Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Keeper Strategy

What is a keeper league?

The most common form of fantasy baseball is the yearly re-draft league. In these leagues, you will draft a completely new team every year and compete with your roster for that season in only. In keeper leagues, you keep some players from one season to the next. There are also dynasty leagues, which I define as any league in which you keep half, or more of your roster. Some dynasty leagues even keep the entire roster from one year to the next.

Dynasty and, to a lesser extent, keeper leagues take more dedicated managers and require those managers to sometimes think outside of the box. In leagues in which you keep 5 players or less, most owners will have a chance to compete every year. The more players owners are allowed to keep from year to year will directly impact the number of owners that have a shot at competing for a title in an individual season. However, just because you can't win this year doesn't mean that you can't make great strides to become more competitive in the near future.

Keeper League Strategies

1-Honestly assess your team- If you are in a league that just keeps a few players, don't take to many chances. Focus on keeping the most reliable players you can and in most cases leave the potential super-stars for others to drool over.

In leagues where you are required to keep more than a third of your roster, you need to know where you stand in relation to the rest of your league. If you lack a Franchise Bat or a Franchise Arm you are more than likely not ready to compete that season. If you view your team as a true contender, identify needs and draft reliability over potential. If you do not view your team as a contender, focus on young players with upside and consider dealing for youth.

2- Seek Age Balance- In keeper and dynasty formats young stars are extremely valuable. However, the most successful owners will have a balance between youth, veterans and players in their prime. While 2010 offered a rich rookie class, most seasons rookies will be very streaky and should not be relied upon for key roles on your team.

If you are playing to win this year, you will rarely want to count on a rookie at a key position without a solid veteran backup. While a guy like Dominic Brown will be very popular this season, his owners would be wise to carry a 4th outfielder that they are comfortable playing on a regular basis. Brown brings a lot of excitement and upside but a player like Nick Swisher or Carlos Lee offer far more reliability. At scarce positions, such as shortstop, second and third base, it can make more sense to gamble on a young star.

If you are working towards being more competitive in the future, take a few chances and be patient. In season, you can also identify young players who are hurting more competitive teams and go after them. Don't be afraid to over-pay for a young star, in season, if you feel that you can replenish it in the next season's draft.

3-Build around Scarce Positions- For 2011, there are several positions that will provide holes in a team's lineup. Shortstop, Thirdbase, Secondbase and Catcher all lack reliable and proven options. It is also important to assess the future of positions. Understand what positions stand to gain or lose strength in coming seasons. For example, third base and catcher are thin right now but they have descent futures with young stars and solid prospects. Second base has a descent future but it has never been a position of strength and likely won't change too much in the near future. Shortstop is a position that I see as a continuing problem in fantasy leagues. Since the end of the steroid era, shortstop has gotten slimmer almost every year. While there are some promising prospects coming along, most of them are better with their glove than their bats. That is not something that will help fantasy owners.

4-Muti position eligibility- While a player like Martin Prado lacks the kind of power most fantasy owners would want from a third basemen, his owners have the luxury of plugging him in at other positions as needed. This is a value in all fantasy formats. However, in keeper formats, it is important to understand what eligibility the player will have going forward. While Prado is pretty valuable in 2011, if he plays the entire season in left field, his value will most likely go down heading into next year.

5-Build around your bats-This kind of goes back to my discussion of position scarcity. Simply put, there are more quality arms in baseball than reliable bats. Even more importantly, bats tend to be far more reliable from year to year.

6- Keep Power over Speed- Reliable power bats are more valuable than base steelers in keeper formats. In almost all formats, I see guys like Rajai Davis and Michael Bourn borderline keepers at best and these are two of the top base steelers in the game the past two seasons. However, a guy like Andre Ethier or Mike Stanton are definite keepers in almost all formats. The reason for this is simple, stolen bases are a lot easier to find in a draft than homeruns.

7-Over-value Multi-Category Contributers- Simply put, the more players you have who contribute in 4 or 5 categories, the less you have to over-pay to fill the other categories.

8-Keep Value, not the Best Players- In leagues where you keep few players, focus on scarce positions as far as your keepers are concerned. Be willing to let go of higher ranked players at deep positions over lower ranked players at shallow positions. Obviously, I am not suggesting you keep Gordon Beckham over Justin Morneau but I would suggest keeping Jose Reyes over a guy like Mark Teixera in leagues where you only keep a handful of players. The odds of replacing Tex are simply much higher than they are for replacing Reyes.

9-Give Yourself a Clear Time Table- In keeper and dynasty formats, it is easy to get discouraged if you can't win that season. However, if you can set a time line of a year or two to become more competitive, it can keep you more involved. The best keeper formats need all owners to remain active, whether they can win or not. Whether you play roto or H2H, your activity level impacts the standings.

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