I’ve been reading a lot lately about psychology and the way people respond to things. Anyone who knows me will tell you I spend wayyyyyy too much time figuring out why people do the things they do…and way too much time over analyzing things I should probably just leave alone. For example, I talked to a hibachi chef Friday night for an hour about how Lancaster Countians act differently then people anywhere else in the country (We both agreed to this point, and I’ve heard it from others). This kind of thinking has its pros and its cons – but it does provide a framework for describing why things go down the way they do most of the time.
Of course I’m rocking several fantasy baseball leagues – The big, longterm 16-team, 8×8 Roto Inglorious Bastardos, The 12 Team TFP Just for Fun 8×8 Roto You Dickey!, the a Weekly head to head 12 team full of people I don’t know, who don’t trade, and who I beat every year…not gonna’ lie. I’ve been playing in leagues for over 6 years now and I dig it..I think it actually makes me a bigger baseball fan and, believe or not, better at my real world job.
Trading, in my opinion, is the most important thing you can do to improve your team, and the single most enjoyable part of fantasy sports. Everything, from the offer created, to the evaluation, to the veto process is a lesson in psychology. Some of them are logical, some are them are completely irrational, but, just knowing a little basic psychology can help you pull off the ultimate value adds for your team. The info below is based on actual experience as well as some real research – not done for simply the purposes of fantasy of course…:O. The idea for the post comes from an ongoing text discussion with my buddy Matt Horn on how individual fantasy owners act the same way, year over year. Leads to articles like this.
I just got done reading the book “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by David Kahneman. He started the field of Behavioral Economics and shared a Nobel Prize for his work. One of his primary theories is that decision making takes place in two distinct ways. System 1 decisions are sometimes referred to as ‘spur of the moment’, and many of them happen automatically, quickly and subconsciously. This part of the decision making process is biased by information readily on hand – and, surprisingly enough gets used over 90% of the time when people make decisions. The other side of this is System 2 thought which is slower, analytical and more logical (maybe I need to trust System 1 more?). So, you ask yourself – how do I make the acceptance of this trade happen on a System 1 decision? How do I make accepting my trade more of an impulse, than something calculated and analyzed up one side and down the other? Here is the secret –
Play to Irrational Biases of Other Owners
You know you’ve done it – you just never knew the fact that it works is based in science. Irrational biases show up in tons of places, but every league can rely on at least a few constants, and I would argue that even the most ‘advanced’ fantasy owner will succumb to overvaluing guys for one reason or another. Here are a quick 20 trading strategies that play off the irrational biases of others. Most of these I’ve encountered and used over the years, and all of them are based on some sort of psychological logic. The greatest moves come when you combine more than one in a single trade.
1. Trading Partner’s Favorite Real Life Team’s Players. Easiest one in the book. Kahneman suggests a concept called What You See Is All There Is (WYSIATI)..which basically states that people have an irrational bias towards the things they see themselves. Makes pretty good sense.
2. Team that has games on owner’s local cable station. Again, WYSIATI. If they see Rollins go 5-5, that increases the odds that they’ll trade for him…before they realize that it’s Rollins and he stinks now..
3. Highly publicized player – Good or bad (even the bad ones will be fresh in their mind). Works great with prospects, another example of WYSIATI
4. Cool name – Literally. Giancarlo Stanton just increased his changes of being irrationally traded for by simply changing his name from Mike. I think this is totally just because everyone has considered at one point or another, changing or improving there name. I am irrational about the name Clint (which actually happens to be my Pap’s name). I’ve never met an uncool Clint.
5. Guy who’s great in some obscure stat someone is pumped they look at and you don’t. Don’t have to be a rocket scientist here. Fantasy is all about maximizing value – based on the way I look at a player,if I think he’s better than the player I’m offering you, I’m all about it. It’s just up to you to know what your opponent likes to use. Plus every fantasy owner likes to think they got one up on another.
6. Aces. Chicks dig the long ball – but fantasy owners dig the pitching strikeout. Seriously. I’m convinced that it’s just because ‘Slugger’ doesn’t sound as cool as ‘Ace’..but aces are always overvalued.
7. Urgency – Works mainly for roto leagues..but I’ve made some ridiculous trades because someone’s 2B just went on the 15 day. This speaks to a psychological concept called loss aversion – people tend to fear loss more than they appreciate gain.
8. Compliments – Every owner is an egomaniac when it comes to his team and his strategy. Tell them they’re doing good in the comments section of the trade, tell them you thought grabbing Bryce Harper and stashing him was a sweet move. Just like with anybody, they’ll be pumped someone is actually paying attention and that someone finally recognizes their genius. That’s relationships 101 baby!
9. Have a Trade Pending With Somebody Else – One of the quickest things people ask themselves when they receive a trade is ‘is this guy trying to screw me with some junk offer?’ By already having a trade going with someone else, they know you’re at least capable of executing a fair trade and that alleviates this fear a little, and plays into everybody’s irrational need to do what everyone else is doing. Use it!
10. Have a Good Reputation – Kinda plays into the one above, as well as every relationship you’ve ever tried to make in your life. Bottomline – if you were a scumbag to somebody else – calling them out, offering them crap deals, saying dumb stuff on the message board – it lowers your credibility as well as your chances of making deals/relationships in the future. People talk.
11. Trade for the extra player or provide a replacement – This is the one that happens to me all the time. I play in a 16 team league. Why am I going to trade you Troy Tulowitski for Robinson Cano? I have no backup SS, and none are available? It would also leave me with an extra 2B. I’m human; I fear loss more than I support gain. Instead, try to grab my 4th outfielder for an upgrade or add on pitcher. You’re not leaving me holes and I considered that guy trade bait anyway. Loss Aversion.
12. Don’t make them drop guys to make it happen – Remember, I’m an egomaniac and I think my team is great and my strategy is better than yours. Even though I like your deal, why would I want to dump a guy I like so someone else can pick him up later basically for free? Instead, offer me an even up deal personnel-wise..I’m much more likely to include a guy in a trade for slightly less value, then to dump him and lose the ability to gain something. More Loss Aversion. Fear Loss more than like gain!
13. Be Visible – Related to reputation, but it’s another play off of WYSIATI. Look visible, look interested. Make add drops, post on message boards. Text people about trades. If you have a good reputation, let people experience it..don’t keep it quiet…and the trades get easier.
14. Trade Them the Guys They Had Last Year – A bunch of things going on here. They’re familiar with the guys’ stats, they were into them enough to keep them last season, AND, you recognized that so that plays to the whole ego trip thing. I’ve seen this happen MANY, MANY times.
15. Hometown Favorite – Just like 14, jump on board the big name who reluctantly got traded to some other real-life team. They’re definitely going to be more educated about the guy than most people. How many times has a baseball fan told you…we loved (insert name) when he played here..but he went where the money is. Cater to that bummed-outed-ness…
16. Encourage Someone Else To Ride the Hot Streak – There are a ton of reasons why this works. WYSIATI is definitely in play. Kahneman also believes people generally underestimate chance, instead preferring to assume what they see will continue to happen in the future. Plays great to the owner who just watched the breakout game the night before too. Works great when an interleague matchup is dominated by a mediocre American league pitcher against a pidly National League one….for example…
17. Trade With the Guy Who Got the Better Side of an Earlier Deal – Cockiness plays hard and any male-dominated competition is overflowing with it. If the owner is on cloud 9 over the Clayton Kershaw for Rafael Betencourt deal they just made – hit them up with a deal you like ASAP. Risk aversion will be overcome with the feeling of the surplus they just hauled in. Make it happen now!
18. Trade the Guy Who Got the Worse Part of an Earlier Deal – Kahneman calls it Sunk-Cost…or the tendency of someone who has made a bad move to continue making them to try and outweigh a sense of regret. So go for it – target the owner who traded Josh Hamilton for Albert Pujols…he’ll be looking for an upswing.
19. Explain Yourself – Literally..the only true enabler of System 1 thought. If the owner knows your intentions right from the get-go..on how you value the guys you’re offering and asking for…that’s one step closer to making a snap judgement on the trade. Tell them – “I really need steals and you’re down holds, so I think Balfour for Bonifacio works for both of us.” Plus..it helps him better understand how you think for future deals. Excellent!
20. Frame Your Words Carefully – Kahneman discusses a concept called Framing whereby people respond differently to the same concepts depending on how they’re presented. His example is, are you more likely to have a surgery where you have a 90% survival rate…or one with a 10% mortality rate? Most people say the prior. When you’re explaining your trade offer…use the most positively correlated messaging you can to explain the trade…it may affect the outcome.