Partaking in mock drafts, like reading and eating fried chicken, is something I both highly recommend and do not participate in as frequently as I would like.
Herb Kelleher, the former CEO of Southwest Airlines, famously (around these parts) said, “We have a strategic plan. It’s called doing things.”
The offseason is great because it is full of possibilities. In our redraft and re-auction leagues, the different ways we can imagine constructing a team is seemingly only constrained by our imagination. In keeper and particularly dynasty leagues, we are more constrained, but certainly not locked into anything. Either way, we spend a lot of time strategizing. We study the ranking, valuation, sleeper, bust, target, and avoid articles. We listen to our favorite podcasts. We compare and consolidate lists. We customize rankings and valuations for the particularities of our leagues. We make Excel files that we feverishly update with each trade, signing, and injury. We then develop strategic plans and contingency plans. We analyze the plans and tinker with them or overhaul them until it is finally draft or auction day. This is the fun stuff and it has the added benefit of being helpful.
As we have discussed before, strategy and analysis are only going to take us as far the assumptions on which they are founded and the ability of the decision maker (us) to execute against the devised strategy. So how do we best test our assumptions and decision-making process? As we quoted Kelleher earlier, “it’s called doing things.” Luckily, strategic planning for fantasy baseball in the offseason has a terrific outlet for doing things: the mock draft.
In my time doing mock drafts, talking with others about mock drafts, and reading others’ analyses of their mock drafts, I have found that most of us use mock drafts for two things: testing different strategies and finding trends. While the whole point of this article is to get us to mock draft more, we should touch on the problematic parts of these two common uses. Really it is only a single problematic part, which is that it is that a mock draft is a single data point. This is problematic because if we liked (or disliked) how a strategy worked in a single mock draft (for example, say taking one elite catcher and one catcher in the last round), there is still no telling if we will like how that strategy works in future drafts because, obviously, drafts are independent. The same thing would go for a trend observed in a single draft or auction. So what to do? To accomplish either of these goals, we must partake in a handful of drafts or auctions (or more) to get an idea of what will likely happen. Moreover, while useful information can be gathered by participating in multiple mock drafts, we need to make sure that what we learn from them are not absolutes, we need to have contingency plans should our actual drafts not unfold like our mock drafts, and we need to make sure to fight against our tendency to overrate the chances of the recent repeating itself. These are obvious disclaimers, but they are important.
A good question right now is, “so why should we be mock drafting then?” An answer to this question is that mock drafts help us test the assumptions we made in our offseason planning sessions and evaluate our decision making process. A good follow up question to ask is “what does that even mean?” In Friday’s article “On Reaching,” I posited that we should always be striving to take the player with the highest expected value. This is nice advice based on theory and advice that we should be able to execute against in theory. In reality, it gets trickier. Let us say for example that our personal valuation has Eric Hosmer slightly ahead of Adrian Gonzalez, but when it comes to our pick and Hosmer is the top available player (again, per our valuations for this example) and Gonzalez is also available, we cannot make ourselves take Hosmer because we might actually like Gonzalez more. In fact, as has happened to me when in this situation, we reframe the decision to look for a player at a different position. Lost in all this has been our primary goal of taking the best player available.
When this happens we need to figure out if we acted sub-optimally because of either (i) cognitive bias or some other decision making obstacle or (ii) that our valuations were incorrect (in this example that Gonzalez should be rated ahead of Hosmer). If it is the former, we need to make ourselves aware of this so that the mistake is not repeated. If it is the latter, we need to adjust our valuations and/or rankings. If this happens in our actual draft or auction, then the benefits of improving our process will not be seen until the following year (or whenever is the draft or auction).
And this, to me, is the real benefit of the mock. While the mock draft and auction are probably overrated in their ability to help us analyze strategy and trend, they are underrated tools for helping us analyze our own biases and decision-making processes without having to pay the price of learning from our mistakes in actual drafts and auctions.
Ultimately, planning and theory are only going to take us so far. We are incredible at deceiving ourselves during the planning process. In Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman writes,
“Amos [Tversky] and I coined the term planning fallacy to describe plans and forecasts that
- are unrealistically close to best case scenarios
- could be improved by consulting the statistics of similar cases”
When heading into a draft or auction, I believe that most of our forecasts “are unrealistically close to best case scenarios” when it comes to our ability to execute against our valuations and strategies. To get better and, more importantly, to get better for this draft or auction (as opposed to the next one), we should participate in mock drafts. Additionally, we should be taking notes about the decisions we make during the mock draft and subsequently analyzing those decisions. While we might never get to be as good at executing against our valuations as we plan to be, we can at least get closer to our expectation by “doing things,” which in this case is doing mock drafts and auctions.
Thank you for reading
This is a free article. If you enjoyed it, consider subscribing to Baseball Prospectus. Subscriptions support ongoing public baseball research and analysis in an increasingly proprietary environment.Subscribe now