A non-fatalistic approach to fantasy baseball

Philosophers have spent a great deal of time classifying the wide array of logical fallacies, but one in particular stands out as wreaking havoc for many who play fantasy baseball.

We’re talking about the “Gamblers’ Fallacy,” the belief that because something unexpected has happened in the past, the future will compensate. The most cited example of the Gamblers’ Fallacy is a coin flip—five consecutive coin flips yielding “heads” doesn’t mean that a sixth toss becomes more likely to land on “tails.”

In fantasy baseball, we see the Gamblers Fallacy in various ways.

During the season, some may decide that a player suffering through extraordinarily bad luck makes a worthwhile trade target. This course of action is wise only if the owner has a realistic expectation of what’s most likely to occur next: One can’t expect the bad-luck player to have a streak of good luck to even out the fates of fortune; one can expect only a return to the norm, or performance stripped of luck altogether.

A far more dangerous application of Gamblers Fallacy happens in drafts and auctions.

Those who love baseball are up to their ears in player hype, especially concerning young prospects. Often, we witness performance not living up to massive expectation, such as the recent cases of Delmon Young, Jeremy Hermida, or Rickie Weeks, among many others.

Fantasy baseball enthusiasts often have a hard time adjusting their expectations. Indeed, some perceive a sense of “discount” when they are able to get a player with great upside who has thus far failed to match the puffery.

Unfortunately, the perception tends to be illusory for three reasons.

First, player projections tend to be extrapolated from past performance. Young, hyped prospects have short track records and their forecasts are given with little supporting evidence and a tremendous amount of volatility. Just because touts once projected Hermida as having a great chance of hitting 30 home runs doesn’t mean that he’s more likely to outperform new, reset projections.

Second, upside is a hard-to-quantify variable whose scarcity tends to be overestimated. Perhaps Delmon Young still has the potential at his young age to one day be a 25 HR-25 SB superstar. Just because he maintains this upside doesn’t mean he’s much closer to fulfilling it than someone like Colby Rasmus, who will be coming to the majors soon and goes largely undrafted in fantasy baseball leagues.

Third and finally, the elasticity on a young player’s draft position or auction price also tends to be overestimated. Demand on upside isn’t fickle. Here are some examples: Corey Hart’s average draft position has climbed more than 14 percent from drafts last year. Yovani Gallardo’s has climbed about than six percent. Edwin Encarnacion’s has climbed more than 16 percent. Did any of these three players do anything extraordinary in 2008 to merit a jump in expectations into 2009? Not really.

Bad luck, disappointments and unfulfilled potential are a natural part of baseball. But when considering player acquisitions, one shouldn’t assume that any of these things translates to the opposite outcome. The gods of fate aren’t that kind.


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Millsy
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Millsy

Nice post big guy.  See you in the auction!

Scaryguy
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Scaryguy
The comment about Maddux is true and it is the argument I always have for Adam Dunn. Yes, I do realize he will damage your batting average. However, I don’t think anyone – outside of Pujols – has been anywhere near as consistent as Dunn has been the last 5 years. He average does fluctuate and he has batted over .260 a few times. Its those .234 years that hurt but having a guy that essentially guarantees numbers in 4 categories is very valuable. So, I am always surprised to see how late he goes and how many people hate… Read more »
bpasinko
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bpasinko

I really liked how you said how people expect the future performance to even out after bad luck.  That’s so true (in how it’s false) and it’s something that’s easy to rationalize in your head, thanks for making sure we don’t go that far.

I imagine though you could find a team owner who does expect things to even out, just make sure it’s not you,

saggie
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saggie

Great Post and great insight

Derek Carty
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Derek Carty

Welcome to the team, Eriq!  Great to have you on board.

Johnny Archive
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Johnny Archive
Interesting take.  Another fallacy is most fantasy owners seem to think stats “care”.  They look at a player who’s stats have improved for two years in a row and they assume that it’s a given the trend will continue.  Then the third year the player’s numbers not only don’t improve, but actually decline, and they take it personal as if they did something to influence the outcome.  What made players like Greg Maddux so valuable in fantasy baseball was not only that they put up good numbers, but that he was so consistant and therefor removing the coin-flip aspect of… Read more »
Ray
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Ray

Nice post dude.

http://www.wifefucking.net/
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I am here for my Earthling Brothers and Sisters today as the time has come for transition and transformation to take place on so many levels of themselves and their home planet. There is nothing less on our plate right now than establishing peace and harmony to a world of deceit and anger. The Earth changes you are currently experiencing are helping you to prepare for the future. Obatala always wears white clothing and is often depicted as an old man. His G-R parallel is Zeus/ Jupiter Optimo et Bono Who destroyed the Titans and established the reign of the… Read more »
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