Last week we talked about the construction of a freeze list in keeper leagues. This week, we will focus on the principles of keepers in dynasty leagues. By means of reminder, the root difference between keeper and dynasty formats is the rate of player pool turnover. In keeper leagues, there are expired or cost prohibitive contracts that reenter the available player pool, while in dynasty leagues, the vast majority of useful players are retained, with fringe players and minor leaguers comprising the draft or auction.
The approach in dynasty is a little different than deciding on keepers, as usually, you keep almost everyone, so you keep the best players. We will discuss the draft strategy of dynasty leagues in a future essay; today we will concentrate on the general philosophy of the dynasty format and relate that to keeper lists. We will approach things as if this is the inaugural year of the dynasty league.
The key to putting together a foundation capable of dominating for several seasons is realizing like Rome, it cannot be built in one day, or draft. The most common mistake is relying too much on young talent to emerge all at once. Even the championship team is not going to have All-Stars at every position, but rather reliable, steady performers along with the superstars. Too many try to assemble a team of superstars, taking every prospect that made someone’s top-100 list at the expense of boring, but still young Major League talent. So while it is integral to draft some potential stars, let others take the chances on fringe prospects while you acquire some useful commodities with a track record that may develop, or at worse be trade bait for those looking to make a championship run and willing to part with youngsters or draft picks. That is the key to assembling the winning foundation: drafting a couple of top tier stats then acquiring a few more pieces in-season, then lather, rinse, repeat. It may take a few years, but if you get a handful the first season, then start parlaying talent into more draft picks and get a handful more, in two or three seasons you are ready to dominate for the next five seasons.
The other common error is dynasty leagues inherit the keeper league mantra of caring for hitting more than pitching. As was discussed last week, this is a viable, if not recommended strategy in keeper leagues. But, since you protect almost your entire roster, and deals to acquire star pitching are basically impossible (who is going to deal a valuable arm in dynasty leagues), you need to build through the drafts. Unfortunately, when you are dealing with Major League pitching, this is not easy. The best way to approach it can be referred to as the spaghetti method: throw it against the wall and see what sticks. In other words, quantity is as important as quality, because when it comes to pitching, there is no such thing as a pitching prospect, or at least that is what some people believe. It may hurt to tie up some roster spots with pitchers that are not going to mature in lieu of some hitters you feel better about, but in order to get 9 or 10 pitchers worthy of protection, you will have to cycle through at least twice that. If you are lucky, you can deal a couple while they still have value. As an example, think Mike Leake from last season. He is a decent prospect, but was nowhere near as good as he pitched for a stretch early last season. If you were close to a year you wanted to compete, dealing Leake for a steady, reliable starter that still has a few years left would really benefit. Perhaps dealing Leake for James Shields, Ryan Dempster or even Roy Oswalt would be possible from a team looking to rebuild. Shields, Dempster and Oswalt are the perfect complement to the younger Clayton Kershaws and John Lesters you already have from a couple seasons of watching several pitchers mature.
As alluded to, we will talk a little more about drafting in dynasty leagues down the road, but the application to keeper lists is when you are rebuilding, or perhaps taking over an orphaned team, you may need to dedicate extra spots to keeper pitching in an effort to end up with a smaller number of arms that will anchor your staff for years. Or you may think about keeping a marginal prospect over a hitter such as Derek Jeter or Carlos Lee, since they are not attractive long-term plays. But since one of three players will have at least a two week vacation on the disabled list, Jeter and Lee make price trade chips if a team is looking to win. Maybe they give up Mike Moustakas or Freddie Freeman to fortify their chances to win.
To wrap up this series of essays, we opened by suggesting that some leagues are a hybrid of keeper and dynasty and your chore is to decide where your league falls. The last two weeks, we talked about keeper list philosophies for the extreme situations. Hence, you need to apply the degree of each philosophy accordingly to your keepers. But do not fret, we are here to help. Please feel free to post your keeper question on our forums and we will be glad to offer our sage advice.
Last week we talked about the differences between keeper and dynasty leagues and some different approaches to each. This week, we will focus on keeper leagues and the determination of your freeze list. By means of a quick review, the defining difference between keeper and dynasty leagues is the turnover of available talent is much greater in keeper leagues. Every year, there is a fresh supply of top-tier talent available for draft or auction. So much so, in fact, that you should design a strategy to compete every season and only bail and rebuild if necessary. But before we discuss means of approaching your draft or auction, we must first decide on your freeze list.
Here are some general rules of thumb when it comes to deciding on keepers. These are applicable to either drafts or auctions. Later, we will look at tips pertaining specifically to drafts and to auctions.
In general, you want to concentrate on a strong hitting foundation. This is not to say to completely ignore pitchers if you have them at a solid value, just that all things being equal, it is better to go into the draft or auction with solid sticks, as you can usually find more quality arms either in the draft or auction or in-season via free agency or waivers. It is also easier to manage a pitching staff using middle relievers and streaming starting pitching so you want to make sure you have a base of offensive counting stats to build upon.
While it is always exciting to own the next big thing, your keeper list should focus on solid, less risky entities and not the hot shot sophomore that took the league by storm, unless the cost to freeze is minimal. Yes, you will need to take chances to win, but save the chances for your draft or auction. Owning the new shiny object is fun, but winning is more fun. And the path to winning is paved with boring and steady, leaving the chances to your opponents.
The final general piece of advice is to consider balance on your freezes, but the bottom line is to protect the best players at the best cost. Do not toss back a better first baseman for a lesser shortstop even if it means you are tying up your corner infield spot. This is especially true if your league has any level of the so-called dump trade, where one squad deals away future value for help to win this season. If keeping two star first basemen leaves you with a subpar shortstop, you can look to upgrade your shortstop later by trading a keeper for a star shortstop that is not a viable keeper.
Now we will look briefly at draft league keepers and close out with tips for auction formats. But this is as good a time as any to remind everyone we have a message forum that is perfect for asking questions pertaining to your own keeper decisions. You can provide us with all the pertinent details and get opinions from the Mastersball staff as well as our intelligent forum regulars, many of which are not shy about sharing their knowledge.
In draft leagues that do not penalize you a draft pick for freezes, you obviously just keep the best talent. But some leagues require you forfeit a draft pick per keeper, sometimes the same round you originally drafted the player and sometimes the round is two or three rounds sooner than the original pick. What you need to do here is figure out what players will be available in the draft and “count backwards.” You keep players so long there will not be someone better available at that pick. It is a little more than looking at an average draft position list and keeping players if their cost is after their ADP. The decision needs to be done and in hand with what else is available.
Perhaps the biggest mistake made by those in auction keeper leagues is the reticence to freeze high salaried players. Many believe it is best to look for the cheap keepers and have a lot of money to spend at the auction. And sometimes this is fine. But others, freezing salary actually makes sense. The reason for this is it is not just about the profit from your keepers, it is about the talent on your squad at the conclusion of your auction.
If you are not familiar with the concept of inflation, in keeper auctions, talent is frozen for less than the projected value. This means there is more money available to spend than there is available talent. So in order for everyone to spend their entire budget, they are forced to pay inflated prices. Paying inflated prices absorbs some of the profit derived from your keepers.
Let us look at some numbers. A typical inflation rate for a keeper league is 25%. If you freeze $100 worth of talent for $40, that leaves you $220 to spend. In keeper leagues, the inflation always abates and you can usually realize profit on your last $20 spent, at least according to your projections. We’ll be generous and say you get $30 of talent for your final $20, so you have $130 worth of talent for $60, not bad. Since the inflation rate is 25%, you will buy about $150 worth of talent with your $200, bringing the grand total to $280, which is $20 profit on the $260 cap. I decide to freeze $220 worth of talent for $200, I have $60 left to spend. To be fair, I get the same $30 talent for my final $20. That leaves me $40 and I get the same 25% inflation effect, so I pick up only $30 more worth of talent. This leaves me the same $280 total you bought. Obviously, I massaged the numbers to make my point. But the actual numbers are not important. The take home lesson is that sometimes freezing salary is not a bad thing.
The other major tip for keeper lists is to consider if you can buy back the same player or his equivalent, or even someone better for the same price. I know this sounds obvious, but it is more apropos for the cheaper players, as that is where you can often get players you like more than others on the cheap. So even if the projected value for a player may be $5 and you have him for a buck or two, there is a very good chance you can get even more profit from that spot since everyone has different opinions about players in the end game. Your $7 player is someone else’s reserve, and vice versa.
Next week we will talk about how to put together a killer freeze list in dynasty formats. But in the meantime, please do not hesitate to use the forums for your keeper questions.
Welcome to the inaugural edition of our new weekly strategy column, Chance Favors the Prepared Mind. Every week in this space, an element of fantasy baseball game theory will be discussed. For years, we have been on the cutting edge of strategy theory and are thrilled to be offering this content free for the first time.
A couple of days ago, I was exchanging e-mails with my friend, injury expert Rick Wilton. We were discussing some possible contributions to the upcoming spring First Pitch Forum Series sponsored by our colleagues at Baseball HQ. The last note from Rick was:
You are telling me that 70% of the players will see their numbers decline in 2011. Factor that in with the fact that one-in-three players lands on the DL every season and how the heck are we supposed to compete!
Yup Rick, that is exactly what I am telling you and I will drop another name and quote NFBC stalwart and my partner in a private league, Rick Thomas, who likes to say, "It's amazing. The more I study, the luckier I get!" And trust me; RT is one of the “luckiest” players I have ever met.
I have my own little saying when it comes to this sort of thing. If you have frequented the forums here at Mastersball (and if you have not, what are you waiting for), you have no doubt seen my signature: I would rather be wrong for the right reasons than right for the wrong reasons. If you make your decisions for the right reasons, at the end of the day, you wil be right more than wrong and that is really all we can seek to accompish. And that, my friends will be the driving force behind this weekly column; helping to determine the right reasons.
What exactly does that mean? This little example is a microcosm of my philosophy and will be the message I try to convey. I have a pair of dice and ask you to predict the result of the roll. What is your reply? Hopefully, you say seven. Even though there is only a one in six chance of being correct, seven is correct because its probability is superior to all the other combinations. If you guessed seven and the roll came up snake eyes, you were wrong for the right reason. And if you guessed six and the roll came up double threes, you were right, but sorry, it was for the wrong reason.
Guessing anything other than seven is nothing more than a gut call. But let’s be honest, we all make gut calls in this hobby of ours. We are human beings, trying to judge how other human beings are going to perform. It would be naïve to suggest no decisions come from the gut. I will admit, I too make gut calls. But only as a last resort and only after extensive analysis of the numbers leaves me no choice. Each and every Tuesday, I am going to invite you into my mind and attempt to explain my thought processes when it comes to making decisions.
So please check back next week and we will embark on our first journey inside my mind. But bring a snack, it is going to be a rough ride.
Perhaps the most important single piece of advice one can give is to know thy league. Each league is unique with respect to rules, dynamics, owner personality, etc. It really does not matter where you go to seek fantasy baseball advice. You need to take that knowledge and apply it within the context of your particular league. Since this is the time of year many of us are perusing our rosters in keeper leagues, I thought I would kick off this series with what I find to be a common error made by those thinking about keeper lists.
Before you make your freeze list decisions, it is best to really think about the dynamics of your league. Most leagues where retention of players is allowed are generically termed keeper leagues. But the fact is, there are different formats of keeper leagues and each requires a thought process customized to your league.
At one extreme are true keeper leagues and at the other, dynasty leagues. There is not really a textbook definition for each, so I will discuss what I consider to be the differences.
In what I call a keeper league, the dynamics are such that if you decide to rebuild, it should only take you one year before you are ready to compete. In dynasty leagues, the rebuilding process may take multiple years, but the objective is to build a squad that can compete for several successive seasons.
This delineation is slightly different than what I have suggested in the past. Previously, I liked to say that in keeper leagues, the optimal plan was to compete one season then rebuild the next – lather, rinse, repeat. But I have recently altered that thinking to trying to developing a scheme to compete this season, regardless of the quality of my keeper list, but have an eject button available in case things are not going as planned.
In future columns, specific freeze list strategies will be discussed. But for the rest of today, the focus will be on the telltale factor that defines the keeper versus dynamic factor, and that is the rate of turnover in the player pool from year to year.
There are a few different avenues to replenish the available player pool. In leagues that use contracts, the player’s time can expire with no extension available. In auction leagues, the price to keep the player may be prohibitive. In draft leagues, the round lost due to keeping the player may be higher than he is worth. Or there may be a limit to the number of keepers and the player does not make the cut.
In keeper leagues, there is an influx of top talent year after year. In dynasty leagues, the only available players are usually older players on the decline, minor leaguers not yet drafted or part timers. In keeper leagues, you can supplement your keepers with plenty of capable producers. In dynasty leagues, you are drafting filler, fliers or prospects.
Keeping in mind these are the two extremes and it is likely your league is a combination of both, what you need to do is gauge the available player and decide if you can supplement your keepers with the necessary talent to win. If you can, your format is more keeper than dynasty and you adjust your draft plans accordingly. If not, your league is more dynasty than keeper, entailing a different draft plan.
As suggested at the beginning, in keeper leagues, my preference is to devise a strategy to take a shot at winning every year. In future weeks, we will discuss some of these strategies. Conversely, in dynasty leagues, I am willing to wallow in mediocrity for a couple of seasons, assuming I am concurrently putting together a foundation of talent I expect to anchor a championship squad that competes for several seasons. Means of doing this will also be discussed in upcoming columns.