Fantasy Outlook: Embracing Randomness and Playing for This Year

A few months ago, The Hardball Times ran a competition offering prospective fantasy baseball writers and fanatics the opportunity to compete in the inaugural Hardball Times fantasy league. The competition entailed the writing of fantasy baseball articles, the best of which would be chosen as our winner. While we could only choose one winner, we had so many great articles. What follows is one of my favorite submissions, which was written by Alan Gellin. I think you will enjoy this article as much as I did.

Each year, there are fantasy baseball team owners who decide that they will rebuild their roster and play for next year or some future year. These decisions are usually based on a team’s keeper list as compared to the other teams in the league. If I happen to be in a league where an owner declares his intention to play for next year, it is a time to rejoice because I have one less team to compete with for first place this year. While I look forward to competing with owners that play for next year, the purpose of this article is to build a case for the idea that you should always play for this year.

The basic premise underlying the argument to play for this year is the notion that we should embrace randomness. This concept of embracing randomness came to me after reading The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. A Black Swan is an event that occurs, positive or negative, that has great impact and could not be predicted. A positive example would be an unknown author’s first book becoming an international bestseller and a negative example would be the September 11, 2001 attacks. These seemingly random events cannot be predicted because we are not aware of the underlying factors at work that lead up to and contribute to making these events possible.

In fantasy baseball, the seeming randomness of statistics and the near impossibility of accurately predicting player performance from year to year can be challenging. The fantasy baseball industry has gotten better at predicting player performance but each year there are positive and negative Black Swans that impact team rosters. This year’s most famous example is the 54 home run season of Jose Bautista. This is a classic positive Black Swan event (if he was on your roster!) but there are hundreds of other examples of players not living up to or far exceeding the expectations placed upon them each season.

Since we are generally not privy to the information that contributes to unpredictable player performance, let us embrace this randomness. We really do not know for sure how any one player will perform, let alone an entire roster of players. There are always rostered players that underperform and there are always players in the free agent pool that outperform expectations. Your competitor’s unbeatable keeper list in the preseason can suddenly look beatable with unexplained drops in player performances and injuries. Taking this thought one or two years down the road: your rebuilt team’s keeper list will be subject to the same unpredictability as your competitor’s keeper list this year.

Embrace randomness. Play for this year. It’s a lot more fun than waiting around for a championship that may never happen.

Alan Gellin is a 26 year veteran of fantasy baseball and will be playing to win again this year. Comments are welcome at