Keeper League Strategy: Unique Scenario and Strategy

All keeper leagues have their own unique rules. Over the next few weeks, I will look over a few different formats to show some ways to take advantage of different systems. Here are the rules for one type of league. They are close to the rules for a couple of leagues I am in:

Each team is allowed up to a certain number of keepers (I will use 9 as an example). For each keeper, the highest round draft pick will be lost. For example, if you keep 6 players, you will not draft until the 7th round, losing picks in rounds 1 to 6. A player can be kept forever.

Leagues like this one have usually been around for a while, so some of the rules seem outdated. They are not exactly “fair”, but they are an available option and one of the easiest to set up.

The rules allow a person to gain an nice advantage if they are willing to do some work. Here are some off season hints.

First and foremost, keep a full roster of players. Teams are looking for players to improve and trade with, even during the off season. The smaller the waiver wire market, the better. I have seen teams go down to their final set of keepers and release everyone else. Don’t give teams a chance to improve themselves ahead of the draft. Limit their options.

With only 9 keepers, good teams look to move any decent players they have beyond their first 9 players to teams with weaker over all rosters. Each team is ideally looking to get the 9 best players they can and no more. Many trades happen where a good team picks up a marginally better player for two (or more) players just below them in talent. The owner was going to lose one of the players to the draft pool, so they just offered them up in trade. The key is to move early on less talented teams to get them to bite on trades before their most talented players are gone.

The biggest advantage is to compare your roster to other teams and rank each player on every team as if you were going to draft them. All the players not kept go into the draft pool. They may release players into the draft that you covet more than they do. This is great, but you can’t count on them making mistakes.

Compare each of the players in each round. Start with the players you would want in round 1. How does your round 1 player stack up? Is he in the middle or high end of the pack? If so, he should be kept and repeat this procedure for the next round.

If you want almost every player more than yours, look at the next round. Are there others you covet? If so it is time to keep no players for the draft. If someone else drops that many players also, you can pick up a player you covet more than the players you currently control. If no one else releases that many keepers, you either pick up your top ranked player or pick one up from the draft pool.

You can cut down your number of keepers again by looking at the draft pool. Are there any players in this list that you would want instead of any of your current keepers? If so, drop all those keepers and plan on drafting those players. Say you decided to keep 6 players after looking at each team’s possible keepers. Then you noticed that you would prefer 2 players in the draft pool more than a couple players already on your team. You should go ahead and let go of 2 more players and only keep 4 players.

This method of setting your keepers is a very conservative approach. I have found that some owners value players completely differently and the draft pool is usually a little better than predicted. Also, I find that owners keep way too many players in this type of keeper league.

This is just one example of how to evaluate keepers. Each league has its own unique set up and these hints won’t apply. The key, for me, is to find any advantage and exploit it until others begin to catch on.




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Jeff writes for FanGraphs, The Hardball Times and Royals Review, as well as his own website, Baseball Heat Maps with his brother Darrell. In tandem with Bill Petti, he won the 2013 SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.


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