Over the years, I have been in my fair share of corporate meetings. I’ve presented data with extensive analysis on trends, historical performance, optimized future projections, and plenty more. Then, someone with a title shinier than mine and experience much longer than mine regales the room with a story about a time they dealt with the issue. It humanizes the topic in a way data struggles to, connecting the dots with a tangible example that even a novice could follow. That anecdotal approach tends to win a lot of minds, and usually does as my data driven tactic is less accessible.
With that, however, comes a huge risk. Rather than try to explain it myself, I will use a quote from Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s famous book, The Black Swan.
“The narrative fallacy addresses our limited ability to look at sequences of facts without weaving an explanation into them, or, equivalently, forcing a logical link, an arrow of relationship upon them. Explanations bind facts together. They make them all the more easily remembered; they help them make more sense. Where this propensity can go wrong is when it increases our impression of understanding.”
If this sounds a little heavy, let’s try and simplify. Basically, someone who sees facts inevitably wants to create an explanation that helps them (and others) understand it better. The concern arises as the explanation weaves in the individual’s views on those facts, skewing it so others understand their interpretation, not the actual facts. Here’s an example:
Facts: Keenan Allen has been seriously injured four times since 2012, failing to finish any of the last three seasons.
Conclusion: Keenan Allen is injury prone.
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This is a nice, neat explanation that creates stability in what is a random situation. Digging deeper, the injuries Keenan Allen has suffered are not related. A torn ACL, a ruptured kidney, a severely sprained ankle, a torn PCL. It is easier to create order in the chaotic world of NFL injuries by labeling someone “injury prone” than letting go and accepting the idea that injuries are a random occurrence based on factors we cannot predict (despite what some websites might try).
Let’s take another example, this one referred to as the “Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy”:
“A cowboy takes aim at a barn and starts shooting randomly. When he is done, we walks up and notices that there are a large number of holes in one area and fewer holes in another. He then paints a bullseye over the area where there are a large number of holes. To anyone walking up, it looks like he was a good shot and mostly hit where he was aiming.”
We have seen plenty of these examples littering the fantasy football landscape, with the bullet holes representing the data points and the bullseye simply someone’s explanation for the cluster. A recent one being the “failure” of key Zero RB targets in 2016. Rather than embrace the randomness of the running back position; naysayers pointed to the fragility of smaller running backs, the unreliability of receiving backs, and anything else that fell into their “bullseye” analysis. The truth is, we have seen this randomness on a variety of levels: the Wildcat in the NFL, early/late round everything, size bias at positions. Rather than try and find patterns, test theories, and figure out what’s next; we are too concerned with creating stories and promoting them through our draft and roster actions.
So what are the fantasy football narrative fallacy archetypes? Here are four that I would look out for:
- The One Reason Approach – You know this person. They are the one who quotes one statistic (or one play) to prove a point. “Todd Gurley was terrible last year. 3.2 yards per carry!”
- Rise and Fall Approach – You know how your parents complain how everything used to be better? This is that, in fantasy football terms. “There are no good running backs anymore!”
- The Best Approach – This one is fun because everyone loves to be first onto a new craze. They want to be the early adopter and ahead of the trend. Fantasy players are no different and it changes every year. “Late QB is dead.” “Everyone does Zero RB.” “Early WR is the best way.”
- The Optimistic Approach – I bring this one up because it happens every year in one specific way. It paints a rosy picture of the future. “Wait until next year’s rookie draft class!”
The truth is, these stories and narratives are a comfortable way everyone creates rational understanding out of the disorder. And that isn’t necessarily bad. However, we need to focus on constant improvement using more data, more methods, and looking to future performance. With that last point, let’s be clear, even the best analysts struggle to get more than 60% right in weekly rankings in the form of FantasyPros, showing how much randomness exists even for those who dedicate the most time to it.
What makes dynasty football so great is that it is a multi-year game, meaning players are leveraging a lot of experience to test their theories and find their truths. It also allows someone to question those truths and figure out if the contradictions they find are compelling enough to dissent.
I have written plenty of articles on players, strategies, and theories since I joined DLF nearly three years ago. I am not beholden to any of those articles and I hope you aren’t either. The best way to prove something out? Join a dynasty league and try it!