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Is It Time to Panic?

I’ve never actually read Aron Ralston’s book “Between a Rock and a Hard Place,” where he recounts getting his arm stuck while rock climbing, and then having to amputate that arm. But I think about Ralston a few times per week.

That might sound weird, so I should say that I think about his ordeal and I wonder whether I would have the judgment needed to cut off my own arm in order to save my life. I find Ralston’s story to be incredibly powerful because I don’t think many of us are able to focus on that one thing that matters, and then optimize for that thing. More often we try to balance too many considerations at once, and often fail on a number of measures instead of really focusing on succeeding at the one super-important thing.

The title of this article is: Is it time to panic? By that I mean, is it time to do something dramatic? Should you be doing whatever the equivalent of cutting off an arm is in fantasy terms, in order to save your fantasy season?

First let’s think about some reasons that you shouldn’t panic yet, even if you’re off to a slow start. You should not panic if you’re 1-3, but you’re in the top three in your league in points. You’re getting unlucky and running into squads each week that you’re losing to, but you probably still have a good team. You shouldn’t panic if you’ve had some bad injury luck. If you drafted Rob Gronkowski and then watched him sit two weeks, followed by watching him underwhelm in two weeks, you probably don’t need to panic. If the rest of your team is strong you can plan on Gronk eventually returning to form.

But maybe it is time to panic. And it might be time to panic even if you’re something like 2-2. It’s time to panic if you’re narrowly winning the games you’ve won, and you’re getting your doors blown off in your losses. It’s time to panic if you’re in the bottom three in your league in points, and you don’t have a good excuse for that (drafting Le’Veon Bell in the first round might be an excuse). It’s time to panic if you’ve lost the parts of your team you thought would be strong. If you started your draft with Keenan Allen and Sammy Watkins as two of your first three picks, then you qualify.

I’m using the term panic, but in reality there shouldn’t be anything emotional about your action. This is fantasy football, which is just a silly game. All you really have to do is look at your roster and figure out whether you need to take dramatic action in order to remain viable long term. Once you decide that dramatic action is required then the important thing to keep in mind is that you’re embarking upon a costless path. There is no cost to dealing away your best player, because your team is fucked if you don’t do something dramatic. That doesn’t mean that you should be careless in deciding upon a path, only that you have to be prepared to have no regrets once you decide on an action.

I can’t offer advice for every struggling team in the space of this article, but I can give you my general outlook on trying to turn around a loser. I would embark upon the following steps:

  1. Find the players on your team that have the biggest gap between their current market valuation, and their ability to help you in the future. Trade those players away.
  2. Find the players on opposing teams with the biggest gap between their potential to score in the future, and their current valuation. Trade for those players.
  3. Try to trade one high value player on your team for two high variance players on an opposing team. Lots of owners like to be on the side of a 2-for-1 where they’re getting one player back. That works to your advantage if you can find a team in your league that has two players that both have a lot of upside, but have reasonable costs now.
  4. If you have a QB you can trade away and get something in return, do it and start streaming.

If you have a shitty team, but somehow still have a stud on that team, you probably only get one shot to turn that stud into something good. So you have to make it count. You can’t make a marginal deal because then you’ll be handicapped going forward with nothing of value to offer someone else. The other thing to keep in mind is that you probably have to compound whatever action you take a few times between now and the end of the season. It’s not enough to take a shitty team and make one move in Week 4/5. You probably need to do that almost every week between now and when you start to end up as one of the highest scoring teams (if everything goes well).

Sometimes it’s not possible to turn around a loser. But at least you can try. I’ve had some of my most fun seasons taking a team that under-performed for one reason or another, and trying to turn that team around. It can also be exhausting too, because sometimes it’s just easier to accept your fate and realize this isn’t your year. It takes effort to care, and it takes effort to try to turn over your entire roster so that you have a winner. Throwing in the towel is an attractive option sometimes, and that’s why I wonder whether if I were confronted with almost certain death, whether I would have the fortitude to cut off my own arm to try to save myself.

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