Tout Table: Business or Pleasure?

This week’s question:

How do you balance your role as an information provider and playing in showcase leagues like Tout Wars, LABR and high stakes contests?

Brad Johnson (Patreon/BaseballATeam, @BaseballATeam): I actually already wrote an entire article about this, and if you don’t mind, I’m just to link you to it. The short of it is I’ve adjusted the leagues and formats I play so that I don’t have a conflict of interest with providing information.

Michael Beller (Sports Illustrated, @MBeller): Is there a Hippocratic Oath for fantasy analysts? If there isn’t, there should be. We all want to win our leagues, but our first duty is to our readers, listeners, viewers, and anyone else in the general public who counts on us being transparent and forthright. The day I worry about how my role as an information provider affects my performance in industry leagues is the day I should find a new profession.

Michael Stein (Fantasy Judgment, @FantasyJudgment): My business model is not as an information provider but rather as a provider of services. There are so many smart and talented experts in the industry who provide information already so I focus on resolving league disputes and issues first before handling business for my own teams. There are certain times in the season that are busier than others, but for the most part I am able to successfully balance my duties as a fantasy judge with being the owner of a team in showcase leagues.

Mike Gianella (Baseball Prospectus, @MikeGianella): I write for a website that sells subscriptions and most of my content is behind a paywall. They’re paying me (indirectly) for advice and I dispense that, even though I know it sometimes costs me in LABR and Tout, particularly during auction season, when my bids are available for anyone who shells out the subscription fee at Baseball Prospedtus.

Doug Dennis (BaseballHQ, @dougdennis41): Information provider first, leagues are just what they are–I try my best, but I certainly don’t withhold information or thinking on anything based on what I might be doing in a given league.

Justin Mason (Friends with Fantasy Benefits, Fangraphs, Fantasy Alarm, @JustinMasonFWFB): At the end of day, my craft is more important than my own personal leagues. I can’t half-heartedly give advice, it wouldn’t be fair to the people that listen/read my work or to the people that employ or work for me.

Rudy Gamble (Razzball, @RudyGamble): At Razzball, I publish daily/weekly/ROS projections and values for every single player. Our writers provide a ton of advice in posts and answer a lot of team-specific questions in the comments. I think that is enough. It allows our readers/subscribers to own their decisions while providing all they need to make informed decisions.

Jeff Erickson (Rotowire, @Jeff_Erickson): Playing in these leagues makes me a better information provider. In fact, I think if we’re going to try to advise about a particular format, it’s a must to play in it so that you know it’s idiocyncracies. Over the years, I’ve increasingly believed that it’s less of a conflict than you might think. Sure, the league may know I’m high or low on a particular player, but more often than not it’s not that actionable. Sure, in Tout someone may make me pay $2 extra in an auction, or beat me to a player knowing that I like him, but (a) that’s more rare than you think, and (b) we’re all in this industry and have our own guys. Unless I have had some Larry Schechter-esque multi-year hold on the league, why would they bother countering my strategy? I saw Jeff Zimmerman’s column on FAAB and sure – there’s some natural level of conflict there – you don’t want your league mates knowing your exact bidding price, but more often than not, the league knows who the good targets are – it’s so super-rare that you’ve unearthed a gem that they haven’t thought of. How many sources are out there providing the names anyhow? Many of them are doing it for free, and of course Twitter has all of us yapping, showing off our self-proclaimed brilliance. For me, the greater conflict might be the timesuck. It’s hard to compete if you have too many leagues and/or too many responsibilities, but I think that’s more of an organization issue, and not a conflict in roles.

Charlie Wiegert (CDM Sports, @GFFantasySports): Much ofthe information I provide is the same as what I use, playesr i recommend for use the coming week are players I’d pick up and use if I have an opening for them.

Jeff Zimmerman (Fangraphs, The Process, @jeffwzimmerman): As the instigator of this week’s question, I’ve stated my dilemma after two league mates in TGFBI kept over bidding my players I got in Tout Wars. If people cared some much about a free league, what would people do in the NFBC? With the Tout Wars bidding running an hour earlier than NFBC, owners can still look. I understand that 95% of all pickups are known. It’s just if I getting a player by on a 1% bid in one league, it’s easy for someone else to 1.5% if they are looking at the same player. Also, I’d be interested in knowing how much each person has put up of their own money (not free entries given for promotional purposes). It’ll be interesting to see how the answers change. For me it’s $3.5K.

Ray Flowers (Fantasy Guru Elite, @BaseballGuys): I did a podcast about this very topic after reading a piece by Jeff Zimmerman. I always give 100 percent honest answers to all. My job comes first – and it’s not even close to personal glory. Not close. If it burns me personally in my leagues, putting all the info out there, so be it.

Howard Bender (Fantasy Alarm, @RotobuzzGuy): There is no difference. I practice what I preach. If I tell you to be aggressive adding a free agent, I’m going to be equally aggressive. Playing in leagues, whether free or high-stakes, is, to me, part of the job.

Ariel Cohen (CBS Sports, @ATCNY): As an NFBC/High Stakes player prior to being in the fantasy industry – instead of saying that I practice what I preach – I actually preach what I practice. My best advice comes from telling the readers/listeners the players that I am thinking about and the strategies that I employ in my leagues. I would never give anyone anything but the best advice. I will say that it has become increasingly difficult to play against others, as my views and my projections are now out in the public for all to see. In TGFBI this year, I was greated at the draft by 3 other players with, “Hey Ariel, I love your ATC projections – they are the best.” At the NFBC this year, I was greated with “Love your TGFBI podcast, I listen to it all the time. Thanks for the tips.” It is really hard to draft against yourself (as many use the ATC projections) – as the way to win is to draft players later than you think they should be drafted. I still haven’t figured out the best way to handle it, but my priority as an analyst is to provide the best content.

Dr. Roto (Scout Fantasy, @DrRoto): I feel I owe a duty to my listeners and followers to give them the best information that I can. If that costs me a title, so be it–or I need to work a little harder.

Phil Hertz (BaseballHQ, @prhz50): Nothing to balance. I call’em as I see ‘em even if I wonder if I’m tipping my hand.

Ron Shandler (, @RonShandler): For the first 10 years of my career, faring well in the experts leagues helped build my credibility as an information provider. During that time, it was a tenuous balance between providing that info and being successful in these leagues. Often, it meant avoiding situations that could be a conflict, the most public being when I moved from Tout-NL to Tout-AL in 2004 when I worked for the Cardinals. Today, everyone is already so smart and into their own methods that I don’t think anyone in the experts leagues cares what the rest of us write about – so we provide our information freely. Admittedly, the high stakes leagues – where you compete directly against your info users – may be different, but I don’t particiapte in those.

Craig Mish (SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio, @CraigMish): I’m fortunate enough to be in a position to know when players are coming up or even at times on the move. I think in the past I’ve done a good job telling people what I hear in advance so they can make the correct assessment on when to add or acquire a player based on the knowledge I have. I think most people in the industry would tell you I’ve also helped them with this (for better or worse), and the only reason I wouldn’t if it was sensitive in nature. For example, don’t add Harold Ramirez from the Marlins this week. (eye wink)

Todd Zola (Mastersball, @toddzola): Once I changed “Occupation” on my tax return from “Peptide Chemist” to “Fantasy Sports Analyst”, I made the concious decison to hold nothing back. Truth be told, that was the case previous as well, but I made sure of it when this became my job and began freelancing. That said, my style is such there are few, if any conflicts. I don’t give a number when asked, “How much should I bid?” I don’t answer “Yes,” or “No,” when asked if a trade should be made. I don’t choose players from a list when someone wants to know “Who should I start?” Some find it annoying – “just answer the question, Zola” – others thank me for my response. I explain each decision is contextual, I have trouble enough managing my own team(s). I don’t have the time to learn the nuances to manage yours. Well, I don’t tell them that last part. Anyway, I explain the process I use to make the decision and offer any relevant player analysis, then leave it up to them, usually ending with, “Your team, your call.” I agree with Ron about the approach to showcase leagues, though we may familarize ourselves with our competitors stuff and even use it aganst them if the right circumstance. As for high stakes, I’ve been told flat out by some of the most successful players that I’m a moron for providing the info i do then playing so many contests. While I agree with the moron part, I disagree my results in the leagues are signficiantly influenced by my work. There are ample industry colleagues with lengthy track records of high stakes success to demonstrate my lack of similar success is all on me. If someone wants to jump me on Kole Calhoun or Ketel Marte, so be it, that’s not why I’ve had a couple years of disappointing high stakes finishes.

Vlad Sedler (Fantasy Guru Elite, @rotogut): My approach is one of Open Kimono since I write a weekly comrehensive FAAB recommendations piece. Sure, it is likely that competitors in my high-stakes leagues use my information against me. Or perhaps I put on the radar or ‘sell’ a player they weren’t otherwise looking at. But I’ve long been able to put my teams and my own welfare behind the duty I am paid for – to be transparent with my column and offer the best advice to help readers/subscribers do well in FAAB.

Ray Murphy (BaseballHQ, @RayHQ): As co-GM of a subscription site, there’s no debate here: we put our best work/views forward on our site, nothing held back. I play in NFBC as well, and while I’m always curious whether people in my league are reading my/our stuff, I don’t do a single thing differently whether or not there are subscribers competing with me.

Glenn Colton (Fantasy Alarm, @GlennColton1): Rick Wolf and I (Colton and the Wolfman) play the SMART system and Rules of Engagement without fail and everyone in expert/industry leagues knows it. Often Jeff Erickson, Doug Dennis, Steve Garder and more know who we will draft and what we will pay. We have nothing to hide. We want the best information for our radio listeners and best information for Fantasy Alarm readers.

Jeff Mans (Fantasy Guru Elite, @Jeff_Mans): In my opinion, once you become a content provider and especially when you seek payment for that service your primary obligation is to those customers. Participating in and doing well in these leagues is wonderful but an analysts focus should be on helping those that support their work win. I believe a common occurance in our industry is this belief that somebody in our league is watching everything we do and circling us like a buzzard waiting to outbid us on waivers. If that is the case, God bless them but that will never stop me from talking or writing about a player that I like or a roster move that I would make.

Al Melchior (FNTSY Radio, @almelchiorbb): This is not even a dilemma. My main responsibility is to those who read and listen to my content. I aim to be as transparent as possible. This is not always easy, because it often means discussing where I have made mistakes or acknowledging that I have been making decisions based on flawed principles. But even if I can’t always be the best, most competitive fantasy owner, I can always work towards the goal of being the best fantasy writer and analyst. That means getting better at articulating my decision-making process and sharing my insights on what has worked and what hasn’t worked, so that others can learn from both my successes and failures.

D.J. Short (Rotoworld, @djshort): I don’t even think about it, really. My job is to provide the best analysis possible for people. I literally write a column every week trying to uncover the top available options on the waiver wire. Sometimes it’s super obvious who those players are, but other times it’s possibly under-the-radar players who my leaguemates could benefit from if they pick them up. It’s really fine. I want to win in any and all leagues I’m in, but it doesn’t change how I handle my analysis in columns otherwise I wouldn’t be putting everything into it. And in a league like Tout Wars, it’s doubtful you are saying things that you guys don’t already know.

Tim Heaney (Rotowire, ESPN, @Tim_Heaney): I tweeted this at Jeff Zimmerman, Justin Mason about this issue: “I’m all for saying fewer words about some of your sleepers or tips — trade secrets, etc. — but we should all be at a level where we can inform our audience as deeply as possible while dealing with the fallout of any instance when we “tip pitches” to our opponents.” Our fantasy knowledge should be like Mariano Rivera’s cutter. The batter may know what’s coming, but Rivera was so good because he knew how to execute.

Tim Mcleod (PattonandCo, @TimothyLMc): As an information provider, it’s simply not an issue. Being transparent and putting it all on the table is what our readers/listeners expect. Anything less than that would be doing them a disservice.

Adam Ronis (Scout Fantasy, @AdamRonis): I have a job to be transparent and provide the information and analysis to help people win. If I write or talk about a player highly, you’ll often find them on my team. My primary job is to help the peopke that listen to me on the radio and pay for my information. I won’t hold anything back.

Dan Strafford (FNTSY Radio, @DanStrafford): I think the job comes first. If you’re playing in NFBC and other high stakes leagues for work, than that is what matters more. Your analysis should come after those FAAB periods. If you are an analyst first, than you should be transparent about your thoughts.

Mike Podhorzer (Fangraphs, @MikePodhorzer): I rarely post on social media, so I don’t have to wonder who might be using my opinions against me. I also just assume no one in my Tout league is actually reading my FanGraphs articles, and if they are, it’s not like I’m giving away my exact FAAB bids anyway.