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March 22, 2013

Fantasy Freestyle

ROI: Keeper League Edition

by Mike Gianella

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In fantasy baseball, everyone’s burning question is “what does it take to win?” While a few might ask if it takes a certain kind of temperament or disposition to contend, most who ask this question are asking from the standpoint of how strong their roster should be to win a title.

In non-carryover leagues, this exercise is simple enough. You can set targets in every category in an attempt to finish with a certain number of points across the board. In a 12-team, 5x5 league, if 95 points is typically what it takes to win, your goal should be to finish third in every category. This would net you 100 points, and there’s a good chance—based on historical data—that this would put you atop the standings. As a general rule, I recommend not trying to dump categories in one-and-done leagues.: Since every category is available for purchase, unless there is a crazy draft or auction trend, you’re better off playing it straight.

Keeper leagues are a different story. While category-targeting is potentially important, it’s better to start off by examining how much value each team will have coming out of the auction.

Scenario A: Balanced Competitors

Team

Frozen Salary

 Frozen Value

$ to Spend

Auction
Value

Total $

Team 1

$125

$196

$135

$111

$307

Team 2

$113

$172

$147

$121

$293

Team 3

$143

$196

$117

$96

$292

Team 4

$112

$145

$148

$122

$267

Team 5

$117

$146

$143

$118

$264

Team 6

$74

$105

$186

$153

$258

Team 7

$126

$144

$134

$110

$254

Team 8

$100

$115

$160

$132

$247

Team 9

$85

$102

$175

$144

$246

Team 10

$155

$147

$105

$86

$233

Team 11

$83

$85

$177

$145

$230

Team 12

$68

$72

$192

$158

$230

Totals

$1,301

$1,625

$1,819

$1,496

$3,121

Scenario A represents a fairly typical projected-valuation spread in a keeper league. The frozen salary, frozen value, and $ to spend columns are all self-explanatory. The auction value column takes the projected league inflation and applies it to how much money each team has left to spend. Projected league inflation is based on the amount of money the league has to spend ($1,819) divided by how much projected talent remains ($1,495). In this case inflation is 21.7 percent. Another way to express this concept is that every dollar spent in the auction will return $0.822 worth of talent. The Total $ column is the combined amount a team is anticipated to own based on the value of players frozen and the value of players purchased at auction.

This scenario represents a league where there is a fair amount of competitive balance. The top three projected teams all look like they’re going to be very good, but if I were one of the teams in the middle of the pack I wouldn’t give up on the season just yet.

Scenario B: Juggernaut Alert

Team

Frozen Salary

 Frozen Value

$ to Spend

Auction
Value

Total $

Team 1

$128

$256

$132

$100

$356

Team 2

$187

$227

$73

$56

$283

Team 3

$73

$135

$187

$142

$277

Team 4

$88

$146

$172

$131

$277

Team 5

$59

$121

$201

$153

$274

Team 6

$92

$125

$168

$128

$253

Team 7

$104

$127

$156

$119

$246

Team 8

$82

$109

$178

$136

$245

Team 9

$129

$138

$131

$100

$238

Team 10

$122

$130

$138

$105

$235

Team 11

$154

$139

$106

$81

$220

Team 12

$155

$137

$105

$80

$217

Totals

$1,373

$1,790

$1,747

$1,331

$3,121

This scenario is the perfect storm, but it is based on a real life example of a league I once played in, so it can most definitely happen. Team 1 probably dumped at least two years in a row and also had tremendous luck in terms of not losing players to the “other” league or due to injury. Meanwhile, all of the other teams either didn’t do as well with their dump trades or didn’t have the same level of luck with the players they acquired. Teams 4 and 5 have a good deal of value, but incorrectly factored the inflation prior to the freeze date; the projected 31.4 percent inflation sucks a significant amount of value out of their teams.

So, why does this matter in terms of whether or not you’re going to play all 10 categories?

In Scenario A, you’re probably going to want to play for all 10 categories unless you’re one of the unfortunate teams at the bottom of the totem pole. It doesn’t make too much sense to start getting cute and throwing one or more categories overboard when the league is this tight.

In Scenario B, unless you’re the lucky ducky that’s Team 1, you will definitely want to examine your in-auction choices. Going to full inflation price—or higher—on a closer when you are $75 in the hole entering your auction doesn’t make a lot of sense. You might not want to come into your auction deciding to dump a category, but circumstances during your auction might make you reconsider your plan.

The ROI calculation is an important one for freeze leagues. Playing the “balanced roster/balanced category” game is a losing strategy in some seasons. Failing to figure out how weak or strong each team is before your auction is akin to bidding on a player without even hearing his name. If proper valuation is the most important factor in solid auction management, then figuring out how the league stacks up prior to your auction is a close second.

Mike Gianella is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Mike's other articles. You can contact Mike by clicking here

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