Designing the perfect keeper league

In trying to set up the first keeper league I’ve ever been a part of, I’m a little daunted by the challenges it presents. I’ve tried to stick to the most common settings out there (standard BA, R, HR, RBI, SB, W, SV, K, ERA, WHIP, $260 per team) to help increase my chances of being able to blatantly rip off someone else’s rule set. But I’ve still come up empty so far.

In my eyes, the perfect keeper league must do the following:

  1. Allow managers to get an advantage if they select players who outperform the consensus expectations
  2. Ensure such an advantage is small enough that it isn’t a deterrent to keeping other managers interested in competing in the future

That’s it. Two constraints—should be easy, right? If only it were.

I’ve heard a number of ideas so far. One is that each manager can keep up to X players, and those players constitute his or her first X picks in next year’s draft. If all but one manager keep at least two players, that final manager will have the only first round pick and the only second round pick, from which he can take any available player. The problem here is that if your 2008 draft contains a poor first round pick, you’ll have a hard time keeping anyone else because your first player kept counts as your first round pick in 2009.

If you grabbed Prince Fielder in the first round of 2008 and Lance Berkman in the second round, and wanted to keep only Berkman in 2009, he’d occupy your first round slot. He’s not a bargain there at all—actually a poor choice—but if you could keep him as a second rounder, you probably would. For this reason, I think Keeper Rule No. 1 is violated by this rule set, and therefore I don’t see it as optimal.

Another classic keeper rule is that each manager can keep players for the next season’s draft by using their draft pick one round sooner than they were picked in the current year. So if you picked Manny Ramirez in the fourth round in 2008, you could keep him as your third round pick in 2009. Might not be a bad idea, if you think he will be properly motivated this year. The problem, however, is that for truly low-round prospects that are gambled on, the payoff can potentially violate Keeper Rule No. 2.

In 2006, I drafted Jonathan Papelbon in the 14th round—a reasonable gamble, as he had very good call-up stats but it was uncertain whether he’d be the closer or a fourth or fifth starter. Even if it was a keeper league that forced me to draft him two spots sooner each successive year, he’d have been a 12th rounder in 2007, and 10th rounder in 2008, and probably would continue to be a bargain through at least the 2010 season. That, I believe, is a little too much value gained on an errant 14th round pick one season, and the advantage gained from that one fortunate draft pick would probably seem excessive to most.

What about auction drafts? Typical auctions allow for a budget of $260 to be spent on 26 players, with a minimum of $1 to purchase a player. One keeper rule I’ve heard is that the price to keep a player the following year is simply what you paid this year plus some fixed amount (such as $5). Much like the rule above, this ensures you won’t get to keep a bargain forever. However, given the range of typical player values ($1 to about $50), it can take many years for one lucky pick to stop giving outlandish benefits to its manager. Papelbon may have cost $4 in 2006, thus making him a $9 steal in 2007, a $14 robbery in 2008, and so forth. This rule, like the one above, seems to me to violate Keeper Rule No. 2.

One could also auction each player each year, with the previous season’s owner getting the right of final purchase. If you owned Alex Rodriguez in 2008, he would be up for auction amongst the other players in your league for 2009. Whenever that auction found a winning bid, you as the current owner would have the right to match that price to keep him. If you decide to do so, there is no further bidding; your price has been set by the “market” of other managers. If you decline, the highest bidder gets him.

In this rule set, I find it hard to imagine too many players would be kept, because an efficient market (the other players in the league) would typically be willing to pay a player’s expected value each successive year. Or perhaps more, since in an auction the winner typically overpays for the good for sale; the current owner would have no reason to ever keep someone. This would violate Keeper Rule No. 1— benefit would be afforded to those making good decisions in the past.

However, one could add a discount to solve this. Imagine the current owner got to keep a player at 15 percent less than the other managers’ final bid price. In such a case, it would almost universally be in the interest of the current owner to keep his player. Other ramifications would follow, however: managers could theoretically overbid for a player by 10 percent, knowing that once 15 percent is knocked off of the final value, the current owner is still getting a slightly good deal and would benefit from picking up the player at ever so slightly below his actual value. For this reason, I believe this rule set still violates Keeper Rule No. 1, in that it actually does not afford enough advantage to managers making good decisions.

Finally, we come to the actual league rule I’ve found to best mix the interests of Keeper Rule No. 1 and Keeper Rule No. 2. It’s predicated upon an auction format with standardized categories for which many projections and price guides exist. The league decides on a publicly-available price guide, from which player values are derived. Each season, managers can keep as many players as they wish, with their next season’s price being equal to the average of each season’s price guide value during which he or she owned the player.

For players whose value doesn’t change much over time—Albert Pujols for example—no advantage is derived by keeping him. He typically costs around $40, he’s typically worth around $40, and his price guide price is typically around $40. For prospects, I believe the system still works. If you picked up Papelbon for $4 (his price guide value) in 2006, his price guide value before the 2007 season would reflect his new value as an elite closer with one season of great numbers – say, $20. Your price to keep him for 2007 would be ($4 + $20) / 2 = $12. When he put up tremendous numbers in 2007 once more, he would likely have been valued around $24 going into the 2008 season. Your price to keep him then would be ($4 + $20 + $24) / 3 = $16.

There’s still a very large benefit to finding great players who are underrated for a season—as you can see, in 2008 Papelbon was likely a $20+ player who could be kept for $16—but he is one of the stronger examples of coming out of nowhere one season to become an elite player. And, as opposed to the system in which price goes up by a fixed amount each season, this system more quickly aligns a player’s cost to his true value.

The point of this article was to present some ideas about how to construct the “perfect” keeper league. I’d love to hear some feedback about what you’ve seen or heard of that might work better than any of these—specifically if they’re better than the final rule set, because that’s what I’m leaning towards at the moment.

MLB’s Diversity Fellowship Is a Step in the Right Direction
It is not a perfect program, but it certainly counts as progress.

Print This Post
Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Mike Ketchen
Guest
Mike Ketchen
Hey Mike, I play in a keeper league with a pretty sweet set up and we use CBS software. It is a deep league (14T, 2 7t divisions) that runs as follows. In year one we had an auction with a starting salary of $300. The scoring cats were BA,HR,R,SB,BI and W, WHIP, K,ERA,S&Hlds;combined (we emailed cbs and they were able to make them combined for us) We field 9 hitters and 5Sp and 4Rp. Now what makes the league great is the keeper concept. Rather then keep a set number of players. You can keep up to $150 in… Read more »
Max Thand
Guest
Max Thand
I have played in an auction keeper league for many years, and I believe out keeper system does not violate either of your two rules.  Our system works like this… 1.  Any player whom you draft for $10 or less, and keep on your roster for the whole season, is eligible to be kept next year at the same price. 2.  You can only keep a player for one year after you original draft him. 3.  you can keep a maximum of 3 players in any year. We have found that this system allows managers to reap the benefits of… Read more »
Ryan
Guest
Ryan
I’m a member of a long term keeper league and I think our rules work out very well. Our categories are non-standard but the rules should apply well to all leagues. When use an auction, $260 budget, min $1 per player. When you draft a player, you are signing them to a 2 year contract, meaning you can keep them this year and next year for the same price. You can also drop them between years at will. After the expiration of that contract, you can either sign them to a third “option” year at the same price, after which… Read more »
Jeff
Guest
Jeff

Our system works well. $260 budget. You can keep up to $100 worth of players, and you lose that money at the auction.

A player can be kept his second year for the same salary, though anyone below $5 is bumped up to $5.

In third year, you can either sign the player for one more year at salary +$5, or 3 more years with a $5 bump each year. If you go long term, you can’t cut the player without a penalty—namely, you lose half of his current salary at the next auction.

Adam
Guest
Adam
I am in a standard keeper league that uses an idea similar to your “average of auction guide” idea.  In our first year of owning a player, he can be kept at a round equal to where he was picked the year before.  In subsequent years, he can be kept at the round equal to the average of where he was kept the year before and the current round that he is being taken in standard drafts. If Ryan Braun was taken in the 15th round in 2007, he can be kept in the 15th round in 2008.  If, on… Read more »
Jon
Guest
Jon
I don’t see what’s wrong with “normal” rules.  If I have a great keeper list, why shouldn’t I be able to keep my players. Believe me, if you have a good league with competitive owners, the strength of one team’s keeper list is NOT enough to deter other teams from competing. Plus, it is extremely rare that one team is that strong (I can only think of one case, in my 12 years in my current league, and that team finished in 3rd place!  You never know what will happen.)  Usually there will be at least 3-5 “strong” teams going… Read more »
Xeifrank
Guest
Xeifrank
I invented the keeper system for slotting keepers into the position in the draft that they were originally drafted in.  We did this because we wanted to use Yahoo fantasy baseball and they didn’t have an option at that time for keeper leagues and we were located all over the US and couldn’t conveniently get together at one time online to do an auction draft.  In our keeper system that is now in it’s 5th year, if you draft a player in the 4th round, if you keep him the next year he gets slotted as your 4th round pick. … Read more »
mymrbig
Guest
mymrbig
I’m in 2 keeper leagues. In the auction league, you can keep up to 5 players a year and everyone’s price increases $5 per year.  This does violate rule #2 to some degree (I got Prince Fielder and Tim Lincecum for $1 in a few years do to some quirks in our league rules).  But the league is fairly competitive and everyone knows how beneficial it is to score cheap players (which the rule quirk allows to happen quite a bit). In the draft league, each player is assigned a point value based on the round he is drafted (1st… Read more »
Millsy
Guest
Millsy
I will have to warn you that keeper leagues with long-term contracts are much more complicated than at first glance. I am currently in a keeper league, the deepest and most complicated of any I’ve heard of (minor league drafts, auction, $300 cap, with 30 man rosters, 8 by 8 Head to Head 2 week Roto matchups, 160 ‘game’ seasons, and 20 teams…yes…20 teams, caps and floors on pitching and games,…e also have compensation picks, tradeable debt, and half-life contract value if contracts are terminated…delving into arbitration). It’s the 4th year now and we’re still pounding out rules.  Every year… Read more »
Millsy
Guest
Millsy
Our structure is as follows (remember that the Delmon Young example was constructed a few years ago, so the word ‘foolish’ is a little harsh): Salaries A player who has been under contract at the same salary during the season and whose service has been uninterrupted (that is, he has not been waived or released, although he may have been traded) must, prior to the announcing of keepers in the following season, be released; signed at the same salary for his option year; or signed to a guaranteed long-term contract. If released, the player returns to the free agent pool… Read more »
cephyn
Guest
cephyn

I am in a draft league. We must keep 4 players – no more, no less. We also have a rule that the sum of “kept years” per player shall not exceed 12. Most teams churn about 2 players per year anyway, so it’s not a huge problem. But it gets guys back into the draft from time to time.

Doug French
Guest
Doug French

We have a keeper league operating through an auction format.

Each player has a dollar value that he was drafted at (MLB undrafted players come in at $10 default) and a “year” assigned. If it is the player’s “first year” he can be kept; second year players cannot be kept…so everyone goes through the draft at least every other year.

Owners can only keep up to 10 first year players and their value comes off the $260 you start with in the auction. All unkept players go back in to the undrafted player pool if they are not drafted.

rob
Guest
rob

I am in a 14 team, 6 keeper league.  Each team ended the season with 28-30 players (2 DL slots).  Based on Yahoo’s initial season rankings, each team selects one player of their top five ranked, one player who is ranked 6-10, etc.  In this setup, lots of high end talent hits the draft table, but each team has a decent foundation to build on.

Terminator
Guest
Terminator
My keeper league uses the same categories and $260 budget. We draft 23 guys using an auction and then snake draft 7 additional guys (who all cost $0). We’re allowed to keep up to 4 players who were drafted plus at their original prices + $1,4,7,10 (respectively). Players picked up off waivers during the season aren’t eligible to be kept at all and go back into the draft pool along with all non-kept players. Players who are drafted and then dropped during the season aren’t eligible to be kept at any price. Players can be on a roster for a… Read more »
Matt
Guest
Matt
This is the article (and more so, the comments) I’ve always hoped to see on here.  Great to see some other ideas of what people are doing with keeper leagues and what works or doesn’t work. Our keeper league is 10-Team Mixed (8×7) with 34-man rosters and a $500 salary cap.  All the players were initially auctioned, but from the 2nd year forward, we have both an auction (to sign “free agents”) and a draft to fill out the rest of the rosters. Each team signed 10 players (a diverse mix of veteran/prospect, expensive/cheap from team to team) to multi-year… Read more »
Mike Lerra
Guest
Mike Lerra
This is tremendous, I’m constantly impressed by the folks that stop by to read our articles and throw some feedback on them as well. I like the idea for Keeper Rule #3 – the auction or draft should have enough players in it each year to keep it an exciting and enjoyable event that players look forward to.  So I think a cap is definitely necessary.  I like the idea of capping the dollars one could keep (versus a flat number of players), though I’d limit it to a lower number like $100 out of a $260 team budget (or… Read more »
Al Gellin
Guest
Al Gellin
I’m in a 8 team AL draft keeper league and we have a pretty simple concept. You can keep anywhere from 0 to 8 players. Teams draft in reverse order from last year’s finish. Basically, the team that saves the least number of players gets the first pick in the draft. With free agents coming over to the AL and only 8 teams in the league, there’s usually several good players available…if you choose to follow that strategy. Typically, several teams save the maximum number of players, but through the years there hasn’t been any clear advantage with that strategy.… Read more »
Dan
Guest
Dan

I tried to read through all of this for my answer, but ran out of time.  I’m in a keeper league and we use espn for it.  The problem is that they do not keep the entire minor league pool of players in their database – so we’re forced to use google docs to track this.  This has its obvious drawbacks – but every time we tried a new site, it was not nearly as slick as what espn has.  Any suggestions for a fantasy site with a stong UI and a full MiLB database? 
Many thanks for the help.

Michael Lerra
Guest
Michael Lerra
Dan, I’ve only used Yahoo and it’s not been that good about it.  Often with guys like Cole Hamels and Johnny Cueto, they added them to the player pool after their first start, so everyone knew about them and it was simply a matter of who had the best waiver priority.  You might be stuck using Google Docs. Tangotiger had a suggestion that I make a follow-up article summarizing all of the ideas in here.  I think that’s a great idea, so please keep them coming.  I’ll continue to check back for new comments, so please continue to post your… Read more »
KY
Guest
KY
We’ve had extremely good luck with a freeze system where you may freeze a player for the previous price, but for only one year.  If you find Albert Pujols for 4 buck you reap those rewards the next year.  But the year after that, he’s back in the pool.  This is combined with a tier where the best and worst teams may only freeze at most 4 players, the 3rd and 4th and the slightly less worse 5 and everyone in the middle 6 players.  Between these two rules you get a nice balance of reward but no dynasties.  It… Read more »
Millsy
Guest
Millsy
With the extra salary tacked onto the contract right when it is signed for a player helps to keep the league from becoming something like a ‘reservation’ clause league.  If you decide to keep Longoria for 5 years, you’re taking on potential risk of him not panning out, rather than just seeing what happens each year, so I agree that the possibility of keeping awesome deals forever is significantly reduced (I haven’t seen any deals in our league for more than 4 years).  The number of solid deals on each team seem to be pretty even across the league, so… Read more »
david h
Guest
david h
We are entering the fourth year of our league.  Draft, not auction.  Players generally can be kept for 3 years.  A drafted player is assigned a ‘1’, if he’s kept the following year he becomes a ‘2’, and on.  Each season, every team but the winner can apply one franchise tag on a ‘3’ to keep him for one extra year.  A player’s status does not change when he is traded, so, for instance, acquiring a ‘3’ does not reset his status to a ‘1’. We keep 7 players each year (out of 21 starters – 12 offense, 9 pitching… Read more »
Rhett Oldham
Guest
Rhett Oldham

Michael,

Really nice article.  I wrote an article about keeper leagues in my Commissioner Corner section and I am going to post your link in the comments section so everyone can see your advice as well.

Interesting points and I am glad I found your article.  Best of luck in the future.

Rhett Oldham

Molson
Guest
Molson
I’m in a snake-draft NL-only 5 keeper league.  Whatever keepers you have become your first 5 picks in the draft.  If you don’t keep 5, you get compensatory selections based on reverse order of finish, and then we have a random order for the rest of the draft. I’m not a fan of the keeper rules… What I’d do to change it is to have it so that you can keep someone drafted in round n as your draft pick in round n/2 (rounding to the higher number) so you could keep one person from rounds 1 or 2 as… Read more »
Jonas
Guest
Jonas

Michael,

Awesome article. I don’t know if you check this anymore or not but I have a question. I would like to implement your “ideal” keeper system in my league. We however are a draft league not an auction league. Do you think I could implement your ideas into my draft league? The main area I am thinking of is, would the players that are kept occupy draft slots the next year? I just want to keep the league competitive and fun each year. Any thoughts would be great.

Michael Lerra
Guest
Michael Lerra
Hi Jonas, I get an email whenever it gets comments, so I still see them. I’d suggest taking a look at my follow-up to this, where I incorporated reader comments (http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/fantasy/article/keeper-league-roundup/).  Specifically the {$1,$4,$7,$10,…} idea, which allows you to keep any players on your team, paying $1 more for one of them, $4 more for another, $7 more for another, etc, until you decide to stop keeping additional players. I think you could modify this for a draft by adding {1,2,3,4,…} to the round.  So each player can keep one person by using their pick 1 round ahead of where… Read more »
ben
Guest
ben
So for all the concern about keeper COST and VALUE over several seasons, I’m surprised that you don’t question why everyone gets a $260 budget at the beginning of the year. Why not allow budgets to carry over every year and create elaborate rules for expansion teams? Historically, I’ve ranked draft order in the reverse of last season’s standings with expansion teams getting the first picks. Keepers are an advantage for older teams. This year I’m excited to play with an auction draft because I think it will give all teams an equal shot at quality players while still creating… Read more »
Michael Lerra
Guest
Michael Lerra
Wow, cool that this is still getting some interest from people. It’s definitely a good point to question the $260, and whether or not it should carry over.  If we’re truly trying to model the decisions that GMs face, then I think it definitely should carry over (or, maybe, carry over 90% of it to account for inflation in US dollars and baseball in general).  See the Blue Jays for a great example of a franchise with owners that have a 3-year budget (I think) and if their GM doesn’t use all of his budget in year 1, he can… Read more »
Darren
Guest
Darren
Hello, I run a league that is considering a Dynasty league to replace our re-shuffle every year. My members heavily prefer a draft system, and I’m ok with that. I wanted to create a Dynasty/Keeper league with these basic guidelines and was hoping you could find some holes for any unfair advantages: first year draft occurs as usual. Your first ten picks are your dynasty keepers, and they receive “contracts” as follows: first and second round get 5 year contracts, 3rd & 4th get 4 year contracts, etc… Every team would have ten keepers under contracts to start. The draft… Read more »
Tim
Guest
Tim
I may have missed it above, but in setting up your keeper leagues with FAB, how do you account for players who are picked up on FAB in year 1 and looking to be kept in year 2?  What’s an appropriate method to set the price?  Would they also be able to be kept at the price paid during FAB?  For example, in an AL only team, Manny Ramirez became available when traded from LAD to CWS.  He went for $25 in the Free Agent Auction.  In order for him to be kept on next year’s team, what is the… Read more »
Erik
Guest
Erik
This is our set up for head to head league running 6 years strong via Yahoo.  First year we did not have keepers, after that you were relegated to take 3 keepers.  They would be your 1st 3 picks.  Starting this year with the draft you could keep the players where they were drafted only for the next year.  Then after that you would be tagged a 1st through 3rd pick.  Ranked according to Yahoo rankings.  I will post the league rules.  In a bit, I am looking for suggestions on HOW LONG a player should be held with the… Read more »
Mike
Guest
Mike
Wow, this is a great article and discussion about keeper leagues. Thanks all for your info.  I am starting a keeper league this year and have the following plan which is open to change based on any comments and info I further receive today. I want to make it keeper, but also not too involved as I have many first year players. As I’ve run an auction FFL league for years, that option appeals to me, but I think it’ll be too much for this group. Here is what I’m thinking. Please poke holes as you see them. Snake Draft.… Read more »
http://www.obsidianereader.net/
Guest
http://www.obsidianereader.net/
I am here for my Earthling Brothers and Sisters today as the time has come for transition and transformation to take place on so many levels of themselves and their home planet. There is nothing less on our plate right now than establishing peace and harmony to a world of deceit and anger. The Earth changes you are currently experiencing are helping you to prepare for the future. Obatala always wears white clothing and is often depicted as an old man. His G-R parallel is Zeus/ Jupiter Optimo et Bono Who destroyed the Titans and established the reign of the… Read more »
huh
Guest
huh

what?

Phillipe
Guest
Phillipe

Mike — Do you still receive notifications about comments on this article? I ask because I want to run something by you but don’t want to waste my time formulating my question, haha. Thanks either way…

Ryan
Guest
Ryan

Any insight on when teams need to submit their keepers by?

Most people say that a week or two before the draft makes sense, but any anecdotal feedback is welcome.

wpDiscuz