Titling vs. redraft…Parity?

Over the years I’ve used this forum to wage a battle in favor of keeping Little League’s “titled” or “keeper” player system as an option for youth baseball organizations. For those not aware, the titled system is where a player, once drafted to a team, remains on that team for the duration of his Little League career. If you’re interested in reading some of what I’ve written on the topic, you can begin here.

Whenever I’ve debated the merits of titling with someone who favors a redraft, I always hear the same argument in favor of picking the teams anew each season, which is that a redraft favors parity. This statement is made as if an absolute fact that everyone knows to be true – not a point of discussion. My response is always, “Wait, what evidence do you have that redrafting makes teams more even?” There is never a good answer, other than “It just does.”

I don’t think it does. My local league operated under the titled system while my three boys went through. A year or so after my sons graduated and I left the board of directors, the decision was made to forgo titling and switch to the redraft method. I happened to look at their Majors Division standings the other day. Take a look at the results from one of the teams in this league:

If it’s too small to read, I’ll summarize: Halfway through the season, the first place team – the Cardinals – is undefeated, 7-0, and has outscored opponents 58-2! And, because league rules do not allow teams to post margins of victory of more than ten runs, my guess is that the two 10-0 victories and the 12-2 win were probably more lopsided.

This team was picked fresh this year from a common pool, designed to ensure parity. I’m not sure the Cardinals’ opponents would agree that it worked.

9 Responses

  1. Coach,
    My name is Joe and I’m a volunteer coach in my local little league. Some would say I’m a “professional” youth coach. Those who don’t know better think I’m all about winning, but those who I have been honored coach see that I’m all about the kids and developing them not just as players but as young men. I teach responsibility, leadership, the value of hard work and yes, how to win with respect and how to lose with dignity. My coaching style does not take any time off – I do spring, all-starts, fall and I have a facility that I use in the off-season for voluntary work-outs for WHOEVER wants it, not just the kids on my team.

    The dream of my life came to fruition this past year when I had the unbelievable opportunity to coach in Williamsport as the pitching coach for my league’s Little League All-Star team.

    This year our major division appears as though it will need to expand and the board is ADAMENT that a total redraft needs to occur for this one year to “balance the scales” and “shuffle the deck” in the division.

    First, some background. Five seasons ago the major division expanded (it has since retracted) and I was part of the coaching staff (which are all volunteer coaches – no sons on teams) that took that expansion team. The way the expansion draft was conducted that year was that we were given the first six picks, only two of which could be ten year olds, and the first pick in every round until our roster of twelve was filled. As a result, partly because of poor drafting by other coaches and partly because of our good research, we ended up with 5 of the top ten 10’s that year. We took our lumps that first year, going 3-13 and finishing last.

    That group of 10’s though – led by the players on our team – won the district and state titles and travelled to the regionals finishing second in the region. Our staff coached that team.

    That last place finish gave us the first pick in the following year’s draft. There was a real stud who had two younger brothers (each the best in their age group) who was in that incoming class. Obviously we took him and It has paid great dividends. We drafted very well that year as well – again, mistakes by other coaches.

    We won the league our second year, powered by those 10’s that were now 11. By winning, we had the last pick in the draft but again, poor choices by other coaches and bang, we end up with, what we had rated, as the best two available 10’s that year, plus we had the stud’s middle brother by virtue of the brother option. So that left us with, by our evaluations, the top three 10’s that year – and remember, we were picking last.

    We won the league the following year again by a long margin – that first group of 10’s were now 12 and were dominant. We basically crushed everyone. That afforded us the opportunity to get the younger kids a lot of time and to get their feet really wet in the major division. Also, that year, I was part of the coaching staff that took the Williamsport team that year. We lost in the regional finals 1-0.

    So, once again, we drafted last. And, while the draft was a tad bit more balanced, we still ended up with two very high quality 10’s – one of which, by our grading, was the top 10 in the draft.

    We won the league this past year again (three in a row if you lost count – lol) powered by our draft class from our second year and mainly by a player that turned out to be, by all assessment, one of the top 10 in the country and his younger (now 11 yo) brother. Our new kids got a lot of playing time and our 11 yo group were amazing.

    So, now we come to this. At the same time that we were having success in the major division, there was group that won our district’s tournament as 8’s and again, this past year, as 9’s. The board is basically controlled by the parents of this group (I sit on the board as well).

    So, these kids will be moving into the majors this year and, by all common opinion, my team will be dominant again. We have three returners that were on the team that made it to Williamsport. Are loaded with pitching and get the final brother in that family that we drafted – who is the best player of his age group. Well, the board (aka the parents of these incoming 10s) don’t want their kids to feel the “sting of failure” and feel that it is time to A. expand the league and B. redraft the entire major division for this one year.

    It’s so obvious what is really happening here. There are some board members that are opposed to the redraft, because they can see through it and others that are on the fence,

    I have made several proposals to an attempt to avoid a redraft, but the are seemingly not even considered.

    What argument can I make to keep a redraft from happening?

    • Hi Joe,

      Thank you for you note. It is clear you are very passionate about coaching youth baseball and are successful. I understand your league is looking to expand and, as a consequence, do an entire re-draft. There are a couple of pieces of information that would be needed to assist you with your attempt to sway the board away from this plan. First, what is the reason given for wanting to expand? (I know the reason you believe it is happening). Has there been a substantial increase in the number of kids at the 10-12 level, thus making expansion more valid? Have there been instructions from your District that you are running too few Majors teams? If the answer to both of these questions is no, I would start there and ask those proposing expansion to explain their justification for wanting such a dramatic change, especially since the league expanded a few years ago, and then retracted.

      If the answer is yes, that it makes sense to have more Majors teams, then a complete re-draft is still not mandatory. If you look in the Little League Operations Manual you’ll see that there are a few approved options for choosing teams in the event of expansion. One is a complete re-draft. Another is where each titled team gives a number of players up to be put back into the draft, keeping their nucleus in tact, (I would not support this one, where you’d tell some returning kids you didn’t want them back). A third is that an expansion team(s) is formed. Those teams get the lion’s share of the draft picks. But my first recommendation is that you stick with one of the approved methods in the Operations Manual and not try to make up something new.

      In order for the board to go with the expansion team method you’ll likely need to make a case for why it is better for the X number of returning players on EVERY team, not just yours, that titling be upheld. Sure, maybe your team will be really good this year. But is that a reason to tell all of the other players who enjoy being titled onto a team that they can’t come back to their team this year? The league is obligated to do what is best for the majority of kids and the case needs to be made that it isn’t just about who wins the league but the overall experience. And most kids prefer coming back and playing with their teammates from the previous season. If you haven’t already read this, here is a link to an article I wrote on titling https://blog.coachdeck.com/2011/06/21/point-counterpoint-more-on-titled-players-vs-re-draft/, and within this article is another link that outlines many arguments for this draft method. Finally, I think I’d let everyone know that if there is a re-draft, at least every coach coming up from Minors will have a few returners that they can count on to be the core of their team. However, if all of the Majors players are put into the draft, you’d have an even bigger advantage since you have coach or coached against every player and the new managers coming up have not. If the rookie manager don’t have any returning players and they make bad choices in a few of the early rounds, there is good chance for an even greater disparity between the haves and have-nots.

      So, to summarize, my first thought would be to rebuff the entire league expansion movement based on there not being a demonstrated need and the failure of the previous attempt. If expansion is inevitable, then my recommendation would be to make a strong case for why the X number of returning player would prefer to remain titled to their teams and why the new managers coming up to take over those teams would be better-served having some returners as part of the inherited nucleus instead of drafting all twelve roster spots from scratch.

      Hope this helps. Good luck.

      • Coach,

        Thank you so much for your reply. I just had a long, productive,conversation with our league president. Basically I was able to get down to the heart as to why he feels there needs to be a redraft. There are a couple teams where a mini-muntiny is happening and if the same manager returns, then several parents will ask off of the team. There are anywhere from 6-8 families, out of a returning 25, that are causing an issue. Thoughts?

        Thank you again.

      • Yes, and this is also addressed in the article I referenced. The /players /are titled, not the manager. If the league believes the manager is a problem, they need to replace him, not change the entire draft system. If he’s a problem, why will it be right to re-draft and make other kids be on his team? And if the league does not believe he needs to be replaced, then it is going to be up those families to decide if they really want to not play. So either we have a problematic manager who needs to go or we have problematic parents who cannot be allowed to hold the league hostage. Again, the draft system is neither the problem or the solution here.

        Brian Gotta CoachDeck LLC http://www.coachdeck.com 858-794-0858 Read the Latest OnDeck Newsletter

  2. Coach,

    After much work and lobbying, we are on the verge of getting the redraft voted out. The proper managers are being put in place and all will be fine. I think the argument that got to the heart of it was the fact that there would be a slew of new managers in the division with no cores to begin with. I also submitted a new idea to our league for drafting to compensate for the “12 year old” problem.

    Thank you for all of your help and advice!!

    Coach Joe

    PS – where do you coach?

    • That’s great to hear. Glad they were able to understand the benefits of the system.

      I no longer coach, as all my kids are in high school and college and, since they still play, I spend whatever free time I have at their games. I did coach in the Del Mar, California area. If you’re interested, here’s a link to the book on coaching youth baseball I wrote: http://booksbygotta.com/winning_secrets.htm.

      Best of luck this season and beyond!

      • Coach,

        Wanted to follow up with you on our league and this season up coming. The board, through great efforts by all involved, have developed and gotten approved a draft method that we will use going forward (hopefully, unless Little League votes in the nuclear option of mandatory redraft). The expansion will happen and there are enough players to support it and then some. The new school eligibility rule greatly helped us. Fueled by our recent league successes and the fact that two, large private schools are within our boundaries, we have gained 36 new players in the 8-12 age range, several of them all-star worthy.

        The league now seems adament that redraft is not the best option and that titling is the way to go. I’m very thankful for all of your advise and guidance.

        Caoch Joe

  3. Well, that’s one observation. You need a larger sample to go beyond saying a redraft can fail to produce parity. I’d be shocked if this were repeated 100x and titling resulted in greater parity than redraft. Redraft should work better if it’s blind. Let the coaches form a selection committee that forms the teams. No one should know which team they’ll end up with and only head coach’s sons can be reserved.

    • Thanks for your response. People always seem to get passionate about this topic. I have yet to hear any evidence that substantiates the parity claim for re-draft. Simply saying that one would be shocked if titling resulted in greater parity does not refute my theory. As for your blind draft model, this is one I’ve heard before and am intrigued by. And, all things being equal, I could endorse this except for two things: First, this doesn’t take into account the disparity between the skill level of managers’ kids. One manager has a son who is a 12 year-old pitcher and one of the best players in the league. Another manager’s son is a 10 year-old who is going to be a part-time player. So if each team is equal, save for the managers’ sons, then the manager with the star player will have a huge advantage, thus invalidating the entire purpose of the blind draft exercise. But the second reason I have is even more important: Why is the entire objective of all the redraft proponents to make the teams as equal as possible? Everyone I hear taking this side acts like titling is so bad because it fosters have’s and have-nots. But if winning is not supposed to be the objective then why are we worrying so much about who wins and loses? It’s completely dichotomous. Why are we so concerned with trying to make every team go 12-12? Isn’t part of youth sports learning about winning and losing and not trying to make everything even for everyone? Again, I’m saying this from the standpoint that titling actually does make things more even, but that is not my main reason for endorsing this, whereas wins and losses ARE the only reason anyone promotes a re-draft. The point I make in the article is that re-draft has so many other benefits…even to a losing team. Again, in the article I cite the example of a board member in a league who was staunchly opposed to titling because her son was on a losing team only to change her mind when she actually asked her son what he thought and he begged her not to try to change to a re-draft. He wanted to come back to the same coach and same teammates. We adults tend to evaluate everything from a standpoint of winning and losing. If a team wins they must have had a great experience. If they lost they must have hated it. On the contrary, kids want to feel like they are part of something larger, be connected to the past and the future of their team, to go from being rookies to veterans, to learn leadership – maybe to be able to take this team that was at the bottom of the standings last year and try to make them better this year. Most of all to share the experience with the same players. That’s what titling is about. And, yes, of all the scenarios I’ve seen proposed, it does actually lead to the most parity as well.

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