Bias and Objectivity in baseball prospect analysis

The statue in the photograph is called Affe mit Schädel ("ape with skull"), by 19th century German sculptor Hugo Rheinhold. The artwork may be known to students of Russian/Soviet history: it was one of Vladimir Lenin's favorites and he often displayed a small copy of it on his work desk in the Kremlin.

Like most good works of art, this statue can be interpreted in many ways. I have always taken it as a metaphor for humanity's quest for self-knowledge in the face of mortality, particularly ironic given that Lenin was not exactly a person given to deep self-reflection on his own motivations.

Nevertheless, I think such reflection is absolutely necessary when we seek knowledge or advancement in any field of endeavor, be it politics, science, or baseball prospecting. Being human, none of us can be 100% objective, even when we try to be that way. But if we have a sense of what our own biases are, we can perhaps fall into the swamp of poor analysis and self-deluded error a little less often.

That takes some humility. It takes the willingness to admit, to yourself and others, what your biases are and how they may impact your analysis in a particular situation. It also takes the wisdom to distinguish between opinions and fact, and the diplomacy to avoid turning honest disagreements into battles of will and ego. It is a sign of maturity and of security. In my experience this is true for most aspects of life: careers, parenting, romance and sex, and certainly baseball prospecting.

You'll get much further in life if you can check your ego at the door.

So think about this today. In analyzing baseball players and prospects, what are your personal biases? Have such biases ever helped you? And when have they hindered you? In my own case, I tend to be biased in favor of underdog types who play above their tools. This has helped me identify some players ahead of the general knowledge curve, and most of my "sleeper alert" success stories are because of this tendency. But it also makes me, at times, overly skeptical of high-ceiling tools players who need polish, and I am sometimes slow on the uptake with those types of players.

What are you biases, when have they helped you, and when have they hurt you?

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