- FanGraphs Fantasy Baseball - https://www.fangraphs.com/fantasy -

Pascal’s Wager as Applied to Brandon Beachy

Back in the seventeenth century, French philosopher-mathematician Blaise Pascal contributed to the foundations of calculus, probability theory, physics, the scientific method, and the mullet. He also left a lot of stray papers an stray ideas around after he died, one of which has become known as Pascal’s Wager. His idea, which is the first recorded modern example of game theory, can be paraphrased as follows:

Suppose there are two states, there being a god and there not being one. Also suppose that you have two choices: believe in Him or don’t. You have to choose. There are four possible results.

  • You believe in God, and he exists: eternity in heaven, worth infinite points.
  • You believe in God, and he doesn’t exist: you waste time praying. Worth a small, finite number of negative points.
  • You don’t believe in God, and he doesn’t exist: you get a few extra hours each week to watch football. Worth a small, finite number of positive points.
  • You don’t believe in God, and he does exist: brimstone.
  • Having laid all these out, Pascal’s premise is pretty simple: negative infinity is pretty lame, and positive infinity is pretty good, so you may as well choose the side that leans toward the positive side, whether it turns out right or not. Thus, God.

    Pascal’s Wager has had its critics over the years, but it still stands as a solid theory for pragmatism – given the choices beyond your control, do what works best – as well as a rousing endorsement for drafting Brandon Beachy in your head-to-head fantasy league this year.

    Considering the depth of starting pitching, there are a surprising number of quality starters who will spend a good chunk of the early part of the season on the disabled list. Beyond Beachy, there’s Cory Luebke, Michael Pineda, Daniel Hudson, and Colby Lewis, all at least above-average pitchers when healthy, all due to miss enough time to fall on draft boards. Weathering April is fine, but having to waste a roster spot for ten weeks on a starter can be intimidating.

    Pascal says otherwise. His posthumous argument: the purpose of playing fantasy baseball is to win your championship. And when it comes to head-to-head leagues, games played in September are much more important than games played in April. Thus, you should draft as if you believe your team will be in the championship, whether it will be or not, and field the best team for the big weeks at the end.

    Of course, there are considerations; the existence of DL slots will make Beachy and his comrades more expensive, while a shallow bench will make them costlier. But especially in keeper leagues, picking an injured player is a good idea, because they have a strong probability of earning value over the season. You pay the discount price, wait out your time, and as the player gets closer to their return date and regular productivity, they become more valuable to you and as a trade piece. Even if you find yourself in last place come July, there should be teams in the stretch run willing to provide you some future value for the chance to win now. And even if they don’t, there are plenty of keeper formats where guys like Beachy, Luebke and Pineda are going to help your team in 2014.

    Drafting injured pitchers is always going to involve some risk, especially with Pineda. Shoulder injuries are scary things. But to win fantasy baseball, you’re going to need to take some risk. And as Pascal would wager, you may as well take the risk that maximizes your chance of fielding the best team in September, whether you need to or not.