Fantasy Pitfalls: Narrow Decision Framing

Every time we make a trade, draft a player, or pick up a player on the wire, we do so to maximize our chances of winning in either the short or long term.  Despite all of our best intentions, we often fail to achieve our goal.  So why do we make bad trades and bad picks?  Like most questions worth pondering, the answer is not simple.  There are lots of reasons that cause bad strategic decisions (emotions, incorrect assumptions, information asymmetry, DNA, transcendentalism, etc.), but today I would like to discuss a particular opponent of decision making: narrow framing.

Per Chip and Dan Heath, authors of Decisive, narrow framing “is the tendency to define our choices too narrowly.”  In their very excellent book, the Heath brothers declare narrow framing to be “the first villain of decision making.”  You probably never called it narrow framing, but as a fantasy baseball owner you most certainly have crossed this villain’s path.  Some examples:

  • Reaching for a SS because the position is thin and because that particular player will not make it back around to you
  • Keeping your overpriced ace because there are not going to be many true fantasy aces in that year’s auction
  • Trading away your top prospect for a decent closer because you need saves to make a run that year
  • Cutting a more productive, yet light hitting player because you need some homers out of that roster spot

In all of these situations, the error occurs not through action in place of inaction, but rather through sub-optimal action in place of optimal action.  This is what our economist friends like to refer to as opportunity cost.  In a vacuum, trading for 2 years of James Shields is great, but it is not great when you could have gotten back more for 6 years of Wil Myers.  The point is that when we limit our options, when we view our decisions through a narrow frame, we often fail to make the best decision because we are not considering the best option as an option at all.  The remorse you feel when you realize that the package you just traded for next year’s #6 pick could have netted you the #2 pick is narrow framing kicking you in the gut.

So what can we do to avoid a narrow frame?  How can we make sure that we are not overlooking our best options?  The brothers Heath first advise that we should be weighing opportunity cost.  They also advise that we consider what we would do if our current options disappeared (the vanishing options test).  When I am about to make a trade offer, accept a trade, or make a waiver move, I now try to make myself ask the following questions:

  • What else could I get back for these players/picks? (opportunity cost)
  • What would I do if this option was not available? (vanishing options test)
  • What are my assumptions?

Usually the first question is enough to broaden my frame, but when I am really struggling for alternatives, the second question is very effective as it forces me to consider alternatives.  The last question is important because assumptions will narrow your frame.  If you assume that an owner is not interested in your expensive starting pitcher because his team will not be competing for first and should be building for next year, then you have narrowed your frame.  By testing these assumptions you are able to make trades that others did not even consider as possibilities, trades that you did not even consider as possibilities until you tested your assumptions.

Lastly, it is a huge benefit to consider the impact of narrow framing on your competitors.  At one point or another we have all been pestered by that guy or gal that will not leave you alone about one of your players.  Yes, Alex Cobb at $5 is a great value, and yes, you would prefer to sell your $7 Archer for less, but this guy only wants to talk about Cobb.  Once you realize your opponent is using a narrow frame, let him overpay for his “limited” options.  No, no one wants to trade away their $5 Cobb, but if it means bringing back multiple top 50 pieces, just enjoy the fact that narrow framing, “the first villain of decision making,” can work in your favor.

Check out Chip and Dan Heath’s book Decisive. It is a great read that is helpful for fantasy sports, but even more helpful for life in general.

Sources: Heath, Chip, and Dan Heath. Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work. New York: Crown Business, 2013. 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.