March 27, 2007

Those who play in both keeper and redraft leagues undoubtedly know there is a big difference in the approach at the draft or auction. While it is always imperative to have an idea how one expects players to perform, their value to your squad depends completely on the dynamics of the league. Today we will debunk a couple of myths with respect to how many fantasy players approach keeper leagues.

MYTH: I have the best keeper list because I have the most money to spend at the auction.

FACT: Sometimes it's not what you can buy but rather what you can't buy.

EXPLANATION: While I will share my thoughts about inflation in a keeper format, for the sake of this discussion, let us consider a keeper league with 30 percent inflation. I'm protecting $220 worth of talent for $200. You're protecting $100 worth of talent for $60. Which of us has the better keeper list?

Going "by the numbers," I have $60 to spend in an economy with 30 percent inflation. This means I'll be able to buy $46 more worth of players, making my total roster valued at $266. Similarly, you have $200, meaning you can purchase $154 more talent, resulting in a team worth $254. So even though you had more money to spend, and started with $40 built-in profit compared to my $20, if every player was bought at their inflation-adjusted value, my team is $12 better than yours on Opening Day.

Just because the league begins the auction with 30 percent inflation, that doesn't mean every player has to go for his exact inflated price. You could have played the market and managed money to garner more value, so maybe your keeper list is superior. But the primary point is you need to survey the situation, see who's available and understand the landscape before deciding on your keepers. If there will be plenty of stars available that are likely to be bought for even more than their adjusted price, then lay off and buy when the inflation is 15 percent or 20 percent.

Let's redo the above calculation assuming we both were skilled enough to fill out our rosters at a 20 percent inflated price. Instead of $46, I now buy $50 worth of talent, making my total $270. But check this out: Your patience is rewarded with $167 worth of talent, bringing your total to $267, knocking $9 off my previous advantage. The longer you wait while leaving no money on the table, the better team you can buy.

MYTH: In order to prepare for my keeper auction, all I need to do is calculate the inflation rate, adjust my values and use those for my bids.

FACT: While there is an accepted means of accounting for inflation, it is really nothing more than a mathematical exercise designed to balance the inflated economy. In reality it produces an impractical and misleading set of numbers.

EXPLANATION: To make sure we're all on the same page, here are the standard means the fantasy community suggests for treating inflation:

1. Total up the salary of all the keepers at their frozen price. 2. Total up the projected value of all the keepers 3. Determine how much money is in the league economy (number of teams x salary cap) 4. Determine how much talent is available by subtracting Step 2 from Step 3 5. Determine how much money is available to spend at the auction by subtracting Step 1 from Step 3 6. Determine inflation rate by dividing Step 5 by Step 4. 7. Multiply all projected values by Step 6 to get inflation adjusted values.

As suggested, the math works in that if every player is purchased for his exact inflated value, then no one leaves any money on the table. But what happens to the $1 and $2 players? They still go for $1 or 2. They realize no inflation. What happens is the top players inevitably sell for more than even their inflation-adjusted price tag. A $40 Albert Pujols is valued at $52 in the above-30 percent league. Trust me, someone will pay more than that -- probably the guy with the most money to spend, incorrectly feeling as though he can afford the best hitter in the game. This leads to a lowered inflation rate. Every purchase over the current inflation rate lowers the inflation, rendering that original 30 percent less and less meaningful. As suggested above, what was once a 30 percent inflation rate can be lowered substantially, even to the point where the market is deflated and you're buying players under value.

So what should you do? My suggestion is to concentrate less on buying players based on value and focus on what it will take to win, especially in leagues where there is some degree of dump trading to establish a foundation for the future. Really study your league's rosters and see what is being kept and by whom. Let's not kid here, in most leagues, you know the sharks and you know the minnows. See what the minnows are protecting and figure out the type of player they are likely to accept in a dump trade down the line. Don't worry as much about acquiring that stat at the draft, or at minimum don't overpay to do so, secure in the knowledge that you can supplement what you have in trade. Fill in your roster with players others will find attractive keepers. What you might lose initially will be made up for later with the upgraded roster.

In lieu of value, draft toward category targets that you set based on league history and what you are likely to acquire in trades. It is quite hard to win a keeper league while punting a category, as someone is bound to have a complete team. But don't fret if you exit the auction deficient in an area, so long as you have some level of comfort that you can fortify that spot via trade.

Work out some different combinations, especially with respect to taking the plunge on a high priced stud. Say you can pick up Pujols in the high 50s. Assume you then have to play the end game on a couple of extra players. Add up the stats, using reasonable end-gamers. Then guess what three players you can get for about $20 each and add up their stats. Which set do you prefer? Chances are in deep NL-only leagues, you favor the three $20 players, and in shallow mixed, the Pujols-plus-scrubs is better -- but let the numbers decide.

Finally, do not straddle the fence. Either you are playing to win this season or you are rebuilding. This starts from the draft. Don't draft Pedro Martinez in hopes of using him next year. But consider drafting him if you think there will be a market for him among rebuilding teams. Don't take chances on injury risks like Ben Sheets or Rich Harden, even if they come at a discount. If healthy, you are not going to want to deal them, as you won't likely get back sufficient value to cover their remaining production expected this season plus keeper value. The risk of injury outweighs the reward.

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