The Psychology of Why Your Fantasy Team Stinks, Ctd.

My post the other day about the “preference for potential” inspired Ben over at Prediction, Probability, and Pigskin to run some numbers in an attempt to uncover whether such a preference actually exists when it comes to fantasy football running backs.

Using average draft position data (ADP; from for the past six NFL seasons (2006-2011), I averaged the birthdays of the 20 earliest-drafted running backs.  Then using performance statistics at the ends of those same seasons (cumulative standard scoring fantasy points), I averaged the birthdays of the top 20 fantasy running backs.  If there is a bias for potential for success, we’d expect that the top 20 draftees would have a later average birthday (i.e. they’d be younger) when compared with the top 20 actual fantasy achievers


Over the past 6 seasons, the difference between the two groups’ birthdays is only 3.5 days. Just 84 hoursSo if there’s a preference for potential for success, there’s no evidence of such in fantasy football drafts.  Nice to see that fantasy football players are thinking more rationally about their draft picks than the participants in Tormala’s study.

It’s worth pointing out that in one of Tormala’s initial experiments his team did control for age — that is, they found that participants preferred older people when it was suggested that they had more potential. So it’s clear that age isn’t exactly the best metric for measuring perceptions of potential, but perhaps something like draft status (i.e. a preference for 1st-round picks) would work.

I also think the enormous amount of variance in fantasy football makes people more focused on actual performance (at least at the top of the draft), and thus makes it a poor example. In fact, I was mostly thinking about fantasy baseball when I wrote the post. Would the data show that Bryce Harper or other uber-top tier prospects tend to get drafted higher than they should be? I think that would be a better indicator of whether the preference for potential exists in fantasy sports.

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