The League of Alternative Baseball Reality (LABR) auctions are this weekend with Messrs. Minnix, Michaels and Van Hook participating. As such, I thought it would be a good idea to talk a bit about the role of showcase leagues within the industry. As the expression warns, "Be careful what you ask for."
Our guest this week is USA Today Sports' Senior Fantasy Editor Steve Gardner. Steve administers the LABR auctions as well as being an active blogger and a great Twitter follow @SteveAGardner.
Trout joins in on the argument
The League of Alternative Baseball Reality (LABR) auctions are upon us, with Tout Wars coming up in three weeks. For those that participate in the leagues, what do you feel the role of industry league should be? Do LABR and Tout Wars promote these efforts adequately? For those not actively playing in LABR and Tout Wars, beyond following how your colleagues are faring, do you glean anything from the leagues?
Lawr Michaels (member of Tout Wars LLC)
Speaking for the Tout side of things, our objective is to hit a couple of bullets. First, we want to showcase the guys we think are the best players in the industry, though I know there are a lot of regular guys out there who play as well as the Touts.
We really are trying to showcase a league that is well run, that challenges us, and attempts to push the limits of the game. That's why there are rule changes like swingman, or going 5x5 so many years back, or as with this year swapping batting average for on-base percentage in Tout mixed.
We aim to keep the game vital and dynamic along with keeping readers and players interested in the game, and keep the industry growing as well as evolving, because we all know eventually, stagnancy means death.
But, the reality is though it is true the large percentage of players rubber stamp leagues like Yahoo! and ESPN (not knocking them, just a fact), there are still soooooo many players who indeed have quirky rules - I can't count how many times I've had questions framed around "my league has really weird rules."
Ideally, Tout somehow crosses over such that it can appeal to and support the play of both kinds of players, both giving them tactical ideas when selecting a team, and constitutional ideas for their leagues to make the game a challenge.
Perry Van Hook
Personally, I feel Tout Wars and LABR are doing a poor job of really trying to educate the audience or promote the players in their leagues. Until last year I just didn't see much beyond those participants writing up their teams for their sites/papers/blogs. Mastersball did a great job to bring out the results of the FAAB process with weekly reviews and prices, and while USA Today and the Tout website linked those and occasionally had some really good articles by the participants, how many people actually know Tout Wars even has a web site? I think both industry leagues (note, not expert leagues) should be committed to explaining the competitions beyond "Hey look at the team I drafted." Every participant should be committed to furthering the awareness of Tout Wars and LABR and should talk more about their moves in an educational way and make sure those efforts are promoted via Facebook, Twitter, blogs, message boards and radio shows.
Selected league winners write a column about their winning strategy, which is published in the Fantasy Baseball Guide. This year, AL Tout winner Larry Schechter, NL LABR winner Steve Moyer and Mixed Tout winner Cory Schwartz were all feautured along with XFL winner Don Drooker.
We can always do more to promote the leagues, of course. Doubting anyone would argue with that.
Podcasts are an extremely popular venue to get the word out nowadays; I think there's a golden opportunity for someone to host a podcast with the theme being the industry leagues by having different guests on every week to discuss their teams, their strategies, etc. If a big trade was made, have the principles involved on to talk about it. Maybe even interview the person who had the high FAAB bid on a player that week.
Perry, I appreciate your perspective, but I respectfully disagree with the statement "Every participant should be committed to furthering the awareness of Tout Wars and LABR and should talk more about their moves in an educational way and make sure those efforts are promoted via Facebook, Twitter, blogs, message boards and radio shows." This is with awareness of the fact that I might raise an eyebrow from the powers that be from LABR and Tout, each of whom strongly encourages us to make efforts to bring attention to these leagues. I think the statement is shortsighted with respect to economies of scale, perhaps even to the scope of these leagues and the magnitude of the impact they can make.
I don't question Perry's intent and in fact agree with the sentiment that drives his position. I question if there are clear incentives for the doers, especially if some of the doers don't share the goals or desires of the parties who run the leagues. For various reasons, they either can or choose to contribute only so much.
I hope I'm not out of line, but a major stumbling block is the dichotomy between work and play. We mostly have full-time jobs, or other priorities, whether they're in the industry or not. At some point, for each of us, there's a point at which fun turns into obligation, which then becomes a balancing act between the purity of our games and the business side. The masses seem just to want to see the results, and that's the end of their interest. Some of us are encouraged to produce content that appeals to the widest possible audience. Sometimes, it feels almost like a battle. I try to find ways to infuse a reference to these leagues in blogs, to use an occurrence from one as a prompt to discuss an issue with broader appeal. I respond to and make the occasional tweet about either, but what impact does that have? And it becomes very difficult when one objective conflicts with another. For some, frankly, there is less to sacrifice or more to gain from doing so than there is for others. I think Brian's comment is a good example of that. That's the nature of it. But I think it deserves respect before we can make judgments about what everyone should be doing.
What I want to know is, how can we overcome this conflict? Is it possible to give LABR and Tout Wars broader appeal? How can Tout Wars and LABR increase incentive for participants to spread the word? I have some ideas and see value and potential in these leagues and am extremely curious what others think.
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.