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The “Challenge The Narrative” Game

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It can be difficult to move past your biases.

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

It’s not easy being a fan. Namely, being a fan is a very emotional attachment to a team and/or player(s). And while it is absolutely, 110% acceptable to be emotional about your team and have your emotions dictate your feelings, thoughts, and everything else about being a fan, the problem is that emotions cause one to become irrational about their fandom. And this irrational attachment creates some strong biases that really cloud our judgment.

The lasting result of this is that the overall fan perception of a player (aka the “narrative”) doesn’t necessarily match up with the player’s actual performance or value. In the majority of the cases, it’s probably very close. But sometimes, you’ll get cases where a bad player is widely loved by a fanbase or a good player is widely hated by a fanbase. In these cases, there are generally intangible factors that come into play here. Specifically: biases.

Biases come in a lot of flavors and it would be impractical to discuss them all. However, there is one bias in particular that stands out in being a fan: Human beings are much better at remembering bad events than good ones. This has a direct impact on baseball fans: we often tend to remember when a particular player failed in a key situation than all the other times where he contributed positively to the team. This can drastically impact our perception (or the narrative) of the player, especially if that player wasn’t well-liked to begin with.

This creates a problem as this bias is widely prevalent, but it seems, at least to this author, to be more present in baseball than in any other sport. Baseball is built around failure - a hitter succeeding in getting a hit more than 30% of the time is rather rare, for example - and baseball fans tend to have very strong personal attachments to certain baseball players as the sport allows for gratuitious amounts of face time for almost every player. These factors lead us to attaching a very large portion of our individual opinions of each player to a very small number of events. Just think about it: a full-time position player can receive over 700 plate appearances in a single season, yet how many of those can you recall? Probably only a handful, and likely mostly to be negative plays. In a sport that is defined by extremely large samples (there is a reason why baseball plays 162 games each year), we’re assigning our opinions in extremelly small samples. Therein lies one of our biggest biases.

To address some of our individual biases, we’re going to play a game. It’s called the “Challenge The Narrative” game. Below are several examples of baseball stat lines in a variety of situations (from single season to multiple seasons). Some might include extraneous information, such as salaries. Below each example will be a poll for you to give your opinion based off the information you just read. To make this as authentic as possible, please try to make your decisions based off the information alone and not trying to figure out who each player is. Please try to avoid spoiling anything in the comments, but feel free to talk about the situations.

The purpose of this game isn’t necessarily to change your mind about each player; that opinion is largely already cemented. The purpose is to make you aware of how these biases tend to come in to play in our decision making about a particular player. Being aware of your biases is extremely important as it lets us making better decisions in the future. And this is very important in many things besides just baseball.

We will follow up with the results of the polling and go into more detail for each example next week.

So, let’s play the game! Credit to Jack Sommers for some of the examples below.


Over 4 consecutive seasons, Player A had a .286/.362/.485 line with 91 HR, 77 SB, and plus defense in the outfield. This combined for 16.1 fWAR over 4 seasons. How would you rate this player?

Poll

How would you rate Player A?

This poll is closed

  • 1%
    Superstar
    (3 votes)
  • 53%
    All-star
    (111 votes)
  • 43%
    Above-average regular
    (89 votes)
  • 1%
    Average regular
    (3 votes)
  • 0%
    Below-average regular/part-timer
    (0 votes)
  • 0%
    Replacement player
    (0 votes)
206 votes total Vote Now

Player B had a batting line of .272/.313/.508 with 31 HR and 83 RBI. Would you like this bat in your lineup?

Poll

Would you like Player B’s bat in your lineup?

This poll is closed

  • 92%
    Yes
    (183 votes)
  • 7%
    No
    (15 votes)
198 votes total Vote Now

Player C and Player D had the following stats the past two seasons. Who would you rather sign as a free agent for 2019?

Player C: Ages 27-28, 1202 PA, .305/.389/.534, 49 HR, 192 RBI, 138 OPS+

Player D: Ages 29-30, 1355 PA, .294/.396/.547, 69 HR, 203 RBI, 139 OPS+

Poll

Would you rather sign Player C or Player D?

This poll is closed

  • 37%
    Player C
    (74 votes)
  • 35%
    Player D
    (70 votes)
  • 27%
    I don’t know; it’s too close to tell
    (54 votes)
198 votes total Vote Now

Say Player E had the following pitching line last season: 200 IP, 61.2% GB%, 3.78 ERA, 3.85 FIP. Where would they rank in our current rotation?

Poll

Where would Player E rank in our current rotation?

This poll is closed

  • 9%
    Best pitcher
    (18 votes)
  • 46%
    2nd-best
    (89 votes)
  • 38%
    3rd-best
    (73 votes)
  • 5%
    4th-best
    (10 votes)
  • 0%
    5th-best
    (1 vote)
  • 0%
    Worse than our entire rotation
    (0 votes)
191 votes total Vote Now

Player F, Player G, and Player H have the following stats and corresponding price tag. Would you rather have Player F or a combination of Player G and Player H?

Player F: 1013 IP, 9.6 K/9, 2.7 BB/9, 3.52 ERA, 3.32 FIP for $29 million

Or

Player G: 624 IP, 8.0 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, 3.55 ERA, 3.84 FIP for $1.35 million

+

Player H: 301 IP, 7.1 K/9, 2.0 BB/9, 3.01 ERA, 3.26 FIP for $0.42 million

Poll

Would you rather have Player F or Player G + Player H?

This poll is closed

  • 8%
    Player F for $29 million
    (16 votes)
  • 91%
    Player G + Player H for combined $1.77 million
    (169 votes)
185 votes total Vote Now

Player J had a batting line of .251/.300/.473 with 95 HR and 282 RBI over 3 seasons. Would you like this bat in your lineup?

Poll

Would you like Player J’s bat in your lineup?

This poll is closed

  • 71%
    Yes
    (129 votes)
  • 28%
    No
    (52 votes)
181 votes total Vote Now

Player K and Player L are both relievers with the following stat lines over the past two seasons. Which would you rather have in 2019?

Player K: 101 IP, 10.2 K/9, 4.1 BB/9, 0.4 HR/9 137 ERA+; $1.9 million in 2019

Player L: 131 IP, 12.0 K/9, 5.2 BB/9, 0.9 HR/9, 138 ERA+; $9.0 million in 2019

Poll

Would you rather have Player K or Player L?

This poll is closed

  • 90%
    Player K
    (161 votes)
  • 9%
    Player L
    (17 votes)
178 votes total Vote Now

Player M had a batting line of .272/.332/.485 with 183 HR and 587 RBI and a total wRC+ of 124 over 6 seasons. Player M was an above average defender at 1st. What would have been a fair average salary for that player?

Poll

What is a fair average annual salary for Player M?

This poll is closed

  • 4%
    $25 million or more per year
    (8 votes)
  • 27%
    $20 - $24.99 million per year
    (49 votes)
  • 44%
    $15 - $19.99 million per year
    (79 votes)
  • 18%
    $10 - $14.99 million per year
    (32 votes)
  • 4%
    Less than $10 million per year
    (8 votes)
176 votes total Vote Now

Player N has a batting line of .246/.312/.438 (100 wRC+) and average defense in the outfield. How would you rate this player?

Poll

How would you rate Player N?

This poll is closed

  • 0%
    Superstar
    (0 votes)
  • 0%
    All-star
    (0 votes)
  • 6%
    Above-average regular
    (11 votes)
  • 55%
    Average regular
    (97 votes)
  • 34%
    Below-average regular/part-timer
    (60 votes)
  • 4%
    Replacement player
    (7 votes)
175 votes total Vote Now

Player O has a batting line of .341/.393/.595 (161 wRC+) and average defense in the outfield. How would you rate this player?

Poll

How would you rate Player O?

This poll is closed

  • 33%
    Superstar
    (58 votes)
  • 47%
    All-star
    (83 votes)
  • 16%
    Above-average regular
    (29 votes)
  • 1%
    Average regular
    (3 votes)
  • 0%
    Below-average regular/part-timer
    (0 votes)
  • 0%
    Replacement player
    (0 votes)
173 votes total Vote Now