It’s not about you

Over the past two seasons, I’ve experienced some pretty bad burns in early draft rounds of my main home league. This league is very simple, mixed league, snake draft; teams keep their five top players. Despite maintaining one of the best keeper cores, and seeing those players remain generally healthy (my top three played full seasons in both years, and the other two played 110 games or more), I haven’t been able to win. Last season, I finished in second, 1.5 points off the pace, and this year I seem to be looking at a third place finish. My main problem has been whiffing on my early picks after the keeper rounds. In both seasons, I’ve pulled some great late round picks, but lack of production and/or injury from important pieces has left me in a situation where I’ve been plugging one leak, only to see another pop up throughout these seasons.

To be a little more specific, last season, I kept no corner infielders, and went on to draft Pablo Sandoval and Aramis Ramirez with two of my first three picks after the keeper round. I stuck with Ramirez, who cobbled together a season with some value, but not enough to save him from the “bust” tag. Panda was absolutely horrid.

This season, I was happy to see Justin Morneau unkept and available at my first pick. I also selected the third closer off the board overall —Joakim Soria—and filled my utility spot in the 11th round because I couldn’t pass up the value of taking a third 1B in the form of Kendry(s) Morales. I would have rated my keeper core as the second or third strongest in the league, but after six picks, I had given that entire edge away.

I know, I know, cool story, bro! But, I didn’t pen the above paragraphs to write just about my fantasy teams. If you notice, two of the players I busted on last year are in the midst of big time comebacks. Aramis Ramirez is on pace for something like 90/30/105 and a .300 batting average. Sandoval has been beset by injury, but has been producing at the level of an elite 3B otherwise and definitely returning value on his deflated preseason asking price. (I’d always rather have elite production and injury than full season mediocrity.)

The question I’ve been asking myself is how past experience plays into one’s perception of a player going forward. Is once bitten, twice shy a legitimate reaction? I’m not the only one who faces the prospect of reuniting with a player who has burned me in the past. So, I want to offer some perspective on that matter, starting with my decision making coming off last year’s busts.

I’ll admit I was a little sour on Sandoval and Ramirez coming into this season. I definitely wanted to stay away from Sandoval—this was buoyed by the fact that I wasn’t even ecstatic about drafting him the year before. See, I didn’t love Panda and I thought his performance in 2009 had red flags, but I had a strategy, of which his pick was a part. That season saw me liking a number of lower valued players with high power potential and batting average deficiencies, so I made a concerted effort to try to build up a batting average cushion through my first few picks in order to enable my team to endure the Ian Stewarts of the world—another pick that went swimmingly, I might add! I felt like I had invested in Panda despite my better judgment and therefore saw last year not only as a down year, but as something to confirm the doubts I held previously. I felt like I had no idea who Sandoval really was as a hitter, and therefore decided against betting on him at his prospective price. Regarding Ramirez, I was willing—though not eager—to take on him on again this year, but I thought he’d fall even further than he did and I didn’t wind up snagging him in any of my leagues.

I guess the good news about my preseason pessimism is that I wasn’t the victim of the gambler’s fallacy. I didn’t assume that just because these players had bad years last year, they would have good years this year—although the subjects of this article are, in fact, having good years. However, it’s worth noting that it is just as dangerous is to assume that because a player had a bad year last year, he was going to have another bad year this year.

One of the things I pride myself on a successful fantasy player, and somebody fit to give advice on fantasy sports playing, is my agnosticism on players. I really try to keep my emotions out of any decision I make fantasy-wise. I like to think that I followed the information on Panda and made a conclusion based on risk assessment, and that when it came to Ramirez, I simply miscalculated the amount my which his price would slip. Now, perhaps that was related to my intimate experience of Ramirez ownership the previous season. His final numbers, even the .241 batting average, didn’t tell the story of how excruciating he was to own for all but the very end of last season, and its possible the experience caused me to discount his price more than I should have, remembering him as worse than he actually was.

Although it’s also not a directly relatable concept, this issue does prompt me to consider the idea of dollar cost averaging, which refers to investing equal increments in a commodity over regular time intervals, therefore ensuring you purchase more shares of the commodity when its value (price) is less than when it is high. Now, obviously, I can’t acquire a second version of the same player at a different price post-draft. But, where this concept does whisper to me, is when I think that if I was bullish on Justin Morneau at pick 59 this season, I should love him even more at pick 90 (or something) next season.

If Morneau was a stock, for example, you could recoup some of your lost investment in Justin Morneau in 2011 by getting even more output relative to cost from him in 2012. In fantasy baseball though, multi-year composite returns are irrelevant. So, what you have to do is ask yourself to what extent you feel the player in question remains the same player you liked at the original price point. If you’re 80 percent as confident in Morneau in 2012 as you were in 2011, and will be getting him at a price point that’s 70 percent of 2011 pricing, then that’s where the extrapolation of dollar cost averaging would indicate that reinvesting is a good idea. The output’s value is not changed by recouping some of your lost investment from last year because stats don’t run over multiple years. But, emotions do. So, in a sense, getting a great year out of Morneau next year would dollar-cost-average my emotional investment in Morneau as a player. (He already has some collateral in that respect, as he was a key part of multiple teams that won for me during his MVP season).

As in every other case, when dealing with a bust, you must ask yourself questions about why a player didn’t perform and analyze the data at hand. Experiencing an injury, a performance slip at an advanced age, or statistical outputs inconsistent with peripheral indicators of performance are all dynamics that differently affect your opinion of a player going forward. But, the fact that the previous string of unfortunate events happened to you does not affect the odds of what will happen going forward.

I remember reading a study a few years ago that studied penalty kicks and goalie reactions in soccer. In one respect, goalies dive to left or right too often, neglecting the middle; they’d be likely to stop more kicks by jumping as a first reaction than picking a side to dive to and hoping they guess right. One the other hand, penalty kickers, in light of this info, should kick the ball straight toward the center of the goal more often than they do, because it is the one area of the goal that is exceedingly likely to be left unguarded. Neither the goalies nor the kickers embrace the behaviors that would increase their success rates because of the perceptions that accompany failure in its different forms. If you the ball right down the middle and the goalie doesn’t move, you look like an idiot. If the kicker kicks the ball toward the left corner of the goal, you actually look like less of an idiot diving to the right than you do by just standing there. To draft Kendry(s) Morales again after he DNP-ed the season for you risks looking like an idiot.

But moves to save face, or to look more valiant in loss, are inherently moves that accept, and expect loss. Due to emotional factors, people may be willing to trade increased odds of losing for increased dignity in the context of that loss. That’s kind of absurd, but it underlies the notion of is once bitten, twice shy in fantasy baseball.

I don’t want to feel like a moron (and look like one to the rest of my league) if I double down on Justin Morneau next season and he suckers me again. When that happens, you get ribbed. Your league-mates accuse you having a man-crush on an abusive idol. You’re asked, rhetorically, why you didn’t learn your lesson. But, ironically, he who does not fear the second bite is he who has learned the most important lesson of all—IT”S NOT ABOUT YOU!

I don’t like or dislike players; I like or dislike players at certain prices. I’ll forget about Derek and Justin 2011 when it’s time for 2012, and if I think the price is right, we’ll have another go around. I will do my best to unearth the reasons for my players’ busts, and sometimes that research will involve making educated guesses and deriving plans of action based on incomplete info, but the one thing I know for certain is that being on my team this year affected their performance in no way, and that dynamic will certainly hold for next year.

Being afraid to lose is not at all a recipe to win.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

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Brad Johnson
10 years ago

I think I’d need Morneau to be cheaper than that in order to take a flier. He should be going at similar rates to what Berkman sold for this year (I got him for $4 in one league and passed on him for $8 in another).

Brad Johnson
10 years ago

Post concussion syndrome is an extremely serious problem. You’re probably right that he’ll go for a little more than Berkman because of those factors, but he probably shouldn’t. I know I won’t be paying more than that.

Brian Recca
10 years ago

I think Morneau will require a bit more than what people paid for Berkman, though that is a good comp. Morneau still has age working for him, he still is in his prime technically, while Berkman was in his mid thirties and coming off his worst season of his career.