We often talk about ottoneu as if it were a single game and experience, but in reality it is three very different games, depending on which scoring system you choose. As with any fantasy format, you have different values on different players based on the stats you choose, but even the ways you reflect those stats can have a huge impact on the way the game is played and the way auctions proceed.
For those of you who are thinking about starting an ottoneu league (or another ottoneu league), I wanted to take a look at the three different formats and what you should expect in terms of game play and player valuation for each.
The most immediately noticeable difference is that one of the formats is a points format while the other two are roto. When I first started playing in points leagues, my expectation was that it would be relatively similar to playing a roto league using the same stats. But that just isn’t true.
Roto leagues weight all stats equally. You have the most HR in your 12 team league, you get 12 points. In a league with HR and 2B as roto categories, you would want to try to get some of both, and if you could move from 3rd to first in doubles while falling from 1st and 2nd in HR, you would do it – you would gain 1 point total. But in a points league, you might not, as you need to add almost two doubles for each HR to make up the gap.
Roto leagues give no credit for margin of victory. If I have 400 HR and the next best team has 150, I still get 12 points, they still get 11. In points leagues, each additional HR is worth additional points. The result is that in points leagues it is easier to punt categories. Finishing WAY ahead in HR and last in SB could be just as valuable as finishing a little bit ahead in HR and near the middle in stolen bases. In roto, that is not true.
What this ends up meaning, particularly for hitters, is that the best players are more valuable while most players are actually less valuable than they would be in the 5×5 or 4×4 formats. Check out the graph below, which shows dollar values for hitters in for each of the three ottoneu formats
It is a bit hard to see, but the top of the linear weights curve reaches $56.75, while 4×4 hits 56.38, while the top 5×5 players hits only $41.92. But then linear weights drops off in a hurry, dropping below 5×5 quickly. The particulars of each format result on these specific curves.
For 5×5, player values are diffused. You need some steals, and some power, and some AVG, and you can’t really take only one of the above. So what happens is a pure masher who will give you a ton of HR and RBI is still only hitting 40% of the categories. A speedster who brings you runs and SB does the same. And most of the top fantasy players bring at most four of the five categories – Miguel Cabrera gets you runs, HR, RBI, and AVG, but not SB, for example. There are the exceptions, but they are just that – exceptions. So at the end of the day, you don’t have anyone worth completely breaking the bank for.
But the presence of SB means you have a bunch of guys with 0 (or practically 0) value in 4×4 leagues who are worth spending on here – Rajai Davis and Everth Cabrera jump to mind. So the tail is longer and has more value in it.
In 4×4, the peak is higher and the slope initially more shallow because there are more 4-category all-stars than 5-category all-stars. There are a handful of players who get on base, hit for power, score runs and get extra base hits. A guy like Nick Swisher, who is a solid but not great 5×5 player becomes far more valuable in 4×4. But at the tail end, the aforementioned Cabrera’s and Davis’s of the world fall off the map completely.
Points leagues play in the middle, in some regards, because they value a wider range of skills than 4×4, but they make all-around talent less meaningful. Adam Dunn may only hit for power and walk, and he may never steal you a base, but who cares? And Juan Pierre might steal you 50 bases while being terrible at everything else, but you would never pay for that in a Points league – you’d be better off spending your last dollar on a guy who provides more overall value even if it leaves you with no speed at all.
For pitchers, the story is a bit different.
In this case, linear weights has the highest peak, but it also stays higher than the other two. Again, it starts higher because the most valuable players are the most valuable, with no caveats – the fact that the top starter gets no Saves or that the top reliever gets no Wins doesn’t matter in this context. But it stays higher at the end because the player pool is, in an odd way, more limited. At some point in 5×5, you run out of closers, and so any middle reliever could have value. In points leagues, when those closers are used up, you move onto guys who accrue holds. And while there are enough of those to go around, they are more limited than the second tier RP in 5×5.
Pitchers in 4×4 drop lower than the other two because once you pass a certain talent level, there are dozens of relatively similarly valued RP (and starters, for that matter) and there is no reason to pay a premium for one over another.
For those looking to select an ottoneu scoring system, this can help you figure out which league you want to play in. Linear Weights is going to be the most stat-friendly, and it is no surprise that it appeals to so many FanGraphs readers. But it also creates, I would argue, the least interesting player valuations, and the smallest need to make trade offs between stats. 5×5 forces the most trade offs, but is also the least statistically interesting, in my opinion – I never like leagues that force me to chase saves or SB.
The reason I like 4×4 most (other than 4×4 being the original ottoneu format) is because it strikes the best balance – categories that will appeal to your statistical side while forcing the trade-offs required by roto scoring. I think it leads to more trades, as well, as teams jockey for position in different categories.
But I play in all three, and I love all three – just a question of what makes the most sense for you!