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April 16, 2014

Fantasy Freestyle

Fighting Early-Season Confirmation Bias

by Jeff Quinton


The 2014 season is not even 20 games old, but we are already at the height of confirmation bias season. After spending the offseason (or some portion of the offseason) analyzing players for the upcoming season, and after acting on that research and analysis in offseason trades and in our drafts and auctions, we have a strong desire to see a return on the time and effort invested, to see our decisions pan out.

Obviously, it is too early in the season for there to be much, if any, information to actually confirm or disconfirm our assumptions. There really is no short-term risk in seeking this confirmation bias; rather, the danger lies in how seeking confirming information will impact our future decisions. If we continue to ignore information that disconfirms our beliefs (player A is bad because of X), while seeking out information that confirms our beliefs (player X is good because of Y), we will tend to overvalue our players. The more we overvalue our players, the less we will look for opportunities to improve our team and the greater the chances of us passing up or missing opportunities to improve our team. By knowing how we allow ourselves to fall victim to confirmation bias (traps) and with a few tips on how to fight those instincts (solutions), we can free ourselves, at least a little bit, from the downsides of confirmation bias.

Traps (ammunition for confirmation bias)

  1. Information Selection: The research shows that when choosing information to review, we will select, on average, only one piece of disconfirming information for every two pieces of confirming information. This is particularly easy to do when dealing with baseball as there are a hundreds of statistics and figures to choose from to go along with the plethora websites and writers who are producing content on these players. Even when there is no information to confirm our previously held beliefs, we can always use small sample size as an excuse this early in the season.
  2. Small sample size: There is a ton of merit to small sample size, and its virtues are one of the most important parts of being a successful fantasy baseball player. But like any great virtue, it can, and will, be misused as a means, rather than as an end. Small sample size will too often be disregarded when the facts support our beliefs and will too often be used as an excuse when the facts do not support our beliefs.

Not that the human brain needs it, but as seen above, baseball, fantasy baseball, numbers, and the internet provide ample ammunition for us fantasy baseball players to entrap ourselves via confirmation bias. That said, what can we do about it? How can we avid the confirmation bias trap? Dan and Chip Heath discuss how to do so in their excellent book Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work. But I have let the drama build far too long; what do the Heath brothers recommend?

Solutions (how to battle confirmation bias)

  1. Seek disconfirming information: We know from the “traps” section that our quest to find confirming information and avoid disconfirming information is the main reason we fall victim to the confirmation bias. Consequently, the Heath brothers declare that in order to form the most accurate opinions and make the best decisions, we need to actively seek disconfirming information. At first blush, this might seem like overkill, but given that we are fighting human nature, this is a necessity. That giddiness you feel when you find a “your guy is really good” article when scrolling through twitter or going to your one of your favorite websites is what we are combating here. Instead of kicking yourself for overlooking a player’s inability to hit even league average off speed offerings when the season concludes, make sure you are soaking up as much negative information as possible throughout the season. Once we get over the small-sample-size portion of the season, you do not want to be left holding the bag on a guy who you have been wrong on since the beginning, which brings us to our next point.
  2. Distrust your gut: The gut is not objectively bad, but our tendency to overrate the opinion of our gut is, per the research, objectively bad. In other words, the averages or experts are much better predictors than our gut when it comes to advising ourselves. While we are better at giving straightforward advice to others, we tend to let nuance, or confirmation bias disguised as nuance, get in the way of giving advice to ourselves. One of my favorite pieces of advice from Decisive is to give yourself advice as if you were giving it to others. Often this means doing more research and seeing what the numbers say, which means avoiding what our gut says.

The last point I hope to leave with you with is that fighting confirmation bias in order to improve your decision making start from day one, long before you even start making important mid-season decisions. It is almost like training for a marathon, your opinions, like your legs and endurance, need training and honing long before the actual day of the decision or race. Therefore, start seeking that disconfirming information and contesting your gut now, so that you can make the best decisions come May and June.

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<< Previous Article
PECOTA Takes on Prospe... (04/15)
<< Previous Column
Fantasy Article Fantasy Freestyle: Auc... (04/14)
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Fantasy Article Fantasy Freestyle: Rec... (04/17)
Next Article >>
Fantasy Article Deep Impact: Week Two (04/16)

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