Fantasy Experts and Cognitive Dissonance-based Bias

I listen to a lot of fantasy football podcasts, including but not limited to the Fantasy Pros podcasts. One thing I have noticed is a tendency of experts to use the last known “good season” a player has had to support why they are good now, including going back to their college days.

What they are doing is reacting to their own cognitive dissonance. For those of you not familiar with the term, here is a definition:

Cognitive dissonance is a term for the state of discomfort felt when two or more modes of thought contradict each other.

More specifically:

When one learns new information that challenges a deeply held belief, for example, or acts in a way that seems to undercut a favorable self-image, that person may feel motivated to somehow resolve the negative feeling that results—to restore cognitive consonance. Though a person may not always resolve cognitive dissonance, the response to it may range from ignoring the source of it to changing one’s beliefs or behavior to eliminate the conflict.

A good example would be CMC, currently ranked #2 in ECR overall, even though he missed the majority of the last two seasons with various injuries. “But when he plays you get a 20+ points?” Yes, but the rest of the time you get a goose egg. And there is a LOT of “rest of the time”. What happened here is 2019, followed by enough occasional games to reinforce the expert’s bias which was formed from cognitive dissonance. They saw how good CMC could be, and then were faced with too many injuries and missed time.

Even worse: After 2020, where CMC only played 3 games, the experts were recommending him as the first pick AGAIN! When he only played 7 games in 2021, what do we get this year? He’s nudged down…to #2. This is a case of a few experts waking up and smelling the toast burning, but most of them are committed to the sunk costs of their poor decisions in the past 2 years.

But enough beating the CMC dead horse, even if it richly deserves it. Let’s look at something similar: College prospecting.

I’ve noticed in podcasts, when touting a player they scouted and liked in college, but who has had dubious returns as a pro, experts will frequently turn to their college analysis of the player to support their support of him now. When we have a case of a poorly coached player (see Matt Nagy), that is one thing. Otherwise, there comes a point 2 or 3 years down the line where we have to support what the player has done in the pros, not college. When you hear an expert use a player’s college career to defend the player now, and that player isn’t a rookie, or even a second year player, it’s time to fast forward past those comments.

I can appreciate the whole “I saw him in college, and he was excellent!” thing. But if the player doesn’t reinforce your view of him when he gets in the pros, after a reasonable period of acclimation to the pros, it is time to move on.

Having bashed the experts for a bit here, allow me to add this: They are still valuable resources, once you get past their own biases. Sometimes, they do nail an analysis. But the art for you, the listener or reader, is to spot when you are hearing/seeing a sound analysis, or just bias being spouted.

Holding a Master’s degree in Psychology, I can testify that this stuff about cognitive dissonance is true, but it sounds worse than it is. Any time you’re faced with a choice, you experience cognitive dissonance–the pros vs the cons of each option.

Where you’re kind of onto something is that it feels so good to resolve the dissonance–even if it’s just a matter of choosing which flavor of ice cream to get–that people don’t always make the most rational evaluations of the evidence before them.

But there’s also a thing called “recency bias”–aka “What have you done for me lately?” A journeyman has a good year and next year he’s a first round pick–same issue–paid too much attention to the wrong thing–in this case, last year’s results.

So how do you know if you’re dealing with recency bias, stubbornness bias, or accurate analysis?

Well, let’s just say that the world would be a much better place if everyone would take the time to check with Axe Elf before doing anything.

And now, onto the issue of narcissism…

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See, that’s the problem with axually BEING the best.

Sometimes simple self-esteem can take on the illusion of arrogance.

Finally! We can both agree you’re illuded!

Cognitive dissonance and recency bias are both factors to watch when trying to reflect your own decisions.

The #1 RB off the board in any redraft league is usually last year’s RB1. However, that’s the safest way to NOT get this year’s RB1 in the draft.

Also, when doing projections, you tend to overrate guys you like. Guys from your favorite team, guys you picked late in the draft, but who did surprisingly well last year, or guys you follow since college. We like them, so we want them to do well, so we project them to do well and ignore the screaming factors that speak against repeated success. We try to avoid cognitive dissonance through ignorance.

Until 3-4 years ago, I assigned random expected volumes to players and then ranked them accordingly. My dynasty teams always looked very well in those rankings. Sadly, they never looked as good in the actual season.

I also realized one day that some teams had to throw for 6,000+ yards in order for all their pass catchers to reach my combined projection. That’s when I switched to projecting team volumes and player shares separately. The sample size is still small (1, to be precise). But I did a lot better last year than in all those years before.

As for recency bias - @edmcgon that can be used as an argument for your negativity on CMC. You expect him to get injured again because he did so the last 2 years. And while that’s never a good sign for an RB, we still have to acknowledge that none of these injuries was serious - no broken bones, no torn ligaments. And he never injured the same part of his body twice.

Even if it does cause cognitive dissonance, we still have to acknowledge that there is a realistic chance CMC might stay healthy this year. Just like there is a chance he’ll get injured yet again. It’s a high-risk high-reward gamble.

If I ranked CMC down simply because he missed time in 2021 and 2020, I would blindly follow a recency bias. For projection purposes, I have to give him 17 games and can only tone his previous volume down a little bit, expecting the Panthers to make some efforts at keeping him healthy. As a result, he’s in the same tier as Henry and Taylor in my projections.

If I am on the clock and one of the other 2 is available, I will probably pick them. But if you had to decide between CMC and Fournette / A Jones / Mixon / A Kamara / D Cook, would you really ignore CMC?

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Yes I would. Either CMC won’t get the volume the others will see, or he will and get hurt immediately.

You cannot compare two whole seasons of history and call it “recency bias”. That is historical trending. If he just had one injury last year and I was tossing him off a cliff, then you could call it recency bias. But with a series of multiple injuries over 2 years, there is something going on here, and it ain’t good.

There is also the heavy usage factor. When RB’s have over 370 touches, there is a distinct possibility for injury. Notice that Derrick Henry didn’t get hurt until after his 397 touch season in 2020? He managed to go 8 games into 2021 at the same pace before breaking his foot.

CMC hasn’t been the same RB since his 403 touch season in 2019, mainly because they keep trying to give him the same massive workload every time he is healthy enough to take the field.

Defensive players are bigger and stronger than they were 20+ years ago. Taking that many hits takes a toll on you, and the body is bound to break down, whether it is soft tissue injuries or broken bones.

The only way I go near CMC is if I don’t really need him to contend and even then I would hesitate and may not.

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I prefer Lucy for 5 cents. :slight_smile:

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