A tale of two keepers

Leagues with long-term keeper rules often present their owners with dilemmas: “Should I keep Player X (who’s a better value for next year) or Player Y (who could be much more valuable in two to three years)?” Some examples might include: Paul Konerko vs. Eric Hosmer, Kevin Youkilis (or Alex Rodriguez maybe?) vs. Brett Lawrie, and James Shields vs. Jeremy Hellickson.

Clearly important factors include any price increases your league imposes on keepers, and how competitive you expect to be next year. But one key factor is often overlooked: the field. Don’t forget the field.

Fantasy talking heads love comparing keepers, particularly a long-term keeper versus a short-term one. Here’s a good-natured example from Fangraphs.

There seems to be hardly a wrong answer. One can talk about how good the older player is but also how many years are on his body and that his skills show some signs perhaps of declining. One can also talk about how promising the young player is but that he hasn’t yet proven himself over several seasons.

It is a lot of fun to compare one player to another. But when it comes to long-term keeper comparison, it is essential to remember that there are many, many other players that are implicitly figuring into the equation.

Here’s a simple example: An owner can keep up to four keepers for each year at the cost of $23 each. There’s no inflation. He’s already decided to keep Matt Kemp, Jose Reyes and Robinson Cano and is trying to decide whether to keep Rodriguez or Lawrie as his fourth.

Rodriguez may be the better bet for next year and, in standard leagues, would probably go for more than Lawrie—and also more than the $23 price tag. So Rodriguez is undoubtedly worth keeping.

What about Lawrie? Let’s say that you expect him to be less valuable than Rodriguez next year but more valuable thereafter. You still must answer these questions before you can know whom to keep:

Is Lawrie going to be getting much better in the future or is Rodriguez going to be getting much worse? Probably the answer is some of both, but of course how much of each is the key.

Even if Lawrie will be better than Rodriguez, will he be good enough to warrant keeping? Answering this question is subtle—and key. This question asks: what are the chances that, however good Lawrie becomes, you still have four better keepers on your roster at the end of next year?

Next season, you’ll have a roster full of potential keepers. It is very possible that by next September, Lawrie will be a keeper candidate (i.e. he’s worth at least $23), a better keeper candidate than Rodriguez (i.e. Lawrie’ll go for more in an auction than Rodriguez), but that you will have four players that are more valuable as keepers.

This means that you should discount distant future performances, perhaps greatly depending on league format. For the example above, as a rule of thumb, I wouldn’t keep Lawrie over Rodriguez unless I believed that Lawrie would be worth at least $35 two years from now.

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Comments

  1. Brad Johnson said...

    I am facing a very difficult conundrum in my linear weights league next year. Upon joining last year, I immediately discovered that the value of an elite SP over an average one (about 600 points) greatly exceeds that of a great position player over average (about 200 points ignoring the odd Bautista).

    We are allowed four (maybe five) keepers. You lose a draft pick for each keeper, the round they were drafted minus 2. So Justin Verlander who I took in the 2nd round costs a 1st round pick.

    Now here’s my conundrum. Cost in parenthesis.

    I have Halladay (1), Verlander (1), Lee (1), Pedroia (1), Youkilis (1), J. Johnson (1), Ellsbury (5), Wainwright (16), Trout (21), Santana (20), Moore (25), A. Gordon (25), Ackley (25), and Lawrie (25).

    I’ve identified all 14 players as potentially excellent keepers. I am able to eliminate Johnson and Santana due to injury risk, Trout because I don’t think he’s a great bet to be a top 4 keeper year to year. Same with Ackley. As a 1st round pick, I would eliminate Youkilis, except he’s functionally a 4th round pick if I kept my trio of aces.

    The way I see it, I can take two approaches. The first is probably to keep my trio of aces and a red sock, probably Ellsbury since he’s eligible at a shallow position, CF. The other option is to keep Ellsbury, Moore, Gordon, and Lawrie (and/or maybe Wainwright) and then hope I can get two of Halladay/Lee/Verlander in the draft (I’ll be picking 12/13/36/37, but several owners will lose picks in the first 3 rounds so it will probably be more like 6/7/20/21).

    Got any advice. It’s a fun league but there’s no buy in, so I’m inclined to take the ballsy choice. I’m just worried I could see my entire trio gone before I get a chance to pick.

  2. Larry Hanson said...

    I have kind of a conundrum, as I am an expansion team, but I think I can compete next year because I have loaded up on draft picks.
    It’s a total points league, and usually middle infielders are at a premium on draft day and pitching is usually what separates contenders from pretenders (most teams’ hitting totals are pretty bunched up).
    Each team must keep 5 and exactly 5 players, then the draft starts. You can keep a guy forever if you want.
    My for sure keepers are: Joey Votto, Felix Hernandez, Adam Wainwright and Jordan Zimmermann.
    My candidates for No. 5 are plentiful (but nothing blows me away): Melky Cabrera (very, very productive at age 26 this year), Jemile Weeks, JP Arencibia, Austin Jackson, Jason Kipnis, Shin-Soo Choo, Zack Cozart, Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, Derek Holland, Ivan Nova, Corey Luebke, Roy Oswalt, or Yu Darvish.
    Is there one that stands out to anyone or should I trade one of my surplus of picks for someone’s 6th or 7th player, which I could conceivably draft with one of my three first-round picks?

  3. Brad Johnson said...

    Larry,

    It depends on your keeper rules a little bit, but Bryce Harper is a great keeper under several formats. If he’s costing you the equivalent of a 5th round pick, I don’t think you really want to keep any of those guys. If he’s costing you something like the round you drafted him in, keep Harper.

    Similarly, if you can only keep a guy a year or two, try someone else. If you can keep them semi-indefinitely, Harper is your guy.

  4. Larry Hanson said...

    Thanks for your help.
    Our keepers are basically the equivalent of our first five draft choices.
    We have to keep five players. The flip side is if I keep Harper (or draft him way earlier than anyone else would think about it) is I could keep him all the way until he’s 40.
    Any thoughts on Darvish or Oswalt, giving me a starting crew of:
    Felix
    Wainwright
    Zimmermann
    Darvish/Oswalt?

  5. Derek Ambrosino said...

    Larry,

    The only guy out of that group I can see producing at a 5th round level is Choo. I’d keep him. I also don’t see Zimmerman as a serious 4th round keeper. Sure, he could emerge as a top 15/20 SP, but there will be plenty of similar options available for several rounds on draft day.

    I don’t know if you want to trade picks, as you seem to be in the midst of rebuilding too, and picks are key to rebuild. Perhaps though you could get two 4th/5th round keeper types for Felix Hernandez, or a legit 4th keeper and another first round pick. I’d consider those moves.

    Brad,

    Totally off the cuff, if the value of SPs are that high, maybe you should keep all 3. Basically, if you have a player who you can keep as a first rounder who is basically a lock to have 1st round value if healthy, it’s risky to give away that sure thing to gamble on a bigger payoff on a more risky proposition at the margins.

    Another idea would be to keep 2 of them, along with Wainwright, Lawrie, and Ackley. Laswrie and Ackely could spin their wheels and probably still turn a profit on their price. Wainwight is your biggest upside guy because if ace pitchers are that valuable, a health season from him would give you 1st or 2nd round value at rd. 14.

    Ellsbury is attractive at round 5, but was this season a bit of a fluke? You could keep 1 ace pitcher, take the best bat available round 2, then the next two best pitchers available rd 3 and 4, then get Ellsbury in 5, and still have near certain profit in Wainwright, Lawrie, and Ackley locked up late. You’d have most of your pitching staff penciled in after rd 5 (with Wainwright in the wings at 14) and then you could just load up on B-level position player talent all around the diamond in the mid rounds.

    …I’m sure you’ve thought about all these different approaches.

  6. Derek Ambrosino said...

    Oh, as you can tell from my previous responses, I’m a bird-in-hand-is-worth-two-in-a-bush guy when it comes to keepers. I think some of us who think we’re real smart at this stuff have a tendency to outsmart ourselves on this. Take the money and run!

    Teams with big bankrolls use prospects to acquire proven elite talent and let somebody else take the gamble. They have resources at their disposal that allows them to avoid some of the risk of prospects (not that high-priced vets have no risk). While we don’t have payroll advantages in fantasy, we do have resources advantages if we are smart players. Our superior knowledge is a resource. Passing on good value for undervalued propositions at long odds should not be our game. We know the odds are better than they are believed to be, so we recognize this as value, and the geek player within us clings to that and tells us not to let that go. But, the truth is those odds are still somewhat long.

    Let this game be the province of those who “need” to hit home runs to compete with us in the draft. The elite player doesn’t need to hit those home runs, as he can just profit consistently on the majority of his picks and derive added value naturally, balanced across the draft/auction. Plus, elite players will find several long odds bets they like, so don’t get attached to one. Keep the blue chippers and make your long shot bets in bulk when the right time and price comes.

  7. Brad Johnson said...

    Thanks for the reply, I’ve been leaning towards keeping my big pitching trio and then making a last minute call on Lawrie/Ellsbury/Wainwright/Gordon. It’s not entirely clear whether or not we will have 4 or 5 keepers at this point, we’ve talked about both options.

    One reason to like Ellsbury even more is that we use CF which can be a very thin position.

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