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February 18, 2015 6:00 am

The Quinton: The Players We Overlook and the Ambiguity Effect


Jeff Quinton

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.

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Ben and Sam answer listener emails about switching positions between batters, specialist scouts, risk-averse skippers, a team of top prospects, and more.

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