The Mariners' Projected Win Total and How We Perceive

Anchors are powerful things. When it comes to evaluating something, we are invariably drawn to place the most amount of weight on one piece of information and then use that as a base from which to compare everything else against. This coffee is cheaper than it is at Starbucks. This apartment is bigger than my previous one. Today is warmer than yesterday. That is how many of us relate things, internally to ourselves and externally to others.

Those are all referential evaluations however. To someone that doesn't drink coffee at Starbucks, has never been in your old apartment or wasn't in town yesterday they are useless statements because he or she cannot share in your base point of comparison. As people, we share a frustrating habit of assuming that everyone starts from the same point that we do. The result being that we often talk/yell past each other because neither person understands the underlying individual experiences that shaped our views.

I spent time growing up near a free range dairy farm so I don't find the thought of eating veal repugnant. I have argued in the past with those that do, some of whom have made animal rights their passions. Because the arguments usually focus on the very end of the process -- whether eating veal is humane or not -- no agreement was possible. Points they made about crating did not have as visceral a reaction on me as it did them because that's not what I had seen. Likewise, they did not grasp that while some calves are treated in a downright shameful way, not all of them are and that me not being outraged at the veal industry as a whole was not equivalent to me condoning abhorrent practices.

If we had taken the time to explore each other's biases and bothered to explain the root experiences behind our feelings, we would have discovered that we actually mostly agreed in principle.

Other examples of anchoring are abound in our day to day lives. The easiest ones to spot are when transactions take place. Want to know why cars were sold for so long under the practice of a high sticker price and then a negotiation downward? Because as soon as you saw the sticker price, that became your anchor for how much the car cost. No matter what you did, every price less than sticker looked good in comparison.

It's the standard practice for anything since the beginning of time that did not have a fixed price. In baseball, it's a common practice in free agent and trade negotiations. It's impossible to avoid. It's everywhere because even if you know it's present, it works.

There are ways to work against being influenced though. Mostly it requires cognitive effort. That's why you should do research on the costs of a car before stepping a foot on a car lot. By filling up on facts and alternatives, you have weapons against the anchor of the sticker price. For interpersonal debates, it requires looking past the hot button issue to probe into the actually important, but much more complex, foundations. For the Mariners in 2011, it requires looking past the 61 win total in 2010.

Try as you might, that 61 influences you and it influences me. The past year's win total influenced the front office after 2007 and it likely influenced a lot of us after 2009. When Jeff offered a poll on how many games the Mariners might win in 2011, the median vote was for 76 wins.

Curious as to the actual nature of those thoughts and also because I enjoy attempting to puzzle out the state of the division, I broke down the projected 2011 Mariners into individual players and posted projections for the hitters and the pitchers. In both cases, the majority of votes said the projections look about right. A sub-majority thought the hitters were too high* but a similarly sized group voted the pitchers were projected too low.

*After a reasonable period, I re-evaluated my projections in light of the comments, my own thoughts and the most recent CAIRO projections. I made some tweaks that have taken the hitters down a total of about one win. The pitchers I left alone.

I take those results to say that a sizable majority of voters would have pegged the combined projections as about right. Also, though they were posted nine days after Jeff's poll, no meaningful roster moves took place in that span. Now here's the funny thing; those projections add up to the 2011 Mariners being about an 81-win team.

I am not surprised that a difference exists between the two estimates, but a five-win difference is huge. Especially when you factor that the range of realistic values is pretty small. We only have about a 50-win gap between the extreme low and high when it comes to realistic values to project for teams and that's equivalent to the three standard deviation mark.

I reject the notion that either of the two estimates is "right", but I find the disparity interesting. My economic gut instinct is that the 81-win estimate is closer to where people believe the team actually stands, but when directly asked, those feelings get mired in the 61-win anchor and thus dragged down to 76 wins. I also think 81 wins seems high for this team. But what do I know? I'm only human.

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