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We have spent a lot of time on these pages discussing strategy, human behavior, and process as they relate to fantasy baseball. We have learned about likely decision making pitfalls, relevant cognitive biases, game theory as it relates to strategy, negotiation, and different ways to parse process and results. We have, hopefully, covered the introductory and the advanced with both breadth and depth.

This is all great and it puts us in a position to make better decisions in order to give us better odds of winning, but there is a but. The “but” is that we are likely to encounter certain scenarios the majority of the time, which makes us unlikely to properly adjust to unfamiliar or low-frequency scenarios.

We are likely to face the same situations over and over again (punting saves, streaming pitchers, scrounging for middle-infield talent, fielding trades for excess catching talent, etc.) for several reasons. First, we tend to play in leagues with the same opponents every year, which results in reoccurring patterns because of individual tendencies and risk tolerances- Secondly, and maybe more influentially, is the combination of choice-supportive bias, which causes us to remember our past decisions as better than they actually were, and the advocacy effect, which is the tendency for a person’s opinions and values to become stronger and more extreme as she or he advocates for those opinions and values. The result of this combination is that we often repeat past decisions as a way of validating our past decision to ourselves. Consequently, it is very common to see the same teams constantly trading up in the minor-league draft, paying a premium for saves, or looking to trade for stolen bases at the deadline.

Because we are likely to fall into these likely scenarios, we tend to be unfamiliar with the unlikely scenarios. Theoretically, this should not be a problem because we are learned on process and decision making traps and will therefore seamlessly adjust our strategy, process, and/or decisions in order to handle the new context. In reality, this does not happen. When context changes, we are very likely to stick with what we know; we are likely to stick with what was previously optimal because that is what we trust. Here is an example about my own flesh and blood:

Since I started cooking about eight years ago, I had used old, dull knives. As a result, I had “dull-knife habits”—I was not disciplined in keeping fingers curled during chopping, often sneaking a fingertip or two into the contents to consolidate what needed to be chopped. These fingertips were not misplaced because if my knives were to contact them, they would not do much damage.

Then I got married and was lucky enough to receive a new, sharp chef’s knife as a wedding gift. Excited about the opportunity to use my new knife, I got chopping without adjusting my process (dull-knife habits) to the new context.

Eight to 10 rocks of my new chef’s knife through a bunch of baby spinach leaves later, and one-eighth of an inch of the tip of left index finger had been chopped off.

Here is an example from my 10-team, AL-only, 5×5, keeper league:

After two seasons of going for it, consistently flipping prospects for “win-now” talent and chasing (unsuccessfully) the top team, I was in rebuild mode two and half months into the 2014 season. Consequently, I had several valuable minor leaguers and high minor league draft picks entering this season. As luck would have it, my team got off to a hot start and I was back in win-now mode. The difference this time was that I was now leading instead of chasing.

Even though I had a large, probably uncatchable lead, I traded away some top minor league talent (mostly Yoan Moncada, if you must know), in order to protect a lead that probably did not need protecting.

So we get it, being unable to adjust to the unfamiliar is a likely mistake and often a costly one (just ask my left index finger). So how do we beat this trap? How do we adjust to a change in context?

1. Know your history

In order to properly account for or counter our own tendencies, we need to be able identify them. Just as we need to know the behavior-based reasons behind our biases, we need to know the context-driven reasons behind our tendencies. If understanding the history of my knives and consequent habits had been a part of my decision process or, more seriously, if I had noted that my past decisions in my AL-only league had come during different circumstances, I would probably have a better inventory of both Band-Aids and minor leaguers right now. It is tempting to just get right into the analysis of players, competitive landscape, and trade market, but we can make better decisions by first reviewing the relevant history.

2. Know the histories of others

Knowing our past tendencies help, but it does not get us all the way there. It shows us how our process might be misaligned, but it does not necessarily tell us how to recalibrate, especially when facing a new situation. Luckily, even if we have not faced a particular situation, it is likely that someone else in our league has at some point. Now they might not have acted optimally when in a situation similar to ours, but at this point it is on us to be able to use our skills in parsing process and results as well as knowing the tendencies of our opponents.

Maybe fully taking into account the impact of history and context was already a part of your process. If so, then that is great. If it was not, as with my process, then we can hopefully begin to do so and further improve our processes.

Thank you for reading

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pobothecat
9/28
Aaaak!
adrock
9/29
Great column, and this has been a great series all year.

I hope you were able to get your fingertip sewn back on.