Does hometown bias exist in fantasy baseball? If it does, this is obviously something you can use to your advantage when predicting where players will be drafted and when putting together trade offers.
Among casual fantasy players, it seems self-evident that hometown bias exists. However, most of us are in leagues that are pretty competitive. So, at that level, does this bias exist? It would be wonderful if there was some huge databank of fantasy drafts to study this, or if the folks at Harvard would add something like this to their implicit association study. However, neither of these are the case, so we’re left to think about this question anecdotally. So, I’m enlisting our wonderful and knowledgeable readers to chime in on this question because our collective anecdotal evidence has to be better than any of our individual anecdotal evidence.
First, let me offer a couple of thoughts about my experiences regarding hometown players. I live in Queens, New York and root for the Mets, I play in five leagues regularly and I’d estimate that approximately 80–85 percent of the participants in these leagues root for either the Mets or Yankees. Not all of the league participants live in New York City, but most do. Some are transplanted New York residents who have taken their team allegiances on the road. Others have moved to New York, and brought their attachment to their non-New York teams with them.
I am pretty successful when it comes to playing fantasy baseball, and I’ve noticed I rarely own hometown players. I don’t think this is a coincidence. Trying to observe the phenomenon of hometown fantasy bias in New York is a bit difficult, as there just happens to be an inordinate amount of elite fantasy talent on the Mets and Yankees. (Actually, this doesn’t just “happen to be,” the geographically disproportionate skew of talent clearly relates to New York teams’ payrolls.)
It’s hard to say somebody is guilty of using hometown bias to overdraft David Wright, Jose Reyes, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Johan Santana or C.C. Sabathia. And, I’m not sure I can even recall specific draft picks that I thought were egregious examples of hometown bias in my past league experiences. Still, the two statements remain true. I do very well in my leagues, which largely consist of Mets and Yankees fans. I rarely own Mets or Yankees. Intuitively, it just feels like there has to be something to this.
I don’t specifically try to avoid New York players, by any means. I just try to be objective as possible. I consider the stadium and teammates of a player when assessing his value, but at draft time I treat players almost exclusively as data sets. So, I do my best to just ignore whether a player plays for my team or not.
Frankly, there could be advantages to owning hometown players, so it’s only fair to mention them. Three of them strike me immediately.
It is easier to follow the developments regarding hometown players and you are likely to know more nuanced information about them. I’m not sure everybody knows how drastic Lance Berkman’s switch-hitting power splits are, but I’d guess that if you root for the Astros you do. It might be shocking to suggest it wise to platoon a player against left-handed pitching , when he sports a career OPS+ of 147 over more than 1,500 games, but if you’re from Houston, you’re probably nodding. Obviously, it is also easier to follow news regarding injuries and battles for playing time on your home team.
For some, it is just simply more fun to root for players they root for in real life. No matter how seriously we all take fantasy baseball it is supposed to be fun. However, there are counterarguments to the idea that owning hometown players makes fantasy baseball more fun. For one, part of the benefit of playing fantasy baseball is that it forces you to learn more about other players and other teams, thus increasing your appreciation for the sport in general. Also, the laws of relativity apply to fantasy baseball. As great as it was to own Santana and watch him jump out to a .5-ish ERA over his first five or six starts, it was equally disheartening watching him robbed of win after win, turn in many disappointing performances mid-season, and ultimately hit the disabled list. It hurt on two levels.
Considering your leaguemates may have hometown biases, it may also be easier to trade hometown players. Owners less familiar with “foreign” studs may not trust their value, especially when it comes to breakouts. Presumably, Kendry Morales’ hometown fans were conditioned to expect big things from him and became believers in his skills earlier than others.
These points having been stated, if hometown bias is real and you have to bump up your own team’s players to draft them, I hardly think the marginal advantage of being more easily able to follow the news about such players is enough to justify making that move.
So what are your experiences with drafting hometown players? Do you make a concerted effort to draft them, or to avoid them? Do you think hometown bias infiltrates the decisions your leaguemates make on draft day? And, finally, would you posit an inverse relationship between a fantasy player’s overall proclivity for drafting hometown players and his team performances, as a trend?