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What Goes Into The Comparison Game?

Choosing the best athletes and the right loans means putting on a surprising thinking cap

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“There will always be people who are ahead of the curve, and people who are behind the curve. But knowledge moves the curve.” That’s from Bill James, a pioneering baseball analyst who knows a thing or two about building winning teams. You can compare athletes based on appearance, physical strength, and mental attitude, but also examine finer details using statistical analysis and research. With so much going on in this comparison thought process, how do you know if you’re making the right choice?

Comparisons are key. And LendingTree knows that finding the best loan or credit card for you could mean hundreds in savings. When the stakes are high, one decision could mean the difference between a win or a loss.

Back to baseball. In the past, scouts checked out player features like arm strength, quickness, and mental toughness. Some of these judgments were subjective, and some just didn’t translate to actual success. “When baseball experts evaluated baseball players, their judgment could be clouded by their prejudices and preconceptions,” writes Michael Lewis, author of Moneyball. A pitcher may get attention for throwing really hard, but not necessarily hit the strike zone. Scouts are human after all, and often relied on professional intuition, rules of thumb, and tradition when evaluating players. However, these perceptions can be biased and error-prone. ​​​​“We have this tendency to comp a player to what we’ve seen in the past, or to a player that’s in the major leagues, and then all of a sudden, everything about that amateur player starts to look and feel like that major league player,” said Matt Blood, the director of player development for the Orioles. “And that’s dangerous.”

In the National Hockey League, one study suggested that there was an age bias in favor of drafting older players born earlier in the year. From 1980-2012, 36% of draftees were born in January to March, while 14.5% of draftees were born in October to December. But despite the league’s preference for drafting older players, the younger players proved to be more successful. They were roughly twice as likely to hit career benchmarks, such as 400 games played or 200 points scored. ​​”We dug into 27 years of data, and we found that relatively younger players had a consistently longer career,” said study author Robert Deaner. NHL scouts have been “consistently fooled by players’ birthdays or something associated with them.”

Daniel Kahneman, author of Thinking, Fast and Slow, says there are two modes of thinking at work in a decision-making thought process — System 1 and System 2. System 1 is based on intuition and instinct. This thinking mode is fast, automatic, unconscious, and, well, error-prone. “System 1 operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control,” Kahneman writes. It’s the part of the brain that can recognize the distance between objects, react to a loud sound, and connect personality traits to stereotypes. For example, assuming a player who is fearless means that they’re talented. Like chewing gum, it’s your brain on autopilot. It’s your gut instincts. If a scout sees a player with a strong arm, their System 1 instincts may wrongly tell them he’s an all-star in the making.

On the other hand, the System 2 mode of thinking is rational, slow, analytical, conscious, and effortful. Think parking your car in a narrow space, filling out a tax form, or comparing two washing machines for overall value. Your brain requires focused attention to accomplish these tasks. “System 2 allocates attention to the effortful mental activities that demand it, including complex computations,” Kahneman states. Scouts working their System 2 thinking caps can sharpen their comparison tools to help select the best players.

In recent decades, the sports world has leaned into this System 2 mode further — comparing players using more relevant data and analysis. Teams are not just looking at the flashiest players with strong bodies. They’re looking at complex statistics such as on-base percentage and slugging percentage — stats that indicate real success on the baseball field and can lead to actual wins. “If you don’t adapt, you die,” former Cincinnati Reds scout Hank Sargent says. “And I think that if you have access to information that helps paint a more vivid picture, then not using it is a mistake.”

Luckily, we can enjoy the game while the scouts do all the research. But when it comes to making better real world choices such as comparing financial services, we can take a page from the modern scouting handbook and increase the use of rational System 2 thinking. Fortunately, the LendingTree marketplace can do all of that analytical hard work for you. Equipped with easy tools for comparing rates, APRs, star ratings, and monthly payments, you can be confident that you’re picking the best choice and getting the best deal. As a convenient one-stop shop for comparing multiple offers from several lenders, LendingTree acts like your personal scout, scanning the field to serve up your best options to save money, all in a matter of minutes. When it comes to loans, credit cards and insurance, LendingTree makes comparison shopping easy, so you can come out a winner.

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