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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:

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.”