Dunning-Kreuger and the $1 Player

In my Tout Wars auction held just over a week ago, 72 players were rostered who cost just $1. While I rostered my standard four, one owner got 10 with two others at nine*. I wondered if there is a point that having too many $1 players on a team is a detriment.

First, a little background on the auction. Here is the plot of the auction bids compared to the actual 2019 results.

The 2019 production leader was at $47 (Razzball) and $43 (FanGraphs auction calculator). Six players went at or above the $47 mark and eight over $43. The idea of spending more early on is to grab some $2 to $8 guys in the end game for $1. In this auction, everyone was taking that approach. I used my standard “lesser stars and scrubs” approach.

I bought eight players between the $17 and $32 range missing the early hyper-inflation. Also, I grabbed two $2 players and four $1 players. If every owner rostered four $1 players, 60 would be added which isn’t too far off the eventual total. The overall number is not so much an issue with me, it’s more of the distribution between teams.

There is nothing wrong with a few $1 guys. Owners have been grinding all offseason trying to find their deep sleepers and my last ten values may be completely different than someone else’s. Even with the differences, these end-of-game players are not in demand or someone would have bid $2 or more on them earlier on.

But ten $1 players? At least half of these dart throws are going to bust and some are going to be great values. Since so many $1 guys needed to be rostered, the owners with many $1 guys were stuck picking at the bottom of their rankings. Other owners filled out their rosters with the “best” $1 guys. Two other hurdles the $1 owner must faced were:

  1. A six-player reserve round was drafted at the end with the next 90 best players taken. The talent pool just keeps getting tinner.
  2. The five $1 player teams will be churning through the waiver wire fighting over the leftover scraps. And not all the players added will work out and it may take weeks or months to finally roster an above replacement team. And the other owners won’t be sitting still trying to improve their team. Finally, I get the heart of the problem, how owners view their ability to find waiver wire talent.

The owners bought so many $1 players because they must believe they can find several gems. Our own Al Melchior stated, “… since I trust myself to either find good players in the endgame or find suitable replacements in FAAB bidding.” when talking about his eight $1 buys. I decided to see how my Twitter followers thought of their ability to find Waiver Wire talent.

Holy Dunning-Kruger effect, almost every one of my followers must be from Lake Wobegon. For those unfamiliar with the Dunning-Kruger effect, here is its definition.

The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which unskilled people make poor decisions and reach erroneous conclusions, but their incompetence denies them the metacognitive ability to recognize their mistakes. The unskilled therefore suffer from illusory superiority, rating their ability as above average, much higher than it actually is, while the highly skilled underrate their own abilities, suffering from illusory inferiority.

We all think we are great at finding waiver wire talent, but we can’t be. If each owner is above average, then they’re all average and not much of an advantage should be expected.

Circling back to the original question of what is too many $1 players? I’m not sure of the answer but I think 10 is not the answer. The team requires too many in-season resources allocated to try to find talent, especially in a league like Tout Wars where each owner is active on the waiver wire. Since more FAAB resources will need to used to fill in for the $1 failures, not enough money will be available for the actual impact players.

But owners should still try to take advantage of the surplus-value gained by some $1 guys. I’m 100% biased by going with four $1 guys (two pitchers, two hitters) and have replacements taken during the reserve draft. I could easily be talked up to six. I could be wrong but hopefully, we’ll be able to find out at some point this year if the league plays out.


*The totals for the 15 team were: 10, 9, 9, 8, 8, 6, 6, 4, 3, 2, 2, 2, 2, 1, 0

Jeff, one of the authors of the fantasy baseball guide,The Process, writes for RotoGraphs, The Hardball Times, Rotowire, Baseball America, and BaseballHQ. He has been nominated for two SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis and won it in 2013 in tandem with Bill Petti. He has won four FSWA Awards including on for his Mining the News series. He's won Tout Wars three times, LABR once, and got his first NFBC Main Event win in 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

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2 years ago

I don’t think your readers who are engaged enough to respond to you are exactly the general public, so I would buy the distribution ranging mostly from average to (well) above average. There are still plenty of league fillers out there who don’t read projections, or read things at all… (More so in fantasy football whereas the baseball crowd is a little sharper, but applies to both.) As George Carlin said, as dumb as the average person is, half of them are dumber than that!

2 years ago
Reply to  docgooden85

this is the correct analysis. Not that we’re all suffering from Dunning-Kreuger

2 years ago
Reply to  hebrew

Perhaps in a home league, but Jeff’s analysis makes sense in expert and NFBC leagues. I think home leagues create that confidence, but it bears reflecting in a league full of people who do well in home leagues. When you step into a new league environment, be mindful of this.