Very late on a Sunday evening in the spring of 1995 I received a phone call with news that left me jazzed for months to come: my extravagant bid of nearly all of my season’s free-agent acquisition budget, which was placed by leaving a message on an answering machine if I recall correctly, was successful and I had become the proud owner of phenom and ROY-to-be Hideo Nomo. As Nomo-mania swept Los Angeles and the country, my 3rd rotisserie baseball team thrived. After a couple of seasons of losing to the grownup seamheads that had taken me in, it was looking like I may finally take home a title. Each Wednesday evening I used a phone – one that was mounted on a wall – to hound our commissioner to see if he had finished manually entering all of the league’s stats into his spreadsheet from the previous week to generate the updated standings. Man, have we come a long, long way.
In the years since that oldschool 4×4 NL-only league, I’ve played 5×5, 6×6, AL-only, mixed, H2H, and points-based leagues. I’ve participated in redraft leagues, dynasty leagues and hybrids between those. Most of these have been auction leagues, but I’ve humored many of the vastly inferior snakedraft ordeals, and on occasion rolled the dice with playoff formats (never again). I’ve played with friends, co-workers, bosses and strangers, and once in a 4-team league that included my spouse, drafted on a whim from a hotel room down in the grapefruit league. In the real world I’ve drafted in numerous houses, garages, bars, conference rooms and on my back deck. Online I’ve drafted on Yahoo, ESPN, CBS, Fantrax and very likely on sites that I can’t recall and no longer exist.
After a quarter century in this hobby, it’s my belief that the Ottoneu format hosted by Fangraphs is the best version of the game to date. I was slow to come around. It’s a lot of change to accept when you’ve been hoarding RBIs and setting weekly lineups for many years. It demands a lot of attention; probably too much for those that play casually and check out for portions of the season. But if you’re a fantasy player obsessive about your team(s), and look in on your host site daily to check stats or see if there’s anyone new to pick up, or if there’s a trade to be made, etc., etc., then Ottoneu is likely for you, as it provides you greater opportunity to really manage a team, and to do so year-round. A few of the defining features that to me make it the best:
- Deep 40-man rosters present a litany of decisions. How many prospects can/should you carry? Do you roster enough position players to platoon most of your lefty bats? Can you gain an advantage by identifying righties that mash lefties and only play them when they have the advantage? Carry 8 or 9 RPs and try to max those innings? Stockpile SPs and use the bottom half only in favorable matchups? And on and on and on those decisions go.
- Arbitration and managing a salary cap. Ottoneu’s cap is a soft one, as it can be exceeded in-season thru loans traded from competitors. This allows for plenty of trading, but acquiring free agents throughout the season can force difficult decisions, like whether or not to free up salary by dropping that $40 power hitter who you’ve been waiting on to come back from injury for two months now and still don’t yet have a return date (looking at you, Josh D). The Ottoneu offseason is almost as fun as in-season, as you get an opportunity to pile onto your rivals’ best players thru salary allocation, then spend the time between arbitration and the final cutdown day trading for assets or trying to unload unwanted ones, based not simply on the player’s talent level, but entirely on their production relative to their salary, and relative to your team’s salary situation.
- Relief from the tyranny of saves and steals. The FG points scoring system, which I prefer over the site’s other options, is more ideal to me for hitters than it is for pitchers, but most importantly it eliminates the “niche” categories that for years forced owners to roster crappy hitters that could run a bit and crappy relievers that found their way into playing role on bad teams (looking at you, Billy H and Hunter S). You get credit for a steal or a save of course, but it’s possible to completely ignore them and succeed.
- The interconnectivity with Fangraphs. If you play fantasy baseball in any form, you really should be familiar with Fangraphs. The Ottoneu player pool is linked up to Fangraphs’ sortable player database. So say it’s midseason and you just lost your 2nd middle infielder in a week to injury. You can search the available free agent pool not just by who’s scored the most points, but by average woba against RH’s over the course of the last 2 seasons. Or search players currently owned by other owners with lowest first-half BABIPs to target in trade. Or whatever else you can conceive of to add information to aid in your roster decisions.
- Niv Shah. Finally, where else can you think of a potential improvement in the way your league’s site works and email a suggestion to an actual human who plays the game, then receive timely feedback and/or see the change implemented? ESPN certainly isn’t altering their product at my behest. Shah, the founder and one-man-show running Ottoneu, is responsive to suggestions or concerns/questions personally in a way that you sure the hell aren’t getting out of some corporate customer support line. He’s consistently seeking out ways to improve the product. And besides him, there’s an entire community of veteran players that spend time coaching (overcoaching sometimes, to be honest) new owners on strategy and player valuations.
For these reasons and more I’ve abandoned all the old non-Ottoneu leagues, save one long-running home league with old friends. As such, I’ll be writing here this season about fantasy baseball mostly through an Ottoneu-focused lens. Hope you’ll read along.