Fantasy Baseball Round Table: The Role of LABR and Tout Wars

by Todd Zola, on February 27, 2013 @ 15:11:28 PDT


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Steve Gardner

Milwaukee Brewers OF Ryan Braun
Who'd have Braun in his hole cards?

Before I begin, here's the link to my LABR column from the Sports Weekly fantasy baseball special edition that's out now.

For starters, I don't think you're out of line at all Nick. We should always question whatever we're doing to make sure it's still beneficial. "Because we've always done it" is no reason, by itself, to continue doing anything.

Rick Wolf brought this point up when I was talking with him for a column linked above (and I'm paraphrasing): These leagues are very similar to the World Series of Poker. There are experts who really know their stuff putting their skills on display in a game millions of others play for fun. The difference is that ESPN and others have thrown a ton of promotional effort at making these guys stars while we are still traveling in our own (relatively) limited circles. ("I want groupies like Phil Ivey!!!")

I know at USA TODAY, several ideas have been tossed out to make LABR more of a "big deal," but getting the support further up the food chain has been difficult. Maybe that's where we're missing the boat.

Rob Leibowitz

I think Steve and Rick have it fairly right on the promotion side. The majority of players do not play an auction/12-team AL- or NL-only format.

For Tout and LABR to become more relevant to the general public, you create a self-fulfilling prophecy with the adequate television/promotional effort where the general public sees "how the pros play" and then that public emulates them by shifting their game play format to match it.

That's when the strategies and books offered by the pros just like poker players become more relevant - when more people are all playing the same or closely similar game.

The issue of course is format. It's easy to edit a hand of poker or a whole table of poker players and isolate the key moments as every hand can occur quite quickly. I'm not sure watching an auction and its key moments makes for good TV. The side-jokes and digressions at the table are probably the most entertaining moments rather than the auction itself.

The key factor in popularizing Texas Holdem was showing the hands under the table. So, you'd have to have some way of showing the Touts and what they value a certain player at "under the table" when it gets close to head-to-head bidding. Of course, we all value players at ranges and change our bids based on timing, what's left at the position and such, so it's not a static value that can be second guessed like poker can.

Getting back to the actual question for me - the purpose of these industry leagues - promote the hobby, promote the participants, provide strategy help, and promote new and interesting ways to play the game (albeit without radically changing it from a categorical/auction or draft format).

Perry Van Hook

Nick, If they can't (or won't) talk about their teams and the league, then in my humble opinion they shouldn't be invited. These are not money leagues or family/friend leagues. They exist to allow us all to compete as representatives of our site/paper/blog - whatever puts us in the arena of discussing and educating people about fantasy baseball.

Nick Minnix

Perry, is your opinion different from how the leagues operate? If not, then clearly there's something more needed. If so, then you must take umbrage with the selection process, and in that case, if you feel the way you do, you must have proposals for solutions to get closer to your ideals, I imagine.

Lawr Michaels

Not so sure Perry. I mean discussing teams and strategy is good but it does get redundant. 

I think discussing moves and rules and how to exploit is good. But again, one can only write so much.

Ryan Carey

As someone who does not participate in either LABR or Tout, but aspires to one day have a seat at the table, I'll try to answer Todd's question partly by talking about what these leagues meant in my evolution as both a fantasy player and now as a writer. I played in local leagues, and sought the best sources of information like Baseball Weekly which led me to the participants' publications and/or websites. Next came pay services and discovering the NFBC, Mastersball and countless other sites.

So for me the expert leagues really served as a portal to the information that I was looking for as the guy who was determined to know more than you did at the draft table. I think that is still likely where the leagues can have the most impact. I agree with Perry to the degree that I believe that participation in these leagues should be viewed as an honor rather than a privilege. However, it will be up to the leaders to decide what that actually means in terms anything beyond full and committed dedication to the league one plays in. I think Todd is onto something with the Podcasts, because you can control the information you send out to a degree, and it's an easy way for all participants to contribute during the course of a long season. 

Perhaps one way to achieve a lot of the goals is to expand the offerings so newbies to the industry like myself can participate in leagues under the auspices of Tout and LABR, and in doing so write about making our way up to the Bigs. Perhaps a tiered system where you work your way up through different levels, much like real baseball players, until you finally make the Show. Something like that would expand not only the audience but also increase the pool of people writing about the quest to sit at the main table.

More to come....

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About Todd Zola,

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, 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 and, 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. Fantasy Baseball

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