This isn't going to be easy to hear, but someone you trust is leading you astray in your quest for fantasy baseball glory. Don't look now, but it's that big ol' brain of yours. In a horrible stroke of luck, it's hardwired for survival and not for winning fantasy leagues. We like to think we are rational beings, but it has been shown that we exhibit plenty of behaviors that deviate from the rational path. These errors in judgment and reasoning are called cognitive biases.
This piece will attempt to address how said biases can affect your fantasy baseball experience, with the aim being a higher understanding of yourself and your league-mates. If you are a visual learner then glance over this nice piece illustrating some of the cognitive biases that we'll look at.
Cognitive Bias Culprits
Bandwagon Effect: Doing something because others are doing it.
The term "bandwagon" is not foreign to sports, making for a solid introduction. Suppose you read about how CC Sabathia is one of the most popular pickups lately. You are now far more likely to add Sabathia based on the opinions of others without doing any real research yourself. Don't jump just because everyone else is, use your knowledge to evaluate things independent of popular opinion. Better yet, lead the bandwagon by using our Waiver Wire tool to identify players worth scooping.
Anchoring Effect: Over-reliance on first piece of information encountered.
One can be easily swayed by our initial impression of something. Say Yasiel Puig went in the sixth round in a mock draft of yours. The next night is your real draft, and Puig is still there in the eighth round. You start to feel like you're getting a great deal on him because he went two rounds earlier in that mock draft you did! Be sure to step back and think as to whether it's a wise pick, or if your perception of value is overly-skewed by the initial price point you've set.
This can happen in trades too, as someone can start high and then come down to appear more reasonable, but if the initial ask was preposterous then is the second offer truly worth it either? Even in day-to-day lineup setting or DFS play, go ahead and look at our Batter vs. Pitcher tool regarding your players and see if you get anchored by what you see.
Framing Effect: Interpreting the same data differently based on its presentation.
One needs be aware of how information is being delivered. Whether it's reading a tweet, hearing an MLB Network segment, or reading this, always be cognizant of parsing the information from the more subjective nature of the content.
Let's twist the classic "Mojave Flu" example for fantasy baseball purposes.
Pretend that you are playing in six different fantasy baseball leagues entering the season, in which you either win first place or lose (no second place prize for simplicity's sake). Here are the two offers you have:
Offer 1A: You win two leagues.
Offer 2A: There is a one-third probability that you win six leagues, and a two-thirds probability that you win no leagues.
In the classic study, 72 percent took Offer 1A. Now let's think about it another way:
Offer 1B: You lose four leagues.
Offer 2B: There is a one-third probability that you lose in no leagues, and a two-thirds probability that all six teams will lose.
Between these two offers, 78 percent selected Offer 2B. That is a massive swing from the first set despite 1A and 1B meaning the same thing, ditto 2A and 2B.
The difference is that the first choice utilized terms like "winning", whereas the second decision used "losing". The original example uses living and dying, which is obviously equivalent to winning and losing our leagues.
Confirmation Bias: The tendency to seek out or interpret information that reaffirms a preconceived notion.
This happens so often. If you feel strongly about a player, then you will most likely latch onto the data that reaffirms your stance. Perhaps you drafted a player early on and are desperately hoping that they turn it around, they can't be this bad right? It's time to find an answer!
You sort through articles and tweets, talk to your friends, consult horoscopes, all with the aim of getting a handle on what to do (but you want to hear that it'll be okay). When reading the news, your mind will be much more receptive to content that feeds your inner desire for good news. Be aware of this. Let's run with this scenario into the next concept.
Sunk Cost: An investment that has been made and cannot be recovered.
That under-performing early draft pick, with whom you're pleading to just be good again, can represent a sunk cost. You already drafted them, there's no going back and getting a do-over on the pick, but you know how difficult letting go of an investment can be.
A classic non-baseball example is going to a movie that you already purchased non-refundable tickets for, despite being really sick, because it'd be a waste of money spent if you didn't go. Spoiler alert: you can't enjoy the show because you're extremely sick, but hey, you didn't waste that money!
Well, the baseball equivalent of you throwing up in your popcorn bucket is continuously playing a guy who is barely hitting .200 with zero power contributions, just because you ponied up for them on draft day (think Justin Upton).
Endowment Effect: Overvaluing something simply due to one's ownership of it.
Suppose I walk up to you with a mug and ask what you'd be willing to pay for it. It's a fine mug, and you say $10, deal. Well, after possessing the mug for a bit, someone comes along and offers to buy it from you. The odds are very strong that it would take more than $10 to incentivize you to sell.
Think of your draft-day valuation of a player as your starting point, but two months into the season and you've grown attached. It'll take more to give up a player, whether that's via trade or giving up on them (like Mr. Sunk Cost). Keep an open mind.
First of all, your brain isn't out to get you. It simply has internalized higher survival priorities to the point where your fantasy team can suffer (how misguided). Your brain does many wondrous things that can help you win, but there are very real shortcomings to be aware of. Keep these in mind when evaluating your team, your players, potential transactions, and the behavior of league-mates.
If you enjoyed this, I encourage you to look into the work of Dr. Renee Miller, a neuroscientist who writes great content regarding our brains and our fantasy sports experiences. Never forget that while you're competing with numbers and stats, you're also playing your opponents.
As always, any questions can be sent my way on Twitter @NMariano53, as well as in our daily expert chats. Never stop seeking out knowledge, and never underestimate how big of a role your brain plays in everything.