Ottoneu League Best Practices

As we finish a brief lull in the Ottoneu world – those 2.5 weeks after the end of the regular season and before the start of arbitration – we have a moment to take stock of what works and what doesn’t in our leagues, and think about how we can manage them better. On the Ottoneu community site, a manager asked about a “best practices” document (this was in relation to an Ottoneu basketball draft) and it seemed like now is an ideal time to talk about best practices, for both new leagues being spun up for 2022 and existing leagues that might want to align on some key stuff.

With that in mind, I spoke to a handful of Ottoneu veterans – players who have been in a bunch of leagues, been commissioners of a bunch of leagues, and know the game well. Here are 10 of the best practices they recommended.

  1. Define what makes an incomplete roster and how the league will handle them. The official rules leave some space here for leagues to set their own expectations (a good thing, in my opinion). Rule 1a, for example, says you have to be able to field a full MLB roster, but does not specify whether a league should count injured players in that full roster. If I am rebuilding, do I need to have a full five RP and a healthy player at 3B? Or is it acceptable for me to have an MLB 3B on the IL and just a couple RP? Some of my leagues are particular about fielding a full active roster, particularly H2H leagues. Some are more lenient. In league 649, I was rebuilding this year and rarely had a full five RP after the All-Star break. But I was still on pace to hit my innings and had plenty of pitching, it was just all hurt. That league was fine with that. Another league might not be. The important thing is making sure the league is aligned.

    My Take: In season-long leagues, be lenient here. If a team has a starting 2B who gets hurt, they shouldn’t have to make a cut to add another one if they don’t want to. Having a full set of 22 MLB players that could, if healthy, get you to or close to your games and innings caps is fine. In H2H leagues, lineups matter and you should be more stringent on asking managers to keep their lineups full and active.

  2. Agree on whether or not teams can leave their rosters illegal. Another case where leagues vary. The official, programmatic consequence of having an illegal roster (over budget or too many players) is that you cannot set lineups, offer or respond to trades, start or bid in auctions. Basically, you can’t do anything except cut players. Some leagues are comfortable with this and if a team wants to sit with an illegal roster for a week, so be it. Others believe the spirit of the game is that you should get legal quickly. If your league agrees on the latter, set expectations – do teams have 24 hours to get legal? 48? Can they sit illegal as long as their is an active waiver claim or auction that could make them legal?

    My Take: Be more strict on this. Letting teams sit illegal for days on end isn’t good for the league. I would ask managers to target being legal within 24 hours, but also accept a clear path to being legal (e.g., I win an auction that puts me $5 over the cap, but another ongoing auction will clear a $10 cap penalty for me when it ends, I can wait out that auction).

  3. Understand that end-of-season is a unique case of #2 and plan accordingly. In one of my leagues, a manager started dozens (literally dozens) of auctions on the last possible day of the 2020 season, and when they all ended, he had like 95 players on his roster. Now, in this case, he was making a joke and I just cleaned that up as the commissioner, but what if a team really wants to do this? If I start a dozen auctions on the last Friday of the season and win them all for $20, is the league okay with me entering the off-season having just added 12 players and $240 to my roster? Or do you want everyone to be legal when the season ends? It’s important to discuss this before late September.

    My Take: Again, be strict on this. In my leagues, I expect all teams to be legal when the season ends. If not, I would plan to remove the last players they added from their roster until they are legal.

  4. Agree on consequences of violating the issues above. Even if I know that the league wants me to be legal within 24 hours after winning an auction or making a trade, knowing what will happen if I don’t do that matters. Is it a hard 24-hour countdown, at the end of which I am booted from the league (I hope not)? If so, I probably won’t bid in an auction if I know meeting that timeline won’t work for me. Is it just a nudge/reminder that I need to get legal? That’s good to know.

    My Take: I like to start with the nudge/reminder with everyone aware that if at some point it becomes clear the manager is intentionally violating the rules, the players they added will be removed until the roster is legal. That said, it’s a process – remind the manager they are illegal, wait for a response, remind them again, let the league know that they have been reminded and that we are still waiting for a response, etc. If at any point the manager comes back and offers a valid reason for the delay, fine. If they aren’t offering a valid reason, then remove the player. If they continue to be unresponsive, you may need a new manager. Check out points nine and ten below for more on the value and importance of having nudges and reminders.

  5. Check the “Last Visited” date for each team routinely. Any manager can do this by checking the top of their team page and it is a great way to make sure the manager is active. As a commissioner, the “Current Managers” page under “Commish Tools” has this date for every manager in your league. If you see a manager hasn’t visited in weeks, check in with them and make sure they are still engaged. Maybe they are on vacation, have been sick, have been busy…or maybe they are disengaged and won’t plan to continue playing. This can be the first sign of an issue like that.
  6. If you have secondary rules, spell them out clearly and have an agreed-on source of truth. Some leagues have outside rules such as coupons (by finishing above a certain place, you have the ability to remove some arbitration from your team), 5MILB (a set of five minor leaguers per team that are held but not part of your 40-man roster), etc. If you have rules like this, you need to have them documented and clearly explained. I am in a league with 5MILB where we started the draft last year only to have a disagreement come up about whether a certain player was eligible to be drafted. We had a document to go back to, used that document to resolve the dispute, and amended the document to make it more clear. Without that document, we would have been stuck in a debate forever.

    My Take: First, just don’t have secondary rules like this. The game works really well as is. Plus, they make you ineligible for Ottoneu Prestige Leauge. But, if your league wants to have these kinds of rules, create a Google doc, shared with all managers, and spell out the details. Remember that anything you write will a) miss some random edge case that will pop up in year two and cause chaos and b) be open to interpretation on some points. Be prepared to amend it, reinterpret it, etc.

  7. The commish shouldn’t take action without the league wanting it. Some of the items above (for example, removing players from the roster if a manager refuses to get legal) are only possible using commissioner tools. These tools are powerful and really useful. But they are really just there for emergencies. I have used those tools to do things like input players drafted off-site (for example, via a slow draft), remove players when someone accidentally added the wrong player, etc. This year, I used them when one manager got himself into a bad place and couldn’t get legal, and the league agreed to help him out. However, I have never, in more than 15 years playing Ottoneu, used those tools without the league agreeing to it. I really can’t think of any scenario in which I would cancel a trade, remove a player, clear a cap penalty, etc., without the league being on board. If you are taking that kind of action unilaterally, I am not sure you are a commissioner I want to play with. Note that “the league wanting an action” and the league being unanimous are not the same. An experience commissioner gave an example where a trade occurred and one of the participating managers immediately announced he was leaving the league. Of the remaining 11 managers, two thought the trade should stand (including the other manager involved in the trade) and everyone else felt it should not. They discussed and the commissioner unwound the trade with the (non-unanimous) support of the league.
  8. Block nomination skipping in auctions. During the pre-season auction, some teams will skip or miss a turn to nominate. Sometimes that is because they stepped away to refill a beverage, sometimes it’s bad connectivity. However, it can also be a strategic advantage, particularly late in the draft. At some point, every player you nominate could land on your roster for $1, or could create a bidding war. In these cases, it is to a team’s advantage to skip their turn, let other managers nominate, and only bid when they want. This is not blocked by Ottoneu programmatically (as it should not be, given how often this can be caused by tech issues or other problems), so leagues have to decide how to handle it.

    My Take: The commissioner has a “pause” button on the draft and pausing during a team’s nomination time will re-set their timer to 30 seconds. Use this liberally. If the clock is running down, hit pause at 1 second and check-in to see if the manager is ready to nominate. You don’t have to be militant about it – a missed turn here or there is not the end of the world. But try to avoid letting teams miss too often. If a team does not want to nominate, mark them done with the draft and they can’t bid either. I would extend this to cases where a manager clearly makes an unintentional bid (e.g., they double-tap “5” and enter $55 instead of $5, they nominate the wrong Jose Ramirez, etc.). As a commissioner, you can use the Commissioner Tools to remove that player and let the auction continue.

  9. Set expectations from the start, but don’t make them overbearing. This sort of applies to everything else on the list – if you decide that you want everyone to get their roster legal within 24 hours of going illegal, you should let the league know. And the league should align on that. If the league wants, writing a brief doc you can all share that outlines what’s been agreed to isn’t a bad idea. But drafting up a full constitution, asking people to sign a contract, etc., are going too far. That runs the risk of alienating people or scaring them away. And it also runs afoul of our next best practice.
  10. Show grace. I had a boss who used to talk about his most respectful interpretation and his most cynical interpretation of someone else’s behavior. If a colleague did something we disagreed with, he would note that the most cynical interpretation might be that they are incompetent, working against us, or just mean. But the most respectful might be that they have different data than we do and are interpreting that data in a perfectly rational way. To me, this always translated as assuming best intentions – if you start by assuming that any action someone is taking is cheating, gaming the system, etc., you get to a dark place quickly. If you start by assuming they are a generally good person, that they mean well, and that something is driving their behavior, you give yourself a chance to be empathetic, show grace, and possibly resolve the issue without conflict. If your league agrees that everyone must roster a full, active lineup, that doesn’t mean you should kick out a manager the moment you see he has no second baseman. Remember that Ottoneu is just a game and people have other things in their lives. When you see someone is violating the rules, becoming inactive, or otherwise causing concern for the league, the first step should be to check in with them. Make sure they are aware there is an issue, give them a chance to correct it. Understand that they might be gaming the system or cheating…but they might be dealing with a work issue, a personal problem or just a busy week. If you assume best intentions, you’ll end up with a healthier league (and likely just a healthier mindset). If it turns out there is something else going on and they intend to engage with Ottoneu once they can, give them the space they need. If they won’t fix the issue, get combative, or otherwise demonstrate that they won’t follow the league’s rules, then you still have time to take action.

Why cover this now? Because whether you are planning to start a new league or have an existing league, now is the time to think about this stuff. For existing leagues, the season just ended, managers have a lot of thoughts about what worked and what didn’t, and you have a perfect moment to clarify any open questions with the league. For new leagues, thinking about this stuff from the start will set you up for success. As a commissioner, I would send a message out to your league now wrapping up the season – congratulate the champs, thank everyone, make sure everyone is coming back – and include in that an open question to see if anyone has anything they want/need to be clarified. That will get you on the same page heading into the offseason.

A long-time fantasy baseball veteran and one of the creators of ottoneu, Chad Young's writes for RotoGraphs and PitcherList, and can be heard on the ottobot podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @chadyoung.

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great article chad, these are very insightful practices that every league should consider.. and wow, that manager in #3 seems like a real piece of work!!