FANALYTICS: Innovation

I'm all for tradition, but I don't like wearing it as an anchor. I prefer to mix in a little innovation and embrace the new adventures that change brings.

That is one of the founding philosophies of Tout Wars, the experts league I helped found back in 1998. Part of the charter of these exhibitions was to be a testing ground for new ideas. And we have been somewhat pioneers in that regard.

We were the first experts league to embrace the 5x5 game, back when 4x4 was still the acknowledged industry standard. We stood firm in adding the categories of runs and pitching strikeouts, even while the official Rotisserie League Baseball book was proclaiming that 5x5s added categories should be runs and innings pitched.

While the $100 Free Agent Acquisition Budget was a standard part of Tout from the beginning, being able to make $0 bids was a new wrinkle that stuck.

Tout introduced the Vickrey Method to free agent bidding, where winning bids cost one dollar more than the second highest bid. This was based on successful economic theory that won William Vickrey a Nobel Prize.

In recent years, we've added successful incentives to keep owners engaged all season. We've realized that valuing the talent pool is self-policing so we make all major and minor league players available for acquisition at both the draft and during the season.

And just last year, we finally acknowledged that major league roster construction has changed since this game was created in the 1980s. We took away one of the outfield slots and turned it into a swingman position, which could be any player—batter or pitcher. So far, that has been a success.

None of these rules were fully new when Tout Wars adopted them, but neither were they fully tested on a public stage. They are all now a regular part of our constitution.

Now this year, we are making a more major change in a core aspect of the game. We are changing a stat category, replacing batting average with on base percentage, though just in the mixed league. Here again, this is nothing all that new, but only a small percentage of leagues actually do it. The industry's only experts keeper league—the XFL—has used on base instead of batting average for its entire 11-year existence. It has worked just fine, which is one of the reasons why Tout finally decided to try it out.

Still, the prospects of this major change have generated some spirited discussion among the 50-plus touts. There have been valid arguments on both sides. Those in favor cite that OBP is a better evaluator of skill than batting average. Those opposed believe that OBP unfairly inflates the value of some types of hitters. Someone brought up Adam Dunn, stating that using OBP distorts his true lack of value. I don't know. Frankly, without his walks, would he even still be on a major league payroll?

But with all this discussion, the core argument seemed to mostly come down to "tradition versus innovation." You can say, "don't fix what ain't broke" and that would be quite reasonable. Or you could say, "routine breeds boredom" and that would be equally valid.

Given Tout's charter, we try to be pro-active rather than reactive to the changing fantasy industry landscape, so a regular refreshing of the rules seems like something good to do. At worst, we may find that a rule doesn't work and roll it back, which is what we did this year with a Vickrey modification we tried. At best, we find a way to enhance the gaming experience, which is the underlying goal.

Change is good.

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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.