March 20, 2014
Beating the Success Trap
As drafts and auctions approach, we are going to be making many decisions. Depending on your metaphysical or philosophical views, these decisions may or may not be important. Removing these views from the equation, these decisions will be important in determining the success of your fantasy baseball team. In general, we make decisions based on the following criteria: (i) what was successful and (ii) what was unsuccessful. We avoid doing the latter, while repeating or trying to repeat the former. Success is good. The goal of our game is to enjoy the most success possible. The problem with success is that it can preclude future success. In the world of fantasy baseball, success does so largely in two ways:
1. Success puts the focus of analysis on results rather than process (assumptions, analysis, strategy, and execution)
“Success brings positive reinforcement, and we easily leap to justify the expectation that past success predicts an ongoing record of brilliance…Such delusional thinking is not all bad. It provides a number of benefits: confidence in the face of risk or danger; and blindness to doubt and the possibility of failure. If we weren’t so selectively perceptive, we might just stay in bed all day…These delusions shift from assets into liabilities only when we need to change in order to move to a new level of performance.”
This guy Marshall gets it. Making decisions based on past successes is easy in fantasy baseball, but not necessarily optimal. Why? Because we play a game of probabilistic outcomes, meaning that even inside straights hit one in every 11.75 times, regardless of whether you had good or bad pot odds. When making decisions this year, we will rely on decisions that “hit” last season, rather than decisions that gave us the best possible odds. More succinctly, we will choose results over process. Using the “because it worked last year” reasoning, we tend to make statements such as “I’m targeting young arms late,” “I’m keeping Adrian Beltre at $33,” and “I’m drafting starters based on BB% and K%.” If this is done based solely on past success, then this is analyzing results. What we should be doing is analyzing assumptions, analysis, strategy, and execution. This means asking questions about what drove these results. Why was I successful drafting young arms? Why was keeping Adrian Beltre at $33 the right decision last year? Do I face the same situation this year? How did drafting starters based on BB% and K% affect my draft? Did I actually execute this strategy?
I know, I know, you all are already doing this. But that is the greatest trick our mind plays; it tells us that it is not taking shortcuts when that is exactly what it is built to do. While we may do our due diligence most of the time, success often causes us to take shortcuts. This is why we tend to end up with teams that all look the same with many of the same players on every team regardless of our competitors or league format. If there is one Kool-Aid we love to drink, it is our own. But enough with the flaws already, how are we going to make sure we do not fall victim to our past successes during our next decision or set of decisions? We can do so through an improved process. Below are a bad and a good process. I recommend the good process.
Pretty slick, right? But how can we actually apply “The Good” process? How should we go about analyzing assumptions, analysis, strategy, and execution? We can do so by asking questions. I try to ask what I did, what the consequences were, and what the alternatives were. More specifically, I ask the questions below:
One last note on this point: make sure to analyze the relationships between your assumptions, analysis, strategy, and execution. How did the assumptions you made about closer runs impact your ability to execute your strategy? How did your playing time analysis impact your strategy and did that give you the best possible odds? It is tempting to jump right into rankings, valuations, and roster moves when the season ends, but analyzing your process can help you avoid the results-process trap. This will help you stay one step ahead of the competition, which brings us to the last major pitfall of fantasy baseball success.
2. Success causes blindness toward competitive response