I have been playing fantasy baseball in a league involving some of my colleagues and former students for several years now; I never win. I usually don't come in dead last, but I've never ended up in the top three or four. (The Dean is in the league, and I usually beat him, which is the only part of the standings I ultimately care about.) I've ben thinking a bit about why, especially since the season has gotten underway and some of my high draft picks have gotten off to slow starts; while not entirely unexpected, it has caused me to reflect on my strategy and wonder about my relative lack of success.
Part of my problem, I have come to realize, is in the initial stage of a fantasy baseball season: drafting players for one's fantasy team. It's not that I don't do my homework; I know which players I want, who looks likely to do well, and what kind of balance of scoring categories I'd like to have. What I have zippo clue about is how to arrange my draft picks (this year we had a live draft; in past years we've just ranked players and let the computer make the actual selections for us) so that I get what I want. This stage requires not just knowing about baseball players and their records, but knowing something about how others in the fantasy league are likely to arrange their picks. Why? Because otherwise you can end up wasting a draft pick by selecting a player earlier than you had to. If I know that no one is likely to select Mike Mussina until the ninth or tenth round of the draft, I can wait until then and he'll still be available, which permits me to use my fifth-round pick to get someone else.
But my problem is that I have no clue
what other people are likely to do. So to be on the safe side I draft people like Mussina and Rivera [his two blown saves at the beginning of the season, while a little unexpected, aren't cause for concern yet; Mo is human, after all, and does occasionally blow saves] higher than they probably needed to be drafted, leaving me with slimmer pickings when we get further down the draft order. Which is how I ended up with Milton Bradley and Doug Davis (although Davis has done pretty well thus far -- opening against weak teams will do that for you), among others.
So there's part of my problem: a lack of a "theory of mind," or an intuitive grasp of what other people are likely to be thinking or are likely to do. Individual human behavior, even individual human social action (i.e. meaningful
behavior), is profoundly puzzling to me, which is partially why I'm a social scientist rather than a psychologist; psychological accounts of why an individual person did the specific thing that they did seem to me to be the slimmest obfuscation or the purest grasping at straws, and so theoretically I'm far more comfortable leaving individual behavior/action in the hands of sheer randomness
and focusing on the patterned environment(s) within which that behavior/action takes place. This is not an asset in playing games, however, as I can play the board fine but am horrible at playing the other people involved.
Of course, this is not my only weakness as a fantasy baseball player. I am also needlessly sentimental in my choices, sticking with players after they cease to perform at the same level as previously, and excluding any
member of the Boston Red Sox from my fantasy team (which cuts off several excellent hitters and at least one lights-out pitcher -- if Schilling actually recovers from his ankle surgery). Usually I end up with a fair number of Yankee position players; this year I decided to play the game more efficiently, didn't really rank many Yankees that highly (save Rivera and Mussina, sentimental high picks both) and ended up with a fantasy team with only one Yankee position player (Posada at catcher; would have picked Joe Mauer instead, did last year, but I was worried about his knee problems). And part of me feels bad about that! I'd almost rather have lots of Yankees and lose than have few Yankees and win -- almost. What I'd really
like is to have lots of Yankees and win, obviously :-)
My final weakness as a fantasy player is that I like to imagine that I have a "feel" for baseball, a sense of who is likely to do well on any given day, a knack for putting just the right person in at just the right time … which is bullshit. Oh, I check batter-vs.-pitcher stats for some of my more marginal players, and rotate people out when they're facing someone against whom they're hitting .073 in 41 at-bats, and that kind of thing. And I play hunches sometimes, and they pay off just often enough that I keep doing it sometimes (even though they usually don't work out at all). But who am I kidding? Frank Robinson, manager of the Washington Nationals, can say things like
"This game to me is done on sight and feel and knowing your personnel and having some idea about the players and the people that you're competing against." Of course he can; he's a legendary player, and he has been around long enough to develop an intuitive sense of which move is the right one at a given point in time. And I would develop such an intuitive sense how
, exactly? Studying the numbers does yield insight, of course, but I certainly haven't put in the time that would really generate such a virtuoso grasp of possibilities. So I have something half-assed instead: just enough knowledge to get dangerously cocky from time to time, and make stupid moves in full confidence that I have a clue what I'm doing.
The point? Don't quit my day job ;-) and remember that fantasy baseball is a game that can be enjoyable even if one doesn't play it to the fullest.
I wonder if something similar might be true of academia-as-a-vocation. Somehow that doesn't feel right to me. I can see playing fantasy baseball "for fun," but not a performing a vocation -- not that my vocation isn't exceedingly fulfilling, but "fun" doesn't seem like the right word to describe it. I enjoy
fantasy baseball, but it doesn't fulfill
me. Not like my day job does.[Posted with ecto]