Thanks to an annual calendar and our current place on that calendar, we can write sentiments such as, “with 2014 soon coming to an end, baseball looks toward the horizon with excitement, knowing the 2015 season soon approaches.” For the fantasy baseball community, even closer than the actual baseball season comes rankings, sleeper, bust, and strategy season. Continuing this onslaught of excitement is the Positional Series that will be rolled out here at Baseball Prospectus. The plan is that this series will roll out using the same format as last season, just bigger and better. One-year, three-year, and dynasty rankings will be produced, players will be profiled, prospects will be analyzed for fantasy purposes, sleepers and busts will be selected, and relevant strategies will be discussed.
This is a safe place and no one would blame you if you were salivating just a little bit (if more than a little bit, one might consider a shawarma or a handful of almonds) because all this information, content, and analysis sounds like a great way to prepare for the upcoming season. Alas, there is a wrinkle here that once ironed out, should further improve this said preparation; that being what we take away from all this information. The first part—the rankings or how players compare—is obvious. The second and potentially more beneficial part—the thinking behind the rankings and analysis—is not as obvious. Below we will take a look at why we are too likely to get caught up in the former, all while overlooking the latter too frequently. We will also take a look at how to improve these tendencies for this upcoming offseason.
Experts and Crutches
“Do not try to do something that you are not the best at; instead, invest in the [person or company] that is the best.”
This is an inexact quote from a professor teaching business strategy (discussing the topic of competitive advantage), but it also relates to how we use expert information. If we want to make the best decisions, then using the best information and analysis will allow us to do so. We cannot know everything and we cannot know everything the best; thus, knowing who knows better and how to procure that better information will allow us to make better decisions. More than maybe any theory I write about, this is one that I adhere to. Not being a prospect or rankings expert myself, I often reach out to those more knowledgeable than me about the information at hand before providing related analysis to the reader. Moreover, as a fantasy baseball participant, I am always looking for the best experts and information to help me in making better decisions for my own teams.
You get it; if better information or analysis is available, then we are better off consulting it before we make a decision. That said, such information and analysis can often be used as a crutch instead of as a piece of our decision making process. We know that when faced with difficult decisions, we (people) will use heuristics or biases as the basis for our decisions. As someone who has made his fair share of fantasy sports decisions (draft picks, auction bids, trades, waiver claims, etc.), I know that one of these defaults, especially come crunch time, are lists and valuations. This is not a critique of lists, they certainly beat our biases, but that is not to say that we—the consumers of this information—do not fall into certain traps when using this information. More than anything, we are likely to ignore the contextual factors of our specific league or situation. Consequently, it is important to translate the expert information to our specific situations well before decision making time.
Learning from Process
Doing such translation makes for a nice piece of advice in a fantasy baseball article on the surface, but it fails to address how to do so. Luckily, our fine editors have allowed me to write more words explaining just this. As mentioned up top, there is probably just as much, if not more, to be gained by learning from the thought process that leads to the rankings, valuations, and analyses than there is to be learned from the information in those articles. When the very excellent J.P. Breen determines a player to be a “buy” in one of his buyer’s guide articles, he provides a helpful piece of information. However, understanding how J.P. got to that determination will allow us to emulate his process and translate it to our own circumstances for other analyses and consequent decisions. Similarly, while a rankings article is a useful start for our preparation for the upcoming season, listening to the related Flags Fly Forever or TINO podcast, where the producers of this information discuss the thought process that went into their analyses can be just as helpful as the actual content itself. Why? Because if we know why the rankings turned out the way they did, we can then better translate those rankings to our own situations. This point might be getting a bit belabored, but I am doing so because this is especially important in fantasy baseball where league setting and structure can vary greatly across leagues. The quicker and more deftly we can deploy the processes being used by experts for our own purposes the less likely we are to miss out on trade, draft, or auction opportunities and the more likely we are to properly take contextual factors into account.
Differentiation through Process
The last point about learning from process as opposed to strictly using information (that being rankings, valuations, and determinations such as bust, sleeper, etc.), is that process can allow us to differentiate our decision making from our league-mates. With the internet, there is very little information asymmetry; therefore, we are unlikely to gain an advantage by knowing about a player that no one else knows about. Now we can certainly out-hustle our league-mates in certain situations, but usually not in the most impactful situations such as drafts and auctions. The result of all of this is that if we can differentiate ourselves by applying the processes of experts to our own leagues, we are going to be more likely to find advantages that our competitors do not see.
That said, get excited for the upcoming positional series (I am) and make sure to pay attention to the processes that are responsible for the excellent content that we are about to consume.