Several months ago in the super secret online clubhouse for contributors to Banished to the Pen, I posted to inquire if anyone would like to start a fantasy baseball league, since we all like baseball and it occurred to me that some of us might like building and destroying fake baseball teams. Within a week, one brave contributor stepped out of the shadows up to found an ottoneu SABR points league (subscription required) which we soon filled with 11 other excited community members.

Banished to the Pen contributors and readers aren’t exactly a tight bunch, yet. The website didn’t exist 4 months ago and many of us live in different time zones, work different schedules, and have very different family commitments. Simply finding a time when all 12 owners could show up to draft seemed like a major accomplishment, but I also found myself wondering where these other owners came from? Were they familiar with ottoneu, or virgins to the format? As it turns out, there are very different levels of fantasy baseball experience in this group.

 

Mike Carlucci (Wookie Betts):

Most of my previous fantasy experience has been on Yahoo, using traditional snake drafts and relatively standard categories, but I’ve had an ottoneu team in the classic format for the past two years as well.

Nick Strangis (Matt Albers’ Pants):

For the past two seasons, I’ve co-run a team in a casual standard ESPN league with friends who I convinced to replace AVG with OBP because I’m a nerd like that. Ottoneu seemed like it was too much work for the kind of time commitment most of my friends want to invest in fantasy baseball so I was pretty excited when George Kimmets dove in and started this league.

George Kimmets, commissioner (Kim Mets)

The auction format was new to me, having only participated in draft-leagues in the past.

Mark Sands (Non-Revelatory Rumors):

This is my first time in a baseball fantasy league.  I’ve been invited before, but have either thought I was too busy or just didn’t have the interest.  But I’ve been having so much fun with Banished to the Pen that I just couldn’t resist a totally SABR fantasy league.

 

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Screen grab via Fangraphs.com

 

This isn’t just any fantasy draft, though. Ottoneu drafts give owners 400 fantasy dollars to spend and up to 40 roster spots to fill. Owners don’t have to fill all 40 spots but they “must have at least $1 available for every free roster spot on [their] team” throughout the season in order to score points. Teams can roll as many players as their budget allows into future seasons, but includes an end-of-year arbitration and one of two systems that that either allows owners to vote players off rosters, or allows them t allocate money toward the cost of specific players. This means last year’s bargain can quickly turn into next year’s dead weight. The lack of an arbitrary number of keepers gives ottoneu a real-life management feel unlike anything I’ve experienced in fantasy baseball, but I’m aware that some leagues allow more customization than those of us coming from Yahoo or ESPN have seen. Using the SABR points scoring throws an additional level of complexity into the format. Pitching and hitting stats are assigned linear weights based on the weights for FIP and wOBA, so players with immense value in traditional leagues, like Carlos Gomez, or even one-dimensional stars, like Billy Hamilton, don’t contribute nearly as much in a SABR points format. This is an exciting format for stats nerds but also completely foreign for owners who come from traditional fantasy leagues, so how did our contributors prepare for this new frontier?

 

Simon Gutierrez (Venomous Snakes):

I prepped for my second ever ottoneu (I have no idea how to pronounce that) auction by purchasing a box of Girl Scout cookies from my local Fred Meyer.  It’s a grocery/department store combo endemic to Oregon and maybe Washington and parts unknown that’s owned by Kroger, which is big in Texas, which is also where I’m partially from.  

Mike Carlucci (Wookie Betts):

This [… ] is a points league. It’s far and away different than any other fantasy experience I’ve had. Calculating values, figuring out how many of each position to target – a little bit was done before the draft but most of it was on the fly.

Nick Strangis (Matt Albers’ Pants):

I spent a lot of time making excuses for why I couldn’t tear myself away from Excel spreadsheets. I love spreadsheets because they make you look like you’re doing important things all the time. Most of my “prep” was just reading Chad Young’s values and adding my own thoughts, though. I also posted on a popular internet forum looking for help and some people recommended stuffing expensive outfielders down other owners’ throats in the early rounds to bleed those owners out of money so I could swoop in for my targets later.

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A peak inside the madness of the Matt Albers’ Pants war room.

 

One thing ottoneu devotees love about the draft system is that you can start the draft whenever the commissioner deems appropriate. We had one owner running about 5 minutes late, but we were able to hold the start time for his arrival. The draft was still scheduled on the website for early April but, as soon as the start button was pressed, it ran without much of a hitch. [I won’t call-out the owners who accidentally bid Nelson Cruz (P) up to nearly $20 but we were easily able to roll back the draft and allow the nominator to correctly nominate Nelson Cruz (OF)].  Unlike ESPN leagues, where missing owners are forced to nominate a player by the website, missing owners are merely skipped if they don’t nominate a player in the allotted time. This can actually be used as a strategy since, as the pool of players thins out, you might want to wait to nominate a target player until other owners have spent their money on other players. Ottoneu allows the draft to be paused, resumed, or ended at any time meaning drafts can be spread out over several days and it ends when the league decides, not when a set number of players have been drafted.

As any fantasy owner knows, long hours spent preparing often crumble the first time a player sells for far more or far less than expected. The BttP draft was no different for owners who shared their experiences.

 

George Kimmets (Kim Mets)

Weeks of planning, numerous spreadsheets, and my best laid plans came crumbling down in the short span of eight hours on the afternoon of March 2. The villains: eleven other fantasy league owners, all of whom are readers of, and/or contributors to, this blog. That’s unfair. The real villain was my realization five minutes prior to the auction that my spreadsheets overvalued top relief arms because I miscalculated the value of a replacement-level reliever. Rather than gather myself with anything resembling composure, spreadsheets were tossed aside, and the deepest level of in-auction analysis was, “Sure, that sounds like a good price.” But, man, was it fun!

Simon Gutierrez (Venomous Snakes):

I sat down to my keyboard, demanding my wife keep my minions, aged 22 and 6 months, respectively, at bay and preferably fed and alive and not crying.  It took me a lot longer than it should take a 37-year-old grown man to figure out the auction interface, and I kept missing my chance to nominate a player for auction.  Knowing that most of the people in this league of baseball dorks are sabermetrically inclined, and disciples of Messers Lindbergh and Miller, I expected rational thinking, financial restraint, and razor sharp witty banter.  

Mike Carlucci (Wookie Betts):

I leaned heavily on the fangraphs price calculator and, after going through the draft, have no idea if my team is terrible or good.

Mark Sands (Non-Revelatory Rumors):

I had a strategy going in, I was going to pass on the big names and try to find depth and value, Billy Beane style.  That lasted exactly as long as it took to get Mike Trout fever.  I’m pretty happy to have landed him at $63 and subsequently went big on Giancarlo Stanton ($66) and Joey Votto ($40).  So instead of my smart, Moneyball team, I have a superstar-laiden, top heavy team with a bad bullpen.  Just like my Detroit Tigers.

Simon Gutierrez (Venomous Snakes): I got some banter, but then Mike Trout went for 63 bucks, Giancarlo Stanton went for 66 (66!), and I figured all bets were off.  So I hitched up my drawers and plunked down $64 for Andrew McCutchen (who led MLB in wRC last year!) and $50 for Kershaw and figured my league title was in the mail.  Sure, there were a couple savvy GMs who took the Billy Beane approach and just waited until everyone had spent huge chunks of their money and then subsequently cleaned up on bargain basement perfectly good players, but what’s the fun in waiting until everyone opens all their presents on Christmas Day when you could just as well open a couple on Christmas Eve?  Or something like that went through my head, at least.

 

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I didn’t exactly wait around for everyone to spend their money, as evidenced by my $55 Miguel Cabrera (a below average salary for him at the time of the draft).

 

Matt Albers’ Pants (Nick Strangis):
I threw some bull horns to my dogs and locked myself in my office to settle in for the draft. My wife came home at one point with groceries and I was able to drag my laptop to the door to help bring in bags but I was too worried I’d walk out of WiFi range, so I could only help so much.

The first few times the auction reached me, I tried the strategy that was recommended by my new ottoneu guardian angels. I nominated outfielders I thought would get bid up quickly and, sure enough, Carlos Gomez went for $41 and Adam Jones went for $35, well over what I wanted to spend for them. Of course, I have no idea what I’m doing so these two could be well worth the price at the end of the season.

Simon Gutierrez: (Venomous Snakes): When the dust settled, I had a perfectly serviceable and reasonably exciting roster.  I had the best of both worlds!  I was like the Dodgers!  Or something.  I had three big contracts (Cutch, Kershaw, and Bumgarner for $31) a couple reasonable ones (Cashner, Napoli, and Wheeler for $12, $12, and $11), a couple bargains (Betances for $9, Russell Martin for $7, and Teixiera for $5), and a couple wild cards (Cingrani, Jarrod Parker, and Jonathan Schoop all for $1), PLUS a farm system with Addison Russell, Hunter Harvey, and Eduardo Rodriguez, all for cheap.  

George Kimmets (Kim Mets)

My club found a couple of bargains at the auction (Evan Gattis for $10; Josh Harrison for $11), but will have to rely mainly on its offense (which features Jose Bautista (50), Anthony Rendon(36), Carlos Santana(36) [recently traded to Matt Albers’ Pants for Hanley Ramirez(37)], and Freddie Freeman (31). Big years from the talented George Springer (28) and Jorge Soler (21) won’t hurt either. The Kim Mets paid for it in pitching, and they’ll look to cobble together points from ace Sonny Gray (19), Matt Cain (7), R.A. Dickey (5), C.J. Wilson (5), Jake Ororizzi (3), and Jake Peavy (2).

Within ten minutes after finishing (and after regaining my vision from intensely staring at my computer screen for eight hours) I found myself thinking “wait ’til next year.” But on second thought, maybe this team could get a few breaks and be competitive. Looking forward to an interesting year of tracking them.

Mike Carlucci (Wookie Betts):

Entering my 10th season of fantasy baseball though, it’s exciting to have one league where I’m going in blind.

Simon Gutierrez (Venomous Snakes): I declare my Auction Draft a victory, and will make no mention of the fact that I may or may not have drafted Yasmani Grandal for $15 and then cut him to create a measly $7 of cap space because I had overdrafted.  Victory is mine!

 

As for this writer, I love picking up valuable veterans that other owners won’t touch due to injury and regression concerns so I was happy to grab Miguel Cabrera ($55), Matt Holliday ($27) and Jayson Werth ($21) for lower than I expected. Sometimes this strategy falls on its face, though, and I may have already lost my staff ace, Cliff Lee ($16), for the season. On the flip-side, I hope I can build around Kris Bryant ($14), Byron Buxton ($7), and Miguel Sano ($1) and I got a bargain on Eric Hosmer ($7).

Further analysis may follow in future updates about the BttP league but I like the roster Kim Mets has put together. Based on the Steamer projections I was using, he had one of the, if not the, highest scoring rosters in the league at the end of the draft. We actually tied for the most surplus dollars, using Scott Spratt’s method, but, like most owners, we’ve also used most of our $400 budgets already so we’ll have to get creative if we want to pick up breakout players later in the season. One of the advantages to ottoneu’s format is that any owner can start an auction for any free agent at any time in the season, but that also means you won’t know when you suddenly need to clear budget space to bid on a player you hoped you could target later. I’ll be curious to see what players owners decide to cut in order to save some money since ottoneu penalizes you half of the cost of any player you cut during the season.

 

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Teams haven’t held back on spending so far.

 

With several weeks remaining in spring training, there is plenty of time for injuries and roster changes that could affect the league. I’ll be curious to see how owners respond to spring training injuries and results and how they respond to changes in player performance during the season. Since none of us have any experience playing the same leagues, we’re yet to learn who the trade sharks are and who knows how to strike gold on free agents. Will someone play the part of the drama queen and threaten to splinter our league into factions by the season’s end? I’m excited to see where this goes.

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  1.  The BttP Podcast: Ep 13 – Chris Baber & Simon Gutierrez | Banished to the Pen

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