How To Win Ottoneu: An Interview with Keith Smith

Last year I interviewed Brent Daily, winner of the 2016 Ottoneu Champions league.  This year I’ve done the same by  interviewing Keith Smith, who led his Harrisburg Mayflies to a dominant victory in 2017.

Q: Well done on a big victory in 2017.  How long have you been playing fantasy baseball?

I started playing in the late 80’s. I forget the exact year but I remember Carney Lansford dominating. Stepped away for a number of years but got hooked again when a friend introduced me to Ottoneu.

Q: How long have you been playing Ottoneu?

Just wrapped up my 4th season. I’m currently playing in five leagues.

Q: How did you get started playing Ottoneu?

An old friend had been talking about the platform for a year or so when a team opened up in his league (198 – Reddit). I took over the team having been out of fantasy baseball for a few years. It was a steep learning curve that first season but I was hooked quickly and picked up two more leagues that off-season. I’ve had success in my other leagues but sad to say that I still have not won 198 after 4 years.

Q: You ran away with the Champions league title this year.  What was your strategy heading into the 2017 auction draft?

Probably not good advice for most situations but I had very specific players I was looking for in the Champs auction. I wanted a big bat (Edwin Encarnacion), an elite SP (Sale) and an elite RP (Allen). I felt like Edwin was a bargain at $29 but overpaid for Allen at $16. I dropped out of the bidding for Sale around $40 and had to spend that money elsewhere leading to a questionable Starling Marte bid. I was also locked on Corey Dickerson this off-season. I owned him in all five of my leagues. I set a few bucks aside to pick up some prospect trade pieces in Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Michael Kopech. My SP strategy did not go well as I went for volume with very few of the original drafted rotation actually working out.

Harrisburg Mayflies 2017 auction results.

Q: What lessons did you learn about the game this year that you will use in the future?

Relief pitchers that pitch huge innings are undervalued. Consider the fact that most RP throw 60 – 65 innings per season if they stay healthy. You can only start five RP per day so maximizing those spots is critical. This year, I began to value RP’s in a different way. I would compare them to other RP’s for the first 65 IP, but for IP after that I would compare them to an SP replacement level. This still puts typical names at the top of the list (Knebel, Kenley, Kimbrel) but it also highlights players like Brad Hand (79 IP) and Felipe Rivero (75 IP) as top RP’s due to their high innings totals. Even more shocking is that Yusmeiro Petit (91 IP) ranked 30th (despite low ownership). Not a perfect measure since high IP counts are hard to predict but something to consider when valuing relievers. In practical terms, this analysis led me to draft Juan Nicasio just about everywhere this year. He was a solid return on the $1 investment.

Q. Talk about your strengths and weaknesses as a fantasy baseball manager and how they have evolved over the years.

I am not a good “scout” at all. Put me in the stands watching a minor league game and I won’t come away with any useful information. My strength lies in the data. Interpreting trends, identifying outliers, and maximizing roster construction based on Ottoneu’s unique linear weights format.

Q: What advice would you offer to a new owner playing Ottoneu for the first time?

Understand the scoring format. You have to max out the Games Played (GP) and Innings Pitched (IP) by end of season to succeed, which means trending ahead early on is important. Also, pay close attention to relief pitchers and their MLB usage. Rotate them to maximize your RP innings every day. Roster the high IP RP’s when you can.

Also, convince yourself to compete deeper into the season each year as most owners will switch to rebuild mode too early. Rebuilding a team should only be one year project in Ottoneu no matter how bad the roster is. It is virtually impossible to predict the next season…we definitely can’t predict seasons 3 or 4 years out. You will make horrible deals but it doesn’t mean it will end your season. It is just the nature of the game. As an example, I traded a $1 Luis Severino for a 5MILB Erick Fedde on March 23rd in Champs this year. It doesn’t get much worse than that.

Q: What resources do you use or recommend to sharpen your fantasy baseball skills over time?

I recommend reading the deeper player analysis that tends to be published in the off-season. It is a great way to find outlier opinions on potentially cheap or breakout players. I have also spent time each winter attempting to predict end of season standings in my leagues, which helps me get familiar with other players and other rosters. As a I said before, I’m not a great “scout”, so what I’m more interested in is looking at published projection sets like Steamer or Zips and figuring out ways to predict the success of an fantasy roster using those numbers.  There are some good resources that pop up on the Ottoneu community site.

Q: Which player on your roster would you name as your team MVP this season?

Easily Jose Ramirez ($5). I thought about trading him so many times in March/April but luckily never did. Setting aside the 1,109 points he scored, he also offered positional flexibility. He helped keep my GP pace on track by sliding over to 3B or OF when needed.

I will give Zack Cozart ($1) an honorable mention though. His huge season was the reason I could play Ramirez at other positions.   I think the rest of the league might argue that Gary Sanchez or Cody Bellinger were the true MVP’s since they headlined the big trades I made for Stanton, Scherzer and others.

Q: Name one player you will target and one player you will avoid heading into 2018?

Haven’t spent a lot of time studying players for next year, but right now Jesse Winker really jumps out. Not just his rookie performance but the fact that the Reds are hitting him in the top 2 spots most days.

You won’t find me owning Noah Syndergaard anywhere. I think people are still paying for the name and not understanding the risk involved coming off the injury.

Q: Make a bold prediction about one hitter for 2018.

Kyle Schwarber arrives as an elite fantasy OF…just one year later than everyone expected.

Q: Make a bold prediction about one pitcher for 2018.

One of the Atlanta Braves’ prospects is called up early and finishes as a top 30 starting pitcher.

Q: Who will win the World Series?

I would love to see Kershaw prove all the haters wrong by carrying the Dodgers to a win but the rational side of me has to go with the Indians.

We hoped you liked reading How To Win Ottoneu: An Interview with Keith Smith by Trey Baughn!

Please support FanGraphs by becoming a member. We publish thousands of articles a year, host multiple podcasts, and have an ever growing database of baseball stats.

FanGraphs does not have a paywall. With your membership, we can continue to offer the content you've come to rely on and add to our unique baseball coverage.

Support FanGraphs

Trey is a 20 year fantasy veteran and a five time Ottoneu champion, including the 2015 winner of the Ottoneu Champions League. He currently administers the Ottoneu community, a network of ~1,000 fantasy baseball and football fans. More resources here:

newest oldest most voted
Captain Tenneal
Captain Tenneal

Marcus Thames went for $3? In a champions league?


Wow. That’s pretty funny.