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.
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.