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Ottoneu is a format that only the fantasy baseball obsessed know about. For years I’ve been eyeing an Ottoneu league but was hesitant to take the plunge; the massive rosters, complex scoring system and year-round commitment were overwhelming, to say the least. But this year I’m ready to make the leap, having signed on with some fellow Rotoballers for what promises to be a fun but intense ride.

With that out of the way, it’s important to be mindful that Ottoneu is not just another standard fantasy game. The format is quite different than your average rotisserie or points league and requires some specialized planning, especially in advance of your inaugural draft.

If you're ready to dip your toe in the waters of an Ottoneu league for the first time yourself, here are some guidelines you might find useful.

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First things first - know the rules

Before you even begin to look at the player pool you need to know exactly how Ottoneu works and how it can differ from the formats you’re used to playing. There are several scoring setups used in Ottoneu, so whether your league uses standard 5x5 roto categories, 4x4 ‘sabermetric’ categories or one of two points variations your overall draft strategy will change dramatically.

Standard 5x5 speaks for itself, but the 4x4 variation eschews traditional stats like batting average, stolen bases and RBI and replaces them with on-base percentage and slugging percentage (runs and home runs remain in tact). Without the inclusion of thefts, one-category speed superstars like Billy Hamilton become almost useless while the Matt Carpenters and Carlos Santanas see a boost due to their ability to get on base via the walk and hit for some power.

The two points systems are mostly the same for hitters but there are some differences for pitchers. In the FanGraphs points system, pitchers are penalized for hits allowed, which more closely mirrors real life performance. The SABR points format - the original points system - uses a FIP-based scoring system, essentially focusing as much as possible on metrics that reflect the true skill level of pitchers.

These various scoring formats will significantly alter the way you value players. Unless you’re using the standard 5x5 setup, you might as well throw your regular rankings out the window. The Ottoneu-specific scoring formats will require you to do a little more research. The platform itself has a great resource that spits out average salaries by game type (auction drafts are the only option, by the way), so that would certainly be a great starting point to build your rankings.

Just as important as the scoring system is the roster setup. Ottoneu uses a large 40-man roster with 22 starting spots: one catcher; standard infield plus one middle infield slot; five outfielders; one utility; five starting pitchers and five relievers. That leaves 18 bench spots to fill however you please.

This is where the strategy comes into play.

Assuming you’ve done your homework on the rules and player values, your focus should now be on how to get the most out of your 22 starting slots. Here are some things to consider:

 

Maximize quality innings

Unlike some standard games, Ottoneu prevents managers from loading up on relievers or utilizing starters with RP eligibility, so you have to be strategic with how you fill out your pitching staff. Also factoring into the equation are the innings thresholds: teams cannot exceed 1500 innings pitched in all formats, while 4x4 leagues have a minimum of 1250 IP managers are forced to reach. Grabbing a few reliable arms is a must. While you don’t necessarily need to break the bank for one of the four top tier aces (Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Chris Sale or Corey Kluber) be prepared to spend some dough on the next couple of SP tiers to solidify your rotation and set a solid base for your 1500 innings. Ideally you want to max these out with as many quality innings as possible, so getting lots of mileage out of your relievers is also key. But spending big on name brand closers isn’t the only way to do that. Anthony Swarzak is far from a household name but but he threw 77.1 innings last season with a 2.33 ERA and 2.74 FIP while striking out 10.59 batters per nine. Chad Green threw a dominant 69 innings with a 1.83 ERA, 1.75 FIP and 13.43 K/9. Neither option is likely to cost a lot but both would help lock in some great ratios while piling up the strikeouts.

Take advantage of daily lineups

Some leagues only allow you to set your lineups once at the beginning of the week but Ottoneu is for the hardcore, allowing you to tinker with your lineup on a daily basis. This requires a much bigger time investment, but if you’re willing and able it can pay huge dividends. That’s because you can now play the matchup game. A prime opportunity to do this is in the outfield. While others are busy filling out their five OF slots early, you can potentially wait on your last couple of outfielders and grab some players with platoon splits who you can plug and play depending on the daily matchups. The five outfield slots cannot exceed 810 total games played (each hitter slot is limited to 162 games) so there’s a certain degree of mixing and matching possible. Hunter Renfroe posted a downright unplayable .202/.244/.393 line versus righties last season but mashed lefties to the tune of .316/.392/.684 in 61 games. Pair him and another lefty killer like Adam Duvall (.279/.352/.571) with a Josh Reddick (.314/.363/.504 versus righties) and you’ve got yourself a little more than an outfielder and a half’s worth of your roster filled with strong peripherals. Players like these tend to see their overall stat lines muted because of their performances against same-handed pitchers and can often be had for cheap. Use this to your advantage.

Don’t overpay for hot prospects

I know, it’s tantalizing to go the extra few bucks on this year’s hot prospect. But for the most part, everything has to break right for these players to return value in the short term. The opportunity cost of reaching for players who are not MLB-ready is high. You will often pass up on players who can help your team now for guys who are at risk of struggling or even being demoted. Balancing the present and the future is a tough assignment, but there will always be new prospects flooding the player pool every year. When other managers are fighting over Ronald Acuna, Victor Robles or Shohei Ohtani, save your dollars for the underappreciated veterans that are sure to slip through the cracks as a result, like Adrian Beltre or Jeff Samardijza. Remember that a guy like Acuna was barely even on the radar as recently as a year ago. Do some research and take a gamble on the next high-rising prospect before he becomes a household name. You’ll pay a lot less and the risk is minimal. Plus, you’ll look like a genius when he vaults to the top of the prospect list next year.

Ottoneu is not for the faint of heart, but if you’re someone who obsesses over draft preparation and lineup optimization, this could be your thing. Sign up on Fangraphs and give it a try!

 

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