Telemarxists: Fizdales & the Veto

After my scathing review of the league’s misuse of the dreaded veto, and their predictable accusations of hypocrisy in reaction, I realized that I couldn’t simply appeal to them on the basis of ‘the right thing to do’ or basic market principles, I would need some cold, hard numbers to back me up.

So began my journey of exploration into whether my accusations held the statistical merit needed to further pressure the commish into action. There were a couple main questions I wanted to answer. First, were there certain types of trades that the league was vetoing more than others? Second, were there certain teams that the league was vetoing more than others? If the glaring answer to either of those questions was yes, it would seem obvious that the preferential tilt of the veto system has been no better than the collusion it seeks to prevent.

Before either of these questions could be addressed, I needed some way to measure the ever-elusive and hotly-debated “value” of players in a trade. As my previous rebuke stated, this task is highly subjective, and while I regret having to do this, I needed to assume some sort of system to analyze relative difference of trades under investigation. I chose to use Dave Richard’s weekly fantasy trade ranks (Week 10 here) to determine comparative value of trades. While not the authority on player ranks, this system gives a good idea of a player’s value, taking into account a player’s position, past performance, and future outlook on a weekly basis.

I went back through all of the trades that league members had accepted, whether they ended up vetoed or allowed, and tallied the total value of each side of the trade according to Richard’s rankings on the week the trade was accepted. Right off the bat, this provided some interesting information. Since the league so proudly touted the veto in the name of “fairness,” I took the absolute difference in total player value for each trade and plotted them below. Surely in their infinite wisdom, only trades with very small differences would be allowed to, ya know, preserve the integrity of the league. I noticed two things:

  1. The first trade the league allowed was the most “lopsided” trade accepted yet. And over all 15 accepted trades, 2 of the 5 most “lopsided” ones were let through.
  2. There are four trades (6, 7, 9, 14) that look significantly more “even”: all had player value discrepancies < 4. And all were vetoed.

For a league that claimed to want to “preserve balance” and “prevent lopsided trades,” they’re either lying (entirely plausible) or just terrible at what they say they’re trying to do (highly likely). While this did confirm the subjective nature of what is an “even” or “lopsided” trade, and also confirmed that a league-voted decision provides no consistency in what’s allowed/vetoed, it didn’t explain why certain trades were vetoed and others weren’t. Was the inefficacy of the veto system purely random? Or could its ineptitude be explained?

To get a deeper look into this phenomenon of apparent inconsistency, and whether it was actually random, I plotted each side of a trade on the following graph. Each point shows the value of the players a team is trading away (x-axis) and the net gain (difference between the sum-value of players they get and the players they shipped away) they get from the trade. If the league’s veto system was effective & consistent, you might expect to see something like this:

No matter how high or low the value of players being traded, if the league was out to prevent lopsided trades, trades close to the x-axis would be allowed, and trades would be vetoed more often the farther away they got from an “even exchange.” Unsurprisingly, that was not the case. What we saw instead was the following:

Graphical chaos. Lets first look at when player values are between 0–50. Again, contrary to what you might expect, the league consistently vetoed some of the more even trades and allowed some of the more lopsided ones. But that’s not the most important thing to recognize here. If you look at trades involving player packages with value exceeding 50, you’ll see 9 points, all vetoed, across the entire spectrum of net gain. This tells us that no matter how “even” or “lopsided” a trade might be, if a trade involves big players or lots of talent, the league indiscriminately vetoes. That’s not preventing collusion, that’s strategy. It proves that people wield the veto to prevent teams from breaking out or to prevent large names from being dealt.

While that’s highly suggestive, I won’t quite call it incriminating (yet). But I also had a sneaking suspicion that the league was especially unfair to trades that sought to flip depth for consistency. After having been denied the chance to exchange the depth I so tactfully acquired through draft/waivers into upgraded pieces for my starting lineup, I realize this could have been me just being salty. So let’s see what the numbers have to say.

To measure this, I calculated that average change in value-per-player resulting from a trade. For example: If I exchange 4 players with a total value of 40 (average = 10) for 2 players with a total value of 38 (average=19), that seems like a decent trade. 40 and 38 are not that far apart. But in a league that frowns on capitalism, surely they would frown upon me upgrading from an average player value of 10 to an average player value of 19, right? If you answered yes, you answered correctly:

Again, we see that the league is pretty inept at judging “fair” trades, but this graph is even more telling of another trend. It doesn’t really matter if the trade is highly “fair” (close to y-axis) or highly “lopsided” (far-right). If your trade offered a net difference in average player value above 4, it was dead on arrival regardless of how “even” it was. Translated to fantasy football speak: if the league sees a team taking advantage of supply & demand, using their depth to ship fantasy points spread out across multiple players in exchange for fantasy points concentrated on fewer players, they will veto. When GMs negotiate deals that can upgrade both starting lineups, teams wield the veto as a way to prevent those two teams from getting better.

Insubordinate and Churlish indeed. At this point, I think we’ve addressed question 1 from earlier. There absolutely are certain types of trades the league vetos more than others. They veto trades that involve big talent, and they veto trades where a deep team ‘consolidates’ their talent to allow a struggling team to fill out a roster. Both occur regardless of how “fair” or “lopsided” the trade really might be. So let’s put to bed the notion that the veto is about fairness; it’s about strategy.

So now we have to address question number 2. Does the league target individuals and disproportionately veto their trades? I poked around some but could find nothing conclusive; this one is a lot fuzzier when it comes to the numbers. With only 15 trades, breaking it up by individual doesn’t offer much cumulative insight. That being said, the league’s tendency to veto certain types of trades certainly leads to stonewalling GMs who gravitate towards those strategies. Teams who trade more will be vetoed more, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the league is out to get them. Teams who try blockbuster deals seem to be vetoed more, but that doesn’t mean the league is out to get them either. It may not be the individual the league attacks, but due the bias of their vetoes outline above, if you’re a crafty GM who isn’t afraid to deal big names, and looks to take advantage of supply & demand, it’ll sure feel like it.

This one’s for all you Fizdales who keep asking for the numbers

I realize that even this appeal to logic may not sway my league members from their crooked ways. Surely, they’ll criticize my choice of basing my analysis on one set of rankings which they might not agree with. But isn’t that kind of the point? How can you accurately assess fairness in a world of fantasy football with so many interpretations of value? My analysis, while clearly supporting my previous piece exposing the league’s corruption, further illustrates two main points:

  1. If it wasn’t clear before that the veto is used as a competition-restricting strategy, it should be now. If you still disagree, please scroll to the top of the page and start over. The numbers don’t lie.
  2. If you’ve made it this far, and you’re still delusional enough to think that it’s the league’s job to determine the “fairness” of a trade, the numbers show that the league is absolutely awful at it. Like get-you-fired-if-it-was-your-job bad. The league’s decisions have been contradictory to what they claim to support, and simply ineffective in the role they claim these decisions play. Find another way to enforce this “fairness” you cling to so dearly, but don’t pretend like this is a good way to do it.

You communists may disagree with my emotional pleas, but I don’t see how you can argue with the cold facts I’ve outlined above. To the commish, eliminate the league veto, open up the market, let teams play fantasy football, and listen to Coach Boone:

Let the boys play.