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July 17, 2014

Fantasy Freestyle

Midseason Keeper League FAAB Strategy

by Jeff Quinton

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I was originally going to write this article on the impact of the winner’s curse on FAAB bidding, but in Google-checking my ideas before beginning to write them up, I came across this Erik Siegrist article. Am I the biggest fan of the name Eric(k) ending with a K? No. Is the article excellent and a must-read for those in keeper leagues? Absolutely. Does the article’s excellence make me feel self-conscious as a fantasy baseball writer? Yup (he pretty much wrote the article I wanted to write and wrote it better than I imagined I would). Anyhow, go read it.

The part I wish to expand on is midseason strategy. Come midseason, the FAAB market in keeper leagues tends to be markedly different than the market in the beginning of the season. Players who can help teams in the hunt almost always go above “keeper” value, leaving only players who will be of seemingly no use this year to potentially go at value or at a bargain. We have seen before that at this time of the year, when the goals of owners in keeper leagues diverge, discussion of strategy is important. Consequently, we will briefly discuss the winner’s curse and how that should impact the decision-making of owners depending on their competitive position.

Just in case you chose not to read Siegrist’s article, I will quickly introduce the winner’s curse. The winner’s curse is a phenomenon in which the highest bidder (winner) tends to overpay. Because crowd-sourced valuations tend to be more accurate than single-sourced valuations, the highest valuation in a set of valuations will tend to overvalue the subject asset. In fantasy baseball, this obviously means that the winning bidder will tend to overpay. Siegrist astutely points out that the extent of the impact of the winner’s curse is dependent on the number of teams bidding on a player. He writes,

“Winner’s curse has a stronger impact when more people are involved in the auction. The larger the pool of bidders, the more likely it is that the winning outlier bid is going to overshoot the true value of the player being bought, and by a wider margin. Conversely, the fewer people in on the bidding, the better the odds that you actually get a bargain, or at least acquire the player at or about his true value.”

The way in which we behave regarding mid-season FAAB bidding comes down to divergent goals. If we are trying to improve in the standings, then getting appropriate value per keeper price is not as important as getting the most production possible. If we are trying to improve our chances of winning next year, then the opposite is true. Most leagues already follow this phenomenon. By this time in the season (and probably even a month earlier) any useful or potentially useful player goes above keeper value as the teams competing are looking to improve their squad for this year only and are thus willing to pay higher prices. This phenomenon is compounded in fantasy baseball because winning a player not only improves your team; it also disallows (to an extent) other owners from improving their teams. We know who these players are: the productive player just traded from one league to another (Jeff Samardzjja, Jason Hammel), the un-owned recently promoted closer (Joe Smith), the un-owned called-up minor leaguer (Tommy La Stella, Jimmy Nelson). Again, this is what teams in the hunt should be doing, determining bid amounts through a this-season-production perspective rather than a keeper perspective. One other factor that these teams should be weighing is opportunity cost. Yes, Robbie Ray, while in the majors, is going to be an upgrade over Edward Mujica, especially when chasing strikeouts and wins. However, if paying for Ray cost you the opportunity to acquire Samardzjja or Hammel, then you are now most likely kicking yourself. To conclude, when bidding while looking to improve in the standing: (i) bid according to production rather than keeper values and (ii) consider opportunity cost.

That said, what are the rebuilding teams supposed to do? Rebuilding teams are going to want to target players that either (i) possess trade value or (ii) will have few bidders and thus have a chance of being a keeper the following year. Targeting players that possess trade value is great in theory, but is very league rule dependent. In a couple of the keeper leagues I play in, an owner cannot trade or cut a player acquired for $25+. Consequently, most players worth trading go for $25 or more at this time of the year in FAAB (there is a greater opportunity to grab players for the purposes of trading in the beginning of the season, before owners have truly set their sights on the finish line). If your keeper league does not include such a rule, then by all means grab players to trade if you can. The reason this advice applies to future minded teams and not this-season minded teams is because this-season minded teams will rarely have anyone to trade overpriced players to; future minded teams will not be interested in non-keepers (due to price) and they will have difficulty making trades with their direct competitors. Similarly, a future minded team will be able to trade such players to teams that are going for it.

The second group of players to target for rebuilding teams is the most practical, that being players that have a chance of being a keeper the following year. Assuming a non-shallow league, these players generally can be described as follows: they have played terribly this year. These are players that good teams cannot touch because they are likely to give them little in counting stats and to hurt them in ratios and averages. This immediately lowers the number of bidders, which lowers the impact of the winner’s curse. Worthwhile question: why do we want to pick up players who have played terribly? Just because a player has been terrible, does not mean he will continue to be terrible going forward. In deep leagues, all a player needs to build some trade value is a little bit of playing time, a couple “deep sleeper” predictions, and a couple of good weeks in spring training. Example time:

In my NL-only keeper league, Jace Peterson was available after his first call-up in June. He had not yet been verifiably terrible; thus, there were a handful of bids on him and he was won for an expensive $14. After being terrible, Peterson was released by the winning bidder (winner’s curse). Peterson was again available in the player pool after his call up last Saturday, but because he was terrible only two teams bid on him and he was won for a cool $6 ($1 greater than our $5 minimum bid).

Peterson is not a great player and will probably not hold any fantasy value in the future, but that is exactly why he is cheap. There is some small chance that he starts somewhere in the middle infield for the Padres next season and that makes him more valuable than rostering an untradeable asset such as a $10 Mark Ellis. If you can acquire a portfolio of these players throughout your rebuild, then you increase your chances of finding yourself some value that would not have come from having untradeable, over-priced players on your roster. Therefore, look for opportunities where the FAAB bids will be limited and go get yourself some potential future value.

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

Related Content:  Fantasy,  Keeper Leagues,  FAAB

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