Ottoneu Strategies for Every Setting

Around this time last year, FanGraphs announced a partnership with ottoneu, bringing a new fantasy baseball format to the masses: year-round auction dynasty without need for spreadsheets.

I am a member of the original ottoneu league, which launched in 2006 in response to frustration with the mainstream platforms. In year one of that league, most of us went through the auction and season as if it were a typical fantasy league, just one with really big rosters.

More than likely, most first-time ottoneu players did the same in 2011. Sure, there are some clear differences -– almost all leagues probably saw a few trades that would never happen in a typical keeper league, as cellar-dwelling owners tried to build for the future. And some prospects that wouldn’t deserve a second look in most leagues were probably owned.

But as I enter year seven of the original league, I’ve come to realize that, in terms of signing players at auction, setting lineups, etc., there are actually some strategies that are hard (or impossible) to pull off in most leagues that play quite well in ottoneu.

Taking the three ottoneu scoring formats one-by-one (first 5×5, then “ottoneu classic” or 4×4, and finally linear weights points), we’ll look at some of those strategies and how to implement them.

Old School
This is ottoneu’s traditional 5×5 rotisserie league, using the same stats you probably all used in your first leagues years ago — AVG, HR, RBI, R, SB, W, ERA, WHIP, K, S. Being so similar to traditional leagues, though, does not stop Old School ottoneu from offering some unique opportunities.

One potential strategy is to stock up on closers for the first half of the season, trading them away around the All Star break. While most leagues only have a couple reliever slots, ottoneu leagues have five. If you were to sign five closers and play them all every day, you could rack up 75 or more saves by the break.

In most 5×5 leagues, that is going to be enough to give you middle-of-the-pack save totals in just half a season. At that point, you could trade away two or three of those closers, filling holes for the stretch run or picking up prospects for the next season.

Looking back at 2011, you could have fairly easily built this bullpen through the auction and early in-season pickups:

Reliever Avg Cost in 5×5 Leagues 1st Half Saves 2nd Half Saves
Drew Storen $11 23 20
Jonathan Papelbon $12 20 11
Chris Perez $11 21 15
Sergio Santos $2 18 12
Jordan Walden $4 20 12
Total $40 102 70

Those 102 first half saves all but guarantee you a top-five finish in saves, and it’s still only July.

Now you can trade three of them. Maybe you are scared off by Perez’s peripherals, decide you can get the most value for Papelbon, and feel like you overpaid for Santos. You move those three and are left with Storen and Walden, who will get you up to 134 saves for the year, which probably gets you up to the top-two in saves.

This only works if not too many teams in your league take this approach –- if a bunch of owners are trying to collect closers, prices will be driven up (fixed supply + sky-rocketing demand = astronomical prices) and the cost of the strategy will be too high.

However, in this case, you can take the opposite approach –- go light on closers for half the season and be a buyer instead of a seller towards the break. Either way, the ability to start five closers on any given day creates unique opportunities to take advantage of the closer market, whether that is in March or in July.

ottoneu Classic
The original version of ottoneu, this is a simple, but more sabermetric–friendly, approach to roto –- 4×4 categories using OBP, SLG, HR, R, ERA, WHIP, K, and HR/9IP. There are a couple strategy changes that jump out immediately –- speedsters lose a lot of value, three-true-outcomes guys gain a lot, closers lose their advantage over middle relievers, and you can safely ignore run support for starters.

But one strategy enabled by the rosters is platooning. Because of the 40-man rosters in ottoneu, you can afford to keep three to four hitters on your team who you intend to use to fill two spots between them.

Consider this set of three OF:

Garrett Jones .321 .433 16 51
Carlos Lee .342 .446 18 66
Chris Young .331 .420 20 89

None passed 20 home runs, none cracked 90 runs, none reached base at a .350 clip, and none slugged as high as .450. If you played all of them full-time, you would fill up three outfield slots with statistics that look like this: .332 OBP, .433 SLG, 54 HR (18 per spot) and 206 R (68.7 per spot). Not so hot.

But check out their strong-side splits:

Garrett Jones .333 .461 15 46
Carlos Lee .379 .508 11 44
Chris Young .372 .477 7 29

Play Jones only on days when he is facing a right-handed starter and play Lee and Young only against lefties and you can fill about 1.5 outfield spots with a .360 OBP, .484 SLG, 33 HR (22 per spot) and 119 R (79.3 per spot). Pretty good use of 30% of your outfield plate appearances.

And you don’t have to stop with left/right splits. Have a player who is a great fastball hitter but can’t touch the soft-tossers? That’ll work. Want to play a Rockie (or Ranger) only at home or a Padre (or Athletic) only on the road? Also an option.

Of course balancing all of those guys all the time is difficult, but everyone needs reserves. You could start with three outfielders you plan to play every day, but then you can go cheap after that. Grabbing a few players whose overall stat lines are only worth a couple bucks –- like the four mentioned above –- has the potential to provide far more value when used appropriately. This lets you fill your last outfield slots (and any off-days for your starters) without losing production or paying full price.

FanGraphs Points

The FanGraphs points league is probably the most unique of the ottoneu formats. Justin Merry, inspired by Tangotiger’s work with linear weights, devised this scoring system which is meant to award points to hitters and pitchers based on the actual value of the outcome of each plate appearance. For more details, you can check out Justin’s pieces (pitching and hitting) on the system –- but we are here to talk strategy.

One of the intriguing things about a points league is that you can compare a players total performance and his performance on a pro-rated basis. For example, in a roto league, comparing 658 plate appearances of Carlos Santana in 2011 to 527 plate appearances from Brian McCann can be tough. Santana had better numbers, but used more plate appearances –- in his extra plate appearances, he put up an extra 3 HR, 33 R and 8 RBI. So are those stats more or less valuable than an extra 131 plate appearances from your catcher?

In a points league, we can look at a per plate appearance basis, take a “replacement level” player to fill in the missing PAs and easily get a sense of which player provided more value.

Using those same two players, we get this:

Player PA Points (Rank among C) Points/PA (Rank among C)
Carlos Santana 658 852 (1st) 1.295 (11th)
Brian McCann 527 697.4 (6th) 1.323 (9th)

Basically, if you only played one catcher all year, Santana would have been your best choice and McCann would have been a solid middle-of-the-pack starter in a 12-team league. But on a per PA basis, the story is different.

Of course, being better on a per-PA basis doesn’t make McCann the more valuable player. Santana played in 155 games, so if we assume he accounts for a full season, using McCann’s more valuable PA requires you to grab a second catcher to fill 131 plate appearances, and that catcher won’t score at as high a rate as either McCann or Santana.

Assuming each of the 12 top catchers in terms of total points will be owned, your options for second catcher are players like Wilson Ramos, Nick Hundley, Ramon Hernandez and Ryan Doumit. On a per PA basis, Ramos was the weakest of those players, but put up 1.191 points per PA. And grabbing a guy like that –- posting around 1.2 pts/PA –- should be very doable, even if it means you have to make a couple changes in season to find the right guy (or use a guy with a large platoon split).

Assuming you get 1.191 points per PA from your second catcher, your McCann/Reserve pairing will put up 853.4 points in 658 plate appearances –- outdoing Santana by 1.4 points. Again, this doesn’t mean McCann is as valuable as Santana, but if the cost difference is greater than the cost of signing a solid backup, McCann is very likely the better option.

Looking at points per PA can also help to determine positional scarcity. Below is a chart of the average points per PA for each position. The average looks at the top 15 catchers, first basemen, second basemen, shortstops, and third basemen by total points, the top 75 outfielders by total points, and the top 100 starters and relievers by total points.

Position Average Points Points/PA or IP
C 651.9 1.27
1B 999.1 1.52
2B 817.2 1.27
SS 744.5 1.20
3B 765.3 1.37
OF 741.3 1.25
SP 842.1 4.34
RP 427.5 6.42

A couple of things jump out here. One is that despite a lot of talk about third base being a shallow position last year, it was actually deeper than almost any other. First base was obviously stronger and an argument can maybe be made for the outfield (if you only look at the top 60 OF, the Pt/PA is 1.31). But third base actually held its own just fine. In the meantime, shortstop was a clear outlier as the weakest position, which doesn’t come as any real surprise.

But the more surprising number is the starter/reliever comparison. On an inning-by-inning basis, RP proved to be worth almost 50% more than SP. The reason RP are worth so much more is not because they perform better, but because they throw so many more innings.

Of course ottoneu leagues have a max of 1500 IP per team, and if you are going to reach your max IP regardless, your goal should be to get as many relief innings into that 1500. In a simple sense, if you loaded your team with average, top 100 SP and RP, look how many more points you can score by using more RP:

RP Innings RP Pts SP Pts Total Pts
300 1926 5208 7134
400 2568 4774 7342
500 3210 4340 7550

Not only do RP offer more points per IP, but they tend to be much cheaper. For example, Mat Latos put up 944.7 points over 194.1 IP (4.86 pts/IP). He was the 23rd-ranked SP overall, 22nd in points/IP. He cost over $22 in Points leagues.

In the meantime, Octavio Dotel, Edward Mujica, and Matt Belisle, for just a couple bucks a piece, put up a lot more points (213.3 more points) in just a few more innings (11.2 more IP). By shifting about 200 innings from a very good SP like Latos to a trio of replacement-level RP you get an extra 200+ points.

The difficult thing is finding the right reliever and recognizing how volatile reliever can be. In order to maximize your relief innings, you also need to identify RP who qualify at SP. In 2011, players like Marc Rzepczynski, Scott Elbert and others fit this bill and did so at a much higher Pt/IP rate than the average SP (both were over 6 Pt/IP).

But if you can find RP who qualify at SP, you can start more than five RP each day, maximize your relief innings, get more points for less money from your pitching, and have more money to spend elsewhere.

All in all, ottoneu is a new, unique format that requires ingenuity and strategic thinking beyond what it takes to win your typical fantasy league. You have to manage a 40-man roster, long-term concerns, and a player universe that is as large as it can be. This creates challenges, but it also creates opportunities.

Owners who take full advantage of these opportunities will find themselves, more often than not, near the top of the standings.

We hoped you liked reading Ottoneu Strategies for Every Setting by Chad Young!

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Chad Young is a product manager at Amazon by day and a baseball writer (RotoGraphs, Let's Go Tribe), sports fan and digital enthusiast at all times. Follow him on Twitter @chadyoung.

6 Responses to “Ottoneu Strategies for Every Setting”

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  1. JWay says:

    I find it incredibly interesting that Merry’s version includes save/holds without blown saves.

    In a similar style league that I designed 3 or 4 years ago I found the same thing, until I incorporated blown saves to mellow down the reliever advantage.

    Perhaps ottoneu can look into this in the future. And possibly take it a step further and incorperate shutdowns vs meldowns instead of saves/holds/blown saves. If I could do that in my ESPN league it’d be an easy switch.

    Relievers are fun and all, but yuck to them for being the way to gain and advantage by gaming them.

  2. themiddle54 says:

    I agree with JWay re yuck to gaming the RP slots being the way to gain an advantage. I’d like to see Ottoneu develop it’s own way of determining position eligibility so the only players who are both SP and RP eligible are the ones who are really acting as SP and RP. Fantasy leagues should be won on draft day, on the waiver wire, and via deploying the best players based at their position, not based on how you can manipulate shoddy eligibility rules to your advantage.

  3. Chok says:

    Perhaps if a pitcher appears in a SP slot, he cannot accrue points for holds or saves. I don’t know how difficult that would be to code, but it seems like a fair way of keeping people like me from powergaming the system. 🙂

  4. Chok says:

    Points per game is a more useful thing to look at than points per plate appearance.

  5. Chad Young says:

    A few comments have already popped up about the RP/SP gaming. I am not sure this is a loophole, largely due to the volatility of relievers. I didn’t really get into it in the article (I probably should have, to be honest) but RP are a much riskier proposition than starters. Finding extra relief innings has the potential for high returns, and if done well, it can help a lot. But the risk is higher, too.

  6. Chad Young says:

    Chok, per your comment, I looked at Pts/G but I found it less helpful. It penalized guys who came off the bench regularly in an unfair way. Consider Allen Craig. Among OF last year, he was ranked 53rd in Pts/G, largely due to regular pinch hitting duty. In Pt/PA he was 7th. Now, if I am deciding between starting Craig or someone else on a given day, do I care that Craig is so much lower in Pts/G? No way. I know that if he starts he likely gets his 4-5 PA. Bryan LaHair, John Mayberry and Brent Lillibridge all also post top 30 Pts/PA but much lower Pts/G, again due to pinch hitting or, in Lillibridge’s case, defensive substitution.

    If I am considering a players fantasy value, two things matter to me: 1) How much will he produce over the season? and 2) How much will he produce on a day he starts? Pts/G is skewed because of “games” a player accrues without actually playing. In other words, a game isn’t always a game. But a PA is always a PA.