Using emotion to gain information

It’s now March, and fantasy drafts are fast approaching, if you haven’t had yours already. Leading up to draft day, it can be very important to gain information about your opponents. In today’s game, this can be a terribly difficult task. Fantasy owners are getting smarter and realizing that this isn’t a game of friendship, but rather a game necessitating concealment of one’s true feelings and in some instances, deception.

Game of counter-intelligence

A great story I read recently was about Ron Shandler. My friend Patrick DiCaprio at Fantasy Baseball Generals wrote about Shandler taking Miguel Cabrera as the No. 1 pick in an expert mock draft. Shortly after writing about this, Shandler e-mailed Patrick with the full story. Here’s a clip:

So when I lucked into the No. 1 pick, I surveyed the other owners if anyone thought that I shouldn’t pick A-Rod. Nearly everyone concurred that A-Rod had to be No. 1. But for the reasons you ably noted, he was not my No. 1. So I then confided in the owners who had the No. 2-No. 5 picks that I was going to pick Wright, and explained why. That effectively sent them off scurrying to plot their first picks.

And then I picked Cabrera. I love counter-intelligence.

I don’t think too many of you will be playing against the likes of Shandler, but you need to consider the possibility that your opponent could be playing games with you. You need to do the best you can to have the awareness to detect such trickery.

Even if a player isn’t outright trying to trick you, you’ll be hard pressed to find a veteran owner willing to give his hand away. Therefore, we need to put forth a little effort to try and extract it from him.

The power of emotion

One such way is through emotion. If we think about the various kinds of emotions, we can isolate a subset that are more easily aroused than others. Fortunately for us, these emotions are perfectly suited to our aims. If you think about it, positive emotions like love and happiness are difficult to produce in someone else unless you have a natural charm and way with people.

More negative emotions, though, like anger or intensity, are much easier to get out of another person. Walk outside and call the first person you see the first bad word you think of, and see what happens. If you aren’t immediately punched in the face, you’ll likely hear some not-so-nice words in retaliation.

When we are angry or intense, we often say things we don’t mean to say and give away information we don’t mean to give away. Have you ever been in a heated argument with someone and said something hurtful about the person that, although truthful, you would never say in a calmer situation? I think most of us have. In fact, I’ve read studies showing that anger temporarily lowers one’s IQ.

So if doing something as simple as affecting a change in someone’s emotional state can get that person to make mistakes, doesn’t that seem like something worth taking advantage of?

I’d like to share a couple of stories illustrating this concept.

David and King Saul

This story deals with David, most commonly known for his underdog victory over the famous Philistine warrior Goliath. David suspected that his step-father, King Saul of Israel, secretly wanted him dead. When David told Jonathan, Saul’s son, of his suspicions, Jonathan didn’t believe him. David suggested a test: Jonathan would return alone to Saul that evening, who was expecting David for a feast, relaying a passable but slightly curt excuse for David’s absence.

Upon hearing this, Saul became enraged, exclaiming “Send at once and fetch him; he deserves to die.” Not exactly a reasonable response to a viable excuse.

Robert Greene, author of The 33 Strategies of War, discusses the intelligence of David’s strategy:

David’s test succeeded because it was ambiguous. His excuse for missing the feast could be read in more than one way: if Saul meant well toward David, he would have seen his son-in-law’s absence as selfish at worst, but because he secretly hated David, he saw it as effrontery, and it pushed him over the edge.

Retroactive Review: Ace
Looking back at some of Justin Verlander's most interesting moments.
Musashi and Kojiro

Miyamoto Musashi is considered one of the greatest swordsmen to ever live. Perhaps his most famous battle was with another great samurai, Sasaki Kojiro (who I’ve also heard referred to as Sasaki Ganryu). The battle was to be held on an island where scores of spectators came to watch. Sasaki arrives on time, but Musashi employs a different tactic. He makes Sasaki wait … and wait … and wait.

Finally, a boat is spotted approaching the island. Musashi is in it, laying down, whittling a piece of wood. As he gets out of his boat, he ties a dirty towel to his forehead as a headband. Sasaki is furious. He exclaims, “Are you so frightened of me that you have broken your promise to be here by eight?” Musashi gives no response.

Sasaki takes out his sword, dropping the sheath to the sand. Musashi breaks his silence by saying, “Sasaki, you have just sealed your doom.” Sasaki responds by saying, “Me? Defeated? Impossible!” Musashi comes back with a perplexing, seemingly nonsensical response that infuriates Sasaki further: “What victor on earth would abandon his sheath to the sea?”

With that, Musashi charged Sasaki with his wooden sword. Sasaki, still fuming, swings his sword at Musashi’s head, clipping only his towel headband—the first time he ever missed his opponent. Musashi knocks him to the ground and kills him.

An esteemed warrior in a country known for its customs and traditions, Sasaki was perfectly baited by Musashi. Musashi shows up late, with a nonchalant attitude, wearing a dirty towel as a headband and a freshly whittled piece of wood as a sword, making perplexing remarks, and Sasaki can’t help but get angry with him. This anger caused Sasaki to make a mistake, and it cost him the battle.

Fantasy baseball application

Let’s look at the tactics used in these stories in fantasy baseball terms. I’ll simplify my example to illustrate my point, but this tactic is applicable under a variety of circumstances.

Say we have the third pick in the draft, and we want to know who will be available to us. Suppose we know for certain that A-Rod will go first, and we simply need to know who will go second. Because we’ve done our homework and know our opponent well (a topic we will discuss quite in-depth at a later date), we know that he is targeting a shortstop here, either Hanley Ramirez or Jose Reyes. So we begin to prod.

We knows he’s a fairly intelligent owner and has likely done his homework when deciding which he will take and likely feels some attachment to his choice. We strike up a conversation with him, saying how conflicted we are between Hanley and Reyes at No. 3. Assuming he doesn’t indicate that one of these players won’t be there for us, we can start to play at his emotions a little bit. We might begin by pointing out all the reasons we’re leaning against taking Reyes, being as passionate as possible without making it blatantly obvious that we’re goading him.

We talk about how Reyes collapsed down the stretch, how he hit .251 in the second-half and .205 in September. We talk about how he had a .259 batting average with runners in scoring position and how much his RBI totals plummeted last year. We talk about how “unclutch” he was and how he didn’t show any leadership.

We talk about how Reyes has said this spring that he will be more serious this season and how this will cause him to lose his edge and his passion and how his production will drop. We talk about how “speed and stolen bases are overrated,” and how without his steals, Reyes looks kind of pathetic with a .280 batting average, 12 home runs, and 55 RBIs, making him just a two-category player. We talk about how Reyes’s RC/27 was just 5.68 last year and how he is overrated as a baseball player.

Don’t be afraid to throw out cliches, but if you’re opponent knows that you’re strictly into numbers, be very careful which ones you choose. Deviation from your own norm could raise a red flag to him. If he doesn’t call you out on it, you might later find out that he gained his composure at this point and fed you false information.

Because of this, if your opponent knows a little about you and the types of players you like, it’s best to use those “anti-arguments” that mesh with your own philosophies so as to avoid detection. If you’re like me, this means talking about things that are statistical in nature that portray the player in a negative light.

If we’re lucky enough that our opponent isn’t really into stats, talking about Reyes’s RC/27 and things of that nature might be just the prodding our opponent needs to tip his hand. If he is into stats, talking about things like RC/27 could still do the trick, as he might point out that skills in “real baseball” don’t necessarily translate into fantasy baseball production.

Greene says that “any strong emotion and you will know that there’s something boiling under the surface.”

Maybe this owner will respond by talking about how all it will take for Reyes’s RBIs to come back is a readjustment in his batting average with runners in scoring position, which is entirely possible given his .336 mark in 2006. Maybe he’ll talk about how Reyes’ BABIP was just .258 in the second-half and that Reyes was unlucky. Maybe he’ll talk about Reyes’s “power potential.”

Maybe he’ll talk about how the Mets collapse was a team effort and not completely Reyes’ fault. Maybe he’ll talk about how leadership has nothing to do with fantasy production. Maybe he’ll talk about how Reyes’ serious approach will help him focus more, or than his youthful enthusiasm and love for the game will outweigh any additional professional he adds to his approach.

The more emotion he puts into his rebuttal, the better. To get emotion from him, we have two options. We can either throw throw all of our “anti-Reyes” arguments at him at once, hoping to overwhelm him and force a heated response.

Alternately, we can slowly but surely raise his emotion level. We start out with a single point, wait for his counter, and then start to gradually elevate our own tone. If he truly likes Reyes, there’s a good chance he’ll follow suit. By the end of the conversation, we’ll hopefully both be talking in raised tones with the other owner noticeable ticked off a bit.

Words of warning

Be careful using this tactic. When David did, there was no risk involved since his message was indirect. For Musashi, it didn’t matter if he angered Sasaki; it was a fight to the death, and one way or another he would not have to deal with him again.

For the fantasy owner, it is quite different. We will have to deal with our opponents for an entire season, possibly longer. We want to do this as subtly as possible. We want our opponent to get very intense, not so much angry. We are not looking to make an enemy, just gain information. We want to seem impassioned, not hostile. We want our opponent to think we are looking for an intellectual debate, not a mudslinging contest.

If we get our opponent angry with us, there is not only the possibility of him uncovering out strategy, but the possibility of hostility when it comes to in-season trade talks. Furthermore, if you anger too many owners, you could find yourself thrown out of the league altogether.

Using this method takes a lot of tact and a little time to perfect. But once you find you are able to evoke particular emotions in people, this can be a very powerful tool.

Additional fantasy baseball application

Some of you might have already thought of this, but if not, consider other ways to use these tactics. If you’re participating in a live draft—or better yet, a live auction — flustering your opponents can force them to make mistakes. Use this tactic to your advantage, and have the awareness to keep your own emotions in check.

Concluding thoughts

I realize that this tactic is a little unorthodox and that tactics like this aren’t commonly discussed by fantasy analysts. In today’s game, though, where quality projection systems are easy to come by and the level of competition—and the level of parity—is increasing, the owners who succeed in the long-term are going to be those who aren’t afraid to try something new, to think outside the box.

The successful owner is going to be the one who seeks to use any advantage possible. This means looking at things that aren’t related to baseball and applying them to the game. Adding facets of things like strategy, psychology, economics, and intelligence gathering to your arsenal can help eliminate some of the vagaries of chance and help you to become a successful fantasy baseball owner.

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