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Your Bench is Making You Miserable (2020 Fantasy Football)

Nov 25, 2020

Damien Harris or J.D. McKissic? Michael Pittman Jr. or Corey Davis? 

These types of “coin flip” start-or-sit decisions are asked every week across the fantasy universe. Two (or more) players with relatively equal fantasy outlooks are presented for your deliberation. And you can only pick one. 

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Some managers may make the decision on a Tuesday and walk away from it. Others may take the rumination all the way to kickoff. Eventually, one player jettisons to your starting lineup. The other fades into that gray zone – your fantasy bench. It doesn’t matter if you find yourself in an eight- or sixteen-team league. It doesn’t matter if your league starts nine players, or nineteen. Somewhere, at some point, the line is drawn. Somewhere on your fantasy app, your roster positions fade from white to gray. And wherever that line is drawn, a “coin flip” decision will indubitably present itself to you. 

Here’s the thing about coin flip decisions: by their very nature, we’ll choose wrong at least as often as we’ll choose right. Deciding between Marvin Jones or Michael Pittman Jr. last week? Jones ended up catching four passes. Pittman caught three. But one of Pittman’s went for a 45-yard touchdown. And a 50-yard touchdown reception by Jones was taken off the board because someone stood in the wrong spot before the snap. That’s the line between “right” and “wrong” in this game. Even for superstars, the weight of their weekly fantasy outputs is often determined by just a few plays. 

I don’t have a cure-all remedy for your start-or-sit conundrums. As I said, those aren’t going away. But what I can offer you is a way to feel better about them. It’s an idea that the science says you’ll bristle at, but it’s also an idea that the science says will make you happier. 

And it’s this: cut down your bench spots.

Look, it doesn’t actually matter to your psyche that you chose to start the wrong player. Think about it: there’s probably an entire team of waiver wire free agents that outscored your starting lineup last week. No, simply making the wrong decision isn’t what makes you upset – it’s the proximity of that choice. It’s that your wrong choice haunts you for the rest of the day by staring back at you from your bench. From Thursday through Monday, every time you check your scores on your fantasy app, you’ll be taunted by that escalating point total in that faded gray reserve. “Why couldn’t you choose right,” your inner monologue cries in your head. “Look at that: another touchdown on your bench. You really are bad at this.”

You see, human beings suffer from something known as negativity bias. Unpleasant thoughts, negative emotions, and bad interactions all have a greater effect on our psychological state than positive ones of equal intensity. This is why bad beats at the poker table (or in fantasy football . . . or in life) are more salient in our minds than our accomplishments or good fortunes. This is why most of the friends we make in our lives are people we happened to be physically closest to (the research says proximity amplifies a person’s positive and negative attributes). And this is why being forced to drop Michael Pittman Jr. because you didn’t have enough space for him on your bench would have actually made you less upset with choosing wrong than if you stashed him on your bench – regardless of whether you won or lost.

Now, before you push back that such a change is blasphemous, or anti-competitive, or some other not-so-nice thing, let me say: I know. I know that you feel that way because our species is also loss averse. We hate losing things (about twice as much as we like gaining things), so our first inclination when someone proposes eliminating anything is to cry foul. That’s why in my twelve-team, three-flex, six-bench-spot league, my fellow managers not only voted down my amendment to remove a bench spot in the offseason but also voted to add an IR spot. 

We’re all serial hoarders. We just like to think that we aren’t. 

We all have more than we need. We just like to think we need a little bit more. 

I don’t have a one-size-fits-all approach to how many bench spots your league should have. It ultimately hinges on the number of teams and the depth of your starting lineups. But I will say this: my general rule of thumb is that a fantasy league’s bench should only be large enough to reasonably manage bye weeks and one or two injuries to superstars, period. In a standard twelve-team league, that probably means about four bench spots, tops. Not the radical-out-of-the-box six spots that are considered “conventional.” Tighter benches also heighten the impact of in-season decisions, increase competition on the waiver wire, and encourage more action throughout the season (in other words, no more hoarding). 

Everybody wins – and I’m not just talking about the quality of your leagues. I’m talking about the state of your psyches. 

Because this week, when Corey Davis goes off for one hundred receiving yards and two touchdowns, you won’t be upset that you didn’t play him. Sure, you still chose wrong – but it was never really about the decision. It was about your proximity to it. And this way, you’ll no longer be faced with his bloated weekly output jeering at you from behind that faded gray wall, reminding you of your wrongness with every refresh of your fantasy app. 

Instead, he’ll be off compiling those gaudy numbers somewhere within the anonymity of your waiver wire. 

And nobody cares about that. 

At least until Tuesday. 

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Whether you’re new to fantasy football or a seasoned pro, our Fantasy Football 101: Strategy Tips & Advice page is for you. You can get started with How to Manage Early-Season Injury Problems or head to more advanced strategy – like How to Effectively Assess the Quality of Your Team – to learn more.

David Giardino is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from David, check out his archive and follow him @davidgiardino.

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