In theory, determining which players to retain for your team in a fantasy baseball keeper league should be a straightforward decision. If you’re allowed to keep N players, just pick the N best players on your roster, and you’re done, right?
Any keeper league veteran knows that just isn’t the case. The “keep your best players” strategy is easy to defend (the fantasy baseball equivalent of the old stock market adage, “No one has ever been fired for buying IBM”), but it may not be the best strategy, at least not in a vacuum. Factors that need to be considered in optimizing your keeper decisions: (1) the cost of the keeper relative to his projected value, (2) position scarcity, and (3) other owners’ projected keepers. I’ll discuss the first item in this article and tackle the others in subsequent articles.
In analyzing the cost of keeping a player it’s important to factor in the type of league you play in. I’ll look at three common cases: (1) auction leagues, (2) salary cap leagues with assigned player values and a draft, and (3) draft leagues with no player salaries.
If you’re in an auction league, the cost of keeping a player is often his purchase price plus some fixed amount (often $5). If you’re allowed to keep a player multiple years, you’ll probably have to pay more each year you keep him. Is he worth it? To determine the answer, you need to look at three values:
(1) the cost of keeping the player for the coming year
(2) your projection of the player’s cost this year if he were available in the player pool
(3) your assessment of the player’s value for the coming year.
If (1) > (2) and/or (1) > (3), you’ll almost certainly want to eliminate that player as a keeper candidate. But what about the other, more difficult cases?
If (1) < (3) < (2), the player is a good keeper candidate. If (1) < (2) < (3), the player is a great keeper candidate. If the number of good keeper candidates is less or equal to the number of keepers you’re permitted, then you’re done. If the number of good keeper candidates exceeds the number of keepers you’re permitted, then further reduce your list to the players who are great keeper candidates. If you’re now below the maximum number of keepers permitted, you can always add back some of your “good” keeper candidates. If you still have too many keeper candidates, you should also consider position scarcity and the anticipated keepers for your fellow owners before submitting your final list.
Salary Cap Leagues with Assigned Player Salaries and a Draft
The same principles apply here that you’d use in evaluating potential keepers in an auction league, with one notable difference: you already know the actual cost of each player for the upcoming season if you were to “throw him back” (then again, so do your fellow owners). This should make your decision-making process easier and decrease the likelihood you’ll make a mistake that will lead your fellow owners to impugn your intelligence or question your heritage (if you care about that sort of thing).
Most salary cap leagues with keepers don’t make you forfeit a draft pick for keeping a player (i.e. – each team’s N keepers are essentially considered their first N picks or their last N picks). However, be sure you know the rules, especially if you’re new to the league and either taking over an existing team or drafting an expansion team. Also, make sure you know the draft position consequences if you decide to retain less than your full allotment of keepers.
Draft Leagues with No Player Salaries
Draft leagues that allow keepers often require owners to forfeit a draft pick based on the round in which the kept player was originally selected. Usually, the forfeited pick will be at least one round earlier than the player was originally selected. If players can be kept for multiple seasons, the forfeited pick usually comes from an earlier round each successive season.
The question to ask yourself in this type of league is “What round would I have to draft the player this year, and how does that compare to the round my forfeited pick would be in?” The greater this difference, the stronger that player is as a keeper candidate. Generally, you’d want to keep the N players for whom this difference is the greatest.
One final thought – some leagues, especially dynasty leagues, which allow you to retain most, if not all, of your players from the previous season, allow you to sign players to multi-year contracts. I strongly advise against doing this, especially for pitchers (for both consistency and potential injury severity reasons). Even if a player avoids an injury, his fantasy value could be less than expected in future years due to either random variation or an actual decline in skill level. Either way, you don’t want to be forced to keep a player in that situation on your roster for more than one year.
I’ll take a look at the impact of position scarcity on keeper decisions in the next article in this series.
Scott is a lifelong Yankees fan who saw Fritz Peterson (post wife-swap) beat Nolan Ryan in the first baseball game he went to. You can catch up with Scott in the Cafe Forums where he posts as The Sherpa. You can also follow his work at Fantasy Baseball Sherpa and follow him on Twitter (fantasy_sherpa).
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