Can’t Anyone Here Play This Game?

Since we started Tout Wars in 1998, three leagues involving 470 participant seasons have vied for 36 titles. That’s 36 winners, for those scoring at home, and 434 losers.

Consider the number of multiple winners and the situation is further distilled:

Larry Schechter: Five
Mike Lombardo: Three
Ron Shandler: Three
Jason Grey: Three
Scott Wilderman: Two
Lawr Michaels: Two
John Coleman: Two
Sam Walker: Two
Trace Woods: Two

Twenty two Tout Warriors have won one or more titles since we began play in 1998. At first look this is worrisome for those of us who have yet to finish first once. If second place is first loser (as it is in a game played for prestige, not money), we are big losers. But it is instructive to look at some odds.

I set up a spreadsheet with a grid that was 12 rows high (representing each team) and 14 columns wide (representing each season). In each cell in the grid I entered the random number generator function, so that each cell would display a number between 0 and 1 at random.

Next to the grid I set up a second grid of 12 x 14 and ranked each of the cells compared to the other cells in its column. These rankings represented the league’s standings for each of the 14 years. A result looked like this:

Screen Shot 2013-07-09 at 11.25.34 AM

In any given 14 year sample teams “won” as many as five times, even though all teams had an exactly even chance in any given year. And in most samples four or five teams did not win any of the years, even though they were equally “talented” as the other winning teams.

Now, I’m not suggesting that all Tout Warriors are equally talented, but it is telling that if Tout Wars ownership in each league was stable and we created a grid like the one above to chart the standings, the results wouldn’t look too much different. The role luck plays in the game is significant, and until you get a real sizeable sample it is difficult to judge the value of actual outcomes. The first time I saw last year’s champ land in the basement the next season, I thought that was just dumb unluckiness. But over the years I’ve now seen it so many times I’ve started to wonder if success and failure on the roto field are actually twinned. But that’s a topic for a different chapter.

The fact is that I’ve been playing fantasy baseball for 32 years. In that time I’ve played in something like 61 leagues (though it has felt like more) and won seven titles. Leagues have probably averaged around 13 teams (many 12, Tout NL 13, XFL 15, Regs 20), which would put my odds of winning in any single year at 7.6 percent. In a random world I would have won five leagues, but it isn’t a random world. Still, how do we judge how much of a player winning is his skill, and how much was being in the right place at the right time?

One Response to Can’t Anyone Here Play This Game?

  1. One of the major factors, it occurs to me now, is that skill in the auction/draft is one thing, far removed from the outcome, but a season of play is focused effort all season long. Drafting a team to get into position is a big help, but it is a fantasy player’s inseason skills, focused on specific nonrandom problems, that creates multi-year winners in our real game (not the randomly generated one).