Roster Doctor

Imagine you’re a doctor, and a patient comes in and just lies down but doesn’t say anything. If you are interested in sending me questions, please send me actual questions—not just rosters plus, “What do you think?”

On the flip side, some folks sent in quite interesting questions but coupled it with rosters full of “A-Gonz” and “Jason.” Here is Scott’s question: I’ve not changed a thing from it—it has nice question and a well-formatted roster.

“My league does an auction draft and then each manager can lock up their players for up the 3 years at the price they paid at the auction. There are 10 teams and we draft players from both leagues, our lineups are: 2C, 1B, 2B, SS, 3B, MI, CI, RF, CF, LF, OF, Utility, Bench, 8SP, 3RP. $260 team budget for 25 players. The points system tries to mimic actual value on the field but probably rewards power from hitters and strikeouts and innings from pitchers more than in real life.

My keepers from past years:
Russell Martin $20
Alex Rios $15
Adrian Gonzalez $12
Kevin Slowey $5
Joe Mauer $10
Hunter Pence $7
Justin Upton $3
Neftali Feliz $3
Daniel Bard $1
Cole Hamels $29

newly drafted players:
Albert Pujols $43
CC Sabathia $28
Dan Haren $17
Javier Vazquez $3
Aramis Ramirez $6
Paul Konerko $12
Kelly Johnson $9
Max Scherzer $20
Josh Beckett $10
Jose Lopez $1
Manny Ramirez $1
Rafael Soriano $1
Jake Peavy $1
Yunel Escobar $1
Jed Lowrie $1

I feel like I got Pujols pretty cheap and part of me wants to lock him up for 3 years, but at the same time its risky to commit so much of my payroll to only one player. Do you think there is enough value at $43 to make him worth the risk? Also what would you do with with Scherzer at $20? I feel like he has a pretty high ceiling but he pitched so bad in spring training that I’m a little nervous.”

Dear Scott,

I would not lock up Pujols. Scherzer is a close call, but I’m tempted to say that you shouldn’t lock him up either. Here’s why:

These auction values are a good indicator of how your league-mates value these players, so no one in your league thought Pujols was worth more than $43. Barring something Herculean on his part this season or a massive change of heart on the part of one of your competitors, I doubt Pujols will go for much more than $43 next year.

However, if something should happen to him injury-wise this year or beyond, you would lose a large chunk of your future budgets, putting you at a major disadvantage. Moreover, he’s getting to an age, 31, where performance starts to decline. Nothing much to worry about yet, but he’ll probably be worth $38 rather than $45 in three years’ time.

Scherzer has more growing to do, unlike Pujols. So by keeping him, you could leverage the difference in expectations that you and your competitors have over him—apparently you have higher ones since you were willing to pay more. Locking him in gives you a chance to put some more money where your beliefs are.

But I’m not sure how dearly you want to hold onto those beliefs. If Haren is going for $17 and Sabathia for $28 in your league, then what is the realistic upside for Scherzer in two years? $25? You’d be making a bit of profit, potentially, but at some risk. Scherzer hasn’t yet proven he can be the consistent horse that Haren and Sabathia are. Not that he’s going to be another Russell Martin, but Scherzer is a good example of the costs of locking in.

What would I do?

Your roster already has good examples of whom I’d target for lock-in. Upton, Bard and Feliz are great lock-ins. They are cheap and so pose little risk to your overall budget. (Note, I’m assuming that you can always cut a locked-in player so that he’ll just cost you dollars in the future and not roster spots. If you have to keep him on your roster for the next three years as well, then keeping low dollar players may not be as good a strategy.)

Of course, you have other great keepers as well in Mauer, Gonzalez and others, but I’m not sure why they went so cheaply initially.

So I’d lock in maybe Soriano and Peavy. Peavy is a cheap risk—I’m sceptical it will pay off—but I still think it is a good value. Soriano is borderline. In a ten-team league, he’s not that valuable. Actually, given that you need to play eight starting pitchers, Beckett at $10 is also interesting, but you’ll be able to find his ilk in the auction pool again next season.

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  1. Derek Ambrosino said...

    Yes, Soriano is not as valuable in a 10 team league as he’d be in a deeper league, but at a buck he’d certainly be worth it just on the strength of his potential to become a closer again. If he ever became a closer again, either by the Yanks trading him or an injury or fall from grace by Mo, you’d hit the jackpot. He was basically the best closer in baseball last year – imagine the value of having him for a dollar last year!

    I’m not sure how your league’s point system works though. You can only start 3RP, so if you need to get actual saves to compete, you’d be tied up with Bard and Soriano – two great relievers, neither of which is currently an actual closer. So, the question there is the value gap between elite middle relievers and closers.

    BTW, seems weird that a 10 team league would only have 3 RP spots (and no generic P slots) seems pretty prescriptive as to how you’re directed to build your roster—especially in a points league w/o categories. There’d basically be no potential value to rostering a fourth closer, even if some other teams punted closers and went all middle relief. Now, relievers who qualify as starters might be valuable in a situation like this, but if the league skews toward K and IP, then maybe that’s not worth taking advantage of either, as in a 10 team league, you could easily roster 8 worthy SPs, therby making the SP-eligible reliever strategy suboptimal.

    I’d lobby to change some of those SP slots to generic Ps, and open up the stategy of pitching staff building a bit more.

    Full disclosure, I don’t like SP/RP distinction, period. It’s one of the more false distinctions in fantasy baseball, as these “positions” are fake. Teams merely roster their pitchers and deploy them however they choose. You can’t play more than 1 1B at a time, but nothing stops a manager from just having 9 different pitcher each pitch a single inning.

  2. Brad Johnson said...

    In the league I run, I use 9 generic P slots. The only drawback is that Yahoo won’t let you sort by SP or RP if you do that, which however erroneous the distinction is, it still makes it easier to comb the wire.

    Honestly, I might throw a hail mary at Manny given what Derek pointed out about RP. He’s practically costless and if old Manny shows up for even a 100 PA stretch each season, he’ll earn you a healthy profit. Even 2010 Manny looks nice at a buck. If you’re not liking that idea, why not Jed Lowrie?

  3. Scott said...

    Our league is actually 3P, 5SP, 3RP, but since the scoring makes almost all SP’s worth more than the 30th best RP the optimal strategy is almost always to have at least 8 SP’s, so I just described it that way in my original question.

    Holds and Saves are worth the same amount in our league so Bard and Soriano are not penalized for pitching the 8th instead of the 9th inning.

    I did decide to take a chance on Lowrie for 3 years.

  4. Scott said...

    Thanks for the advice.  You are right about getting back the roster spot if a player is dropped, you just still need to pay his salary.  Most of my older keepers are from the draft 2 years ago which was our leagues first auction draft.  Mauer, Gonzalez and Upton are all on the 3rd year of their contracts and unfortunately must go back into the draft next year.

    I think you are right about Pujols and you have convinced me to just rent him for the year.  This was the cheapest he has ever been in our league because the other owner that usually bids him up had keepers at the position.  But I agree that I cant risk that much money on him.

    That’s a good point about Scherzer’s upside maybe being around $25, and I am starting to think that’s not enough profit for the risk.

  5. Kevin said...

    Speaking on behalf of the other owner who normally bids Pujols up, you’re right. If I didn’t have Votto and Tex, he would have run you $50.

    I can’t imagine ever paying more than a dollar for a reliever in our league again. Too much volatility.

  6. Brad Johnson said...

    On Scherzer, let’s not forget that the D-Backs were suddenly eager to trade him. The speculation was that they were concerned he would break soon. It’s a small consideration yet shouldn’t be dismissed entirely.

  7. Derek Ambrosino said...

    That’s really a tough one, Kevin.

    The real danger is that other accuse you of changing the rules to benefit yourself as opposed to promoting equality among different player types.

    One thing you could do would be to keep everybody’s roster under their control, but free all keeper obligations. So, teams could make fresh decisions about keeper contracts re: players on their rosters under the rubric of the new rules. Theoretically, if one position is valued, then another position is undervalued. So, if you made SPs less valuable, but released all players from contract while keeping rosters in tact, owners could then transfer keeper dollars from mediocre pitchers who aren’t such a commodity and more, to hitters or relievers who now would have salaries that are a better value relative to when they were rostered. This might actually swing the dynamic in a different way for a few years as people would then take advantage of a retroactive market inefficiency, but if you were to say, reset keeper contracts, while limiting the number of keeper contracts each team could issue and limiting the contracts to 2 years, once those players re-entered the player pool, their newer prices would once again be fair.

    In my main league we do keeper cycles. We have an escalating number of players we are allowed to keep for 3-4 years (have done it differently different times), and then after that last year, rosters reset and we draft/auction fresh.

  8. Richard Brown said...

    My league allows keepers for up to four years but their salary increases each year:  $5 after the first year, another $6 after the second, and another $7 after the third.  Rarely are players kept three years let alone four.  However last year Lincecum, Kemp, Bourn, Braun, and Gallardo were $16 4-year players.  This year we have Bruce and Sandavol at $16 and Josh Johnson at $18.  Based on this experience, I think it is ridiculous to have a 3-year keeper without including future salary inflation.

  9. Richard Brown said...

    Sorry, I should have added that free agents obtained during the season do not have the first $5 salary increase as they were not owned (under contract) for a full season.  So a free agent obtained for $3 will have salaries of $3, $3, $9, and $16 during their 4-year stint ($3 is the minimum bid for a free agent).

  10. Scott said...


    Our league doesn’t need inflation because it is built into the original auction draft.  Its just like in real baseball when teams sign a guy to a guaranteed contract.  Players are awarded contracts after the auction and the team is on the hook for the money.  So players with future upside are bid up but its not without risk.  For example, Pineda went for $11 and was signed for 3 years.

    I this this keeper element has made the league much more interesting.

  11. Kevin Wilson said...

    Agreeing with Scott, not having inflation has worked out well. Yes, some players become ridiculous values (Wainwright at $6 last year) but many become albatrosses (DiceK at $8, Sizemore at $19- both mine, awesome) but it rewards intelligent owners who account for inflation each year.

    We do not allow any free agent keepers, as these are usually the result of a lucky signing (see: Bautista, Jose) rather than a shrewd move (such ad the owner who gave Posey a 3-yr $1 deal last year). With only one bench slot, it’s tough to roster future studs that don’t have instant impact.

  12. Kevin Wilson said...

    I wish RPs had more value in our league (I am commish of Scott’s league) and introduced a roster change proposition this offseason to do so, decreasing the max starts allowed/week (currently 14). It was vetoed though, as some thought it was unfair to change player value mid-stream in a keeper league, a fair point.

    From a fairness standpoint, Derek and Jonathan, how do you gauge the value of improving the league vs changing the value of players under contract?

  13. Jonathan Halket said...

    Hi Kevin,

    I’ve long disliked keeper leagues and that was one reason why – it is hard to change the rules in the offseason once you have keepers. This is an article I wrote years ago:

    I would suggest something gradual or eventual:

    Gradual: reduce new keepers (this year or next) to just 2 years and then next year, reduce them to 1 year and then get rid of them. by year 3, no one will have any long term keepers left. of course this is a long way to go.

    Eventual: Make a rule change that goes into effect 1 or 2 years down the line.  this will effect values for keepers today but less so than an immediate change.

    Of course, both of these take a long time.  another thing is to do something like reimburse effected owners but i’ll have to think a bit before i come to a good version of that…

  14. Brad Johnson said...

    Another gradual approach you can use is to change the rule in increments. Perhaps make it 13 starts per week next year, 12 the year after, and 10 thereafter. This gives everyone plenty of time to adjust.

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