Ottoneu Arbitration: Strategies for the First Off-season Activity

With the season at an end, it is time for those in keeper leagues to turn to the off-season, and for ottoneu players, this starts with one of the most unique parts of the ottoneu format – the arbitration process.

The process itself is actually quite simple:

  • Every owner votes for one player on every other team
  • The player on each team who receives the most votes becomes a free agent
  • At the preseason auction, each owner gets a $5 discount on the player voted off his team

See? Simple.

But if you haven’t been through it before, the strategy can be a bit confusing. Having played five previous seasons of ottoneu fantasy baseball, I wanted to give you my take on the most common voting strategies.

The first thing to know is that you have no real control over your team. People will vote for who they want, although I wouldn’t make any cuts until voting is complete – anyone you are going to cut is someone you would love to have voted off your team.

With that in mind, there are four strategies that I have seen owners use in deciding who to vote for.

Eliminate the best values – This is by far the most common approach. Effectively, you take the expected 2012 salary each player would receive if he were a free agent, subtract each players’ actual 2012 salary if kept, and vote for the guy with the largest difference.

Let’s say you were looking at my Experts League team and deciding between voting for Chase Ultey (who I can keep for $12) or Eric Hosmer (who I can keep for $7). If you think Utley would get paid $35 at auction, and Hosmer $25, you vote for Utley. You are taking $23 of value off my team that way ($35 – $12) vs. $18 for Hosmer ($25 – $7).

The advantage to this strategy is that, in a game with a salary cap, value is what wins. Every dollar of production an owner gets without paying for is a dollar he can spend to make his team better elsewhere. This limits that advantage. But don’t mistake “cheap” for “good value.” If you think Jered Weaver would go for $51 next year he is just as good a value as Utley, despite being 2.5 times as expensive.

Free up guys you want – Some owners think less about the best values on the other team and more about their needs. If you are planning to keep Dustin Pedroia or Robinson Cano, but are cutting Mark Teixeira, you might be more interested in seeing Hosmer than Utley on the market.

You can’t ignore value, of course. I am paying Matt Holliday $40 if I keep him, so even if you need an outfielder, you probably shouldn’t vote for Holliday.

Take out your opposition – You can probably guess who most of the other owners in your league will keep and which teams are going to be in a position to win the next season. If you expect to be among the competitive teams, you can use the arbitration process to try to take a valuable piece away from a key opponent.

Looking at my roster, I am awfully thin at middle infield. Unless Allen Craig gets regular at bats, my only viable MI is Utley – and losing him puts me in a big hole. In the original ottoneu league, teams typically have between $100 and $200 to spend at auction. If I have to fill all three MI positions, that will take a big chunk of money. Maybe you think Hosmer is my best value, but if you can hurt me the most by taking away Utley, that may be your best move.

Whatever you do, do not ignore value. Remember, owners get a $5 discount if they re-sign the voted off player at the 2012 auction. So if you vote off a guy who isn’t under-priced by at least $5, the other owner will be sending you a thank you note.

Eliminate cheap youth – Owners in the original ottoneu league seem to give heavy weight to a player’s age when voting. The man behind ottoneu, Niv Shah, had Jhouly’s Chacin, who he would have paid $6, voted into arbitration, while he was allowed to keep C.C. Sabathia ($28) and Jon Lester ($26), as well as Adrian Beltre ($12).

Now, I know Sabathia and Lester are more expensive than Chacin, and Beltre has been inconsistent in the past, but really the major “advantage” for Chacin is age – he is 23, Sabathia 31, Lester 27, Beltre 32. And it seems to me that age carried the day. Niv ended up getting Chacin back for $8 – a net loss of $2 for him. Either of the pitchers would have gone for $40+ (Tim Lincecum went for $58), and Beltre would have been at least $30 (this is also likely an example of using cheap as a proxy for value).

And there are good reasons for this. All else being equal you expect a 33 year old to get worse and a 23 year old to get better. Older players also provide less longevity.

I don’t think you should put too much weight on youth, but it is worth considering, if you don’t get carried away (as we did with Chacin last year).


For my money, the first strategy is best. As Billy Beane would tell you, winning on a budget (even if everyone has the same budget) means  having the best values and doing the most with your money. If you buy that (and I do), your goal for the arbitration process should be to limit the value your opponents can keep.

As I have the past couple years, I’ll start by identifying 5-7 guys per team who are good values. I’ll make my best (admittedly early) guess as to what price those players would demand at auction. If there is a clear cut best value, that is the guy I vote for. If not (remember, this is my best guess, so it is hardly scientific), I turn to the second and third strategies to break “ties.”

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Chad Young is a product manager at Amazon by day and a baseball writer (RotoGraphs, Let's Go Tribe), sports fan and digital enthusiast at all times. Follow him on Twitter @chadyoung.

12 Responses to “Ottoneu Arbitration: Strategies for the First Off-season Activity”

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  1. Kyle says:

    When do you need to submit arb. votes by? and it will not allow me to select no one for a team

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    • Chad Young says:

      Arb votes must be in by Nov. 1. As for your second question…well…it should. I’ll let Niv know and see if we can get that fixed.

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    • Niv Shah says:

      Kyle, feel free to shoot me an email (niv at ottoneu dot com) so I can help you out with your issue.

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    • jrogers says:

      Will we have updated position eligibility before then? For example, it’d be helpful to know if Jesus Montero is C-eligible or just UTIL.

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      • zbelair says:

        I emailed about this a little bit back and was told that Montero will be C eligible next year because he made majority of minor league starts there.

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  2. cwendt says:

    How do you decide what a player is “worth” in FA dollars?

    For ex, Bautista might have 1200 points, and Juan Pierre 600, but Pierre is clearly not going for half as much as Bautista next year. How have you tried to put dollar values to performance in the past?

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    • byron says:

      Replacement level. Let’s say replacement level is 500, then Pierre’s worth 100 and Bautista 700. Then decide how you want that to represent money.

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      • Chad Young says:

        Keep in mind you don’t really want to use 2011 stats as a baseline – you want to use expect 2012 stats. I am not sure what Carl Crawford was worth in points leagues, but whatever it was, that is NOT the level I would expect him to be valued at in the 2012 pre-season auction.

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    • Chad Young says:

      Later in the off-season, when there are more projection systems out there, I like to use those to create player rankings based on my league’s rules and then predict prices based on that. But since that isn’t really an option this early in the off-season, I typically just sorta “guess.”

      I know that isn’t particularly scientific, but I know Pierre typically went for under $5 in points leagues and did nothing to suggest he should get much more next year, so I would guess his market value will be about $2-$3. Bautista, on the other hand, went for around $30, in part because some people feared 2010 was a fluke. With his stellar 2011 behind him, I would say he gets paid like a top-tier OF – maybe $45ish? Maybe more?

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      • cwendt says:

        Pierre & Bautista are really just examples.

        I did have a (fairly rudimentary) system that used to evaluate likely output before this season started.

        However, the tricky thing was figuring out the value curve for that system. In particular, I tended to pay too little for top-end talent (though that led to some good deals, like Bautista for $32), but it also led me to pay too much for low-end guys (like $9 for Juan Pierre, which I obviously regretted).

        So advice on how to cost out FA talent, preferably linked to some projection system or tied to what a “point above replacement level” was worth last year, would be great going into next season.

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      • Chad Young says:

        Pricing for ottoneu is tough and unique because of the roster make up. And it only gets harder in year 2 and beyond, when something like 240 players are already owned before the auction even starts. Later in the off-season, I will go over the methodology I use.

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  3. philosofool says:

    *The arbitrate no one* strategy.

    Why would you ever do this? Answer: sometimes a team has only players who are owned at a good-but-not-great value; the owner gets a $5 discount on the player removed from his team. Giving him the $5 discount could actually save him money. If this basically applies to every player on his team, then there’s no reason to arbitrate one guy off the team.

    Anyway, arbitrating no one is different from abstaining from voting because you wouldn’t want a couple of owners lack of a vote to be interpreted as a vote to arbitrarte no one (since that could easily become the plurality if 3 or 4 players on the team are arbitration worthy; the split vote among arb worthy players makes indifferent abstainers accidentally rule the day with no arbitration!)

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