Rationality and Fantasy Baseball

Lately I’ve been thinking about rationality.  Specifically, I’ve been thinking about the ways that economic models presuppose that individuals consistently act in their rational self-interest (and what economists count as a rational self-interest).

Lately, I’ve also been thinking about my fantasy baseball team.  I know that many OPers play or have played in fantasy baseball leagues where you set a daily lineup.  In such leagues, if you have, say, four outfielders on your roster, but only the standard three outfield spots, then you have to leave one outfielder on the bench (meaning that player’s stats don’t count for that day).  I am confident that if you’ve played in such a league, you’ve had this experience.  Two players have similarly promising matchups against opposing pitchers.  The player you didn’t start hits two home runs.  The player you decided to start goes 0 for 4.  You are pissed.

So far, your feelings are easy to explain in terms of rational self-interest.  What I find difficult to explain is this: I often find myself hoping that the player on the bench has a bad game.  This emotion is particularly strong when the player I did start has already had a bad game.  As far as I can tell, there is no sense in which the bench player performing poorly is in my interests.  His stats won’t count either way.  They are extremely unlikely to help my opponent (say by driving in his players) or hurt my starters.  On the other hand, if my player performs well on a given day, I have some reason to believe that he will continue to perform well in the future, be worth more to my opponents in trades, etc.

Still, I inevitably find myself rooting against him (and then scolding myself for thinking irrationally).  I suppose that it is in my interests as manager to believe that I am a good fantasy baseball manager (perhaps I will make more confident, decisive decisions).  That explanation strikes me as unsatisfactory. What gives?

With that, I leave it to readers to speculate whether this phenomenon teaches us anything about economics.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Rationality and Fantasy Baseball

  1. Lime says:

    The moral right of the blogger has been asserted.

  2. Nate says:

    Moral right denied.

    It’s an interesting phenomenon, one that I find myself experiencing all too often. My sense is that it does have something to do with proving our worth as managers. Maybe not as a means to further fantasy success (I agree that this seems implausible), but as an end in itself. We want to revel in the glory of managerial greatness.

  3. David says:

    Regretting a choice or decision is unpleasant. If you choose to start X over Y, then the better Y plays relative to X the more likely you will suffer this unpleasant experience. So when we start X over Y we like to see Y do poorly, for then we are more likely to avoid an unpleasant experience. This seems perfectly reasonable to me.

    As for why we would regret the decision or choice in the first place, the answer is obvious: we want to do as well as possible at Fantasy Baseball. (Now THAT desire, of course, might be rationally indefensible…)

  4. Lime says:

    Fair enough, David. My desire to feel good about my choice outweighs my desire to feel good about the ability of my bench players (which probably doesn’t change much through one game).

    Still, I am more likely to do well in fantasy baseball going forward if my bench players are playing well. If that is my goal, shouldn’t I want them to do well?

    Also, one could argue that it is irrational to regret my choice (it’s a sunk cost based on a decision I made based on the best information available). It is not irrational to believe that players who are performing well are more valuable to my team.

  5. David says:

    There are two issues at play in this interesting post:

    1. Is it irrational to root against one’s bench players?
    2. If ‘yes’ to 1, why are we prone to this irrationality?

    I took your original post, Lime, to suggest that 1 is easy to answer and 2 is more difficult to answer. In my remarks I meant to give an answer to 2–I would concede, I think, that rooting against your bench players is irrational for the reasons you mention. I just think it’s perfectly understandable why we do so given our standing interest in feeling good about ourselves and our decisions.

  6. Lime says:

    I wonder if it can be “perfectly reasonable,” as you write in your first response, to do something that is irrational (root against one’s bench players)?

    What’s going on here, it seems, is that our enjoyment of fantasy baseball (we might just call this happiness) is imperfectly related to our stated definition of success: winning. If we redefine “success” as “whatever makes us happy,” the response is perfectly rational.

    Clarification: This statement in no way entails that the author endorses subjective welfarist understandings of economic development.

  7. Josh says:

    As to the broader issue of rationality… I think there are some economists who are more inclusive of such behavior. I’m under the impression that “behavioral economics” considers issues of apparent irrationality in markets, and develops models that make room for that irrationality.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *