Lessons from my Second-Year Ottoneu Auction

On Wednesday night, one of my Ottoneu baseball leagues had its second-year auction. I’m a bit of an Ottoneu junkie—I’m in three different baseball leagues and one football one—but this is the first time I remember completing a draft before March. As such, I thought it would be fun and hopefully useful for readers for me to share some of the results from the auction as well as my thoughts and strategies.


Consider your relative spending power before you nominate a player you want

Coming off a second-place finish, I retained a lot of players from a team I think can again be competitive in 2018. That left me with just $76 available from an original $400 budget to spend on 16 roster spots, which averages to a bit less than $5 per player. That made me one of the poorest teams at the start of the draft and priced me out of the top talent that went quickly like Clayton Kershaw ($73), Mookie Betts ($52), Madison Bumgarner ($45) and Manny Machado ($48). The auction unfolded like a typical one where the bulk of that top-level talent was nominated and sold early in the proceedings. In fact, 10 of the 11 total players who were bid up to $20 or more sold within the first 21 picks.

Ottoneu Prices in my Second-Year Auction

But there was one last top talent in my estimation who hadn’t been nominated—Yoenis Cespedes—and outfield was one of my positions of need. Early in an auction, I always aim to nominate and to a certain extent price enforce players I expect will go for a lot of money but I don’t want on my roster, either because of positional need or ideally because I think their market price exceeds their value. But even though Cespedes could have cleared a lot of money, I didn’t nominate him. Instead, I waited and spent conservatively on players. By the time Cespedes was nominated as the 81st player, I had become one of the wealthiest teams in the draft room and could afford to spend up to win him for $20. I netted him for $5 less than his average price when he almost certainly would have sold for more than his average price had he been nominated early in the draft. That is what happened to Kershaw ($9 over average), Betts ($13), Bumgarner ($2), and Machado ($1), and it would have priced me out of Cespedes had it happened to him.


Take advantage of the quirks of your league settings

If you play Ottoneu, then you probably love to read about fantasy baseball. That means you are going to be exposed to rankings and opinions that can skew your perceptions of value in leagues that have unusual scoring and roster compositions. Try to discipline yourself to make draft decisions based on a player’s value for your league and not the broader perception of his value.

This Ottoneu league is a points league, and the format carries many of the characteristics of more traditional points leagues. The most prominent of those traits is likely that the overall top scorers tend to be the elite starting pitchers, who rack up points for both strikeouts and outs in general. However, unlike many points leagues, Ottoneu provides massive benches and allows daily transactions. That lessens the value of those top starters because, in typical formats, they generate value because of both their per-inning performance and their total volume of innings. In Ottoneu, two pitchers who throw 100 innings of a certain quality and one pitcher who throws 200 innings of the same quality are practically identical in value because you can easily move them into the lineup whenever they make a start and because the opportunity cost of the use of an extra roster spot is so much smaller than usual with the deep bench.

A few draftees from Wednesday’s auction illustrate that point well. Bumgarner and Gerrit Cole were two of the four most expensive starters in the auction. Steamer also projects them to produce a lot of points in Ottoneu, more than any of the pitchers I won in the auction. But their exceptional projected point totals are a product both of their effectiveness and expected durability. Bumgarner is projected to throw 207 innings, tied for the most in baseball with Max Scherzer, and Cole is projected to add another 175.

Ottoneu Scoring with Steamer Projections – Bumgarner and Cole
Player Salary IP K BB H HR HBP FanPts FanPts / IP
Madison Bumgarner $45 207 198 50 194 28 7 908.0 4.4
Gerrit Cole $22 175 165 50 170 25 7 704.5 4.0
$67 382 363 100 364 53 14 1612.5 4.2

None of the trio of starters I won in the auction of Jordan Montgomery, Kenta Maeda, and J.A. Happ is projected to match even Cole’s innings total. In particular, the sophomore Montgomery figures to go through a slow increase in innings typical of a young starter, and Maeda has certainly suffered through enough injuries to justify his projected 126 innings. But when those three pitch, they shouldn’t be that much worse than Bumgarner and Cole. Steamer projects them to produce half a point less in Ottoneu per inning, and together they should match or exceed the total of innings of the better two starters.

Ottoneu Scoring with Steamer Projections – Montgomery, Maeda and Happ
Player Salary IP K BB H HR HBP FanPts FanPts / IP
Jordan Montgomery $6 153 137 56 154 26 4 506.0 3.3
Kenta Maeda $4 126 127 34 120 21 5 499.1 4.0
J.A. Happ $2 171 152 55 170 25 4 642.9 3.8
$12 450 416 145 444 72 13 1648.0 3.7

Half a point per inning is not nothing. That will become 200 or more points if the season plays out like the projections and I continue to play those pitchers in all of their starts, and so I’d obviously rather have Bumgarner and Cole in a vacuum. But when I trade those lost points and one extra bench spot for $55 of cap space—enough to buy Betts or Machado or for me to keep my $44 Trea Turner and then some—the expected point loss becomes worth it for my overall team. Meanwhile, my effort to approach the original auction with that strategy helped me cherry-pick starters like Aaron Nola ($10), Dylan Bundy ($8), Jose Berrios ($6), and Luke Weaver ($4) who were just a bit too expensive for a stars-and-scrubs team and also let me spend the bulk of my salary on less-volatile hitters.


Shoot for backups with higher volatility

As a team that I hope will be in the mix to win titles this year and over the next couple of years, I filled out the bulk of my roster with major league depth rather than prospects. And because I had the bench space to fill out with quality depth, top-level potential became much more important to me than average expectations. You can see the evolution of that mental approach in my selection of backup catchers behind my one catcher keeper, Salvador Perez.

The Ottoneu Bids I Won
Pick Player Price
32 Russell Martin $3
37 Brad Brach $6
39 Jonathan Lucroy $4
64 Jordan Montgomery $6
73 Miguel Andujar $4
79 Nick Delmonico $1
81 Yoenis Cespedes $20
92 J.A. Happ $2
99 Kenta Maeda $4
110 Carlos Gonzalez $4
127 Chance Sisco $3
148 Collin McHugh $1
150 Neil Walker $2
166 Kendrys Morales $1
173 Nick Pivetta $1
180 Kolten Wong $1

At first, I was content to grab Russell Martin, who I perceived to be a safe second catcher at a modest bargain. But as the draft unfolded, I came to believe that catchers were being underpriced. I didn’t enter the draft with a plan to draft more than the one extra catcher, but I ended up winning two more in Jonathan Lucroy and Chance Sisco. Pitchers and catchers reported to spring training a week ago and Lucroy still doesn’t have a job, and Caleb Joseph and Andrew Susac could push Sisco back to the minors if he doesn’t hit. If neither player works out, then I can drop them both without compromising my normal lineup. But if Lucroy does find the right job and if Sisco does hit, suddenly, I’ll have two incredible values that most low-cost players in the auction had no chance to provide.


Take a flier on Nicky Delmonico, Collin McHugh, or Nick Pivetta

Delmonico, McHugh, and Pivetta are three of just five players on my roster who cost exactly $1, and I like all three of them as sleepers. Travis Sawchik detailed reasons for optimism on Demonico late last season, and while his minor league track record and average exit velocity suggest a realistic peak of maybe 20 home runs rather than the elite total one might mentally pro-rate from the 9 he hit in just 166 plate appearances in the majors last season, even moderate power combined with his plate discipline should make him a useful player in Ottoneu. Pretty much all of the 20 qualified batters who walked at least 10 percent of the time, struck out at most 20 percent of the time, and hit for an isolated power above .150 were useful fantasy players. Demonico met that criteria in both the majors and the minors last season, and he could play every day in either left field or at designated hitter for a talent-starved White Sox team.

The Cole trade was a disaster for McHugh owners in most fantasy formats. As a long reliever, he won’t record enough wins or saves to justify a spot on most rosters. In Ottoneu, McHugh’s fall to the bullpen has the potential to make him an incredibly valuable player. Unlike for starting pitchers, the five relief pitcher spots in Ottoneu prevent an owner from capitalizing on the success of an overabundance of rostered relievers. And since the innings pitched maximum draws from both starter and reliever spots, relievers with elite strikeout rates who approach 90 innings are incredibly valuable. Last season, Yusmeiro Petit, Anthony Swarzak, Chris Devenski, and Archie Bradley all finished in the top-20 in points among relievers despite just 11 saves among them. McHugh will have that potential if he enjoys the velocity and strikeout bump that many starter-turn-relievers experience, Petit and Bradley included. And McHugh was already striking out more than 8 batters per nine in his career as a starter.

Jake Arrieta may submarine this sleeper pick if he signs with the Phillies, but as I write this, Pivetta looks poised to be the team’s fourth or fifth starter. And his recent track record in both the majors and minors suggests he could provide exceptional strikeout and decent walk rates. That peripheral success did not translate into actual success in the majors in 2017, but pretty much every luck-influenced factor from Pivetta’s .332 BABIP to his 67.1 percent strand rate to his 18.2 percent home run per flyball rate conspired against him. Sometimes, strikeout pitchers just get hit hard. Mike Fiers comes to mind. But few of those pitchers consistently throw in the mid-90s the way Pivetta does. For $1, I’m more than happy to bet on the tools.

Scott Spratt is a fantasy sports writer for FanGraphs and Pro Football Focus. He is a Sloan Sports Conference Research Paper Competition and FSWA award winner. Feel free to ask him questions on Twitter – @Scott_Spratt

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4 years ago

I dont nominate anyone I like until there is noone I hate left.