Improving Your Results By Ignoring Them??

In an earlier column I touched on the principle that the process of making a decision is more important than the results in his evaluation of any decision. In order to improve the long run results, you need to almost ignore the results and try to improve your decisions. Once the decision is made the result is beyond your control, and you are then free to use the internet for much more useful pursuits, like looking for pictures of the Women of Lost Pillow Fight. Just don’t get too close to the screen.

Those of us that play poker know this principle well (the thinking process; not making sure you don’t get close to the screen). The thought process is what determines what is a good play and what is a bad play in poker, and this is true for Fantasy Baseball (and life as well), though many owners don’t think in these terms. The results are at the whim of chaos or random chance. In baseball it is the inherent risk and noise associated with a player’s performance, plus the chances of injury and countless other factors.

When we read a projection that player X projects to have Y HRs what are we reading?? It is not a prediction as to what a player will do; rather, we are seeing a range of possible outcomes that are distilled into a statistical line simply because this is the easiest way to digest the information. Most projections are a weighted average of various kinds. Averages are particularly inept in assessing variation and risk. The range of possible outcomes is far more uncertain than one might think, and this uncertainty is not just the bane of the fantasy GM but it is also the boon as well. The existence of possible huge variations in performance is why they play the games, and what allows fantasy baseball to exist.

The GM who identifies and considers the most relevant variables will succeed where the GM who considers less will fail. Research is paramount, and experience enables the GM to evaluate the process after the dust settles. After all, a continuum of bad results doesn’t imply that you have merely been unlucky! Experience is the guide to figuring out if you were unlucky or just made a bad decision. As Sun-Tzu wrote in The Art Of War, the General who makes many calculations will find destiny in his favor, the General who makes few will find destiny against him. Then, what of the General who makes no calculations?? Well, that would be Dusty Baker.

Those who were aware of Dusty Baker’s proclivities, (and is it obvious I am not a huge fan?) recommended against investing big in Mark Prior after his abuse at Baker’s hands, even before he actually missed time. In fact, I advised one of the contributors to my blog against auctioning Prior in his NL only league in preparation for his 2004 auction, and it so happened that Prior was auctioned for over $30 that year. Thankfully my co-contributor didn’t get him, nor did he thank me by the way. Not even a lousy fruit basket, or a gift certificate for a “massage.” Yet in most leagues Prior was an early draftee and went for a large price in auctions, and why not?? His 2003 performance was superb. It was only a matter of time; perhaps Prior would have gotten hurt in 2005 instead.

On the other hand, I traded Bartolo Colon in the preseason, based on similar analysis to the Prior analysis above. Colon is still hurt and trying to pitch through a shoulder injury after having chosen rehab over surgery in the offseason. So far, Colon has frustrated me a bit, and you can bet that I was not too happy with my decision making when he was 5-0. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t; perhaps Colon will make it through the whole year. If he does, that does not mean I made a poor decision.

Let me provide another example from a trade in my high stakes league. In early May my AL team was first in offense. The league parameters I mentioned last week: there are 11 teams, and each team has one AL team of 24 players and one NL team of 25 players, plus seven reserves in each league. The AL and NL standings are calculated in tradtional roto fashion and then summed. Despite being near the top in all offensive categories, I was lacking in one key area:

Dioner Navarro TB C
Kenji Johjima SEA C
Justin Morneau MIN 1B
Ian Kinsler TEX 2B
Brendan Harris TB SS
Troy Glaus TOR 3B
Nick Punto MIN 1B/3B
B.J. Upton TB 2B/SS
Esteban German KC OF
Carl Crawford TB OF
David DeJesus KC OF
Corey Patterson BAL OF
Shin-Soo Choo CLE OF

This was a power-lacking offense that has been buoyed by some early season surprises. Plus with Glaus having foot problems at the time, there was the potential for disaster if I were not to act quickly. Perhaps Kinsler (at the time), Harris and Upton would continue on their torrid paces but it is a fool’s errand to count on this occurrence.

One of the guys I traded was Stephen Drew, (the other was a certain hot Giants’ pitching prospect, who is currently getting shellacked much to my happy surprise–I also got Matt Morris and Cliff Floyd, and gave up Mike Sweeney) in the deal. At the time Drew was off to a terrible start (and hasn’t been much better since); but what could be expected from him overall? A look at his stats from last year revealed that despite his superficially good numbers, he only made contact 76% of the time and walked 6% of the time. This implies that he will struggle to maintain a high batting average, and that his batting average in 2006 was a fluke. His minor league numbers are also suspect. His BA/OBP/SLG were as follows:

A-.389/.486/.738
AA-.218/.301/.386
AAA- .284/.340/.462
ML-2006 .316/.357./517

Aside from A ball he had never been great in the minors, and well exceeded his minor league stats in his trial in the majors in 2006. Not that his performance was subpar, far from it. However, his performance in the majors last year should have resulted in a batting average in the .270 range, not over .300. Of further interest was that he posted a 36% hit rate, and since 30% is the norm, this suggests an inexorable regression to the mean, unless he is a star.

So what to do?? One option is to wait and hope that he will perform up to his projections. This is what most people would do. But it appears that he was (and is) overrated, at least for this year. He might very well do well in the future (and he probably will) but for right now it appears he is likely to underperform. So, off he went, without the slightest hesitation or regret.

Once the decision is made it is back to looking for those elusive pillow fight pictures. Perhaps Drew will again have a 36% hit rate, or perhaps his minor league numbers are the fluke and not his major league performance. While the result of this trade may not end up in my favor, in the long run this type of analysis will inure to the favor of my overall results (I hope!). Whether the individual decision was good or ill for my team; only time and chance will tell. Thankfully, Drew is still suffering from my pre-season Diamondbacks curse. Good thing they sell those Diamondbacks voodoo dolls on mlb.com.

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