Don’t go on tilt

While the importance of stats is always emphasized by fantasy sports writers, there is more to fantasy success than stats alone. Managing your fantasy team also involves managing your own emotions. You can’t afford to go on tilt.

Going on tilt is a poker term used to describe someone who is letting their bad luck affect the way they play. For example, if someone has lost a bunch of hands in a row, or suffered one bad beat, he or she might start playing recklessly.

Let me show you how this applies to fantasy sports by sharing a story from my own experience. This is a story of how I went on tilt in my fantasy football league in September 2018. Hopefully, you will learn what not to do from this story.

As the curtain went up on the NFL season, I drew the No. 1 pick in my league. That year, the choice was between Le’Veon Bell and Todd Gurley. These two were the best, but I took Bell because he had more touches than Gurley the previous year.

It’s been well chronicled why Bell held out and why he never reported to the Steelers.  When I realized my first pick wasn’t going to play in the opening week, I made a smart move. At that time, I didn’t realize just how smart it was.

On the Wednesday before week one, I made the decision to pick up James Conner, Bell’s backup. He was available on the waiver wire, and I added him. I only wish I could go back in time and stop there. If only I had known.

If only I had known how Bell’s handcuff was going to play like an elite running back until he was injured late in the season. But I didn’t know. Worse, yet, I didn’t think it through. After a restless night, I traded Conner away one day after I got him.

The trader on the other end of the deal was my own flesh and blood, my son. Nathan could see my emotions had kicked in as soon as Bell failed to report to training camp. He knew his father, the defending league champion, was on tilt.

While anger is usually the emotion that puts the poker player on tilt, fear is often the emotion that puts the fantasy player on tilt. It was only the first week, but I feared my season would be ruined if Bell held out the entire season.

Nathan told me he would trade for Bell. Like me, he knew I owned a rapidly depreciating asset, and he wasn’t going to pay top dollar. Nathan is a risk-taker by nature, and a smart trader. He would give up his RB1, but it would cost me.

Nathan would trade me Christian McCaffrey for Bell, but I had to throw in Conner and Devante Adams. In retrospect, I can justify trading Bell and Conner for McCaffrey. But putting Adams in the deal was a fear-driven decision.

I knew how good Adams was when I traded him. He was my No. 2 pick, and he went on to lead the league that year in fantasy points. But it gets worse. Later, I actually traded McCaffrey back to Nathan for David Johnson.

In summary, I managed to trade the top fantasy back (McCaffrey), the top receiver (Adams) and one of the top backs (Conner) for David Johnson and some other players that I later dropped. This is what a man can do on tilt.

Going on tilt is more likely to happen in football than baseball because there are fewer games. A typical fantasy football regular season is only thirteen games, while a baseball season can involve as many as 162 games.

But it can still happen. For example, I drafted Jose Ramirez in the first round on one of my teams last year. After an MVP-caliber year in 2018, the Indians third baseman was simply awful in the first three months of 2019.

How awful? Ramirez hit just .218 in April, May and June, with a mere seven home runs. As the season neared the halfway point, I was seriously contemplating trading him for whatever I could get for him. Anything.

Ramirez put me on a tilt, and the only reason I didn’t offer him up in a trade was because he had 18 first-half steals. I had hoped Ramirez would be a five-category stud, and he had turned into a one-category dud.

But that one category was stolen bases, and stolen bases are hard to come by in fantasy. There was another reason why I didn’t trade him. I had paid top dollar for Ramirez, and his trade value last June was low.

I love to buy low and sell high. After all, I’ve been a financial advisor for thirty years, and I’ve traded individual stocks. Buy low, sell high has always been my mantra – in playing the stock market and fantasy.

Please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying here about buying low and selling high. This is a principle to live by but not a principle to enslave you. On rare occasions, there’s a time to cut your losses and sell low.

In the case or Ramirez, I held him – and I was glad I did. The slugger looked like his 2018 self in July and August, batting .327, with a 1.105 OPS before he fractured a bone in his hand and missed September.

There’s a lesson to be learned in the two examples I have cited. Things are seldom as good as they seem, and they are seldom as bad as you might fear. Regression works both ways, so keep things in perspective.

If you are going to be successful in fantasy, you must learn how to control your emotions. This principle can be applied to fantasy, stocks and playing poker. When something goes wrong, stop and breathe. And wait.

This also applies to life. It’s inevitable in your life that you will face adversity at some point. If this hasn’t happened to you yet, just wait. How you respond to that adversity will determine the trajectory of your future.

My years of experience has taught me the importance of not going on tilt in life. If you expect some things to go wrong, you have already baked that into the equation. This is called managing your expectations.

Do you remember Murphy’s Law? Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. Murphy was a pessimist, for sure. I prefer the late Benjamin Disraeli’s advice. “I am prepared for the worst but hope for the best.”

Please follow me on Twitter @ThomasLSeltzer1


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