StrategyJanuary 14, 2013

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Keeper Decision Criteria, Part 1: The Cost of the Keeper - 10 comments

By Scott Swanay

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.

Auction Leagues

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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10 Responses to “Keeper Decision Criteria, Part 1: The Cost of the Keeper”

  1. User avatar MashinSpuds says:

    I like the idea of this series. I can’t put my finger on it, but I wish this section went a little deeper. Maybe some player examples, or player comparisons, would have given it a little more than a topical feel. Perhaps add a description of a situation the author has been in to reflect a point made?

  2. The Sherpa says:

    Thanks, Mashin – I appreciate your feedback. I’ll see if I can incorporate some of your suggestions into the Position Scarcity article.

  3. User avatar ayebatter says:

    You’ve always been a good read on your Sherpa blog, nice to see you at the Cafe.

  4. User avatar Slapweasel says:

    As another option for “simpler” Leagues, like mine: We have three or four very busy/”just-for-fun” members in a 12-Team, Yahoo daily roto league. They wanted a simple Keeper format, if there was to be one.

    We are allowed to keep four players max, three minimum. You can designate them as “Keepers” only twice before their “contracts expire”. This means that if you wouldn’t draft them in the first three/four rounds, they’re not likely “Keeper-Worthy”.

    This adds a nice “Keeper-feel” to simpler Leagues. This is an idea for Leagues that aren’t as “hard-core” as most.

    Personally, I’d like to be in a “Progressive Keeper” League, where you draft players where you got them last season, progressing three-to-four rounds every season thereafter. I don’t have time for a second league and I refuse to “boot” the non-hard core members we currently have. So…

    …that’s how we do.

  5. The Sherpa says:

    ayebatter – thanks for your kind words – I appreciate them!

    Slapweasel – I like your system – sounds like a great compromise between not having Keepers and requiring owners to be hard-core in order to participate in your league.

  6. Dogman says:

    I have A. Beltre as a Keeper in Round 4. Now, that is only two (possibly three) rounds past his projected ADP location of a 2nd or 1st rounder. But his value at Rd. 4 is too good to pass up. Our league uses a scaled keeper value in rounds…example: players drafted in rounds 19 to 23 the previous year -if kept -you must keep them (this year) six rounds sooner…so a player drafted rd. 20 means he’s kept at rd. 14. This moves up with earlier picks rds 7 -10 up 3 rds. etc. So the lucky/smart drafter that took M. Trout at 23 gets to keep him at Rd. 17…not too shabby.

  7. The Sherpa says:

    Dogman – just curious – how many Keepers are you allowed, and how many years are you allowed to keep a player? If could keep only one, and just for this year, would you rather have Beltre with a 4th-round pick due to position scarcity concerns (i.e. – you knew you weren’t going to be able to draft Miguel Cabrera) or Trout with a 17th-round pick?

  8. Jfish357 says:

    Trout looks like a no brainer there, doesn’t he? I’d take Trout and overpay for another 3rd baseman.

  9. User avatar daullaz says:

    @The Sherpa: I don’t think the choice is between Trout and Beltre. I think the commenter was describing his setup and used Trout as a example from another team.

  10. Dogman says:

    Each team can “keep” up to seven. Keepers can only be kept for three (consecutive) years…even if they’re traded within those 3 years. And “daullaz” is correct…Trout will be a definite keeper in our league. I was only trying to explain our set-up with Keepers being “kept” in earlier rounds each of the 3 yrs. that they are kept. Rds. 1& 2 – cannot be kept; 3-6 -move up 2 rounds;7-10 -move up 3 rounds; 11-14 -4 rounds, etc.


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