Another kind of endowment effect

If you’re a regular reader here, you’re probably already familiar with the endowment effect. It is just a theory of human behavior—not a fact. But if the theory is correct, then people tend to value things more once they are given the object. Ask someone what’s the most he’d be willing to pay for something—say, a 1958 Ferrari California Spyder—and it is less than what he’d be willing to sell it for right after being given the Ferrari as a gift. Once someone’s endowed with the object, he values it more, maybe for no particularly rational reason.

In fantasy baseball, we’ve mostly considered how the endowment effect colors trade negotiations. In short, it makes trading harder because the owner of a player overvalues him. Today, I want to discuss a different sort of endowment effect—let’s call it “The shiny new toy effect.” The shiny new toy effect is in play after you make a trade or pick up a player in free agency.

In February, pre-draft, I traded one of my keepers in my home league to another team for Jose Reyes. I let the other owner, David, choose which one of Miguel Cabrera or Mark Teixeira he wanted in exchange. I had both as two of my three keepers and didn’t feel I needed so many first basemen to start off, even though I had them individually ranked much higher than Reyes. I was also pretty much indifferent about them: I had higher expectations for Cabrera, but his “weight” problems made him a bit riskier. Letting him choose was a way to make him feel better about the deal. Anyway, he chose Cabrera and shortly afterward the Mets announced Reyes would miss the rest of spring training.

Just before the start of the season, I grabbed Brendan Ryan for the week that I knew I would be missing Reyes. Ryan ended up being desultory for that first week, getting one hit in 15 at-bats. So when Reyes was ready for the second week, I readily dropped Ryan and started Reyes. I knew that Reyes wasn’t going to be in peak form, having not played for 10 months and having missed spring training. Nevertheless, I eagerly daydreamed about my imminent steals harvest. Reyes was my shiny new toy and I wanted to take him out for a spin. Sure enough, he stunk up my lineup for quite a while, looking incredibly rusty.

I fell victim to the shiny new toy effect again when, more recently, I picked up Jhoulys Chacin (before his first start). I waited “patiently” for two weeks, keeping him on my bench, to see how he would do. I didn’t even need to keep him on my regular bench, since he was still minors-eligible in my league, so he was hardly costing me anything.

Still, after two weeks and some good performances, I felt it was time to throw him in for real. I was still skeptical (or rather unsure) about his ability and knew that he’d probably regress quite a bit. But I had him and I wanted to “use” him. So in he went. And regress he did.

A player who you’ve just picked up from free agency is almost surely just slightly above replacement level (except for some quirky players or rules). Your expectations for the player may grow over the season as (and if) he performs better and better. But try to restrain yourself from starting him too soon.

Same goes for players coming off of the DL, particularly when the injury is closely related to their skills—like a wrist injury for a batter, a hamstring injury for a speedster or an elbow injury for pitcher. Unless you need the roster spot, you might be better off keeping and using for another week or so the replacement player you were using in the DL player’s stead. Don’t treat the newly healed player like your mother did when you came home from college for the first time.

I just traded for Curtis Granderson, and while he’s still on the DL I’ve been using some combination of Dexter Fowler and Ty Wigginton in that spot in my lineup. I’ve just traded Wigginton away, too (for Bobby Jenks). So in a week or so, I’ll have to decide between using Fowler or a rusty Granderson. I’ll try not to let novelty guide me.

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  1. 3FingersBrown said...

    There are also the cases of grabbing a hot bat off of waivers, simply because they are hot and should be rostered right away, if only for a short while – Luke Scott for instance.

    In need of speed and outfield depth in a 12 team H2H mixed league (standard 5×5, plus OBP and QS), I recently picked up Alcides Escobar, figuring his luck would improve and Andres Torres, who’s had nice BB/K rates. Both I put into the lineup immediately and have paid dividends this week.

    Point is if you’ve got a good feeling about a guy, go with it, while still paying attention to the myriad factors which may effect his performance (matchup, injury, etc). In another example, I picked up Medlen before his start against Philly, sat him and then threw him out against The Mets the other night with good results. If he were facing Philly again this week, I’d sit him, but he’s got a weak Pirate offense to contend with and should win another with a little luck.

  2. Jonathan said...

    Finger –

    I don’t disagree. You can surely play someone you’ve picked up and have it make sense.  I’m just saying that we should be aware that we are sometimes tempted to play someone when it doesn’t make sense.
    by the way, i too picked up Medlen.

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