Knowing yourself and your enemy

This year I have to admit I am particularly depressed. Not only did I return to work after vacation (depressing in itself) football is winding down, baseball is far off and now there is the possibility that there will be no new TV shows to tide me over until February! I already am starting to feel the pangs of not seeing new episodes involving the comely ladies of Lost, and should 24 be delayed I may be writing these columns from a cave somewhere. On the good side, I suppose the Hawaii police will be bored without the cast of Lost drunk driving en masse.

With nothing else to do and with nothing to interest me aside from watching ladies pole dance in the New York City Subway, this is a good time to do some more reflection on not just my team but on myself.

“Those who excel at defense bury themselves away below the lowest depths of the Earth. Those who excel at offense move from above the greatest heights of Heaven. Thus they are able to preserve themselves and attain victory.” This is one of my favorite Sun-Tzu quotes and has surprisingly profound applications. But since we are fantasy players we must look at how this applies to fantasy baseball.

The import of the quote is clear; the road to success lies in knowing yourself and then taking advantage of your strengths in the best possible way. As Sun-Tzu points out, one who excels at defense will bury themselves below the earth (metaphorically speaking of course), which would make it impossible for them to be attacked. From what better position can such a person defend themselves? You avoid defeat and disaster by taking advantage of your peculiar skills. One who excels at offense moves from the heights of Heaven. The army that moves like this will be like a ton against an ounce.

How to take advantage? As a Fantasy GM you must of course know your strengths and weaknesses. Yet when it comes to self-analysis we can often be our own worst enemy, attributing successes and failures to the vagaries of chance and not to our own faults or skills. It is easy when riding high to believe you are just the second coming of Ron Shandler or John Benson, and when you are riding low it is easy to curse one’s fortune. Avoiding this trap is paramount.

In fantasy baseball a critical evaluation must be done if there are pretensions at winning serious money or winning against tough competition. What must be done? You must assiduously examine your past performance. Examine your team at the end of the year and see what went right and what went wrong. If you have played this game for a number of years you have no doubt figured out some of your strengths. Some may be astute at discerning value in young developing pitchers. Some may be good at Minor League evaluations and some may be great at auctions but terrible negotiators. This is all useful information.

Knowing what your strengths are allows you to figure out with better precision whether a failure or success was built on luck or was the result of astute judgment. This takes a lot of effort. It is not easy to do and you may not be motivated. But even slight effort here can have tremendous gains. Winning isn’t easy unless the competition is easy. You must be willing to look at yourself and your decisions critically.

Process must be valued over results but that doesn’t imply that poor results are merely the result of bad luck, though it is very easy to convince yourself otherwise. If you routinely spend $30 in auction leagues on 33 year old power hitters or 34 year old speedsters with no other skills and never finish in the money you should be able to use this information to evaluate your decisions. Bad luck will always occur but that does not imply that poor results are the result of bad luck.

The second item here is that you must realistically assess your opponents. Does your opponent excel at offense or defense? Did an opponent who won have a lucky year or was his judgment just better? In order to figure this out you must know your opponents well. There is an owner I know in my high-stakes league that excels at taking the offensive in the auctions. He is routinely bidding players up, jumping out at the right time, forcing fair value on most players and generally is willing to bully anyone and everyone on any player. Occasionally he gets hurt but more often than not he doesn’t. But he doesn’t handle his team well during the year and rarely finishes in the money. Some critical analysis here would do wonders.

This is a tough one but another item to think about is that often people in all walks of life confuse information with judgment. There are plenty of owners who know all sorts of advanced metrics, can manage spreadsheets like an accountant and can recite fly ball information for any player. Yet this information alone will not make one a winner without being able to use it in a clear logical fashion and in conjunction with a well developed strategy. Against tougher competition everyone will have access to this information and many will also have almost the same degree of knowledge. Where these owners fail is in thinking that because they can differentiate between a $20 player and a $17 player with better accuracy they are in a better position to win. That is usually not the case against tougher competition. Judgment and planning will win out over information in most instances, but it takes both to win.

From my own experience, in 2006 in a 12-team mixed league I had a disappointing season. My team was beset with injuries and finished seventh, my worst finish in any of my leagues. Looking back it was easy to see why I failed. I drafted Randy Johnson in the first round and a few other pitchers in the early rounds hoping to capitalize and fully exploit the two start benefit. When these pitchers got hurt and/or didn’t perform to expectations my team floundered. This lead me to the exact opposite strategy in 2007, drafting no pitchers in the first six rounds and generally filling out my staff in the later rounds. This led to a division title and a second place finish overall in points.

I haven’t yet gone through the exercise of reviewing my 2007 finish in great detail, but what I can see and what I know about my past results is that I generally do better when speculating on young pitchers, but do worse when trying for veterans. In 2006 it would be easy to say I was unlucky with injuries, but when you go for older pitchers it isn’t exactly unexpected so it is a failure of planning not a bad luck result. The failure in 2006 and the success of 2007 were in line with my strengths and weaknesses and planning successes and failures. Though one might easily see bad luck and good luck, one may also see good thought processes and bad thought processes.

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