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Ottoneu Strategy Corner: Sending Signals

Last week, we spent some time talking about what goes into price expectations in an Ottoneu league. The take away point is simple: in Ottoneu leagues, one person’s trash is another person’s treasure.

The reason I believe this is because Ottoneu isn’t directly relatable to most of the fantasy analysis out in the marketplace – especially the points formats. Perhaps you’ve heard the popular saying “there’s more than one way to skin a cat.” That’s true of all fantasy leagues. But in Ottoneu, there are even more ways to skin said cat. Different strategies require different types of players, which leads to owners placing different valuations on those players.

Expert advice for Ottoneu can be hard to find. We at RotoGraphs cover it well, but it is our product after all. With so few viewpoints being shared, owners seeking advice must all turn to the same few sources. That can create an echo chamber effect where several owners pursue the same strategy. With some strategies, that can short circuit a season on draft day. For example, if too many owners in a league decide to do a stars and scrubs approach, the guy who saves his money can load his roster with underpriced mid-tier talent. I personally experienced that in the first year Ottoneu was offered publicly, and I ran away with my league as a result.

While some signals still exist for forming price expectations, like past draft results, the relative dearth of information opens more opportunity to influence how a rival operates. The purpose of this article is to cover a few of my preferred techniques for influencing my rivals. These are loosely related to phenomena observed in Behavior Economics experiments – the kind of things found in popular books like Predictably Irrational or Nudge. The below techniques are very unlikely to help you win a season. I find them to be enjoyable because they challenge me to influence the behavior of my rivals, not because they increase the odds of my winning the season.

Arbitration Baiting

It’s already too late for the first technique, but I’ll cover it briefly anyway. Ottoneu has an arbitration period. You could signal interest in a marginal player with either a vote or $1 allocation. For example, I was planning to cut a $10 Nolan Arenado heading into arbitration. I would try to trade him first, of course, but if January 31st came and he was still on my roster, he was toast. And it’s not that I don’t like Arenado, I just thought I could redraft him for less money based on the league’s draft history.

And then somebody bid a dollar on him. I think it was Chad Young. It might have been Marc Hulet. Regardless of who it was, Arenado became an automatic keeper for me. I now knew for certain that at least one owner thought that he was worth $10. In all likelihood, they wouldn’t have used that dollar if they didn’t think he was worth at least $15. I’ve since traded him to Hulet as part of a package for a $59 Miguel Cabrera. Incidentally, Young also coveted Arenado and claims he would have accepted a package deal for his $11 Josh Donaldson.

Not all owners are as…calculating…as me. The example I gave is where somebody earnestly valued Arenado, but I’m recommending that you use the technique cynically. That means targeting just the right type of owner and the right player, with the knowledge that you may end up wasting an asset. In other words, it’s a fun technique but not at all practical.

The Roster Purge Feint

The main technique I wish to cover today is what I’ll call the roster purge feint. Most Ottoneu rosters have a handful of dead weight players. Nobody was going to trade for my $18 Dan Uggla, $16 Roy Halladay (pre-retirement), $15 Jesus Montero, $10 Kevin Youkilis (pre-Japan), or $10 Frank Francisco. So I cut them in one fell swoop. In doing so, I signaled that I believed my $15 Mike Moustakas and $8 Jake McGee were worth keeping. I eventually traded McGee and had some productive talks about Moustakas.

Brandon Warne recently cut about 12 players. One of the players he didn’t cut was $14 Chase Headley. I had previously scrutinized his roster to determine who I wanted to target in trade talks. I distinctly recall looking at Headley and saying “nah.” After his purge, I looked at his roster again and found myself thinking about making an offer. Basically, the framing changed. Instead of a list mixed between valuable and worthless players, the list was updated to appear much more favorable to me. Headley was now sandwiched between a bunch of players that I coveted, and thus I was more predisposed to like him too. At least that’s how I rationalize that experience.

This technique is obviously designed with the intent to get something back for players you would otherwise cut. It also combines well with one of the trading techniques that I will cover next week.

Using Your Words

Everyone has their own strategies for convincing, cajoling, and sometimes bullying a rival owner into making a decision. It doesn’t always have to be a sub-optimal decision either, I’ve spent a lot of time over the years convincing owners to take deals that benefited them as much or more than they benefited me. This happens due to the endowment effect, which will be the subject of a future article.

At best, it’s disingenuous to go out into the marketplace and try to completely fleece your rivals through sweet talk. You might win big with one trade or maybe even several trades, but eventually you’ll build a reputation as an untrustworthy and unreliable trade partner. That’s never a good outcome in a deep roster keeper league like Ottoneu. It’s best to talk your rivals into making a decision that can work as a positive. Basically, build up some level of trust. That way, when you do need to fleece them in an August trade or risk losing a narrow lead, you can shrug your shoulders and say “I thought it would work out for you too.” Plausible deniability.

Now that you’ve been warned to behave, here a couple verbal techniques that I like to use. I usually don’t use these cynically, because again, I don’t want to alienate my league mates.

Over the years, I have found that making what I’ll call a non-binding, high ball offer is a great way to get “untouchable” players put on the trade table. I’ve also found that I often don’t get the player in question despite having a superior offer available. That’s the whole trust thing I referenced above, I learned that lesson the hard way. This technique can be executed by using the following line, “I haven’t run the numbers yet, but would you be interested in something along the lines of…” Sometimes I run the numbers and find that it was a fair offer after all (hello again endowment effect), and sometimes I find that it’s an overbid that requires adjustment. In either case, the other owner has now envisioned his team without the targeted player and that player sometimes shifts from “untouchable” to “expendable.”

Another technique that’s particularly relevant at the moment goes something like this; “I expect to trade Player X in the next couple days, make your best offer.” This works best when it’s true, but it also works when it’s not. I usually try to make sure that it’s at least half true, just so I don’t get caught with my pants down. Not only does it draw everyone’s attention to a specific player, which could cause a bidding war, it can potentially increase how much your rivals are willing to pay for the player.

There are other techniques that can be used, but I’ve gone on for awhile already. Let’s discuss some of your favorite verbal tricks in the comments and do let me know if you have any success with a roster purge feint. Trades will be the topic of next week’s Strategy Corner.