Friday, February 14, 2014

The cost of caution: delaying transfers

Striking the balance between risk and reward is a difficult task in fantasy sports and getting the wrong mix can result in wasted points and eventual failure. Perhaps this is me projecting my own views onto the analysis, but I feel that sometimes those of us who are more inclined to make decisions based on data are generally more concerned with the risk of too much action: such as paying ill-advised four-point transfers on a weekly basis or captaining players based on nothing more than a hunch. I often speak - as do those more learned than I - about the risk of relying on small samples and the need to regress anomalous results back to some form of mean to avoid overreacting to chance events, and these are indeed good virtues which will generally lead to fantasy success.

What I want to talk about here though is another type of risk: the risk of inaction, specifically as it pertains to making transfers. I noted last week that my team is valued at a measly 103m while the league's top teams are pushing into the 110m, or even 115m range. Given my moderate success in the past and the constant turnover of players, I've argued that chasing cash is not necessarily a worthy strategy in of itself and a quick glance at the game's "most valuable" teams will highlight that team value does not always correlate to fantasy points (with a major factor being the transfer prices paid by those teams, of course). I am not fully backing up on that approach as "chasing money" still seems like a strategy that wouldn't pay dividends by itself, as by definition, to get the most gains you need to be selecting players that everyone else is also picking, and those people are generally not the ideal role models for rationale behaviour. What does need to be looked at though, is the idea of making the transfers you want to make, but doing so as early as possible in the gameweek (h/t to reader CDI for raising this question).

At this point, I'm sure many of you are astonished that I haven't been through this before, but alas, I am indeed that foolish. My position has always been that I'd prefer to lose out on the odd 0.1m rise by making late transfers if that means avoiding injuries to players I've just signed. What I've failed to properly appreciate though is the surprisingly high cost of delaying your transfer by just a week. I believe this is something akin to what is often defined as loss aversion, particularly in the sense that signing a player on a Sunday night who then gets injured in training that week stings so badly, that it feels much worse than it is (the cost being, at worst, a four point to get rid of him again). If I delay action, I only lose something I never had anyway - that potential rise in price - but by delaying I ensure that I avoid wasting a transfer: something I tangibly 'own'.

I know reading about other people's fantasy teams is the very definition of mundane, but without copying the data for every player in the league, I've had to draw the line for the below analysis somewhere, so I've decided to focus on the transfers made by my own team this year. The methodology is to compare the lowest price I could have paid for a player with the highest for a given week, which will generally be the price paid if you wait until the last minute to make your move. For example, following his fourth goal in three weeks in GW6, Aaron Ramsey was obviously due for another price rise. If you made the move to grab him as soon as the GW6 fixtures finished, you'd have paid the closing price from GW6 of 6.2m. If however, you waited until right before the GW7 deadline, you'd now find that the same player cost 6.5m. I know this is obvious and self evident, but what is surprising to me is that this issue doesn't just apply to 'obvious' examples like Ramsey. Below are all the purchases made for my team this season, excluding those during the wildcard week (even I'm smart enough to make wildcard transfers on day one of the new gameweek):

Though this analysis will slightly overestimate my idiocy as on occasion I did make transfers earlier in the week, it still shows a striking impact in that delaying making these moves cost 2.3m on the purchase side and 1.5m on the sale side (this impact is lowered by the way sales price is calculated, but still, it's a material difference). Remember that this is purely a product of timing and I haven't changed my policy as to who to target at all, yet I've left something like 3.0m on the table purely to guard against the risk of injury. What's really surprising to me is that over half of my transfers were impacted by this effect, not just those following a week where a player produces a huge points haul thus triggering a stampede of transfers.

Assessing the real risk of injury is harder, as potentially I changed my transfer target based on injuries which happened during the week. Though I can recall a few anecdotal instances of avoiding injuries due to delaying these moves, I again can't help but wonder if I'm putting too much emphasis on those occasions as they stood out to me as "justifying" my position. I guess if there's mid-week European action, it might still pay to wait on transfers but otherwise it seems that being cautious can lead to a serious loss of funds in the latter stages of the season and right now I would happily give up 8-12 points to correct injured transferees earlier in the year if that meant I could have another three or four million pounds to spend.

To some of you this has probably been as enlightening as a long prose explaining how the earth actually isn't flat, but hopefully my late arrival to the common sense party will help illuminate reality for a few others.


Kyle Shaughnessy said...
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Kyle Shaughnessy said...

Different stages of the year call for different approaches to the transfer market for me.

In the first third, I'm 'building' team value & will take hits if necessary... Especially when all prices are still rounded to the half million.

For example, if you lose .1mil on a 4.5mil defender then you've effectively resigned yourself to having to find a 4.0mil replacement & nobody wants that.

The second third of the year, I'm a bit more cautious now that mid-week fixtures start playing more of a factor. I'd still like to build value but, won't bring in a player until directly after their Wednesday CL or Thursday Europa league game.

Finally, post Xmas & onwards I could not care less about my overall team value & will let the prices rise & fall as they may.
European fixtures, weather delays, cup ties, blanks & subsequent double game weeks, etc... all mean I'm waiting to the last possible moment to make my transfer in order to field the strongest XI I can each week.

On the whole, I've found this has been the best approach in balancing how much money I have in the war chest, against taking hits for the odd injured player.

Tony S said...

Hi Chris,
Nice article,I'm a big believer in making early transfers and taking hits in the accumulaton of a good TV. I'm amazed how people can justify not purchasing Aguero on a Sunday night when they know he'll be 0.3m dearer by Saturday ..... As a season long chaser of the cash I've managed to amased a TV of 112m but stragely enough with Aguero injuerd, Man Utd not firing and the Big Mids not accumulating points I actually ended up with with 3-4m left in the bank after my winter WC ..... So I ended up just wasting the money by upgrading Coleman to Baines and Natasic to Kompany and getting Ivanovic as a fifth defender. I've seen teams with TV's 5m less that mine with equally good sides but cheaper 5th mids and 4th&5th defenders who are scoring well when rotated.

There are several problem with chasing the cash
1. Just like in real life you get greedy and you start to protect your TV. I have found myself pulling the trigger on a sale of a player after a scoring drought simply because I was going to lose my profit ... so suddenl I'm sarcraficing points for team value. Instead of waiting for a plyers big score that the stats say is coming I transfer the player out before his price drops for another player before his price rises .... and what happens the next week? The trabsfered player outscores the new recruit :(
2. You start to allow a players value to affect your judgement, you try to use you extra cash as a differential and suddenly you're picking Ozil over Ramsey or Coutino over Gerrard because yu have the TV to do it
3. You decide to upgrade you 5th mid to a Lallana or your 4th def to another elite defender and suddenly Arsenal are away and you end up with Koscieln on the bench with 9 points ........You suddenly end up with 15-20m on the bench and possibly 20-25 points.... so now not only do we have to select the right players but we also have to start pridicting when they will score their points and when they will have their blanks ... which we all know is impossible .... we can only hope to predict a players potential points over a string of games but not week by week .... so we end up losing out on scores and all that TV is wasted on our bench...

So I guess I too need a new approach .... with great Team Value comes Great responsibility and tough team decisions which I don't seem to be calling right lately ...... maybe what I need is a FF head coach, I can manage the team finances and and the squad and somebody else can manage the team selection :)


CDI said...
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Anonymous said...

Great article, Chris.

You're right that the number of times you're likely to have a key player injured and thus have to take a 4 point hit as you've done an early transfer, will at least be equalled by the number of times you need to take a 4 point hit to get an "essential" player in because you don't have the TV to do the move without a hit (whereas everyone else does).

I think the key is not to obsess too much about value, but to realise that doing planned transfers early will build value you wouldn't have otherwise had. Doing transfers purely because of value rather than plans, though, is a step too far.

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