In sports, there are various levels of thinking. Whether we’re on the playing field, in the film room or watching from the stands or couch, we’ve all taken notice of the various behaviors exhibited in front of us. These behaviors often consist of patterns and tendencies and, in competition, we often can use these observations to formulate strategies and manipulate our opponent’s behavior to help achieve our goals.
Before delving into how human behavior can be applied to fantasy baseball, I want to quickly introduce the first stage of memory, the encoding stage (with storage and retrieval being the last two stages). This is the level where memories are formed, and research studies have shown that memories can be enhanced by selective attention. Research also shows that some of the most vivid memories tend to be of emotional events. Well, I think it’s safe to say that the most emotional time of year in the baseball season is the postseason.
I’m sure many baseball fans, especially Yankees and Indians fans, remember Game 2 of the 2007 American League Division Series, also known infamously as “the bug game.” I was watching this game at a bar with a good friend, who happened to be a fellow league manager and a big Indians fan. Living in Connecticut, we were surrounded by Yankees and Red Sox fans; the Yankees fans rooting for the Yankees and the Red Sox fans rooting, out of spite, for the Indians. This made for a tense and exciting atmosphere, and I can still picture my friend sitting on the edge of his seat for nearly the entire game.
Now, while many outsiders may not be able recall the game in detail (aside from those gnats, of course), my Indians buddy, to this day, can still recite Fausto Carmona’s line from this 2-1 Indians victory:
IP Hits ER K Fausto Carmona 9 3 1 5
Throughout the season, this same friend was raving about how 2007 was the Indians’ year, how they were bound for the World Series and more specifically, how good Fausto Carmona was, and “the bug game” and the big game atmosphere seemed to solidify that last notion for him. In his defense, Carmona was having a brilliant year, and ended with a 19-8 record with a 3.06 ERA and 1.21 WHIP. But, this is where selective attention and emotional memories came into play.
You see, while emotions can enhance memories, they also can prevent other details from the same event or series of events from being processed or retained. Numerous studies show that memories for emotionally neutral events decrease over time but memories for emotionally arousing events are more likely to stay the same or improve.
So yes, Carmona did have a great year in 2007, and he did pitch well in that playoff game. What my friend seemed to forget, though, was that Carmona got shelled by the Red Sox in the ensuing American League Championship Series. Etched in his mind were images of Carmona undeterred by the mass of winged insects flying around him while Joba Chamberlain struggled to find his command.
Let’s fast-forward to draft week, 2008. I remembered how emotionally invested my friend was in Carmona and that game, and I wanted to remind him of it. So I name-dropped throughout the week, hoping to remind him of that impressive ERA and WHIP Carmona had in 2007. Never mind the mediocre 5.93 strikeouts per nine innings and the 3.99 expected fielding independent pitching statistic, or the 3.90 ERA and 1.31 WHIP that Bill James’ system projected for 2008, I just wanted to make sure he remembered how Carmona withstood the weirdest of distractions to overcome the Evil Empire.
I wasn’t the biggest believer of Carmona’s, but my hope was that my friend would assign a value based on that specific memory and overlook the objective measurements that showed Carmona wasn’t as good as his 2007 numbers made him out to be. Basically, I wanted him to overvalue this player. And I suppose it worked to some degree because on draft day, he took Carmona with the 64th pick in the seventh round. This was ahead of Roy Oswalt, John Smoltz, Felix Hernandez, Tim Lincecum, James Shields and Scott Kazmir—guys who were all projected by various statistical measures and systems to perform better.
That pick might not have given me a huge edge, but it did increase the quality of the player pool I had to pick from at that time (I picked Lincecum at No. 65, for what it’s worth). This essentially increased the value of my team if only because my friend decreased the value of his. He let these emotional and biased memories affect his decision-making, and picked Carmona at least two rounds earlier than the market deemed appropriate, as Carmona was, on average, selected at pick No. 85 in ESPN leagues.
Most of us are baseball fans first and fantasy baseball managers second, so there are certain players we probably like more than others, and we probably each hold very specific memories involving these particular players. But, as a fantasy manager, it’s up to you to value each player objectively and not let these emotions and memories dictate the way you manage your team. When others do, you can use this type of information to your advantage.