Why some fantasy players might have taken the "don't pay for saves" mantra too far.
Like many, I have been dreading relief pitcher week. I would call closers my fantasy baseball Achilles heel, but that would be understating my other flaws. For years now, we have heard experts say, “Don’t pay for saves.” What these experts really meant by this sentiment is either (i) that we should not overpay for saves or (ii) that the (fantasy baseball) market was overvaluing saves.
While closers are still overvalued in some leagues, the closer market has corrected itself in many. Additionally, there appears to be some overcorrection happening—some owners end up avoiding saves all together. This can be a profitable strategy if the market is overvaluing saves, but it can also be a decision-making crutch for avoiding the most volatile position. If it is the latter (as it was for me last season), then we are likely to miss out on good values in the closer market and unnecessarily handicap our teams. While the majority of fantasy baseball participants are not undervaluing saves, this article is for those, like me, who have done so and are at risk of doing so in the future. We will take a look at how we came to do so and how we can hopefully overcome this weakness.
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Thinking about how the Phillies think about trading Cole Hamels.
To answer the question in the title, I do not know how the Phillies are framing the decision to trade Cole Hamels. We do know, however, how people frame decisions when facing risk and uncertainty—both of which the Phillies face with Hamels. Our risk-averse nature often drives the way we make decisions, but the way we frame decisions and consequent risk can often lead us to very different decision outcomes. Depending on how the Phillies frame their decision, both trading him now (ensure they get something back) or waiting for an elite return (ensure that they “get this one right”) can be viewed as the risk-averse decision. The hope (for Phillies fans) is that the Phillies are framing the decision simply as trying to maximize their return while taking all risks into account. That said, we will take a look at the ways people err when facing similar decisions and whether the Phillies are (or appear to be) falling into similar decision-making traps.
The Problem with Fuzzy Probabilities
Before we go any further it should be noted that we are starting with a premise that Cole Hamels must be traded by the Phillies eventually. An analyst or two out there might disagree with this premise, but given the Phillies' place in the competitive landscape, Hamels is worth less to them than to almost any other team in major-league baseball. So, given this starting point, questions like: How valuable will Cole Hamels be over the next four years? How valuable will the prospects get in return be? are irrelevant. All that matters is whether the Phillies can get a better return for Hamels in the future (spring training, offseason, etc.) than they can get for him now; and whether that better return is worth the risk inherent in waiting.
Why our risk-averse nature sometimes leads us to scan past players we should be selecting.
Every year I look back on the season and say, “How did I miss on that guy?” Unfortunately, I always end up asking this question about multiple players after each season. I am going to venture a guess that I am not alone in experiencing this. That said, it is often a good thing that we miss on some out of nowhere players; to quote Kathryn Schulz’s excellent Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin Error, “being wrong is often a side effect of a system that is functioning exactly right.” In other words, when dealing with an uncertain future, good process can still lead to misses—to bad results. Missing on Danny Santana posting a .405 BABIP or Michael Brantley posting a HR:FB rate nearly double his previous career high (by “miss,” we mean not paying a draft or auction day price for these breakouts) is actually a positive for our process rather than a knock against it. (Note: If we missed for predictable reasons, then that would be a knock on our process.)
However, these misses—the bad beats, the good process-bad outcomes—are not the misses I was talking about earlier. Rather, I was talking about the misses that should have been avoided. More specifically, the ambiguity effect causes us to miss out on players each year. Below we will take a look at the ambiguity effect, its different forms, and some strategies to battle it.
So how were the Padres—a team that was thought to be relatively void of playoff-level talent—able to position themselves as playoff contenders at such a seemingly low price? They did so by being opportunistic and leveraging depth, which they were able to do by finding motivated sellers and acquiring value instead of focusing on need.
It being outfield week and all, it should be said that outfielders are great. Maybe they were not the best at handling groundballs and making quick, accurate throws growing up, but the reason the majority of them are still employed by MLB teams is because they can sure hit. Consequently, outfield is usually our most productive fantasy baseball position and the good ones are really good—of the 73 players (pitchers and hitters) to earn $22 or more in mixed leagues last year, more than a third (25) were outfielders. Because our teams are likely to contain multiple productive outfielders, we often consider mix when choosing between outfielders or top hitters for that matter. Getting production in each category is important in category leagues, but the more interesting question regarding player mix is how we should be balancing risk across our team. If you have been reading along, you know that our goal is going to be to select the players with the highest average return or the ones that give us the best chance at winning. However, we know that this goal is a tricky one to nail down and we can certainly benefit by discussing the intricacies of these decisions and why making the best decision can prove difficult. More specifically, we will discuss the implications of portfolio diversification and our perceptions of and attitudes towards risk.
A look at how you should act in your auctions based on your league-mates' view of price inflation.
In a recent podcast, I was asked, among many other questions on strategy and decision-making, if I had any nomination strategies or suggestions for auctions. Being a rookie podcast guest I probably stumbled over my words, but I was trying to give the following answer:
“I usually nominate players that I am not interested in and sprinkle in players that I am interested in. The idea is to make sure your league-mates do not know which players you are in or out on based on the fact that you nominated the player. This helps a lot at the end of auctions, when you are more likely to wind up with a player you nominated. It is along the same lines of being an aggressive bettor in poker in that your indiscriminate bets make it tough to ever put you on a hand.”