The Limits of Analytical Thinking in Fantasy BaseballApril 19th, 2010 by Chris Liss in Uncategorized
I made a comment earlier that analytical models of the kind used by the quants here are great for solving the mysteries of the past but not very effective for guiding us as to what will happen in the future. Here's why:
The models discussed here are really nothing more than analytical tools. To the extent that one is analyzing data, they are useful.
But what does it mean to analyze something? From the online etymology dictionary:
analysis is the "resolution of anything complex into simple elements" (opposite of synthesis)".
This works well when you're looking backwards because the present (the starting point) is already formed, and you're trying to trace it back into its component parts. That's how time works – from myriad possibility into a single actuality. From the many to the one. Looking backwards, you cut up the result into its component parts – via analysis.
But when you want to go in the other direction – from past to future, you must assemble the component parts into a single whole. This would be the process of synthesis, the opposite of analysis. And analytical thinking is not all that helpful when your aim is to synthesize component parts into a whole. The models discussed above are just tools to amplify the power of one's analytical thinking. They confer no advantage if we reject the premise that analysis is the right thought mode through which to attack this problem.
You can also see that these models always proceed from present to past and never in the other direction. Consider how they work – by positing a fictional future (year-end projections for every player) and then working backwards to see what each was worth at auction.
Why posit a fictional future? Because that's the only way the model can work – backwards.
Moreover, the modelers do not acknowledge that what they're trying to do is get the best possible results in predicting the future by using a tool best designed for understanding the past, and in fact go further, insisting there is no other way to approach this problem. Even after you describe another way, they insist that you must really be doing it their way. And that if you could somehow combine your way with their model, you'd do even better.
This is the case even though they're well aware of the flaws in creating projections from the impossibility of knowing a player's statistical baseline, to the imprecision (and even arbitrariness) in calculating a player's breakout and failure scenarios. But because they believe analysis (positing a fake future to look back from) is the only way to proceed, they assume everyone has these same problems.
But I think what I've been doing is synthesis. It's another mode of thought – similar to how an NFL quarterback absorbs myriad information in a split second and knows where to deliver the ball. I'm assembling the component parts and synthesizing it into a bid. It's not without it's problems, and it's by no means a guarantee of anything (Even Tom Brady who is far better at his job than I am at mine throws interceptions). But at least it's designed for the task at hand.
Analytical thinking is important – Bill described its achievements in one of his first posts, and one cannot dispute their significance. But that does not make it optimal for solving all problems, pricing the future performance of fantasy baseball players among them.