Ottoneu Strategy Corner: Consideration About Value

One of my favorite things about Ottoneu is that owners generally have to do their own leg work when identifying players to target and how to value them. With the $400 auction budget and 40 player roster, traditional price guides are only really useful for the purpose of ranking. The extra dollars and roster spots greatly affect a player’s value. Like in real baseball where Shin-Soo Choo is more valuable to the Rangers than the Astros, the dynamics of Ottoneu ensure that certain players have different values to different owners – even if the owners agree precisely about the player’s expected performance.

For those in an Ottoneu points format, there are even fewer ready made cheat sheets. As far as I’m aware, only RotoGraphs writers spend significant time covering Ottoneu points strategies. Chad Young has shared his pricing methodology for example, but he also admits that it’s incomplete. Most of the freely available tools for building dynamic price sheets don’t even include the categories necessary for a linear weights based league. In fact, I’m unaware of any such tool. There’s no short cut, you either build your own model or you jump into the auction and make your best guess.

All of which is to say that placing a value on a given player in Ottoneu is a confusing and difficult process. Leading up to the January 31st deadline for player cuts, I will be exploring a few topics related to player valuation, “tricking” rivals into keeping poor assets or trading away good ones, and subtly altering the values they place on certain players.  But for today, let’s keep things at a high level.

The first rule of thumb of the Ottoneu offseason is to never cut players prematurely. Since the end of the regular season, owners have been free to cut players at no expense. That will continue through January 31. However, it behooves you to be patient about shedding away your dead weight.

As I hinted earlier, there are two primary ways that player valuation can vary from owner to owner. The first is typical of all leagues. I recently wrote the following about Sonny Gray:

If I had to pick a single young pitcher in the game who has the best chance to become a Cliff Lee quality ace, it would be Gray.

Some commenters dissented with that opinion. It stands to reason that I think Gray is worth more in an auction than they do – especially in a keeper format like Ottoneu. Owners disagree about a player’s expected performance all the time.

The second way that values can vary is based on team need. In most non-dynasty keeper leagues, this effect is small. My keepers might mean that I should value shortstops 5% higher than an average owner, but that only adds up to a dollar or two. Ottoneu’s larger budget means that more money can be allocated to high priority players while still filling the overall roster.

Ottoneu also exists in the space between a dynasty league and a more standard keeper league. Some owners may have ridiculous heaps of cheap, high potential talent. With more dollars and roster spots available to them, they could correctly value a top player like Miguel Cabrera $10 more than an owner who has a more expensive keeper roster. Similarly an owner that has most of their payroll committed to 18 keepers may be willing to pay extra for a $4 Josh Donaldson in trade.

In essence, there are two factors that greatly affect a player’s price: their expected performance and their role on a given owner’s roster. And I explain this to emphasize that two owners can have wildly different valuations on a player without one of them being some kind of sucker. Don’t assume that a player who is useless to you isn’t worth something.

Case in point, I joined the FanGraphs Staff League Two earlier this offseason. I took over a very bad roster. One of the many problems with this roster was a lack of middle infielders (aside from a $47 Dustin Pedroia and $16 Alexei Ramirez). Just yesterday, somebody cut a $7 Erick Aybar. I would have traded something for him. Not a lot, but perhaps something that owner felt was worth keeping. To me Aybar would have been a useful backup plan. It’s possible that I would have cut him on January 31, but an extra little bit of middle infield depth during prime trading season would have been worth something to me.

Ultimately, we’re all conditioned to respond to whatever signals are available to us. Usually, that’s the unending litany of fantasy rankings and articles that cover standard leagues. But Ottoneu exists in a quieter ecosystem. As such, most of us will take our cues from our league mates. Next week, we’ll cover some techniques for sending false signals to your rivals.

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There’s been a fair amount of valuable players cut in my league. $13 Chase Utley, $11 Tyler Clippard and $5 Carlos Quentin are now free agents. I would’ve traded for any of them. I’ve managed to trade a couple of my own cut candidates. Moved $26 Granderson for $3 Stammen and $20 Asdrubal Cabrera for $13 Reddick (who I’ll definitely be cutting but it could be $20 less in the draft for the other owner). Not great returns but better than nothing.