Pain Profits: Fighting our Negative Memories

Hi, I’m Jeff Quinton (@jjq01).  While the Fantasy Assembly does a great job with player evaluations and rankings, I will be writing about the other side of the equation, that being us as owners and, more interestingly, the decisions we make.  I will often look at a psychological or economic or some other phenomenon and discuss how it relates to fantasy baseball and how we can act accordingly to be more successful.  Sometimes I will highlight a certain player or players to drive home the point and other times I will not.  I will not be providing “do this not that advice,” but I will hopefully be getting you to think more critically about the choices you are making.  That said, please enjoy.

Pain Profits: Fighting our Negative Memories

Let’s discuss the greater power of bad relative to good.  Don’t worry, this will not be a discussion about morals or virtues or Nietzsche.  Rather, we are here to discuss how we (humans) remember and react to negative experiences.  In short, we remember negative events more acutely and for a longer time than we do equally positive events.  But don’t just take my word for it; take it from the psychologists who published “Bad is Stronger Than Good” in the Review of General Psychology in 2001:

“The greater power of bad events over good ones is found in everyday events, major life events (e.g., trauma), close relationship outcomes, social network patterns, interpersonal interactions, and learning processes. Bad emotions, bad parents, and bad feedback have more impact than good ones, and bad information is processed more thoroughly than good. The self is more motivated to avoid bad self-definitions than to pursue good ones. Bad impressions and bad stereotypes are quicker to form and more resistant to disconfirmation than good ones. Various explanations such as diagnosticity and salience help explain some findings, but the greater power of bad events is still found when such variables are controlled. Hardly any exceptions (indicating greater power of good) can be found. Taken together, these findings suggest that bad is stronger than good, as a general principle across a broad range of psychological phenomena.” (Baumeister, Bratslavsky, Finkenauer, and Vohs 323)

While the whole passage is fantasy relevant, the part I want to highlight is “Bad impressions and bad stereotypes are quicker to form and more resistant to disconfirmation than good ones,” this explains why we have such an aversion to drafting prior busts.  It explains why, upon needing to draft an outfielder this year, we might reach for a less proven or potentially less prolific outfielder than, say, Josh Hamilton.  The takeaway here is not that you should overlook Hamilton’s horrible 2013, but rather, you should be aware of the fact that you will remember Hamilton’s failures much more acutely than you will remember his prior excellent production.  The devil’s advocate in me is asking, “well isn’t the Josh Hamilton example more about timing?  In other words, isn’t the fact that Hamilton was terrible more recently than he was terrific the reason for our evaluation?”  While recency bias definitely plays some role, it does not play the only role.  If we want to control for recency bias, we need only look at Alex Rios, who after an excellent 2012 following a poor 2011 was still drafted too late in 2013.  It should also be noted that you do not need to be directly impacted to overreact to negative events.  Fantasy translation, you do not need to have owned Pujols or BJ Upton to overly devalue them on draft day; read enough articles about how bad the Pujols contract currently looks and you too will be avoiding him for lesser players.

At this point, everyone is saying, “Alright, alright we get it.  We are over valuing players because humans are prewired to place extra emphasis on the negative.  We get it, so what?”  Great question everyone, I’m glad you asked and I am happy to answer.  First, blind comparisons help.  If you know that Pujols is the right pick, but you just can’t bring yourself to pull the trigger, pull up his stat line and put it next to the other guy you are considering, but look at it as player A versus player B not Albert Pujols versus Mark Trumbo.  At that point, the correct pick becomes pretty clear.  Also, preparation helps.   When planning for an auction or draft, identify the players with whom you relate negative memories or feelings towards.  No one can ever completely overcome their biases (even when you want to), but being cognizant of them will help diminish their impact on your decisions.  Lastly, take note of the players that your league-mates are weary of.  In our recent mock draft, it was very clear, early on, that no one knew what to do with Albert Pujols and then, later on, with Brandon Phillips.  They eventually went in the 6th and 9th rounds, respectively, providing great value to the owners who were willing to take on the perceived risk.   In knowing how we are predisposed to weight negatives and positives, let us go forth and make better fantasy baseball decisions.


Baumeister, Roy F., Ellen Bratslavsky, Catrin Finkenauer, and Kathleen D. Vohs. “Bad Is Stronger Than Good.” Review of General Psychology. 5.4 (2001): 323-370. Print.

Jeff Quinton

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Born in 1988. Living and working in central Jersey. Proud Blue Hen (graduated 2010). Going for my MBA part-time. Fascinated by how people think and the decisions they make.

6 thoughts on “Pain Profits: Fighting our Negative Memories”

  1. Thanks Tommy.

    Wanted to share another point that someone pointed out to me. When a player we draft does well, we like to take credit for it (confirmation of our own intelligence), but when a player we draft does poorly, we tend to blame the player.

    1. Taking that another step, I am usually reluctant to draft last year’s breakouts that were on my team, but I will draft someone else’s. I feel that if I took a player like Starling Marte in round 20 something last year, it is really difficult for me to pay the 5th round price the following season even if he is worth it.

      1. Yes. I think that has a lot to do with anchoring. Changing a player’s value like that means we have to re-assess our assumptions, which is difficult. We (people) tend to spend more time trying to confirm our assumptions rather than update those assumptions.

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