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A couple weeks ago, a discussion arose in the comments section of Paul Singman’s Keeper Reaper article about the relative value of keepers in leagues that have a salary system. Given the polarity of the responses, I thought this deserved a thorough look in an article of its own. To catch you up, here’s how reader abskippers began the discussion:

I think I made this criticism last year, and intend it to be a constructive one, but the Keeper Reaper series would be much more helpful if it considered potential keepers in terms of dollar value. This segment essentially treats Cespedes and Curtis Granderson as keepers of equivalent value, but a lot of owners could be keeping Cespedes in the single digits, and Granderson in the $30's. And Cespedes in the single digits is probably a no-brainer in any league, but there are plenty of more marginal decisions out there. What do you do with a $34 Verlander vs. a $5 Chris Sale? Or a $45 Miguel Cabrera vs. a $4 Adam Dunn? I would just suggest including a range of dollar values at which the player makes a good keeper and associated discussion in addition to the shallow/deep format.

The question here essentially boils down to this: Is it better to lock in a superstar at his going market rate, or is it better to lock in a lesser player at a below-market price? If you ask grandslam28 it’s, “Clearly Sale at $5. Probably Dunn at $4.” DarinRuf18, though, says, “I’m the opposite. I think it’s clearly Verlander and Miggy. You can’t beat having the #1 pitcher and the #1/2/3 hitter on the same fantasy team.” So that leaves us with one reader firmly planted on each side of the debate with another unsure in the middle.

I’m actually rather surprised to see such diverging opinions on this issue. For me, it’s very clear that you take the player who is the best value, regardless of absolute talent level. I can certainly see how it can be tempting to automatically start next season with a couple of the best players already on your roster, but if your goal is to actually win the league, this is a mistake.

The first thing we must understand is that, to win a fantasy league, it is completely and utterly unnecessary to own the best player in the league. In fact, it’s unnecessary to own any top-tier player. In the vast majority of leagues, I’d go as far as to say that owning such a player is a hindrance. Not in the absolute sense, of course, but in a relative sense. I’m talking about opportunity cost. If there is a blonde and a brunette at the bar, unless I’ve got serious skills, taking the blonde home is going to preclude me from taking the brunette home, and vice-versa. The opportunity cost of selecting the blonde is not getting the brunette. The opportunity cost of keeping Verlander is not keeping Sale.

By spending $30-40 dollars on an elite player, it’s removing $30-40 dollars from my available resources to spend on other players.

Player value is relative, and the primary goal of any draft should be to spend your money as efficiently as possible, to acquire as much value as possible. While there are strategic and categorical concerns to take into account, all else equal, the drafter that gets $400 worth of value for his $260 auction dollars is going to finish higher than the drafter that only gets $300 worth of value. By keeping Verlander for $34, you’re not gaining any value. You’re paying $34 for $34 worth of stats. It feels good to have a player of his caliber on your team, but the trickle-down effect on the rest of your roster will have serious consequences. It would be far better to spend $17 each on two pitchers worth $22. You won’t have the name value of Verlander, but you’ll have gotten $44 of value for the $34 you spent.

In Tout Wars and LABR last year, I drafted just one elite player each (Justin Upton for $38 in Tout and David Wright for $30 in LABR), instead focusing on finding values like Ryan Ludwick and Jon Jay for $7 in the middle rounds. In a non-expert league, I’d likely forgo those Upton and Wright buys. Experts are super savvy and bargains are hard to come by, so I have to spend my money somewhere, but in a normal league where bargains are easier to find, I’d ignore all of the top players and build a super mid-range-heavy roster. It won’t be a sexy roster, but it’ll be an effective one. (For what it’s worth, I finished in the money in both Tout and LABR this year).

In keeper terms, the opportunity cost relates to the value of the keeper slot. You may only get to keep a few players, so you need to use those spots to acquire as much free, pre-auction value as possible. If you really want a top pitcher, maybe even Verlander himself, you can always pay the sticker price during the auction without letting go of what might be $15 or $20 of free value from Sale.

Now you see why it might be difficult for Keeper Reaper to cater to auction leagues, as abskippers suggests. Value is simply too relative to 1) your other keeper options, and 2) the price of the player. Basically, your keeper decision in an auction league should boil down to how big of a value you’re getting relative to your other options. It’s impossible to pick a definitive point (or at least one that isn’t obvious to everyone) where, yes, you keep him here, but no, you don’t keep him here. It’s more of a continuum. If you think Sale will be worth $20 next year, it’s terrific to keep him for $5, but it’s also great to keep him for $10. It’s also worth it to keep him for $15 or, depending on your other keepers, maybe even for $17 or $18. It’s not worth it to keep him for $30, even if you have no other options. For Keeper Reaper, the best we could offer would be a break-even point, but those can vary wildly from league to league depending on setup.

Thank you for reading

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One issue in auction keeper leagues that you fail to mention is inflation (extra money teams have available because of low priced keepers), which can mean that the price at the auction is 20–30 percent higher. This makes it even harder for keeper articles to discuss auction leagues, because this type of inflation is league specific and typically changes from year to year.
That's a good point. Derek mentions getting $34 worth of stats for $34 (for Verlander as a keeper). However, if available in the draft day auction, inflation may make him a $45 purchase. In this scenario, there might be advantages in keeping a guy like Verlander. All this goes in the area of knowing your league-mates and their tendencies (i.e. how much will they overpay).

All things being equal, I wholeheartedly agree with the premise of keeping low-cost players. In most cases, they tend to be younger and have even more upside. If they aren't younger (i.e. Dunn), it is rather unlikely that their production the next season will be below their keeper price. Let your league-mates overspend for the "name" players, leaving you with the ability to grab the good mid-tier guys. Of course, this assumes that your other league-mates aren't attempting to execute the same strategy. If they are, then you could see serious inflation in the mid-tier guys, with modest price drops in the upper-tier guys.

Again....the key here is knowing your league.

But with that same inflation Sale goes for $25+, so the extra money You save on Sale offsets the pay increase you have to pay for Verlander.
A question I have about inflation is what happens when you add two new teams to a league. I joined a league last year that only had ten teams. This coming year it is either gonna be 11 or, i hope, 12. Does adding that extra money into the draft push up the value of all players? the top, middle, low players? I would think it boosts everyone, but is there a good way to have an idea of by how much? I would think each league and set of owners is too unique to know for certain what the prices would jump, so i was looking for a rough idea of what to expect.
I've been in a 12-team auction league for 10 years. We started with 10 teams and added one team in two consecutive years. I found the inflation hit the elite players - especially the elite pitchers - the hardest.
And the effect of inflation has been permanent. Clayton Kershaw is a free agent this draft (we have salaries and contracts). He will go for over $40 easily, which I find insane to pay. I will sit back and look at other free agents like Mat Latos and Jordan Zimmermann.
My thing against Dunn is that there really isn't too much value in him at $4. He was only worth $11 last year and the power could easily dip again. While his perceived value may be higher bc of his homers he really isn't worth all that much with the low average and lack of steals and could very well hurt your team & that was why my position on a decently priced Miggy, especially in keeper leagues, could be a better keeper. But you would be able to trade Dunn for a bunch to those power gobblers out.

Only problem with Sale is he might get hurt, but the upside is huge & he won't hurt you.
Derek, thank you for the column. I can now appreciate why it would be difficult for BP to incorporate an auction pricing discussion into the keeper articles without writing a personalized article for every BP fantasy reader.

The question I posed about Verlander/Sale/etc drew all the attention in the subsequent comments, but I intended it as a rhetorical one. Those players weren't even on my team - I was just trying to come up with some quick examples. I do go for value every time when it's as obvious as Sale.

The trickier question I should have focused on is evaluating those players who could be kept for $3-4 below market as opposed to the more obvious ones who might be $10-20 under market, but that involves degrees of confidence in the projection used and the potential upside of the player or possibility of crashing or getting hurt, all of which would make for an even harder column to write, so I appreciate the challenge for the columnist.

Thank you for spending a column addressing this though. I thought it was very helpful.
The better players may well be the right answer if your team has a lot of keepers and because of that a lot of inflation. The goal isn't to get the most surplus value but the most total value.

I.e., if player A is worth $30 and priced at $20 then his surplus value is $10 but his total value is $30.

The problem with just tracking surplus value is eventually you either run out of players to buy (other teams have them all, or your roster is full) and you have extra money. A team that spends $160 to get $350 worth of players is not in a better position than a team that spends $260 to get $400 worth of players, when the first team has $100 left over and only $1 players are left.

And if there are a lot of keepers and a lot of inflation then there may only be a couple of pitchers that are worth more than $5 (per-inflation) and many teams with ~$50 to spend on starting pitchers which may mean than any really good pitcher is going to go for a lot (like $50 or more).

So you have to worry about both things.
Does anyone know of a good place to post an invitation to join a league, like a "Rotisserie Want Ads" web site? We had a couple of teams drop out of our league and I'd like to replace them, but so far I haven't gotten any response from a listing I put on Craigslist.
I haven't frequented the fantasy baseball cafe message board recently, but when I was a regular there, they had an active forum for posting league openings.
Really good article, made me take a look at my team again. 9 team AL/NL only, 10 keepers and rosters of 20. We can trade Salary Dollars during the off-season, which brings an additional level of complexity to the "value" decision.