This season, Mixed Tout Wars is going to replace batting average with on-base percentage. The American-League- and National-League-only auctions are staying with batting average, at least for 2013. We invited a member of the Tout Wars LLC, Peter Kreutzer, to join us for a discussion on the rule change and the role of Tout Wars as an industry showcase league in general.
Here's the question as posed to the Knights of Lord Zola's Round Table:
Grandy difference between BA, OBP
As some of you know, Mixed Tout Wars is replacing batting average with on base percentage this season. How do you feel in general about using OBP instead of BA? What do you think about Tout Wars making the change? For those playing in Mixed Tout this season, how will this impact your preparation?
Brian Walton, NL Tout Wars participant
It's about time. Here in 2013, who would argue that BA is a better measure than OBP? It is not like the idea is so revolutionary that it should require years of testing. Do it across the board and set the trend.
Peter Kreutzer, NL Tout Wars participant
I think we're all in agreement that OBP is a far better stat category than BA. I don't want to be rude, but anyone who thinks otherwise is wrong (unless they have some other way to value bases on balls). When this came up as an item at the Tout rules meeting, the four of us said something like, um, "Yes." We all think OBP should extend across the Tout leagues. The issue for Tout was how to make this change, which isn't revolutionary but is a significant difference for many existing leagues that have always played with BA.
My home league, the American Dream League, had its rules meeting today. I've advocated OBP for years, but didn't bother to bring it up this year. Tradition is traditional. We don't have the votes to change it.
We introduced the Swingman into the AL and NL leagues last year, an experiment that went very smoothly. I thought some people would object to messing with the game, but in fact those who spoke up were very supportive. And as a result I met people who played in leagues that had been doing this for years. What felt like aggressive (and clever) change reflected what home leagues were already doing. And gave leagues that weren't doing it an alternative.
We didn't add a Swingman in Tout Mixed because it didn't make sense (actually, we tried to add it but the Mixed owners pointed out that the problem the Swingman was meant to solve was an AL- or NL-only problem, so we withdrew it), so we decided to introduce the OBP change in the Mixed League this year and incorporate reactions when we start it in the AL and NL leagues.
I know that all four of us on the LLC think OBP is better than BA, but we're also conscious about melding the Tout Wars experience with the leagues other people play in and making the values relevant.
But apropos Brian's comment: I hate the idea that this slower rollout makes Tout conservative. I think in this case we are, but our goal is to be progressive. To push the boundaries that other Expert Leagues (I really wanted to say So-called Expert Leagues) don't. And if we don't we'd like our followers to let us know.
Don Drooker, defending Xperts Fantasy League Champion
There is no argument that OBP is a better reflection of player productivity, but BA has a 100-year head start. The XFL has used OBP since its inception ten years ago and the research does require some adjustment, as the mainstream pundits use BA to determine their dollar values. I participate in a couple of traditional Rotisserie (auction) leagues and they are hesitant to change for two basic reasons ... 1) the owners don't want to do the extra work ... 2) they are keeper leagues and player values would be altered. If I was a decision-maker in a re-draft (or new) league, OBP would definitely be a category.
Perry Van Hook, AL LABR participant
I think however that TOUT can (although I doubt they will) use this as an instructional vehicle to get more people familiar with OBP - it would require an explanation from several writers in several venues about the stat and why it is a better measurement of a batter's plate appearance. If they could properly reach people in their home leagues who could see this and follow it this year (with good explanations throughout the year and perhaps some comparisons of popular players) then there might be several leagues across the country adopting OBP next year.
The good news is that Mastersball projections include OBP, and Tout Wars, the focus of this discussion, is a re-draft league. Especially given the participants are industry leaders, shifting the Touts' mindset to OBP should be easy. As you noted, the XFL, which includes a number of common participant names with Tout, has been using OBP successfully for a long time.
Perry, do you think the challenge is really education? Don't you think most fantasy players already understand the basic advantages of OBP over BA? I think it is primarily a comfort zone issue that will take some people years to get past. Seems to me that to drive change, some have to lead.
For example, this is one for Peter. In next year's Fantasy Baseball Guide, why not add OBP projections alongside BA and offer a second set of dollar projections that include OBP instead of BA? It would certainly be more work, but it could give your magazine a competitive advantage over its competitors on the racks.
Todd, we could do the same with our projections – offer an OBP flavor. IMO, this kind of concrete action would help the casual fan in the transition far more than us writing a bunch of articles explaining why one is better than the other.
YES, absolutely there are thousands of fantasy players who have no idea what OBP even stands for much less how that affects the evaluation and ranking of their hitters. OR why it is a better stat to use in their leagues. It is a comfort zone as Don said from what they know to what they don't - that is why Tout Wars participants should educate them and help them get comfortable with the measurement.
Todd Zola, NL Tout Wars and Mixed LABR participant
FWIW, our Customizable Value and Ranking Calculator already has the option to use OBP in lieu of average, but I don't have any essays talking about where the market deficiencies might be. Adam Dunn could be the poster boy for this, but he's so obvious, he could actually be overvalued in OBP leagues for those that rely more on gut than a spreadsheet (not that there's anything wrong with that).
Every year, I run OBP values for our XFL auction and try to identify some sneaky OBP plays. Granted, that's in November so writing about it then would have limited utility, but there's no reason I couldn't emulate the exercise in the spring.
I'd like to applaud Tout Wars for taking the trendsetting approach and not being concerned about the public backlash, though there must be some pause or all three leagues would have converted this season.
There will no doubt be some complaints that Tout Wars should model the most common leagues so it can be used as a source for dollar values and the like. My feeling here is we as an industry need to do a better job explaining the utility of a league such as Tout Wars and LABR. If the audience believes the best use is to price Curtis Granderson at $21 because that's what he went for in AL Tout, we're collectively not doing our jobs as writers and analysts very well.
Personally, I think we should do our best to turn the focus more on the game theory and execution than the player evaluation role of showcase leagues. The catch here is my old partner and I used to have a saying - no one cares about your team but you - so the trick is presenting the information in a more global sense (something our own Brian Walton does as well as anyone, for what it's worth).
Another OBP boost
Yes, I already acknowledged that the OBP numbers can be extracted from the base data. I am talking about a second set of dollar projections, positional rankings, etc based on OBP that casual players would not have to do any extra work to sit down on draft day and use.
In terms of obvious, if Perry's view of the space is accurate, we may be out of touch with what the average fantasy player understands and what he doesn't. No OBP vs. BA discussion may be too elementary.
I think the change to OBP is entirely defensible for the reasons already stated and possibly overdue. We now have an entire generation of fantasy players that have been reared on advanced statistics, so I think the move to OBP makes perfect sense as a first step in acknowledging this reality. While Perry may be perfectly correct in stating that most fantasy players may not understand the advantages of OBP, I think most of those who currently follow Tout Wars do. So, perhaps that's another argument to be made in favor of the change as it is something to talk about and promote the leagues. I think introducing it in Mixed makes sense, since as Don suggested traditionalists, who are more likely to stick with BA, will also be the most likely to continue playing AL and NL only leagues. They rely on the valuations, so it seems prudent to phase this in next year, so the content providers can prepare accordingly and do some of the things Brian suggests with dollar values, etc.
Many good thoughts in this conversation. I agree totally with Todd that our job as writers is to explain how the games work and how to play them apart from finding a single value for each player. Every league I play in and know of has different rules from every other, which means at the very least subtle differences in pricing and sometimes significant ones. So while much of the interest in showcase leagues is in the prices of players in the auction or draft, the value to the audience is more relative than specific.
Adopting OBP as a category upends that some, but that's okay. It's a much better way to play, and that's a good reason for people to change their rules.
And a good reason for Tout to change its rules.
Only if the TOUT participants AND directors are going to start Now and continue to get into print and on the airwaves What the change is, and Why the change is being made, and How it will affect TOUT's Mixed League, AND could impact the leagues of their audience(s).
Rob Leibowitz, AL Tout Wars participant
The switch to OBP is a long time coming. Starting in mixed is a good idea. As a 15-team auction league, it's a bit of an irregular format regardless. So why not take it up a notch and use a stat that has a lot more meaning behind it.
I can understand the hesitation with the switch in general. Tout Wars is walking a fine line of being relevant so fantasy players actually bother to pay attention to our auctions and to being a leader in fantasy baseball game play.
It strikes me the way to generate the switch, on a mass scale, to OBP, is from a behavioral change standpoint. Most of the Touts have their hands in some form of game service, stat service, or writing etc. where we can get up on a podium and push it not only in what we write, but push it in the product too.
Nick Minnix, AL LABR and Mixed Tout Wars participant
The fashionably late dude (and it's not because of his wardrobe) in the peanut gallery is in agreement with Mr. Walton on all fronts (except maybe one). It sounds like everyone agrees on most aspects of the introduction of OBP as a replacement for BA. Valid concerns, varying levels of rationale. I expect that the most advantageous way to bring about change in the fantasy community's mentality is just to publish projections, values, rankings, etc., as suggested. I think it's neither good nor bad that OBP is the standard in Tout Mixed only, to start, however. A year or two to convert all leagues makes no difference, really. Change is change; to me the important thing is that it has started. Kudos to the LLC for recognizing that perception of how a change comes about may be a factor in people's attitudes toward it. Is it necessary? Probably not. Is it helpful? Perhaps. Perhaps works well.
I agree completely with Todd's philosophy on writing, but that approach, unfortunately, works for only a select group of readers, just like it does for any population. How big is that group? I'm not sure, but I'm sure that I wish it was bigger. In general, casual players prefer that you tell them what to do, not show them how to do it.
Anyway, most people, by nature, are averse to change, so to help them adapt, you implement what you think is good for them. How sinister is your opposition? At some point, BA die-hards may be motivated to paint you as radical, evil, a scapegoat for the source of the disadvantaged's problems in some manner, and prey upon the emotions that fuel their fears. If Yahoo!, ESPN and CBS just switched defaults from BA to OBP, brains would melt. Nothing wrong with that (not brains melting; sweeping change), but most people need time to get used to an idea. If resistance is strong enough, the sweeping change will backfire, and then it will be harder to bring about change in the future, regarding OBP or anything else, because the last change left a bad taste in people's mouths (to say the least). Whether they're correct isn't the point, especially when your product is involved.
I figured that a switch to OBP would be easier in AL and NL leagues precisely because traditional and experienced players seem to have a greater appreciation for what OBP indicates. Casual players play in mixed leagues, mostly.
Tim Heaney, Mixed Tout Wars and Mixed LABR participant
I think there's a bigger desire than what's being let on for the average player to try something new. In my years of writing in this industry - not as much as most of you, but significant enough to notice such things - the rate at which I encounter alternative formats, via Twitter questions and the like, has increased. My personal dynasty league uses OPS along with BA - redundant, perhaps, but still acknowledging the impact that OBP has on a player's value and that SABRmetrics isn't voodoo. And, as mentioned, the FSWA leagues add an intriguing dimension to their categories.
As the complexity of player analysis by most fans grows, it's clear they'll recognize if they play in an OBP format that players like Adam Dunn boast different values in OBP leagues than they do in BA leagues.
The challenge, as mentioned by a few of you, is how we relay this in our fantasy advice to the commonplace, say, 5x5, head-to-head or points league. Our contention that OBP is the better judge of a player's plate skills might take a few years to alter the default landscape, but in this Internet age, this goal might be easier to accomplish.
Just as vital in promoting this is the direction of Tout Wars' role, whether it's a paragon of how the game should be played, or at its base level an example of potential alterations.
In whatever form, more discussion on OBP vs. BA - and how Tout Wars participants and board members are constantly looking to evolve - expands the minds and toolboxes of what our readers can do.
Lord Zola's Wrap Up
There's a lot to think about here, mostly with respect to Tout Wars' role in pushing the envelope as everyone is in agreement on-base percentage is a better category than batting average.
Nick brought up a very salient point and that is, perhaps the AL and NL only leagues would have been a better place to enact the change, since those still playing in those formats are more likely to be agree with the assertion OBP is better.
As my Knights often do, we strayed into a couple of tangential topics. Most of the time it hits the proverbial cutting room floor. But this time we felt it was worthy of additional bandwidth. So later this week, on www.ToutWars.com, we will post the ensuing comments discussing other alternative categories, along with Mack the Knife.
Focusing primarily on the science of player valuation and game theory starting in 1997, Todd Zola and Mastersball carved out an important niche in the fantasy industry. In 2006, Todd became the Research Director for fantasybaseball.com, and in 2009, he relaunched Mastersball and is now a managing partner.
Todd competes in Tout Wars and the XFL, and has been a multiple-time league champion in the National Fantasy Baseball Championship. He has been a contributor to the fantasy content at MLB.com and SI.com, is a frequent guest on Sirius/XM and Blog Talk Radio and is an annual speaker at the spring and fall First Pitch Forum symposiums.