Planting a seed for the NBBA

This article looks at how the NBBA seeding is done for the World Series and tries to explain how a pilot of the coaches power rankings can help.  The article was written before the World Series took place in July, 2017

Ranking teams, the NCAA does it.  The NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB also do it when its play-off time.  It can be a tool to make things fairer in competition.  However, it is also a tool used for debate, conversation and interest.  Why not try it in the NBBA?  Let’s explore our thought process.

For the past few years I have been writing about strength of schedule that each team plays at the World Series.

2016 Strength of Schedule Article

2015 Strength of Schedule Article

2014 Strength of Schedule Article

I have discovered some trends and have wanted to drive some change.  Over time, I had spoken to some of the most respected coaches in the league in JT Herzog, Kevin Sibson, Jerry Windell, Darnell Booker and Johnny Walker.  We all agreed that it may be a time to change things.  So we set off on this journey which started last fall.

What are we trying to accomplish, some ask and why change things?  Everyone has an opinion but what we are trying to do is gather information.  We want to try and take the league to the next level competitively.  We believe that gathering information is the start.  Data leads to better decisions and with data, we can make more informed decisions on how we set up the league.  Let’s explore the current process and short term goals we have.  After exploring this, I’ll take you into other things that would happen organically if this was adopted and paths this could lead us down.

Learn from the past

NBBA LogoWhen I entered this league in 2003, we had a random draw to place teams into brackets.  The top two teams from each bracket went to a championship round and the bottom two teams went to the “barbeque bracket”.  That’s how it was.  It was simple…and totally unfair. I witnessed the Chicago Bluff making the championship bracket because they happened to be in an easy bracket.  I witnessed the Oklahoma City Bombers trounce every team in the barbeque bracket because their bracket was stacked.  It was random, it was impossible to predict what would happen if this was still the case, I think I would be bald, pulling my hair out.

JT Herzog led the charge to change this to the process we use today.  It was so much improved.  Not only did it focus on seeding and some level of intelligence, it allowed for seeding games at the end of the week.  This is a key point, the seeding games.  Before these existed…your world series would be over once you lost two games. Imagine booking flights for a week and playing three games on Tuesday and two games on Wednesday and being done…but you can’t leave till Sunday.  That change alone in my mind was amazing!  More than half the teams in this league are comprised of new teams, small teams and teams not made up of all stars.  These teams need an opportunity to be heard.  I speak from one of these teams, the Boston Renegades have been in the league since 2002 and it’s been a long journey to get to where we are today.

What are we proposing

Ever hear the word, Pilot?  I work in software and we pilot things all the time.  A pilot is an ability to try something, gather feedback and improve it to make it better.  That’s what this is.  We have some of the most dedicated beep ball coaching minds involved in this project and we have been discussing this since the fall.  Our goal is to see if this can work as a better way of seeding then the current system.  We have discussed the key things a team needs to win and agreed upon things such as:

Top level pitching
Speed
Solid defense
Coaching
Good hitting
Roster depth

Teams need all of this and more to compete for the title and these things are not easy to accomplish for many of our squads.  Some people have asked, why their team was not involved.  The answer is that it’s a pilot.  Actually the original proposal was to have a rep from every team involved…but we had a hard time getting participation so we wanted to start small and work out the kinks.  Yes, there are a few others out there who should be involved. And when the time is right, they will be invited.  What we want to avoid is having unqualified people (for example, someone new to the league) or people who don’t have the time to be involved…. Again, it’s a pilot.

We get together and gather data and talk about the teams.  With this group we have representation from the east, Texas, the mid-west and the west.  That covers a big part of the league.  So we discuss what we have seen amongst ourselves and then we vote.

Voting process

Originally, we were going to vote on all 21 teams going to the series but that was a hard exercise to do.  Some coaches felt it would be too much to rank all teams they don’t see play.  As the NCAA does, we decided to focus on the top portion of our league.  For the NCAA this is top 25, for the nbba, we decided to start with the top 12 because there would be six brackets and we wanted to focus on the top two of each bracket.

Down to 12 teams to vote on, each coach on the poll voted by giving 12 points to the best team, 11 points to the second best team all the way down to 1 point for the 12th team.  We published the final tally of voting.  What did we find?  We found that most teams were voted within a few spots of each other from all the coaches involved.  Nothing was very far out of whack.

What data is available

Getting data was very hard.  We quickly learned there are a lot of rumors out there.  But worse than that, we learned many teams just don’t know how to score a game.  Looking at score sheets in Texas and the East Coast was like deciphering code.  So what did we get?  Steve Guerra joined us to confirm the roster movement so that we had knowledge of what was happening on rosters.  We discussed the leagues schedules.  Sadly, outside the World Series, there was only 5 tournaments this year prior to the series.  Dallas in late May.  Indy thunder and 1st leg of the Beast if the East in early June.  Bolingbrook a week later.  The last leg of the Beast if the East in July.  Darnell and JT gave us stats from their tournaments.  Rob and Kevin provided information about the teams they saw in their respective tournaments.

We knew if teams were short major players.  We knew if teams were pitching back up pitchers.  We knew the field conditions (which so often play into the score).

But this showed us a major hole we have.  First, not all teams know how to keep score or just don’t historically care.  Few scoresheets show pitcher stats (or who pitched). Teams don’t write last names of players and sometimes the score sheets don’t add up to the amount of runs the team scored.  Some teams don’t record who made defensive stops or even record substitutions in a way all can understand. It’s something we need to clean up.

But the opportunity we have is we need to do more with our regional tournaments.  We need to show perspective players and sponsors we play ball all year long.  These tournaments count.  The data we can get from them should count more than what a team’s World Series finish was in the previous year.  These games tell us who is playing, and not playing.  They help us identify exciting new rookies who can make an impact and help us get a taste of the game.

Let’s face it…if you have read this far.  You love the sport.  Having this data can help make this game so much more exciting and enjoyable

What have we struggled with

We just discovered one of the major obstacles, the scoresheets.  It goes further than this.  Even if everyone had good scoresheets, the whole process is manual.  Imagine a future where we score games on a device.  That device records pitch by pitch stats.  That device stores the stats to be analyzed.  Most importantly, that device can be used to play the games live in the cloud for viewers to watch a game cast.  This is doable, MLB at bat does it and Tourney Machine is working on it as well.  There are smaller companies out there who also do it.  We just need some help to code an app for beep ball.  It would not be too hard for a company that has this skill already.  Heck, if we can get organized and move in this direction, we could likely find a sponsor to fund it.

We have also struggled with some negativity from the membership.  Look at the goal here.  All of sports and business is moving toward using data to make decisions.  All of these industries are finding new ways to measure their business.  Why should we be different?  We can do better.  We need to move away from a mindset that things are fair for everyone with our current system.  They are not.  Who is hurt the worst by the current process?  You think it’s a team like Taiwan that is hurt?  You’d be wrong.  The team most hurt by the current seeding are teams in the 8-9-10 seeds.  The teams who normally are busting their humps to try to get to the next level.  How are they hurt?  Typically, they are a mid-level team and based on the previous year, earned a two seed in their bracket.  Then a team like Taiwan (or San Antonio or the Edge) is thrown into their bracket…and normally, they come out of their bracket as a 3 seed.  This forces them to play early morning games the next day.  This also typically puts them in a position to play 6 games in the first two days.  Remember, they “earned” a two seed the year before.  Bottom line, if it’s just Taiwan we worry about…they may still get a two seed…just in a different bracket.

Next steps with pilot

We just recently finished up our second set of rankings.  A few key takeaways are as follows
1. These rankings are far from perfect….BUT, the variance we had was typically 1-2 seeds.  A few times we varied by 3 seeds.  There was nobody ranking Taiwan 21st.  Maybe it’s not perfect, but it’s closer to reality than Taiwan at 21
2. This was a fun exercise.  Talking rosters, schedules and movement is fun.  Heck, it would be for most in the league.  Imagine having this type of data available for everyone?  It could help make the league more than a one week world series.  It could bring more hype to local tournaments and double headers.  All of that leads to more exposure and will help teams recruit new players.  Growth is good!
3. The final rankings will not reflect the seedlings.  Why? Some of these teams will face each other and bounce the other out.  How can that happen?  Mis-seeding!  You should have gotten that by now…wink wink

Impact in 2017

So…can you guess the team who is most impacted this year?  Chicago.  They have San Antonio and Taiwan in their bracket.  If Taiwan plays like they do historically, Chicago could head out as the three seed.  Know what else happens?  They wreck a few opponents in their wake and knock their seeds down as well.  Who knows, it could be your team!

Minnesota is also in trouble.  They come in as a 9 seed.  If Taiwan is any good and grabs a 1 or 2 seed…that sends Chicago out as a 3 seed.  This would set up Minnesota’s first two games to be against either Taiwan or San Antonio…and then their second game could be against Chicago.  That’s a two and screw and Minnesota could be looking at the 13-16 bracket.

Two other teams are mis seeded in long island and St. Luis.  Both of these teams are existing teams who were not at the series last year.  Long island is not a 20 seed that is for sure.  They finished 2nd in the beast of the east.  They also beat the New Jersey Titans this year and the Titans are ranked in the middle of the pack.  St. Luis is a story. They are made up of many players and the pitcher who pitched for Atlanta last season.  Atlanta was one of the great stories of the 2016 World Series.  There is no way they should be lumped at the bottom.  These mis seedlings will hurt some of the teams fighting for the 13-16 brackets.

Cost of series for international
Some people think the current system can’t be changed.  Think of the cost for teams to come internationally.  I heard recently, it costs Taiwan $30,000 for airfare to come.  How can we honestly expect them to come every year?  The Dominican is coming this year…but going to Wisconsin will be much more expensive for them than Florida.  If we want to move closer to an international game, we have to remember it’s much harder for these teams.  We need to move to a better solution for everyone.

In sum, where can this take us?

1. We need to work on having excitement year round for this sport with key dates and milestones.  It needs to be about more than the World Series.  There is growing excitement for Bolingbrook, but they may only be able to take 8 teams there.  This idea can help us build that excitement
2. We need to publicize games and schedules of the teams.  The Renegades played 10 games leading up to the series.  The Thunder played 10 games as well.  These two teams finished 1-2 in 2017.  Boston proved the level of interest in the media at its beast of the east date.  At that tournament, we had 5 TV networks, 1 radio station and 3 newspapers.  This happens with hard work.  That press helps the entire league with exposure as some of it went “viral”.
3. Facebook live videos were such an amazing idea.  That idea needs growth.  We need to make games available to the public, not just a private group.  To do this, we need higher quality broadcasts.  Ones where we know who is batting, who makes the outs, video that shows the play…clearly.  Maybe work with a tripod and a microphone to cut out wind noise.  People like Lindsey Woodard and Andrea Guerra were Pioneers.  They brought an amazing idea to the league..and they did it well.  Time to take it to the next level.  A tool like what MLB at bat has can help…big time
4. Data is the key.  The more data we have, the better we can make seeding decisions. Also, if we can collect this in an automated manner, we can get sponsors to help
5. The more unified we are, the more exposure we will get.  That exposure will lead to a higher rate of growth in the league if we cultivate it
6. We discussed at length that this process can be done, and it can be done in a way that would improve the integrity of the league for everyone.
7. Stop thinking about your team and start thinking about the impact to all teams.  Fairness starts when we think of everyone.  If your seed changes by 1 spot, does it really matter much in the long run?  You will get the chance to prove yourself when the games play.  This change helps stop seeding mistakes by 20 spots that impact others.

I hope people will read this, re read it and truly give it some thought.  Think of the positives.  Think what it’s like to play for your home town team and set a goal of moving your seed up every year.  Not every team can win the World Series..but every team can work to improve their seed.  Improving your seed should be in your control.  With today’s system…it’s not in your control.  There are many more positives to this concept than negatives.  The thought process has been put in…This is not taken lightly.  We all hope you can help make this league better for everyone with the goal of growing the sport to cities and players whom never dreamt it possible to play baseball without their sight.

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