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In scouring the strategy and decision-making side of fantasy baseball for potential areas of improvement, we have now arrived in the land of draft setting. In making this definition up in order to fit the points I am trying to make in the rest of the article, we can break draft setting into two parts: draft medium (in-person or online) and competition (familiars or strangers). The draft setting matters, particularly how we view and know our competition, because the way in which we perceive our decisions will be perceived by others will often influence the decisions we make. As we have mentioned about other decisions, these factors should not matter when we make decisions in an auction or draft, but, alas, they do.

This is not something that only happens to your average fantasy baseball participant, such as me, this is something that happens to the experts too. In discussing the results of his NL Tout auction, Mike Gianella messaged me the following:

“I find that we get sucked into conventional wisdom and would rather follow the folly of the crowd than trust our own insights.”

(Note: put this quote sans its first three words on a poster with a picture of an antelope straying from the herd, contract to have multiple posters made, sell the posters, and multiple dollars might be made).

This more likely to happen in in-person drafts and drafts with “familiars” because we know that just as how the decisions our competitors make shape our opinion of them, the decisions we make will shape their opinion of us. There are both positive and negative consequences of this herd mentality and we will take a look at both. We will then take a look at what we should learn from this phenomenon and how we can possibly improve future behavior. We start with the bad.

The Bad

Mike, regarding his previous quote, had noticed that this had happened to him in past expert league auctions, in leagues where he highly respected the opinions and skills of his competitors. This behavior is not a “Mike thing;” rather, it is a “person thing.” Just as we tend to be more careful and self-deprecating the smarter we perceive our audience to be, I (like Mike did in the above quote) find that we tend to be more consensus-seeking in our decisions the better we know our competition and the more highly we think of our competition.

If you have been reading along, your refined decision-making-folly pallet will note the bold flavor of defensive decision making in this behavior from nose to palate to finish. If you have not been doing so, then please know that we follow the Gerd Gigerenzer definition of defensive decision making around these parts, that definition being “a person or group ranks option A as the best for the situation, but chooses option B to protect itself in case something goes wrong.” At its root, the negative consequence is that we allow consensus to stand in the way of analysis. Instead of trusting our (hopefully) analysis-based valuations, we substitute the wisdom of the crowd. What follows are some examples (symptoms of the aforementioned root cause):

  • Avoiding the player that is falling in your draft because “if everyone else is out on that player, then I would be wise to avoid that player too.”
  • Joining in on a closer run because of the same logic in the previous point
  • Avoiding going all the way to your bid price on a player because a similar player went cheaper (note: if the player that was already selected went at a discount, you should actually be willing to spend more on subsequent players as there should be inflation taking place (or it will take place at some point))

There are probably other examples, but we get the gist. Moreover, we know the feeling—the hesitation just as you are about to decide on something that you thought you were certain of previously. While this can lead to suboptimal decision making as seen above, it can also, if we have time, improve our decision making.

The Maybe Good

Crowds, crowdsourcing, or wisdom of the crowds, whatever we want to call it, can help improve our decision-making. The issue during drafts and auctions is that we often do not have time to properly act on crowd-sourced or, in our case, competition-sourced valuations. A falling player or a closer run should not cause us to change our valuations simply because “hey, crowdsourcing.” For starters, that is defensive decision making as mentioned previously and, secondly, a draft or auction is not a large enough crowd to be super-predictive. Rather, crowd-sourced information from drafts should help us to sharpen our valuations by causing us to do more thorough analysis, by causing us to ask better questions.

An example from a recent draft I participated in might help me illustrate this point. Some background: this was a 15-team dynasty draft and it was almost entirely filled by people who know more about baseball than me. Because this was a slow draft, I had the time to reconsider players as the wisdom of my competition came in. I was happy to take the player that had fallen in some cases (such as Ryan Braun in round 3 or Lance Lynn in round 17), while I was happy to learn something new and pass on certain players (such as Albert Almora, this being an OBP league). I, however, was fortunate because this was a slow draft; I probably would not have been able to update my analysis in time if this had been a non-slow draft or auction. Cool, maybe helpful example, but let us get to more applicable takeaways.

Takeaways

In leagues where we are concerned (whether we want to admit it or not) with how we are perceived by our competition, we need to stick to our valuations and not get pulled into a defensive decision-making trap. While we are always going to second guess our valuations throughout an auction or draft, we need to be able to quickly identify that hesitation as predictive or otherwise disregard it. Given that the former is more likely to be a result of the previously mentioned biases, the best plan is to be as prepared as possible heading into the draft and simply stick to your valuations (obviously updating for inflation/deflation in auctions).

The flipsides of the above leagues are online leagues with strangers, particularly redraft leagues. In these leagues, we are less likely to be affected by the pull of the crowd and less likely improve our decision making from “competition-sourcing.” All in all, this should lead to better decision-making than the converse league settings; however, we can take such isolation too far. At least for me, I often reach for “fun players” in these situations because I do not have the herd keeping me in check (these also tend to be less competitive leagues). Regardless, we need to make sure that “sticking to our valuations” in these leagues is just that and not “sticking to our biases while pretending we are sticking to our valuations.”

Ultimately, if we can know how our decision making is being affected by our league settings, we can hopefully properly offset this phenomenon and improve our process, if only slightly.

Sources:

Gigerenzer, Gerd. Risk Savvy: How to Make Good Decisions. London: Allen Lane, 2014. Print.

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ColKiner
3/26
In the context of an online draft with strangers wouldn't things like the default draft rankings and such drive people more towards the herd behavior in the sense that "I like player B better than player A, but player A is higher up in the rankings so I better take him now and risk not getting B later"?
kvamlnk
3/26
With a draft, isn't the strategy to take the most valuable player who will not be available at your next turn to pick? So you're juggling your valuations vs the crowd's valuations.

Mike Gianella's suggested draft order when mapped to my league, shows 6 closers going in round 4. Historically, that's the round where our run on closers begins. So if your next pick is late in round 5, you could be perfectly rational to grab a closer in round 4 in hopes that a somewhat more highly valued player will still be available in round 5.
jnossal
3/26
Antelopes that get separated from the herd are typically the first to get eaten.
craneplace
3/26
typically(?), probably "more likely." That antelope is probably more likely enjoy more whatever it is they eat too.

Regardless, I think this helps make the point above--that not wanting to stray from the herd stems from a non-analytical part of our brain.
bobbygoode
3/26
Maybe the better example is the one guy at a Nazi rally not ceiling Hitler (famous photo). But then he was probably eaten, too. So never mind. But I get the point.
bobbygoode
3/26
heiling. Damn iPhone spellcheck.
jfranco77
3/27
Very similar to poker. Most players are more conservative playing live, even if they are Mr. All-in whenever they play online.