 5th-8th range that is neither very good nor well-compensated. A “studs and duds” roster is less likely to finish in that middle range, and more likely to finish towards the extremes. Which is just one more reason why concentrating value magnifies value.
Finally, the end-game in every dynasty league is to build a dynasty. Not just any dynasty, but a world-destroying dynasty, a team where your leaguemates look at you on the schedule and despair. In short, the end goal is a “studs and studs” roster.
A team composed 50% of “studs” and 50% of “duds” is twice as close to that ideal. The owner only has to upgrade half of his or her starting lineup to reach that “studs and studs” nirvana. A team composed 100% of solid, second-tier performers has to replace everyone.
Isn’t This Obvious?
When I mention this concept— that concentrating value is itself inherently valuable— I get a lot of people who ask that question. Of course it’s better to have studs. Isn’t that obvious?
If I were to judge solely by how I see owners manage their teams, though, I would say it’s not at all obvious. For most owners I observe, priority #1 is always shoring up their weaknesses. If they are thin at RB, they’re reaching on RBs in the rookie draft. If they have a trio of top receivers, they’re trading one away to patch a weakness elsewhere.
The majority of trade questions I get also follow this pattern. Everyone seems to be really good at identifying their weaknesses and really diligent about figuring out ways to patch those weaknesses. I hear a lot of people say “I’m concerned about whether I can win with _______ at RB”.
Winning in fantasy football, in my experience, isn’t about minimizing our weaknesses. It is about maximizing our strengths. It’s rare, from what I’ve seen, for the champion to be the team whose worst unit ranks highest. Usually it’s a team whose best unit dominated the competition to a degree that could not be overcome.
Granted, it's scary to have outright liabilities in our starting lineup. It's only natural to want to improve them. And, indeed, improving on our liabilities is unquestionably a good thing... provided we can do it without sacrificing our strengths in the process.
So what do we do? We PAY ATTENTION to past trends. We FOCUS less on our liabilities and more on what makes our teams truly special in the first place. We CONCENTRATE our value as much as possible. We trust that good things will tend to follow.
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