Are you smarter than a Sabermetric spreadsheet?

I wrote a short post on my blog a few days ago about the drawbacks of relying on intuition or instinct when making picks in daily fantasy baseball leagues. I think it’s a topic that’s worthy of some elaboration. After all, if you’re knowledgeable about baseball and have a solid understanding of statistics in general and Sabermetrics in particular, shouldn’t you be able to come up with roughly the same result by looking things over carefully as you would if you actually did the calculations to take all the relevant factors into account? The answer is a resounding “no.”

Using a spreadsheet or computer program is going to provide you with at least three big advantages.

The first is that once a player or a factor is incorporated into your statistical model, you’ll never overlook it. You won’t forget about the existence of a player or forget to check whether one of your hitters is facing a lefty or righty starter.

The second is that you’ll be able to work faster. Assuming all my supporting data is up to date, I can turn a schedule from into ratings for the day and pick a lineup for almost any contest in 5-10 minutes. If I had to research the park, opponent, and other factors for each potential member of my lineup, it would likely take an hour or more.

But by far, the most important factor is that the human mind (at least most of them) simply isn’t well-equipped to evaluate a large number of contextual factor simultaneously, and is particularly badly suited to assigning the proper weight to various factors based on subtle differences of degree. As an example, are you really able to judge which is worth more in your format: a .300 hitter with 30 HR, and 5 SB, playing in a park that inflates runs and home runs by 5 percent against Johan Santana, or a .280 hitter with 35 HR and 0 SB, playing in a park that deflates runs and home runs by 5 percent against Brett Myers? Then consider all the factors I didn’t even mention—platoon advantages, bullpens, home-field advantage, and many others. It seems unlikely that anyone is capable of assessing the importance of each of them, and arriving at a reasonably accurate evaluation or projection of each player’s value for the day.

As a kind of thought experiment or game, I’m asking of each of you who reads this to take a look at the games scheduled for Friday and rank the top five outfielders. We’ll use the following points scoring system:

Single: 1 point
Double: 2 points
Triple: 3 points
Home Run: 4 points
Run: 1 point
RBI: 1 point
Walk: 1 point
Stolen Base: 2 points
Strikeout: -1 points

Post your picks in the comments section here. My own picks just based on intuition are Beltran, Rios, Sizemore, Hamilton, and Guerrero. I’m primarily looking at who the opposing pitcher is and what park the game is being played in. Sometime before Friday, I’ll put the results of my spreadsheet calculations in the comments section, and next week I’ll discuss some of the factors that influenced the calculations. It should be interesting to see how many of our picks differ from what my formulas indicate, and what factors cause the differences. While the results of one day’s games are too small a sample size to know which set of predictions are “better,” hopefully we’ll still be able to learn something interesting from the exercise.

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  1. Alex Zelvin said...

    My spreadsheet has even funkier picks than I anticipated when I wrote the article – Quentin, Sizemore, Guerrero, Victorino, and Dye.  That should give me plenty to talk about in next week’s article!

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