Fantasy Pitfall Triple Play

Buckle up everybody; we’re taking on three decision-making phenomena in one article today.  For those scoring at home, that’s 200% more phenomena than usual.  Might as well get yourself a seltzer and take a seat because what fallows is something to chew on.

On tap today are (i) what you see is all there is (WYSIATI), (ii) confirmation bias, and (iii) first impression bias.  We will go through all of these using the example of Kole Calhoun.

Phenomenon: What You See Is All There Is (WYSIATI) from Daniel Kahneman (2002 Nobel Prize winner in Economics)

Explanation: the tendency to make decisions using the information available as if it is the only information that exists.

Roto-Impact:  We will confidently make strategic decisions and come to conclusions regardless of how little information we have at hand.  In coming to these conclusions, our minds value coherence of information above quality of information.  If we let our minds follow an easy pattern, we will often improperly value particular players by overlooking key information.

Example: Unheralded prospect Kole Calhoun got 222 at bats in 2013 and performed very well (126 wRC+, 8 HR, 2 SB, 9.5 BB%, 18.5 SO%, .282 BA).   At this point, our brains have already made their initial conclusions; probably something along the lines of “this guy is a pretty solid outfield bat.”  Notice how all of these stats create a coherent story (our brains are great at finding irregularities); thus, we are likely to believe our current line of logic around these stats.

Phenomenon: Confirmation Bias

Definition: the tendency of people to favor information that confirms their beliefs or hypotheses

Roto-Impact: this one is a softball, the more we want to believe in one of our players, the more we want to have found that hidden gem, the more we look to find info that supports our beliefs.  If there is a both a “sleeper” and a “player to avoid” piece on the same player, you will be far more likely to read the sleeper article if you that player and you will be far more likely to read the latter if you just cut or traded him.

Example: We are excited about the sleeper potential of Calhoun, but we know to do our due diligence.  We pull up his minor league numbers, and we see that the power, BB%, K%, and BA are legitimate and that there is even some SB upside.  On top of that, every day playing time for Calhoun is now available with the departures of Borjous and Trumbo.  Notice how sly confirmation bias can be.  Instead of seeking out disconfirming information, we only gathered more information, information that made us feel warm and fuzzy, info that confirmed our initial bias.

Phenomenon: First Impression Bias

Definition: We tend to anchor on our first impression, even as new information presents itself.

Roto-Impact: First impressions matter.  This could be the first time you watch a player play, the first time you pull up a player’s Fangraphs page, or the first prospect article you read about a player.  We all know not to trust our first impression, but we should be aware that no matter how hard we try, we will often anchor on that impression, even in the face of information that disconfirms our initial findings.  If you find yourself looking for reasons to discredit disconfirming info, you should be wary that you are being impacted by first impression bias.

Example:  At this point, Kole Calhoun is looking good.  His brief stint in the majors and surprisingly strong minor league numbers show that he might be capable of putting up a .280/20/10 season.  Not only does Calhoun look good to you, he is getting ink as a potential sleeper by several websites.   Then, some disconfirming information comes thanks to Eno Sarris’s January 2nd Fangraphs chat:

Guest: Kole Calhoun is getting the 2012 love buzz that Lucas Duda received. Any chance Calhoun actually delivers on his potential in 2014? What is your outlook for him?

Eno Sarris: There *are* warning signs with Calhoun. He was old for his leagues and played in parks that helped power. So maybe he’s only going to be a .270/15/10 kind of guy. I do think he’ll get the playing time and be valuable.

Whelp, Sarris just let some air out of the Calhoun balloon (note: if you read any of Eno Sarris’s work, he is very good at looking for and finding disconfirming information).  If you were excited about Calhoun, as I was, coming across this information is almost upsetting at first.  It is even tempting to try and find info to that disconfirms what Sarrris has just shared.  While our brains recognize this new, disconfirming information as existing, they often do not place enough weight on this information, as it does not fit with our original line of logic.  It is critical to be aware of the first impression bias in such a situation; sequence matters.  If the first thing we knew about Calhoun were the inflated minor league numbers, our overall opinion would be much more negative than it currently stands in this example.  The truth is that the most accurate opinion is probably somewhere in between.  Will he be a bust?  Probably not.  Is he likely to go 20 and 10?  Also, probably not.   I actually just traded for a $6 Calhoun in an AL keeper league, but I am anticipating more along the lines of the above Sarris projection and Steamer projection (.273/15/10) than some of the bolder projections out there.

Lastly, it is important to note the complexity of valuation and decision making.  In simply evaluating just one player, we see how we can be impacted by multiple decision making phenomenon.  Our decisions will improve with each obstacle we overcome, but they will not be optimal until we recognize and overcome every phenomenon impacting us.  This is a lofty goal, but definitely a one worth working towards.

Below is how I am now working to fight each of the decision making obstacles discussed:

Obstacle: All You See Is All There Is (ASYIATI)

Ask the following: What information am I not considering? What is the impact of this missing info? If you cannot find any of the missing info, make sure to build that uncertainty into your valuation.

Obstacle: Confirmation Bias

Ask the following: What would need to be true for my opinion to be changed? Then, look to see if that info exists.  It also helps to see if you have been in similar situations before.

Obstacle: First Impression Bias

Ask the following: If the sequence of information discovery changed, how would my opinion change?

As always, may this help you think more critically in your roto-decisions.



Kahneman, Daniel. Thinking, fast and slow. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 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.

3 thoughts on “Fantasy Pitfall Triple Play”

  1. While the Calhoun example is a bit different, but limited at bat projection is difficult. Over the last couple seasons WMB, Lawrie, and Lorenzo Cain have all given fantasy owners difficulty.

    1. Howie Kendrick is another example from a little further back. I really learn a lot from these pieces Jeff. Thanks.

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