Does hometown bias exist in competitive fantasy leagues?

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?

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Comments

  1. Adam said...

    I think the hometown bias can work against you too – think a Houston Astros fan completely writing off Brad Lidge as a viable closer after he was traded to Philly. After watching Lidge blow saves in big games repeatedly for a few years, Houston fans might have severely undervalued him based on personal experiences….and they would have missed out on his stellar 2008 rebound season. Just a thought.

  2. Brian Kelder said...

    I have a set rule about drafting players from my team:  don’t do it!  I find that I am almost disappointed when my team wins if my player didn’t contribute as much.  I also have a history of drafting people from my team who are busts:  Corey Patterson and Mike Fontenot come to mind.  Would I have thought them to be sleepers on any team besides my favorite?  Uh, no.  Now, pickups can be different because you follow your teams’ trends.  But it’s very hard to be objective about your hometown players.  Alphonso Soriano was never worth the #3 pick when I had it, no matter what team he plays for.

  3. Andrew said...

    I really don’t notice this in more competitive leagues with considerable stakes up for grabs. If there’s hometown bias in a league, 1) those owners are pretty weak and/or 2)the league needs to raise the buy-in.

    Then again, I live in a city without a baseball team, so that might explain it. I can certainly see such a phenomenon existing in New York for reasons you mentioned.

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  5. Derek Ambrosino said...

    Andrew,

    I would like to think so as well. But, the reason I referenced the Harvard implicit association test is that there are many, many subtle, but deeply entrenched biases that affect our decision-making at a level below the conscious. These can be positive or negative and affect perceived player value in any number of ways. One can’t be profoundly hometown biased and succeed, so in high-quality leagues I presume it is minimized (as I observe it to be in my leagues), but that doesn’t mean it does not exist on some more base level. Further, the same bias may extend to those making recommendations regarding when to draft players and who to pick up.

    Basically, I presume you meant to imply that if there is *clearly visible* hometown bias in a league, it is then…

    Brian,

    Your overcompensation for hometown bias is, after all, just another form of… hometown bias. Consciously avoiding hometown players is no different than consciuosly privileging hometown players, and can be just as detrimental. There are windows (some more clear than others) where all fantsy-relevant players are objectively draftable, whether you are automatically taking hometown player X there, of if you are unilaterally excluding him from consideration, you are exhibiting hometown bias.

    When I said that I rarely have hometown players on my teams, I note this more of a proxy of my evaluations being on point. I do not avoid hometown players by any means, so if I think I’m not getting too many of them, then I assume I’m getting value in their stead because others may be overdrafting them. I say this despite being unable to identify many specific picks of hometown players that would not considered ADP-defensible.

    In a way, you reinforce Adam’s contention.

  6. varmintito said...

    I play in an experienced league that consists heavily of Red Sox, Phillies, Yankees and Cubs fans.  One of the Cubs fans can reliably be fleeced if you dangle the right northsider, but otherwise this sort of blatant misjudgment is absent. 

    Instead, I think the bias is rooted in relative ignorance of non-hyped second-tier players in the central and west divisions of both leagues.  That’s where the baragains are in my league.

  7. Tom B said...

    I tend to sway more towards the other extreme, I play Fantasy Baseball on all levels without any Red Sox players on my roster.

    I don’t necessarily bias myself towards Yankee players, and I will not overdraft them, even though sometimes I want to.  They are essentially just a more concentrated group of players that I am not targeting(just like the injury-prone, extreme-splits or swing&miss; players i’m already not targeting).  As far as I am concerned, they don’t even exist in the league. When I see one drafted I don’t even have to check my board to cross them off.  Even in the most competitive of leagues this does not hurt the strength or balance of my teams, and it’s far less hazardous to the health of my team than overvaluing hometown players would be.  Since I have already planned my draft around not utilizing those players, it doesn’t seem to hurt me in any way.

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