It’s midseason and we all have some work to do to get our fantasy baseball teams to where they need to be if we are going to maximize our chances of winning. Luckily, we all know what to do: find our weaknesses and the areas where we can improve the most, figure out what we can afford to give up to improve, and then make it happen. We have spent a lot of time discussing why we so often cannot act optimally, why we cannot execute against our strategies or our goals, and how we can take advantage of the instances when our leaguemates fall victims to these obstacles. These discussions always come with some big assumptions: (i) that we are able to find the proper strategy and (ii) that the proper strategy at the point of the discussion will remain the proper strategy. Today we will take a look at these assumptions.
Before we get into process, strategy, and decision making, we should revisit an oft-told fable from my time growing up in this country. Luckily, it is short. It goes something like this,
“NASA/America spent millions of dollars (or some other term to convey a lot of time and/or money) to create a pen that would work in outer space. The Russians, meanwhile, simply brought a pencil.”
Wow! Can you believe the myopia of America’s technological culture at the time? And how about the moxie of the Russians? Wow.
The point of all this, of course, is that while intelligence, creativity, complexity, and sophistication usually get the spot light, a big part of problem solving is how we frame the problem. Put differently, our approach to strategy and problem solving is crucial.
So what does this have to do with trying to improve our teams in-season? The solution to our problem, to maximizing our teams’ chances of winning, is often too clear to us. I am going to assume here on this internet that I am not the only one who has spent too much time and energy trying to trade for that one player or with that one leaguemate only to be outflanked by an opponent who make a different trade—a trade that was obvious (and often optimal) in hindsight, but which I did not see because I framed my problem differently. Worse is that this problem also manifests itself on the waiver wire or FAAB spending, where we might spend all our moves searching for whatever is “needed”, whether it be steals or strikeouts or something else, only to miss out on larger gains in categories to which we were not paying as close.
In Seth Godin’s “Seth’s Blog,” in a blog post titled “There is more than solution to your problem (and your problem is real),” Godin writes, “Falling in love your solution makes it incredibly difficult to see its flaws, to negotiate with people who don't agree with you, to find an even better solution. “ This is the obvious (and previously mentioned) problem with how we tend to strategize mid-season.
Interesting, but we knew and discussed this. More interestingly and not previously discussed is what Godin lists as “challenge two,” which he explains as our denial of any problem (or problem in need of solving) that we did not already discover. In fantasy baseball, this is the quick and/or hostile dismissal of a trade offer for a type of player we did not think we needed; “why would I need another of that type of player?” “How can I afford to give up Player X?” These are the kind of offers we complain to our friends about; “does Leaguemate X think I am that much of an idiot?”
But of course, as sure as we are about our particular strategy in the moment, our strategy often turns out to be suboptimal. Sure they might be good, but optimal is a high mountain to climb. Sure variability plays a large role in us not winning our league any given year, but given our tendency to blame bad luck when we fail (while giving ourselves the credit when we succeed), it is likely that we are not paying enough attention to or being honest enough with ourselves when looking at our role in our losses.
Usually the team that wins a league does not deploy the strategy we would have recommended or employed ourselves. That’s okay and that’s how competition works. We do ourselves no favors, though, when assigning those successes to luck or the ever popular “they just drafted well” or “they picked up Players X and Y” or “they got the good side of that ridiculous trade with Team Z.”
So we should do a better job analyzing our process in the offseason, but we know that already. No article needed. The more interesting takeaway for me is what we can do to improve our chances in-season. And this brings us back to Godin’s “challenge two”. Instead of dismissing any trade talk or suggestion that deviates from our strategy, we should use those as opportunities to take a step back and analyze our strategy. Is there now a better strategy available since last this plan was formulated? Are there new trade partners or targets available? Are there now bigger opportunities on which to capitalize?
We need to ask these questions more frequently in order to get the best answers, but we’ll never get there unless we are willing to admit that we don’t have all the answers or at least the answer. Back to Godin,
“But of course, the problem is real. The dissatisfaction or inefficiency or wrong direction isn't going to go away merely because we deny it.
It's amazing how much we can get done when we agree to get something done. “
So this season, let us all endeavor to try to get the right something done rather trying to get done what we thought we should do.
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