MASTER NOTES: Forget about draft-day values

Last week in Tout Wars’ NL-only league, I traded a $25 Ike Davis to Rotowire’s Chris Liss for a $14 Jeff Samardzija and a $5 Todd Helton. The trade engendered a few comments focused on the dollar disparity between Davis and Samardzija. Admittedly, the deal could be viewed as selling low on the struggling Davis, but was that the case and were the draft-day values still valid five weeks into the season?

Too often we worry about what are artificial benchmarks. Remember projections are just approximations. When we project a player to earn $20, the real range is probably somewhere between $15 and $25.  

So how did Ike Davis wind up costing $25?  Many websites had Davis on watch lists this preseason. In our First Pitch Forums, there was even a slide that showed how Davis might turn out to be the most valuable first baseman in the National League.  Even with that hype, $25 was probably higher than most sites were projecting. I wound up going to $25 for a variety of reasons:

  • a couple of the other corners I had targeted were already gone – and at prices above my budget.
  • I use Total Control Drafting, in which going the extra dollar or two – or in this case, three or four – is often necessary.

Admittedly, $25 was likely at the high end of prices paid for Davis this spring in re-draft leagues.

What about Samardzija and his $14 price? Just as with Davis, the league context played a key role. In Tout Wars, it’s typical for many teams to have a hitting/pitching split of 200/60. This year, the pitching/hitting imbalance was even more pronounced. As a result, pitching prices tend to be deflated, as even the elite pitchers go for about $10 less than the elite hitters.  Solid pitchers, like Samardzija often cost in the low teens: by my count, 15 starters went for between $11 and $15 this year.  Much of the Davis/Samardzija price difference is simply a byproduct of pitcher/hitter dynamics.

We also need to look at when the trade took place, several weeks after the draft. During that time, Samardzija has replicated his 2012 breakout, while Davis again started off slowly. Even if one believes Davis will eventually straighten things out, the price differential has closed. Indeed, according to’s balance-of-year projections, the difference is down to a dollar.

Perhaps, most importantly, we have not yet come to the most important factor in deciding to make the trade: the current context of both teams. Chris’ interest in making the trade was driven by a dramatic pitching/hitting disparity. While he was near the top in ERA, WHIP and K’s, he was near the bottom in runs and RBI’s.  Conversely, I had come out of the draft with a dearth of starters, and had already fallen to last in K’s and next to last in Wins. However, I was at or near the top in HRs, Runs and RBI even despite Davis’ slow start.

For me, the driving force in this deal was not Davis’ struggles, but the need to improve my starting pitching.  Perhaps if I had waited a few weeks and Davis got hot, I might have acquired a better pitcher, but by then I’d have fallen further behind in the pitching categories.  I also would have risked getting a lesser pitcher—or no pitcher—if Davis continued to slump.

What’s the lesson in all this? Once your draft is over, throw out those dollar values—or forget the draft round—and analyze trades in the context of what a player is doing and what your team needs. That’s not to say sell low, but rather don’t worry about the fact that the player being offered might have cost half of the player being acquired. Circumstances change as the season progresses, sometimes dramatically. You can’t afford to worry about draft day values a month or three into the season because it’s just possible you overpaid. Your best option may simply be to maximize the current value of your players in light of your future needs.

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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.