When I was in college, I took a philosophy class for every single possible elective. I love philosophy and I think it has really shaped the way I approach daily fantasy sports (and life in general, but more important, daily fantasy sports).
I almost never missed a philosophy class over my college career. That’s not actually true, but I didn’t really miss that many. Maybe like one a month.
For all other classes, my only criteria for choosing the exact course was whether or not the professor took attendance. If not, I was in. I just had absolutely no interest in wasting my time in classes that didn’t interest me, so I just didn’t go.
My first semester, I took a biology class. I don’t know why I did that. The professor asked the group of maybe 150 students how many of us were pre-med. Literally 149 kids raised their hands.
He asked me in front of the entire class, “Why are you taking this class if you aren’t pre-med?”
“Uh, I don’t know…I like biology.”
WHAT A STUPID ANSWER! Who takes classes because they enjoy them? What are you going to do with a philosophy major? Don’t you know you need to prepare yourself to get a steady job? IDIOT! I just didn’t get it.
I went back to that class four times—three times for tests, and one other time when I for some reason was feeling super ambitious. One of the worst hours of my life. Oh, DNA is composed of POLYnucleotides? Well that changes everything.
I also had a religion class that I went to on the first day, but then never again after that. I would just slip my papers under the professor’s door. Someone in the class told me he said “Does Jonathan even consider himself a part of this class? That’s the laziest kid I’ve ever met.”
I got a 97 in that class though, so maybe next time have an attendance policy if you want people showing up for your lame class? Idk.
I did have this one psychology class that I also skipped most of the time, but when I went, I enjoyed it quite a bit. I remember one day the professor asked us something like “Is the Mississippi River more or less than 1,000 miles long?”
Most people said longer, which is correct. Then she asked us to estimate the length. I believe most guesses were in the range of 1,500 miles or something like that. The correct answer is 2,350 miles, and almost every student—maybe all of us—guessed a number below that.
The point was that the initial question set expectations; it primed us to guess a number below the actual distance. She said she did the same experiment with another class, except she set the initial over/under at 3,000 miles, and the guesses were much closer to the actual distance than what we had.
There are a million similar experiments that have been conducted that prove just how important our expectations can be when shaping our perception of reality. For example, people who are told they’re getting a car but then receive something worth $100 are generally upset, whereas just getting $100 without a primer is awesome.
I’ve had these same feelings in daily fantasy. I’ve seen that although money doesn’t necessarily make you happy (after a certain point), your relative change in income from year to year does affect happiness. Making $500k a year after $50k is awesome; doing it after making millions doesn’t feel as good.
People who take medicine are heavily influenced by the price of it. Those who take aspirin that costs one cent report it ineffective, but believe the exact same medicine that costs 50 cents actually alleviate their symptoms.
By the way, I’m not linking to anything here, so you’ll just have to take my word for it that these things are true.
One last example is our perception of the strength of alcohol and how it affects how drunk we feel. Just being told that a particular drink is strong actually alters our perception of inebriation. If you ever go on a date and want to get the other person buzzed but you’re ballin’ on a budget, just say to him/her “Man, these drinks are strong!”
That probably won’t work. I have no idea what I’m talking about if you haven’t noticed. But maybe it could have an effect? I don’t know, probably just don’t listen to anything I say.
Expectations in DFS
Even though I’m talking out of my ass, I definitely think it’s true that expectations go a long way in shaping how we view players. As a tournament player, my main goal is pretty much to figure out where the crowd is wrong—how their expectations are inaccurately shaping their view of reality.
Here are a few ways I think that happens.
This is a big one; “recency bias” is so hot right now in the DFS community. Humans have a tendency to overweight the value of recent events. Lots of players have gotten burned by Todd Gurley over the past month or so. Even after controlling for other factors (price, matchup, etc), Gurley could be under-owned just because it’s natural to overweight what has happened most recently.
I should point out that I think most experienced DFS players are aware of this bias, and do a good job of overcoming it. Thus, ownership on “hot” players tends to be higher at low stakes and lower at high stakes. And on the flip side, struggling players tend to be under-owned at low stakes and more popular at high stakes.
I’m really interested in how DraftKings’ salaries affect player ownership. I think there are a few ways this happens.
First, we just naturally assume cheap players are worse than expensive players. Overall, that’s obviously the case, but don’t be so quick to write off guys just because of their cost. I believe Michael Floyd is a top talent who has been wildly underpriced for weeks. This coincides with recent play, of course; Jordan Matthews is another example of a player whose stretch of lackluster production tanked his cost.
There are so many situations when we can get both value and low ownership by targeting players whose prices have unfairly declined. I actually think the drop in salary can reaffirm some DFS players’ perception of “cold” players as guys on the way down who you don’t want to roster. Because of the high expectations coming into the year, for example, I think many people believe the Eagles’ offense (and Matthews) has been awful, when in reality there’s still plenty of fantasy value there.
Another important aspect of pricing is how salaries compare to salary rank. That is, how does the actual price coincide with where a player is listed in terms of salary? I have a theory that many players scroll down through salaries and end up picking players more based off of where they’re ranked as opposed to the actual cost. We see the biggest effects among the most expensive players; there’s a big difference between the second-most expensive player who is $100 behind the most expensive versus one who is $800 cheaper.
I like to leverage pricing quirks when two guys are priced near one another or the same. This week, for example, DeAndre Hopkins is in a great spot, but I think his ownership will drop a tad because Julio Jones is just $100 more facing the Saints. The narrative is that New Orleans has one of the worst pass defenses maybe ever. They are indeed really bad, but they’ve been not as bad as people think against No. 1 receivers over the past few weeks. Forget that 90-yard Allen Robinson touchdown. I know I have(n’t).
I actually have Hopkins rated near Jones, but I know Jones is going to be more popular. If Hopkins were, say, $300 cheaper, it might change the perception of each player’s relative worth, even though that pricing difference wouldn’t affect value all that much. If Hopkins were the same price and listed above Jones, though, I think his ownership would be dramatically lower, even though it’s just $100 difference.
Consider how the perception of pricing might affect ownership. Think about which players stand out to you based solely on their location in the pricing charts; you can bet they also stand out to most other players.
Rob Gronkowski rarely has extremely high ownership on DraftKings just because he’s generally priced so much higher than other tight ends. Psychologically, that makes him look more expensive than he is; we’re being primed by the pricing on other tight ends.
But what if we think of Gronk as a receiver that we can use in the flex? At $7,400 this week, he’s all of a sudden just the eighth-most expensive receiver.
Another example is James White. He’s $5,000, but he’s a running back who barely gets any carries. It just naturally seems like he doesn’t have the workload we’re looking for because we’re conditioned to first examine carries when assessing running back upside.
But what if we view White as a slot receiver? All of a sudden we’re getting a bargain on a player who is seeing a ton of targets in an explosive offense, and the carries just become a bonus.
I look at the matchup rank for each player on DraftKings—not because I think it’s all that helpful, but because I know others are looking at it. Players facing a top-10 defense against a certain position are shown in red. Those facing the 11th-best defense are in white. Is there any meaningful difference between 10th and 11th? Of course not, but just seeing a player with a “red” matchup naturally scares people away.
Other than the top defenses in the NFL—and I mean like three or four teams—there aren’t really situations you must avoid; the other teams are all sort of bunched together in the middle such that the fifth-best defense against a position is probably pretty close to as good as the 15th-best. Try to leverage inefficiencies in the perception of defensive quality into a competitive edge.
Finally, there are just certain players and teams that get discussed way more than others. The Patriots are in the news way more than the Jaguars, and that affects player usage.
Further, the media creates certain narratives each week that people buy into—things like revenge games and guys returning to their hometowns—mainly because they’re lazy and don’t know what else to write about. If you can properly sniff out what’s real from what’s a false narrative, it can go a long way in taking advantage of others’ unrealistic expectations.
Jonathan Bales is the author of the Fantasy Sports for Smart People book series, and most recently Fantasy Football for Smart People: How to Win at Daily Fantasy Sports.
Follow him @BalesFootball.