Fantasy Baseball Mind Games: Herd Behavior


I bet your momma is like mine and warned you approximately 300,000 times not to follow the crowd. But following the crowd still leads to bad things, particularly if we play fantasy baseball.

Herd behavior is the tendency of individuals to mimic the actions (rational or irrational) of a larger group, and is a behavior that may researchers believe is hardwired in the brain.

There are a couple reasons why herd behavior happens. The first is the social benefits of conformity. People are social and have a natural desire to to be accepted by a group, rather than be branded as an outcast. That’s fine. For example, a strategy like ‘Never Pay for Saves’ becoming so common it’s mainstream is the fantasy baseball equivalent of popped collars, Members Only jackets, and tight-rolled jeans. Sure, it helps you fit in with the cool kids, but there will come a day that you look back and wish you would’ve swam upstream on that one.

The second reason is the common rationale that it’s unlikely that such as large group could be wrong. After all, even if you are convinced that a particular idea or course of action is irrational or incorrect, you might still follow the herd, believing they know something you don’t.

Ownership stats are a perfect example of herd behavior. I used to play with a guy that would only trade for guys with a higher ownership percentage. It could be a dynasty league and you’d offer him Jurickson Profar (currently at 24.5% on ESPN) straight up for Rickie Weeks (currently sitting at 58.8%) and he’d decline simply on the grounds that Weeks was owned by more. In his mind, you always went with the herd, irrespective of your team needs.

He never won the league, by the way.

Know your own team, know your team needs, and be willing to own a player that may not fit the the groupthink of the herd, but might fit perfectly with the needs of your team.

The herd rosters Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout at 100% for obvious reasons. Often there is wisdom with the crowd. But below are a few tips to help you break away from the herd, even if occasionally:

STEP 1: Do some research outside of your host provider. The point is to do overlay at least two quality sources, for comparing and contrasting. Are ownership stats vastly different in other leagues?

Take a note of the level your league provider is suggesting that players should be owned. Your league mates will have this information directly in front of them, staring them down, and whether they know it or not, they will be influenced by it. By doing some independent research you are able to spot trends and differences in opinions that they don’t see.

Use that to your advantage.

STEP 2: Have confidence in your own research.

You have your own thoughts and opinions on players. The next step is to learn to trust it. You’ll be going against the grain now, which can be difficult. You may be reaching for some players that you found that others have a low opinion of. You’re now off the grid, but guess what? You’ll get a good value on that player and the skill he brings may not be universal, but it may be just what you need on your team.

Remember though that confidence isn’t the same as bluster or foolishness.

STEP 3: Stay strong.

You’ll be both reaching for players at times and passing on players at times and it can create anxiety to go against the pick that is suggested right in front of you. But defy expectations and stay strong, being confident in your plan.

Don’t panic because going against the herd can sometimes pay dividends.

Tags: ESPN Game Theory Herd Behavior Miguel Cabrera Mike Trout Mind Games Ownership Rates Psychology