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Tout Wars leaders explain why OBP is in and BA is out PDF Print E-mail
Articles of Configuration
Written by Brian Walton   
Saturday, 04 January 2014 00:00

Ten years ago, when I was first asked to join a group of leading industry aged 40-plus players in the Xperts Fantasy League, the XFL, I was honored. After all, it is just the opposite of the common industry league one-and-done format, with a 40-man roster and 15 annual keepers that includes prospects of all ages.

Yet for me, the thing that perhaps stood out most was the XFL’s use of on-base percentage instead of batting average in the otherwise standard 5x5 format. A decade later, it hardly feels revolutionary, let alone unusual. But it is. Most leagues – and most industry projection and stats providers - still lead with BA.

One year ago, Tout Wars decided it was time to make the move, but did it carefully. First, the experiment began with the Tout mixed leagues. After a full season of play, a decision was made. OBP would not only continue but it would also replace BA in the heritage American and National League-only competitions for 2014.

I spoke with three of the Tout decision-makers and league members about this change – Ron Shandler of ShandlerPark.com, Rotoman, aka Peter Kreutzer, and Mastersball’s own Zen Master, Lawr Michaels.

Our discussion was centered on several key questions. We began with some of the factors that went into the decision to fully implement OBP across Tout.

Why change?

Shandler pointed out his positive experiences in prior OBP leagues, the supportive feedback from the 2013 Tout mixed leaguers and the fact that Tout has always prided itself as being a laboratory to test new ideas.

After that introduction, Kreutzer and Michaels quickly went to the heart of the matter.

“We initiated the move to OBP last year in the Mixed Tout Wars Leagues because we thought OBP was the better way to play,” Kreutzer said. “It was as simple as that."

“To me it looks like a historical accident (or intellectual inconsistency) that Roto pitchers are evaluated on the Walks and Hits they allow, but hitters are only evaluated on the hits they make. Switching to OBP from BA fixes that,” he continued.

“I do understand that in fantasy games, the categories are really arbitrary, but I still like to focus on true player skills and performance, and to me, OBP represents this better,“ Michaels added.

Why not change?

Rotoman volunteered several possible objections, including a minority opinion that the year-to-year randomness of batting average is preferred by some.

The following is a common concern among Tout warriors, as it affects their customers and readers.

“The only issue in moving to the AL and NL-only leagues is Tout's role as a pricing guide for players,” Kreutzer said. “If we adopt OBP, our prices are going to be of less use to players in BA leagues. We knew we were going to leave some people behind on this issue, but for a few days we ran a survey at Toutwars.com on the issue, and we learned two things that made us decide to make the change:

1) While our followers use the Tout prices as information, many play in leagues with different rules than Tout follows. So the actual prices are already compromised.

2) A huge majority of players who have played in OBP leagues prefer it to BA. For me, that was the kicker. Doctors who smoke prefer Lucky Strike, and roto players who play in OBP leagues prefer it even more."

Shandler reminds us that, as in any well-run league, no rule change should be considered irreversible.

“There were no negative factors for me,” Ron said. “It's just a rule. If it turns out that owners find using OBP has a negative impact on the enjoyment and playability of the league, we will reassess. Of course, we want to give it a good, solid chance to succeed so there won't likely be any knee-jerk decisions.”

How can the fantasy industry make it easier for others to follow?

Shandler believes it is incumbent on writers to discuss the subject with their readers, as we are doing here today.

“AVG is a traditional category both in roto and in real baseball,” Ron notes. “Just like stadium scoreboards have begun to embrace some new metrics, we as an industry need to consistently educate our readers - by example - as to the advantages of OBP.”

Kreutzer recalls the lively debates among the Tout warriors and encourages all league members considering change to engage in the same type of open dialogue.

“I think active discussion of the issue is the most important thing," Rotoman said. “I welcome the opposition of people like Chris Liss and Derek Carty, both excellent players and analysts, not because we can easily crush their arguments (though I think we can) but because they make really great points about the choices we make when we play this way, or that way."

“And it is by talking these arguments through that all the players out there will decide to stay the same or make the move. You should play by the rules that work for you, and no argument I make here is intended to override any league's preferences,” Kreutzer said.

Change takes time. Michaels sees it as part of maintaining the vitality of the game.

“Baseball is pretty set in its statistical past, so letting go of AVG will likely never happen,” Lawr predicts. "Still, with more stat geeks looking more closely at true representations of performance, staying open, and being willing to try things and change is paramount to staying vital as I see it.”

How should individual leagues decide if the move to OBP is right for them?

Kreutzer and mates in his local league have discussed the matter, but remain divided.

“In my home league, those of us who want to make the change are outnumbered by those who don't,” Rotoman notes. “It isn't a catastrophe not to change, but I can't understand the resistance to using a stat that better values a hitter's contribution than one that doesn't. That seems a little weird to me, but I don't judge.”

To some, including Michaels, the choice of categories is not that important. He does acknowledge that many see OBP as better representing the real game.

“Ultimately, it does not really matter who uses which stats for what,” Lawr said. “I understand that owners want to try to replicate the game on the field with fantasy, but that will never truly happen simply by definition.”

Shandler does not view OBP as much an emerging standard as it is another alternative to consider.

“Our goal is to expose other leagues to the impact of such a change, but in the end, it is an individual decision as to whether or not to adopt,” Shandler said.

“This industry is pretty well splintered as it is so I think it is foolish to think that moving from AVG to OBP will be creating a new standard. It is just an option that may help some leagues keep things fresh," he suggests.

All readily acknowledge the time may not be right for everyone.

“We are getting ahead of some people here, as we did moving to 5x5 back in the day when most people played 4x4 - but we are confident that the good reasons for most leagues to change will bring them along.” Rotoman said. “We hope so. We feel we serve the community better by being a leader on this issue than by standing still."

“So we move,” Peter concluded.

Again, thank you to Ron, Peter and Lawr for sharing their thoughts.

I will conclude with a brief, but relevant commercial message.

Mastersball is ready for OBP when you are. We are ahead of the curve with values and rankings customized to Tout Wars specifications. We were one of the first sites to provide 5x5 values when that move became popular and we were the first site to provide 15-team mixed values to support the National Fantasy Baseball Championship Main Event. Our Customized Value and Rankings Calculator (CVRC) has always had the capability of generating OBP numbers, but now we are doing it for you with every update, so consider subscribing to our 2014 Platinum Package now.

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 16-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

Last Updated on Saturday, 04 January 2014 16:28
 
Jay-Z: The Clear Early Winner in Cano Deal PDF Print E-mail
Articles of Configuration
Written by Brian Walton   
Friday, 06 December 2013 13:35

The rise of social media has caused traditional media overreaction on business-as-usual hot stove league news to reach all-time levels of ridiculousness.

The latest, but far from last example is the Robinson Cano sweepstakes, which apparently came to a close on Friday morning when the free agent second baseman agreed to terms on a 10-year, $240 million contract with the Seattle Mariners.

Cano’s agent, entertainer Jay-Z, reportedly had a Thursday night face-to-face meeting with Mariners officials, including team chairman Howard Lincoln. Expecting to close the negotiations with an offer that exceeded that of the New York Yankees in money and years, instead the club officials were supposedly stunned when Jay-Z countered.

The reports had Lincoln storming out of the meeting and his team moving on, closing off negotiations.

Some national writers, who should have the experience to know better, hopped all over the “news,” attacking the agent and assuming the worst for his client. Tweets such as these were common on Friday morning.

"Jay-Z badly overplayed his hand"
"Boras > Jay-Z"
"Livid Mariners break off talks"
“M’s were simply used to leverage Yanks”
etc...

I get that some people simply dislike Jay-Z and others marginalize him because of his background. But it seems to me that within just an hour or two, these over-reactors should have been eating heaping helpings of crow when the deal was disclosed.

Anyone with any experience in negotiations has seen this scenario play out time and time again. Still, the cattle respond as if each sliver of “news” is gospel and seem surprised when there are major twists and turns literally by the hour.

Those who predicted Jay-Z could not function effectively within MLB’s good-old-boy fraternity are going to have to seriously adjust their position. Cano was the best free agent out there and his agent secured him the richest deal. It is about as simple as that.

In terms of the contract itself, it appears clear that Seattle had to overpay to get a top free agent to play there. With lots of Nintendo money backing them, there seems little need to fear for the risk assumed by the Mariners, though.

In fact, this situation seems quite reminiscent of another wealthy West Coast owner shelling out big bucks for the services of an age 30-something star for the next 10 years. Of course, I am referring to Arte Moreno of the Angels and his signing of Albert Pujols two winters ago.

Time will tell if Cano delivers on his mega-deal better than has Pujols to-date. In the initial analysis of this transaction, however, Jay-Z is the clear winner.

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 15-year history. Though he is the only one to remember or care, he also finished second in each of the two subsequent seasons. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.
Last Updated on Friday, 06 December 2013 14:38
 
Will Jeter Follow the Wizard’s Path? PDF Print E-mail
Articles of Configuration
Written by Brian Walton   
Saturday, 28 September 2013 00:00

New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter has vowed to return to his old self in 2014 after a lost 2013. At age 39, Captain Clutch was unable to perform this summer due to lingering pain and soreness in his left ankle fractured last fall.

jeter

Jeter appeared in just 17 games this season, batting a paltry .190. Observers noted his declining mobility in the field as well.

Though Jeter is resolved to come back as good as before, at some point, even he will have to give in to advancing age. The only question is when and how gracefully it will occur.

As any car guy or gal knows, old, worn clutches eventually begin to slip and have to be replaced.

I was asked recently if I thought this was the end for Jeter. My reply was “No.” Like his long-time teammate Mariano Rivera, who could have walked away after his 2012 knee surgery but did not, my guess is that Jeter wants to leave the game as a player on his own terms.

Given that, what should we – and the Yankees - expect from a 40-year-old shortstop in 2014? And what are the alternatives?

The 2013 stream of fill-ins for Jeter have almost been as ineffective as he. Luis Cruz, Alberto Gonzalez, Jayson Nix, Eduardo Nunez and Brendan Ryan are among those who have been tried.

From these shortstops this season, the Yanks have received scant production - an aggregate line of .229/.289/.316/.605. The batting average and OPS are both 26th across the 30 MLB clubs' shortstop positions.

Along with Jeter’s status, one of the most pressing questions for next year’s Bombers is the fate of free-agent-to-be manager Joe Girardi. While Joe, a former teammate, has been one of Jeter’s biggest backers, how might things change if a new sheriff rides into the Big Apple?

That possibility reminds me of the situation in St. Louis back in 1996, as the Cardinals’ then-future Hall-of-Fame shortstop was nearing the end of his playing days.

41-year-old Ozzie Smith was coming off an injury-plagued 1995, during which he could answer the bell for just 44 contests and batted an embarrassing, career-worst .199. His Cardinals had long been a shell of their 1980’s greatness, missing the post-season for eight consecutive years.

Yet there was renewed hope in the Gateway City. A new ownership group led by Bill DeWitt, Jr. was in place and willing to invest. An up-and-coming general manager in Walt Jocketty lured his friend and former Oakland co-worker Tony La Russa to take the on-field reigns of the Cardinals.

Smith did not want to retire with the bitter taste of 1995 as his MLB finale, so he committed himself to getting his body ready to play again in 1996. The Wizard soon learned he would face a challenge for his job, however.

Jocketty engineered a trade with the Giants in December 1995, bringing in shortstop Royce Clayton. The 24-year-old was not acquired to be an understudy. Clayton had already put in over 3 ½ major league seasons as San Francisco’s starting shortstop.

Smith’s interpretation of La Russa’s plan for the skipper’s first spring training with St. Louis was to include an open competition between the two shortstops. It did not play out that way. Despite Ozzie having a better spring at the plate, the future Hall of Fame manager did not declare a firm winner.

As 1996 progressed, Clayton played regularly at Smith’s expense. The former went on to make 531 regular-season plate appearances plus 30 more in the postseason, while the latter had less than half, at just 261 and 14, respectively. Still, when called upon, Ozzie produced, with a bounce-back line of .282/.358/.370. The 41-year-old’s .728 OPS was his second-best showing since St. Louis’ last postseason year of 1987.

Smith deeply resented his treatment by La Russa. Though he retired at season’s end, Ozzie held a grudge that remains to this day. That included the Wizard’s refusal to be around the Cardinals for the duration of the manager’s stay in St. Louis – 15 long years.

No one should blame Yankees general manager Brian Cashman if he tries to address his club’s post-Jeter shortstop needs before the Captain decides to remove his cleats for the last time. After all, 2013 proved to be a disaster for the position. With the Yankees having been so close to making the postseason, who knows if having a healthy, productive shortstop might not have been the difference-maker.

No matter how it plays out going forward, here is hoping Jeter’s exit from the game is far smoother than the one taken by his Hall of Fame predecessor Smith.

 

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 14-year history. Though he is the only one to remember or care, he also finished second in each of the two subsequent seasons. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

Last Updated on Saturday, 28 September 2013 22:04
 
With Gold Glove Including Defensive Metrics, Will Fantasy Follow? PDF Print E-mail
Articles of Configuration
Written by Brian Walton   
Saturday, 21 September 2013 00:00

Since its 1957 inception, the Rawlings Gold Glove Award has been a welcome addition to Major League Baseball’s annual recognition process, while also being a source of controversy at times. Those considered to be the best defensive players by position by league are selected annually via a vote of MLB managers and coaches.

Despite this seemingly-knowledgeable voting constituency, there have been a number of questionable winners over the years. Perhaps most notable was the selection of Rafael Palmeiro following a season in which he was almost exclusively a designated hitter.

In fact, the difficulty of separating hitting from defense has been perhaps the award's greatest challenge over time. It has seemed that to win a Gold Glove, one must also have a good season with the bat, and if not, the chance of winning the top defensive award is dramatically decreased.

Recognizing that a lack of readily-available defensive metrics may be one reason offense is being overly considered, Rawlings and the Society of American Baseball Research (SABR) established a partnership. The idea was to bring in an impartial party to adjust the existing process rather than scrap it entirely.

A committee of seven sabermetric experts was convened to study the issue and developed what they call the SABR Defensive Index, or SDI. At its essence, the SDI is expressed by the number of runs a fielder "saves" his team.

By definition, the construction of the SDI is complicated, however, as it takes into account information from a number of sources - from batted ball, location-based data (70 percent weighting) and from play-by-play accounts (30 percent). The three metrics representing batted ball data include Defensive Runs Saved from Baseball Info Solutions, Ultimate Zone Rating developed by Mitchel Lichtman, and Runs Effectively Defended built by SABR member Chris Dial. The two metrics from play-by-play data are Defensive Regression Analysis, created by Michael Humphreys, and Total Zone Rating.

What these fielding metrics capture include a fielder's range, throwing arm, sure-handedness, ability to turn double plays, ability to convert bunts into outs, scoops of throws in the dirt as well as the number of "excellent" and "poor" fielding plays.

For outfielders, the ability to prevent runners from taking an extra base is rated. For catchers, blocking balls in the dirt and stolen bases/caught stealing are also included. A pitcher’s ability to control the running game by holding runners on base is also measured.

In terms of Gold Glove Award weighting, the SDI will be worth 30 total "votes.” That represents approximately 25 percent of the scoring, which will be added to the traditional votes from the managers and coaches.

SDI results will also be provided up front to help the voters. A statistical resource guide will accompany the Gold Glove Award ballots sent to managers and coaches. Whether or not they actually use it remains to be seen.

The 2013 Rawlings Gold Glove Award winners will be announced on October 29 – the first time we will see if including sabermetric defensive stats leads to a better set of winners.

The SDI will also be used in comparing players across positions to help determine the updated Rawlings Platinum Glove Award, for the single best Gold Glove Award winner.

At this point, the Platinum Glove Award voting process has not yet been announced, but the online fan vote will continue once the Gold Glove Award winners are revealed. As such, the SDI will be shared with the general public, as well. That could go a long way toward potentially increasing its acceptance by a broader cross-section of baseball observers.

In the bigger picture, perhaps if defensive metrics can be more standardized and are embraced by the baseball community as a whole over time, fantasy baseball could also incorporate a defensive component.

The SDI potentially represents a step in that direction, and for that reason, I hope it is successful.

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 14-year history. Though he is the only one to remember or care, he also finished second in each of the two subsequent seasons. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

Last Updated on Saturday, 21 September 2013 13:16
 
Even if NL Races are Over, Your Leagues are Not PDF Print E-mail
Articles of Configuration
Written by Brian Walton   
Saturday, 14 September 2013 00:00

With less than three weeks to go in the 2013 Major League Baseball regular season, the addition of the second Wild Card is helping to keep the American League especially exciting.

As I write this, six AL clubs are within 2 ½ games of one of the Wild Card berths – Texas, Tampa Bay, New York, Cleveland, Baltimore and Kansas City. Given that, there is no reason to suspect anything other than a race down to the wire.

That is not the case in the National League, however. In the Senior Circuit, the battles are pretty much over. The only exception is which of the three contending Central Division teams will win the division, with the other two the likely wild cards.

Yes, Washington is technically still in it, but eight games out with 16 to go, it is grim. coolstandings.com gives the Nats just a 2.7 percent chance of bumping off one of the NL Central squads to make the postseason.

In terms of true mathematical elimination, over half of the NL squads, eight of 15, have nothing for which to play except 2014. Over in the Junior Circuit, only five teams are already justified looking ahead to next year.

Couple these dynamics with September MLB roster expansion from the normal 25 to a theoretical maximum of 40, and fantasy managers’ challenges of assessing playing time changes become even greater. In some cases, attention on baseball is waning. The competition with football leagues that are still in their very early stages currently offer greater hope for owners.

In the final month, MLB teams typically add from six to 10 reinforcements from the minor leagues. Any and all of these players can be active on any given day. As a result, an MLB team that is out of the hunt may not only give starts to unproven prospects over tired regulars, the manager may pull more double-switches, too.

A handful of clubs have even gone to a temporary six-man rotation. This gives them the opportunity to observe more youngsters while managing pitch counts and can be done before formally having to commit to 2014 roles.

Considering all these variables, I asked several of my National League Tout Wars friends and competitors the following questions.

“Given the lack of close races in the NL, do you see any potential impact on your NL fantasy teams and how you manage them? Do you feel the lack of competitive races is a positive or a negative for your chances and why?”

Kind enough to reply all the way from Italy, where he was on vacation, BaseballHQ’s Phil Hertz cut right to the bone.

“I don't see much impact on my team,” Hertz said. “I just need guys to get healthy and that's looking less and less likely.”

Hertz is currently in sixth place, 12 ½ points out of the lead and just two points ahead of yours truly. The losses of Domonic Brown, Yonder Alonso, Marcell Ozuna and Starling Marte have shackled his offense.

USA TODAY’s Steve Gardner is tied for third, 6 ½ points out. Among the points Steve makes is that despite the expanded rosters, viable alternatives are few.

“In this case, I think it’s helped my team,” said Gardner. “I’ve needed to pick up several hitters off the waiver wire lately to fill holes created by injuries and trades. The guys I’ve plugged into my lineup (Donnie Murphy, Caleb Gindl, Andrew Brown, Justin Turner) are on non-contenders and may not have gotten much of a chance to play if their teams had been involved in the playoff chase."

“The one area where it could impact my team is if the Mets decide that they don’t have any reason to activate David Wright off the disabled list. I could really use his bat, even if it’s only for the last week or 10 days."

“From a pitching standpoint, the jury’s still out … but I like the fact that I have a staff that doesn’t have to worry about innings limits (Wainwright, Samardzija, Medlen, Arroyo, E. Jackson)."

“Overall, I don’t think it changes the way I manage my team, mostly because I don’t really have any alternatives to the players currently in my starting lineup,” Steve concluded.

Knotted with Gardner in the NL Tout standings is our own Lord Zola. He offers an excellent reminder about the potential of tied Wild Card races requiring a regular-season Game 163 to break ties. Now is the time to check your constitution to verify these games are included in your league scoring and act accordingly.

“When you're fighting and scrapping for points, any possible edge is a good thing,” notes Todd. “However in a league as deep as NL Tout Wars, the ability to manage your team to take advantage of the situation is limited by a four-man reserve list that may or may not have a player on one of the teams in contention."

“Teams in contention are more likely to continue to start their best players so that would provide the peace of mind your fantasy team is getting maximum at-bats. Maybe in a mixed league this would aid in decision-making at the fringes, but in NL Tout, you're going to have the player active regardless."

“On the flip-side, the star players on playoff teams with their spot locked may get more rest, but again in NL Tout, they're going to play anyway."

“One possible repercussion is with injured players. If you own Carlos Gonzalez and need the reserve spot, you can feel pretty confident in dropping him since there is very little chance he returns this season. On the other hand, I am carrying Allen Craig on my NL Tout reserve since the Cardinals will no doubt want to get him some at-bats to either secure a playoff spot or to get the rust off for the playoffs. At present, there is no one available for pick-up that I would use, but if there was, I'd have a tough decision to make if I needed that fourth reserve spot."

“Not to tip my hand, but I have kept an eye on the free agent list each week looking to see if there is a player from a team with a chance to play a 163rd game available. This may seem like a needle in a haystack, but a few years back, I was able to jump into the money in a National Fantasy Baseball Championship league on Rick Porcello's seventh strikeout in game 163. The caveat in Tout Wars is the rule that requires you to activate all free agent acquisitions following the week you win them,” Zola concluded.

In my own case, I am just hoping and praying my players will continue to be written onto their clubs’ lineup cards each day.

One complicating matter that is front and center right now is my glut of players on non-contending teams. Those competing for one of the five likely NL playoff clubs fill just four of my 23 active roster spots.

As a result, I feel vulnerable, but as the others noted, viable alternatives to play are few and far between. For draft day next season, I will need to make sure I am not so singularly focused on acquiring bargains that I draft a roster filled with players from non-contenders.

Special thanks to Phil, Steve and Todd for contributing to this article. Remember to check out their respective writings at BaseballHQ, USA TODAY and right here at Mastersball.

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 14-year history. Though he is the only one to remember or care, he also finished second in each of the two subsequent seasons. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

Last Updated on Saturday, 14 September 2013 08:59
 
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