“The only journey is the one within.” –Rainer Marie Rilke

I found the above via the Google search: a journey quote. Another quote I found via the same google search follows:

“A journey is best measured in friends, not miles.” –Tim Cahill

Each offseason, each draft, each auction is a journey of sorts; they start and they end. Here at The Quinton, we have been preparing for these upcoming journeys. Our goal, to acquire the best collection of players possible as allowed by our leagues’ constructs in order to give ourselves the best odds of winning, is easy to type, but difficult to enact. In order to improve our chances of achieving our goal, we have discussed various ways we hope to improve our decision-making. As we try to stay focused on taking the best players with the hope that our competition allows other, irrelevant factors influence their decision making, our teams are likely going to be heavy on players that are being passed up for those irrelevant factors. Because our competition will care about things like positional scarcity, fit, and tiers, because they will (hopefully) be more likely to answer easier, simpler questions when faced with uncertainty and difficult choices, it is likely that we will end up taking a lot of the superior outfielders and corner infielders that they leave for us (and, as discussed during second base week, given the proficiency of this year’s crop of second baseman, we very well may end up with a bunch of second basemen). The consequence of this is that it is very likely that we will, in drafts, be the last or close to the last team to choose a shortstop (or a catcher for that matter); in auctions, we will likely spend the least amount of our auction budget on these positions.

This is, beyond being a strained attempt to tie back into the article’s opening, the less fun part of our journey—once we’ve gathered all those friends with the highest possible expected value at any given juncture, we usually end up taking what is left over at the less prolific position such as shortstop and catcher. While ending up with the worst starting catcher or shortstop sounds like an inherently bad outcome, it is very likely not so because auctions and drafts are designed to create parody. In drafts, every team only has one pick per round, meaning each team must take lesser players in the late rounds. In auctions, as we know, every team has the same budget, meaning teams that spend on the best, and thus most expensive players, are forced to acquire a lot of cheaper, and thus lesser players. This is all to say that selecting not one of the best players at a certain position is not in and of itself a bad thing, it just means (or at least it should mean) that your team will be superior to your competitors’ teams at different positions such as the third or fourth outfielder, a corner or middle infield spot, or, more likely (and hopefully) all of those spots. Put differently, we are betting, because of all of those unimportant factors people allow to affect their decision-making, that the advantages we gain in taking players with the highest possible expected value (regardless of positional scarcity or roster fit) are going to be greater than the advantages our competitors’ teams have over ours at less prolific positions such as catcher and shortstop.

That said, just because we have successfully executed our take-players-with-the-highest-expected-value strategy throughout the beginning and middle of drafts and auctions does not mean we are impervious to making mistakes at the end of auctions. Moreover, when when we are faced with options that seem unsavory or less than ideal, we are prone to certain types of suboptimal decision making. As per usual, we’ll briefly discuss the ways in which we err and then the efforts we can undertake to hopefully err less frequently.

The Errors

We have discussed prospect theory at length previously, but the main take away for today is that when we are faced with options that fall below our expectations, we often choose options that possess an upside that exceeds our expectations even when the odds of that upside are very low and/or when the option possesses significant potential downside. In fantasy baseball, we know exactly what this looks like, it looks like taking Tim Anderson, Dansby Swanson, or Aledmys Diaz over the likes of Elvis Andrus, Marcus Semien, and Brandon Crawford. The first group is enticing because it allows us to dream of a team with a top five player at every position, a dream that the second group does not afford us. If, however, we only cared about (fantasy baseball) upside, Jonathan Villar would be the first shortstop off the both, but we understand that more than just upside should go into these decisions.

Even if we avoid falling victim to prospect theory when faced with lackluster options in the traditional sense (taking a player with the highest upside), we can still reach for upside via alternative means; mainly, we rankings shop. “Rankings shopping” is using various lists in order to find an option that will look like a bargain on a particular set of rankings. Do what? Most of us use a single set of rankings or valuations, often based on a publically published rankings and then adjusted for our personal analyses/findings/likings, but when faced with having to choose between the 16th and 17th best shortstop on our list, it is not uncommon to pull up some other lists in order to find one where one of these options is ranked much higher The problem with doing this is that (i) there was a reason we did not take these other rankings into account for our other decisions and (ii) we have the players ranked as they were for a reason, which is to say that when we rankings shop we are considering factors other than highest expected value.

Lastly, we are more likely to make these mistakes during the late rounds or the back end of an auction than we are earlier on in drafts and auctions because we have prepared far less for these decisions.

The Solutions

First, we should prepare for these decisions in a similar manner that we do for earlier, weightier decisions. More than anything, this means paying close to as much attention to the back end of rankings and valuations as we do with the bigger ticket options. Like most of our solutions, this one requires additional effort, particularly effort that has a chance of being inconsequential, but it is likely effective because it is effort our competition will likely not put forward for that very reason.

Next, we need to a way of filtering out the extemporaneous factors our minds try to consider when faced with unsavory options. The best thing we can do is come up with a decision making process before our draft or auction (and perhaps test the process in mock drafts or auctions) that makes sure to highlight the relevant factors such as expected value, league norms, league construct, and in-draft/auction trends. It sounds easy, but it we have all experienced the whirlwind that comes with having to make a decision where there is no obviously best option, particularly a decision that we did not expect we would have to make. Having a process, even one as simple as “check your rankings, check roster needs, check league-wide remaining roster needs, check available players” should allow us to slightly improve our decision making. Moreover, such a process should allow us to avoid the most egregious of reaches for upside. In doing so, we can get a little bit better at something that most of our competition is not trying to get any better at; and that is almost always a worthwhile endeavor.

Thank you for reading

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Perfect Freudian slip: "auctions and drafts are designed to create parody." Indeed, Mr. Quinton. Indeed.
That should not only become a meme, but should go in the BP Typo Pantheon. It's like he's been watching my drafts for years. Thank god for the waiver wire.
Yes, but parity is so last year. Parody, on the other hand, is yuge. Tremendous.
It's just math, dude.