The Roto-Advocacy Effect: A bias towards our own reasoning

You have been there, I know you have.  The situation where, for whatever reason, you are stuck defending something that you are not particularly passionate about, but by the time the argument is over, you feel more strongly about the position than you had before the argument started.  This is the advocacy effect; the tendency for a person’s opinions and values to become stronger and more extreme as he or she advocates for those opinions and values.  Some examples:

  • The supreme court justice that becomes more liberal/conservative on an issue with each opinion she issues on the topic
  • The TV pundits who become more polarizing the more they give their opinions
  • The daughter who keeps her loser boyfriend around because she is constantly defending him to her parents

This happens in fantasy sports too.  Just as a parent can convince himself that his 12 year old should be starting at 3B despite not having the arm strength to throw it across the diamond, I am fully capable of convincing myself that Felix Doubront is worth $5 as a keeper, even though he has never returned that kind of value.

The roto-advocacy effect is thus overvaluing players who you spend the most time promoting or defending.  The roto-advocacy effect is why experts end up drafting players from their “sleepers” article despite the fact that everyone else in the league has read the article.  This is also happening in your fantasy league.  Ever notice that you (and you are not alone) tend to have the same guys year after year, even in redraft leagues, regardless if you had a good or bad year?  More notably, if you participate in multiple leagues, ever notice that you tend to have the same players in different leagues, regardless of format?  What are the odds that you have been the highest on a particular player, every year, regardless of which owners you are competing against?  The odds should not be good, but we see this happen every year.

So why do fantasy owners fall victim to the advocacy effect?  As soon as a draft or auction ends, we immediately start defending our picks to our league-mates and, more importantly, to ourselves.  Also, as we engage in trade talk throughout the year we start talking up our own players to other owners.  Now I am not saying you should not talk up your players (that is just a good negotiation practice), but you should make sure that you do not start drinking your own Kool-Aid.  Instead, you should be constantly reevaluating your assumptions and valuations while being aware of the advocacy effect and your own biases.  It is impossible to fully filter out your own biases, but being aware of them is the best way to minimize their impact on your decisions (you will hear me say this a lot, the best decision makers do this).

Lastly, and maybe most helpfully, you should be looking at how the advocacy effect affects your league-mates.  Who are the players they can’t quit? Who are the guys they did not keep, but got back in that year’s auction?  Those are the players you will have to overdraft or overbid on draft day to acquire and they are the players who you will have to overpay for in a trade.  Make sure to plan accordingly, and let others overpay for their biases.

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 “The Roto-Advocacy Effect: A bias towards our own reasoning”

  1. Great piece Jeff. For years I held on to Francisco Liriano because I had made a big trade to get him, even though he was hurt most of the time. Of course I finally toss him back and he rebounds nicely in 2013. I was actually discussing the ownership of the same players in multiple leagues with a friend, very interesting to think about. Of course breaking out of our own line of thinking is not always easy, so I am sure I will be drafting some of my usual “sleepers” again this season.

  2. Thanks. I will end up with the same players on multiple teams, but I try to avoid “player-creep”, where I start drafting a player earlier and earlier. This has happened to me in the past, when I have convinced myself that one of my picks was so good that I draft a player even earlier in the next draft.

    Hanging onto sunk costs is also a value killer. I will have a future post on people’s tendency to hold on to their under-performers until they can reclaim original value.

    1. It’s very hard to let go of these players. For me it was Jesus Montero. I talked him up so much, he kept getting better and better the longer I had him 🙂
      I read a cool article about prospects : “If you love them, let them go” , and that finally convinced me. I tried to search for the author of that, but I couldn’t find. If I do, I’ll pass on credit to him.
      Thanks for the piece Jeff. I might have needed it more than most.

      1. I know exactly what you mean. It’s like every time you draft or keep a player is a way to validate your prior decisions.

  3. I’m enjoying your articles on the pyschological aspect of fantasy sports. I can relate to almost everything here. I’m going to have to re-read this piece right before my draft in March to remind myself not to fall into these traps (again).

    1. Thanks Kyle, I really enjoy writing them.

      I will try to publish a pre-draft post with a condensed version of my posts that are relevant for drafts (early March probably). If you need anything before then, just ask, and I’ll see what I can pull together.

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