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You Should Play Ottoneu

Updated: Feb 23, 2023



I love the NFBC. The games, the competition, and the general all-around service make it pretty much an unrivaled fantasy platform. But if I was married to the NFBC and allowed a polygamous fantasy baseball marriage, Ottoneu would make a great second wife.


I've talked about my love for Ottoneu before, most notably in this thread from 2020:

I still feel this way, but what prompted this post was a simple reminder of what makes Ottoneu such a great platform. As the universal Ottoneu Fantasy Baseball keeper deadline of January 31 approached, I had outstanding trade offers out to multiple managers across my three Ottoneu leagues. One thing Ottoneu does that other sites do not is tell you how active your league-mates are. Every team's page contains a box with the following information:

It's a simple feature, but it provides valuable information in spades. Have you ever wondered if your trade partner even saw your offer? Have you ever thought man, it has been 4 days. Is he or she mulling it over or have they abandoned the team completely and don't care one way or another? This simple feature solves that mystery for you. It is such an obviously valuable piece of information to provide, but to my knowledge no other site provides it. Ottoneu is full of features just like that. Features that solve minor annoyances that most keeper and dynasty players simply accept because the platforms they play on have never thought to provide a simple solution to them.


It's becoming the worst-kept best-kept secret in fantasy that Ottoneu is a wonderful platform and game:

Having played Ottoneu since 2015, I can attest to the constant improvement of the game and platform. Ottoneu's founder, Niv Shah, puts a lot of love into it and you can tell.


So this is my pitch for Ottoneu Fantasy Baseball, an outstanding platform for a fantasy game that is uniquely different, yet familiar and intuitive. This will touch on and expand the items listed in that original Twitter thread, and cover even more that I wish I had included originally.


The Interface


Let's start with Ottoneu's appearance. The thing that stands out immediately is that it's just so damn aesthetically pleasing. The shades of green set next to gray and white make it very easy on the eyes. The information displayed on team pages is also minimal and efficient, making other sites (nameless!) that have too much going on look silly.

People notice this smooth and simple aesthetic immediately. After listening to Eno Sarris talk about Ottoneu for years, Derek VanRiper finally joined a league and included the following commentary in a tweet during his first draft experience:

It isn't just the draft room either. The entire site is intuitive. Things are organized in a way that works the way you would expect it to work if you designed it yourself. As I said in the original tweet thread: "Every time I log in to update my lineup, evaluate a trade, or handle any kind of roster business it's like bing, bang, boom, done."


Compete Every Year


If you play in dynasty leagues, you know how quickly the league can become permanently lopsided with a handful of teams always competing, a handful of teams constantly "rebuilding," and a middle tier that seems to get smaller with each passing season.


Although Ottoneu is a quasi-dynasty format, it is designed to prevent such lopsidedness. I have seen teams "rebuild" in Ottoneu, but every Ottoneu team can be competitive every season.


Salary inflation imposes balance upon the league. Managers need only play the game. Every off-season--in every single league--teams have players they cannot afford to keep. These players can be had in trade for pennies on the dollar because the alternative for the managers holding those players is to let the players fall back into the player pool for the auction draft where you'll have a shot at them anyway. Here is a snapshot of the top of the SPs in one of my leagues that has not held the auction draft yet for 2023:

Beyond these top SP options, there are a ton of depth SP options available as well. The same is true on the hitter side. If you are active in acquiring these players before they are cut, or shed enough of your own $400 salary to bid aggressively at auction, you have major pieces available that you can build a team around.


The Game Design


(Note: I have only ever played 5x5 Roto on Ottoneu. The points games and 4x4 are popular, but my entire frame of reference is the traditional format)


The basic game design is simple. 12 teams (there are different size leagues, but 12 is the standard format). 40-man rosters. $400 budget. You can keep as many players as you want year-to-year, subject to salary inflation.


Game Within the Game: Free Agent Auctions


Within the basic game design are what I call "games within the game."


For example, free agents are added via league-wide blind auction that lasts 48 hours. Quick-to-click players need not apply. You're not slipping anyone through. If you want to add a player, everyone in the league is on notice. If you have a prospect that you like and you nominate him for auction, everyone else will have an opportunity to ask themselves who is this player and why does someone else in this league want to add him? Everyone has to decide for themselves if they want to add that player too. If they don't want to add the player, do they want the manager who nominated the player (anonymously) to get that player for $1? There are endless considerations that go into this process. It's esentially an ongoing, season-long draft. It's a blast.


Game Within the Game: Salary Cap Management


In what for most people, I assume, is the most jarringly different aspect of Ottoneu is the manner in which the salary cap restricts roster moves. At a basic level, each team has $400 to work with. Each player costs at least $1 and for each empty roster spot (if fewer than 40 players are rostered) you must have $1 available to fill that slot.


What happens quickly with many teams--new Ottoneu players and veterans alike--is that teams come up on that $400 quickly. Many teams walk away from the auction draft with 40 players, having spent $398 on them. That leaves only $2 for free agents AND the team would have to cut a player to make room. From the outset, a team in this situation lacks maneuverability.


Here is the difficult part. Freeing up salary cap space is hard. Finding creative ways to free up cap space so that you can bid on free agents can be an ongoing struggle.There are only two ways to create salary cap space: (1) cutting players, and (2) taking on a loan from another team.


When you cut a player in Ottoneu, in the immediate term you only get back half of that player's salary. For example, if I cut a $6 player, I only free up $3 under my salary cap. There is a process for creating more cap space from that player as time goes by, but this is the basic rule. It leads to interesting considerations that aren't present in other formats, such as aggressively cutting high-priced injured players because you value salary cap flexibility more than you value that player sitting on your IL.


Managers are able to give each other loans out of the $400 cap. So if manager X wants to trade me a player I don't have the cap space to afford, they can loan me the cap space money along with the player. As the season goes on, this is extremely common. By the end of the season, some teams will have an effective cap of $600+ in extreme cases. Everything resets at the end of the season, so a team that takes on such a big loan will effectively have to dismantle their entire team. There is indeed a price for pushing all of your chips in.


The trading and loan process empowers creative managers to make cap space in ways you might not expect. I have traded a valuable $5 player for nothing more than a $20 loan before because the number one thing I needed down the stretch was to be able to bid on free agents. I have traded to acquire highly priced injured players with the sole intention of cutting those players in order to free up cap space as well.


There is definitely a learning curve to managing cap space, but once the concept of it clicks and you realize how to really work the system, it is one of the most fun games-within-the-game there is.


Game Within the Game: Arbitration


Each off-season, every player kept in Ottoneu increases in cost automatically, by $2 for MLB players and $1 for prospects. There is also a process called arbitration. There are two different ways arbitration works, but essentially each manager has a bucket of money to dump onto other teams and make their players more expensive to keep. It's an off-season mini-game, about which much has been written in terms of strategy and approach. When managers on other sites take the winter off, Ottoneu managers get to continue with league business like arbitration. It's fun.


The Catcher Situation: Solved


Whether you play in a 10-team one catcher league on ESPN, or a 15-team two catcher league on the NFBC, people complain about how unrealistic fantasy's approach to catcher is. Ottoneu has solved this with the best approach to catcher that currently exists. Rosters have two catcher slots, but catcher starts are limited to 162 games between those two slots. In other words, fantasy teams and real teams are similarly limited at catcher.


This opens up so many different ways to approach the catcher position. Sure, you could grab two top catchers, but that does not give you the advantage it does in, say, a 15-team two-catcher NFBC league in which those extra plate appearances give you a built-in advantage over everyone who doesn't use the same approach. Use that approach in Ottoneu and you are forced to micromanage those catchers in terms of which games you start them. You don't get the most out of either of them. A manager who takes one top catcher and a servicable backup catcher could do just as well. A manager who takes two mid-tier catchers and micromanages them to 162 starts can absolutly be competitive at the position with other managers who aren't working as hard. It is easy to hit 162 games started at the catcher position with two catcher slots. It's an equalizer. It should be the universal approach to catcher in all fantasy formats.


Features: The Roster Organizer


The Roster Organizer tool is the single greatest innovation in keeper/dynasty fantasy baseball. I cannot stress this enough. I use it every time I log in during the off-season and quite often in-season. This simple page allows you to organize the players on your team without the other managers knowing how you see your roster shaping up. Who are your starters? Who might you cut? Who are you trying to trade? If you cut player X, how will that impact your salary cap? The Roster Organizer tool lets you designate a player as a cut without actually cutting him and it updates your team salary and cap information as though you had made the move. You can actually plan your moves and create a strategy and think through decisions you need to make in a way that simply is not possible on other sites. I do not understand why other sites that host dynasty and keeper leagues do not offer this feature.


Features: The Private Messaging Interface


Do your keeper and dynasty teams use a Discord (I mean no offense. I love Discord)? Are your trade negotiations reduced to one-way messages in the trade offer and response? Does the site that hosts your league have a messaging feature nobody uses? Ottoneu's league messaging feature solves those problems.

You log in and the inbox icon is right there in the banner. If you have a message, there's a notification on it that a message is waiting (there's an email too). For whatever reason, this simple, integrated tool works better than any other that I have found. More importantly, pretty much everyone in every league actually uses it. I'm in three Ottoneu leagues right now and over the years have been in half-a-dozen more. People lean on the messaging service heavily. It is one of the many useful, non-extraneous features.


Features: Tracking Graphs


Ottoneu doesn't just show you the standings. It includes several graphs to help you visualize the standings:

... and track recent performance:

... and track performance through the season:


Features: Integrated with Fangraphs


Because Ottoneu is hosted on Fangraphs.com, Fangraphs is fully integrated. Every player page links directly to that player's Fangraphs page, but that's only part of it. When looking for players to add via free agent auction, there is a link to export the free agent pool to Fangraphs so that you can use all of the tools available on Fangraphs to sort and filter players by advanced stats and metrics.


Features: Claim a Team


Have you ever had to replace a manager in a keeper or dynasty league? Have you ever used a "league openings" page on a website or tried to tweet out league details to fill the spot? Ottoneu has those discussions in the forums, but the one feature it has that other sites do not is the "Claim Teams" page. Anyone, at any time, can go to this page and take over a team that has been abandoned, wasn't paid for, or whose manager has been exiled from the league for whatever reason.


Good leagues have no trouble filling open spots because people love to build Ottoneu teams and taking over a team is every bit as fun as starting in a fresh league. I have drafted an Ottoneu team anew, but I will tell you that it is more fun to take a team over. All three of my current teams are teams I claimed and took over.


People in keeper and dynasty often say that they don't want to take over a team. They want to draft their own team. That's understandable. You can join a new league, wait for it to fill, and wait for the draft, but there is never a dull moment in Ottoneu. So when you claim a team, there is a feel of jumping right into the fire that you don't get with a new league. You're either in the middle of arbitration, or trades are flying all over the place. Typically, when you take over a team in the off-season, you start receiving trade offers immediately because the other managers in the league have been waiting for a new manager to take over the team.


In Closing


Ottoneu really is the best kept secret in fantasy baseball. There is a great community within it. A wealth of articles are archived on Fangraphs talking about all sorts of strategies to use in the game, and the games-within-the-game. There are great podcasts out there dedicated to Ottoneu players, like Keep or Kut, hosted by Chad Young and Pete Ball. If you love dynasty and keeper formats, it's for you. If you'd like to try a dynasty or deep keeper for the first time, it's for you.

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Armchair Roto is an independently run site that I created for no reason other than the love of fantasy baseball. If you enjoyed this article, please consider using the links below to share and help me promote it on social media. And don't forget to sign up for updates.


Thanks for reading!


- Russell

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