Who to keep among NL hitters?

We are getting close to the beginning of winter trading season in my high stakes league, so it is time to start dusting off the rosters and figuring out who should be kept and what my goals should be for next year. The fantasy offseason can be a forlorn time, barren and bare of interest. Fortunately, I can keep my mind occupied by ramping up my search for the much-rumored Evangeline Lilly and Yunjin Kim lingerie pillow fight video. If anyone ever finds it please let me know.

As a refresher here are contract notations and what they mean, and I previously discussed the “Z” rule here:

s2=can be kept next year.
s1=after a player is an s2 he becomes an s1 if he is not signed to a long term contract.
Ln=n is the number of years and L means he was signed to a long term contract.
X=a guy whose long term contract expired. He can be “Z”d and signed for one year at a cost of $10 added to his salary.

As an example, lets take Justin Morneau. He was auctioned for $2 five years ago. He was then a 2s3. Year two he is a 2s2. Then he was signed to a long term contract, so he became a 12L2. The next year he is a 12L1. After that he is a 12X, which means he either goes back into the pool or he becomes $22 after he is “Z”d.

I have a quite a few players that are marginal keepers. Generally, when I think I have a chance to win the title, every decision is made with the proviso that I will always err on the side of having more money in the auction. That means no extensions unless they are super valuable, and no “Z” players. I am not sure whether I will have a chance at repeating, so right now it is an open question. This is a fundamental tenet of fantasy roster management in tough auction leagues.

The reason is that against better owners you can be sure that in a given year there are two or three guys that have been planning to compete that year and are loaded for bear. If you are one of them, you will have a hot contest in the auction, and every dollar is important. As an example, some of the guys I got this year for less than $5 (the cost of a one year extension) were Sergio Mitre, Claudio Vargas and Ryan Church. Not great players in mixed leagues, but in deep leagues getting these guys at the end of the auction can easily make or break the season.

It is worth pointing out that one can easily make decisions on who to keep based upon whether the player is anticipated to be profitable or not. That is an easy calculation in most cases, and won’t lead one that far astray. But thinking only about this factor is far from optimal. Most times against better competition there are much more important factors. The players below all illustrate some of these other factors, and by no means is this an exclusive list. But merely considering whether a player will be “worth it” next year is the path to fourth place against better fantasy players in deep keeper leagues.

Anyway here are my marginal keepers:

Miguel Montero 5s2-Despite a terrible season that was only worth $1 or $2 this is actually a tough decision. If he is an every day starter he will be worth $5 as long as he holds the job. This is because he has some pop and if he hits enough to be an every day player then he could be a $10 player. We have a relatively tough at-bat minimum, and having an every day catcher in two positions can be a big head start.

Another factor is Chris Snyder of course, and the fact that if I throw Montero back into the auction he will probably not go for too much more than $5. There is a good chance I can get him back at a lower cost. So it really comes down to evaluating the market and what happens in March. On a strict value calculation he should be an easy toss.

I should point out that even if he went for more than $5 in the auction he may still be worth throwing back. One might think that if I liked him at $5 and he goes for $7 I should have kept him, saving $2. But the trade off of extra money may be worth an extra year without having to give him a long term contract. I might be better off if I am rebuilding to have a player like this for three years at $7 than 2 years at $5. If I keep him he is a 5s2 which means that I must make a contract decision this year. If I get him in the auction he is an s3 which means I have an extra year to decide. That can easily be worth $2.

Todd Helton 22s2-Another very close one, he produced $22 in value this year. However, most of it was driven by batting average, which was powered by a 35% hit rate. He still has a great batting eye and hits lots of line drives. This decision will depend on what other owners do and who they keep. If the first base crop is deep then Helton will likely go back. If it is shallow then he might be kept. This is probably the toughest decision of all since I am averse to spending $30 on first basemen generally and I often end up with players like Helton.

What happens generally in auctions with first basemen is that the great ones are all kept, the marginal ones are all tossed and what you have to bid on are more risky players. This usually means that these guys are in the low $20s value wise. So it is rare that I will spend $30 on a first basemen since not only are there usually not many that are worth it there is an opportunity cost associated with them. I usually end up with the Heltons and Adam LaRoches, and not the Pujolses, unless I am keeping them like I did with Justin Morneau.

I will never be 100% sure what to do here since I will have to review everyone’s roster and try to divine what they will do with their first basemen. But right now it looks like it will be the typical situation described above. There will be no great NL first baseman in the auction.

Jimmy Rollins 32s2-Rollins was a great player and I probably would not have won the league without him. His peripherals such as contact rate, hit rate, line drive and fly ball rates all say his power is sustainable, which means he could be a $40 player again. My decision here is about whether I think I can win again or not. If I cannot then I may be better off trading him. Taking $32 out of my budget for a player can be a big problem for a rebuilding team. A rebuilding team should almost never keep a guy like this. He should be traded before final pre-auction rosters are due and if he is on the roster of a rebuilding team then it has to be considered a planning failure.

On the other hand one fact in favor of keeping him is that he will undoubtedly go for at least $32 if he is back in the auction.

Ryan Zimmerman 19s2-Two years ago when I paid $15 for Jeremy Hermida and $19 for Zimmerman my goal was that one of them would be a $30 player in 2007 leading me to a championship. As it turned out neither was even profitable. Though I love Zimmerman he only produced about $17 this year. His disappointing season in the BA and OBP departments appears to be fully justified, with a 30% hit rate, and a 9% walk rate.

Of course, he is just 23 and has two full years of above average major league success under his belt. This implies that he could be a big bargain next year if he blossoms. If I keep him it will be for two reasons. I will be gambling on a big breakout season and, since he will be an everyday young player, there is at least a reasonable chance that he will at least improve a bit and perhaps turn a marginal profit even if he doesn’t turn into a $30 player.

Dave Roberts 15s2-How badly do I need 30 steals? That is always the pertinent question with Roberts. His production aside from the steals is essentially non-existent. The issue here is that if Roberts has any leg injuries he is worthless and if he doesn’t he is still only a marginal keeper. He is 35 years old and 2007 represented a big drop off in steals from 2006.

Calculating an expected value suggests that I should toss him back. Let’s assume there is a 25% chance of a leg injury or other circumstances that render him essentially worthless (we will call it a $5 season). The other 75% of the time I turn a small profit of $2. So 25% of the time I lose 10, and the other 75%of the time I gain $2.

Overall then, I expect to be in the negative by keeping him. Taking 100 seasons, 25% of the time I lose 10 (-250) and the other 75% I gain 2 (+150). So this is a -100 over 100 seasons, or a $1 loss.

But, that isn’t all that matters. If I keep him and others value him more then I may be able to trade him to someone who wants to gamble that he will have one last 40 steal season. So then I may gain more than that marginal profit in 75% of the cases if I can trade him some percentage of the time. Since the above calculation renders an expected loss of $1 it is not hard to envision scenarios where I may be able to turn that $1 loss into a solid profit. For example, if I can trade him for a player that will produce a profit of $5 half of the times that I keep him then I completely wipe out the expected loss, and anything better than that is a victory.

Overall these are all tough cases. The only keepers I have for sure on offense are Garrett Atkins (who I will Z and make $16), Michael Bourn 7s2 (I am counting on him being a starter after his trade), Rickie Weeks 7L1 and Kelly Johnson 10s2. That by itself may be a good argument for thinking I can’t win, though I would have a ton of money to spend in the auction.

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