“If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.” –Woody Allen
Per Mr. Allen, God finds our ability (or lack of ability) to forecast an uncertain future hilarious or at least laughable. And while this God might be laughing on the outside, it is not unreasonable to assume that this God is probably sad on the inside because no one will play fantasy baseball with a precognizant being.
The point of all this, however, is that playing fantasy entails predicting an uncertain future which entails being wrong with regularity. Luckily, this is fine because there ain’t no better way to do it. Being wrong becomes “not fine” once we let it affect our future decisions. Yes, we should learn from our mistakes, but a mistake such as following a bad process, ignoring critical information, or allowing our biases to creep into our analyses is different than getting bad results from good process. Overreacting to these bad beats—in other words, making changes when our process was sound—is a cardinal sin of periodic strategic planning and something we see too frequently in fantasy sports.
This brings us to our third basemen—specifically, that the top half of the position was down last season. Here is a list of players who provided $10 or more of excess value over their prices in mono-league auctions: Lonnie Chisenhall, Trevor Plouffe, and Conor Gillaspie in the AL, and Todd Frazier, Casey McGehee, Juan Uribe, and Luis Valbuena in the NL. Of this group, only Frazier and maybe Plouffe was a top 10 only-league player at the position heading into the year. This means that unless you waited on third base and picked the right one of the seven guys from the above, you either got back fair return on your investment or you got burned. This down year is even more evident in mixed leagues, where being a happy owner either meant drafting Frazier, getting okay return on your investment (avoiding the guys who really crashed), or making a savvy move on the waiver wire.
Question: What is the number of words it took Jeff to get to the, “So what?” portion of the article?
Alex T: Oh, that’s right.
The problem here is that it becomes easy for us to rationalize “waiting on third base” as the best strategy heading into redraft and re-auctions this season. Add in an up year from first baseman in 2014 to go along with all the good pitchers (which should really be a reason to wait on pitchers) and there is even more ammunition to convince ourselves to deploy a strategy that matches last season’s results. And this, “[deploying] a strategy that matches last season’s results,” or result-driven strategy, is the core of our problem. You have definitely already come to this conclusion, but it will be typed so that it can be in typed word, and that is that 2015 will not play out just like 2014. Consequently, we should not be letting results drive our strategy. Given all this, let us take a look at why we are drawn to result-driven strategy and then some more optimal strategies.
Result-Driven Strategy, a Siren’s Song
As we work on our 2015 draft and auction preparation, it becomes very tempting to employ strategies that would have worked last season. This is fine and even optimal if there was something or some things that we were not accounting for beforehand or if something has truly changed. However, the reason why we tend to employ strategies that would have worked last season often has nothing to do with our process and everything to do with how we react to results. More specifically, the strategies we often employ are the result of our abilities to imagine our predictions and therefore ourselves being wrong. In Katheryn Schultz’s great Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error, Schutlz writes that, “the questions we ask ourselves in the aftermath of error: What was I thinking? How could I have done that?” Because we feel that it is important to answer these questions (we place value on others thinking that we are smart (whatever that means) and we place value on being perceived as logically consistent) and because we will inevitably be wrong when playing fantasy baseball as noted above, we make decisions that we think can answer these questions. Example:
Even though David Wright has fallen in our draft to the point that we can acquire him at what we perceive to be a discount, we pass on him (probably out of fear) and rationalize doing so by saying that we are “sticking to our draft strategy.” Then, we end up reaching for Aramis Ramirez in order to avoid taking Nick Castellanos. (Note: If you think that Ramirez is better than Wright, then this example will not illustrate the point that is trying to be made. In this case, please substitute the names of different players.)
Ultimately, the issues with result-reactive strategy is two-fold: first, given our disdain for being wrong, we are more likely to react to what we think is a trend, but is really just variation (variation that we were on the wrong side of the previous season). Secondly, these strategies tend to limit our strategic agility (as seen in the example above), causing us to miss opportunities and pay premiums elsewhere.
Solutions: Process-Driven and Game-Theory-Driven Strategies
As mentioned earlier in the article and in other articles, we should be analyzing our results only as an output of our process (and we should be doing so even when our results are good). Checking the assumptions in our previous strategies, looking for critical data that we were previously ignoring, auditing our analysis process for biases, and other ways of analyzing process will allow us to refresh our strategies each year with a focus on making better decisions as opposed to making more defensible decisions. Process-driven strategy will also help us with the previously mentioned trend-variation identification.
Lastly, we have game theory-driven strategy, which is really just a really fancy term for zagging or taking the actions of our competitors into account during a draft or auction. Because we have a tendency towards a less agile strategy in result-driven strategy, we should always be reminding ourselves that our strategic assumptions heading into a draft will not always hold true and that we need to be able to pivot when the opportunity presents itself.
Schulz, Kathryn. Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error. New York: Ecco, 2010. Print.