Keeper League Roundup

In my last piece on designing the perfect keeper league, I introduced two rules for designing an ideal keeper league. After reading some comments, I’ve decided that there was one thing I missed. So without further ado, I present the updated Keeper League Rules. An ideal keeper league should:

  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
  3. Leave enough interesting, quality players in the draft/auction such that it’s still an exciting and important event for each season

I also wanted to summarize the five keeper options I presented in my first article, along with all of the great reader ideas and suggestions in the comments. Going with the theme of the first two rules above, I thought it would be best to present these formats as a spectrum. The first league formats below are those which I’d deem conservative keeper rules. Leagues with these rules will allow for the most competitive leagues year after year, and the risks and rewards are both low. One good auction or draft won’t set you up for years of dominance, but it also ensures you won’t suffer years of wasted entry fees due to a few poor choices. Towards the end of the list are the formats I feel are most liberal. The reward for making good choices is very high, so managers are more likely to take some risks. Picking up a few prospects that pan out can give you a tremendous advantage for years to come; but at the same time, your opponents can just as easily put you on the receiving end of a Royals-esque decade with some wise choices of their own.

Of course, my ordering of these formats is simply my own subjective opinion; none of us have tried them all (if you have, please put the mouse down, back away from the monitor, and go spend some time with your family and friends). I hope it serves as a rough guide for those commissioners looking to start up a league; move down the list with your prospective managers, and find the point at which you’re satisfied with the amount of risk and reward that a particular option provides. I also want to throw out a proactive apology to those whose formats I simplified here. There’s nearly limitless combinations of the rules below, so I wanted to try to break them down as simply as possible so that they could be used as building blocks for those who want a more complex league.

Without further ado, the league settings:

  • Keep X players as the first X round picks of next year
    • As I mentioned in the previous piece, I’m not a fan of this idea. And in terms of this piece, it’s listed as the most conservative, least-rewarding league because a team can only really reap benefits from it if their top X picks are all keepers. Even if you have guys you’d like to keep as 2nd through 8th round picks, they become 1st through 7th picks, and are much less valuable.

  • Auction each player, with the previous year’s owner getting the right to match the final offer (and keep the player) or let the winning bidder keep the player at that price.
    • Really not too much benefit here to picking good players. Since we’d expect bidding among the other owners to approach a player’s actual value, in some senses you’re hoping the bidders bid too highly and you can stick them with an overpaid player (which is, in my estimation, the opposite of the point of a keeper league).

  • Keep any number of players at last year’s round or price if it would be your first year keeping them; all players who were previously kept once are put back into the draft.
    • So if you got a steal last year, you’ll keep it once more and then that’s that. There’s some benefit here to making good picks (in fact, in year two of ownership, this actually provides more of a reward than any other system), but the benefit disappears after that one year. I do like how this satisfies Keeper Rule #3 and really ensures drafts/auctions have a ton of top-tier players to keep it interesting.

  • Long-term contract: after owning a player for a year, you can sign him to a long-term contract for $5 extra in each successive season (ex. $6, $11, $16 for a guaranteed 3-year deal). Salary is used even if player is dropped mid-contract.
    • I like that this format helps players benefit from good picks, while also introducing one extra cost: the possibility of getting stuck with a lemon for a lot of salary. For that reason, I can’t call it a terribly rewarding system, because certainly some long-term contract mistakes will be made, nullifying other rewards. But I like that it also sort of mimics arbitration costs and free-agent processes.

  • Keep any player at $5 higher than the price paid in the previous year.
    • Same as above, without the risk. Less risk means more often reaping the rewards of a great decision, so this gets slotted one space further towards the high-reward end of the spectrum.

  • Keep any number of players, with each of {$1, $4, $7, $10, $13, …} added on to one particular player.
    • I really like this idea. There’s obviously a bigger benefit here to keeping a couple guys than the previous $5 flat rate. But at the same time, no one can keep a dynasty together from the year before, because their fifth kept player is going to cost $13 more than the previous season. I also like the fact that this system allows a manager to keep their sentimental favorite player or favorite draft pick for many, many years, if they continue to make that one player their $1 increase.

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  • Keep any number of players using draft pick equal to the average of the round in which you drafted him last year and the average round he is taken in according to this year’s worldwide average draft position. (ex. if you picked Lincecum in the 10th last year and he is being picked in the 4th round this year, he can be kept as your 7th round pick this season).
    • Some regression here, to ensure outrageous deals don’t last forever.

  • Track players with a neutral price guide; cost to keep a player is the average of all price guide prices (one per year) during ownership.
    • Likewise with the above system, there’s a regression factor here. But whereas in the above example, only the most recent round or price is averaged against the current concensus, this price guide system averages all years under control. So drafting a player in the 15th round, or for $1, lowers the average for every year going forward. The potential for advantage is equal to the above system in the first year of keeping a player, but greater for every year thereafter.

  • Keep any number of players, two rounds higher than previous year.
    • Not much advantage for top players, but can bring a big advantage for a long time if the right minor leaguer is drafted in the late rounds or picked up as a free agent.

  • Auction each player, with the previous year’s owner getting the right to keep the player for 15% less than the final offer, or let the winning bidder keep the player at the highest bid.
    • I’m tempted to say this is not a high-reward system, because at best a manager will only be getting a 15% discount off of the going rate of a player. For late round pickups that end up becoming stars, this just isn’t a huge advantage to carry year-to-year. However, this system rewards players very strongly if they simply draft players who improve. In other words, a great team in this league will not be one with a ton of insightful late-round pickups; it will be one in which the owner wants to keep virtually all of his players (and will thus do so at a 15% discount). I can see a team in this setting having a pretty unprecedented run of dominance, with little or no checks and balances. The best way to stop it might be to essentially collude with other owners to raise his prices, knowing that you might get stuck with overpaying for a couple players, but in concert you’ll be crippling his team when others do the same.

  • Top finishers can keep 4 players, middle finishers can keep 5 players, lower finishers can keep 6 players, at the same price or round as last year.
    • Where you put this format on the spectrum depends on how many keepers you think a team would have. Obviously the second keeper is not as valuable as the first, so likewise the fifth player kept is not as valuable as the fourth, third, second, or first. Diminishing returns make me think that teams who do well one season aren’t likely to be hurt too badly by not being able to keep their fifth- and sixth-best bargains. Therefore, I’d expect good teams in this league to have quite a bit of momentum on their side from season to season.

  • Keep any number of players, one round higher than previous year.
    • Tons of opportunity for exploiting bargains here, and not just in the later rounds. Lincecum, perhaps a 10th round pick last year, may have established a new true talent level of a fourth-rounder. That gives whoever picked him last season a full five seasons of value for that one pick.

  • Keep as many players as you like, up to $100 or $150 (approximately half of the total team budget) in salary, same price as last year.
    • Most outrageous bargains are going to happen at the lower end of the price scale, so setting a limit of $100 or $150 could easily translate to managers being able to keep 18 players if they like. There may as well be no cap; this is the most liberal system I can think of. Better hope you make some good decisions early on in this league’s life, because I’d imagine it would be very difficult to unseat the good teams in this type of league.

And that’s it. Best of luck in selecting one (or more) of these if you’re starting a league fresh. I’d say my favorite three are the {$1, $4, $7, …} rule, the average draft rule, and the price guide rule, probably in that order. I think they have a great balance of allowing risk to turn into reward, plus they let players keep sentimental favorites for an extended time without too much of a penalty. We’re all looking to win, but being able to keep hometown players or favorites just gives everyone a little more joy when they watch their team on TV or thumb through box scores each day.


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KY
Guest
KY
I think you tried to quote our league (thank you) but misquoted it slightly.  The 4-5-6 system has the top AND bottom finishers with 4 freezes, and the middle finishers with 6.  A major problem we’ve seen with keepers is that, once you know your team will not win, your current players now have 0 value to you; zero.  Except as trading chips for keepers!  A good freeze system must address this or it will always be logical to trade every single player on your roster for whatever keepers you can get.  A trade review board can not stop it… Read more »
Craig Birkemeier
Guest
Craig Birkemeier

As KY mentioned, I think you need to add a fourth rule to your Keeper League Rules. There needs to be some incentive for the teams at the bottom to stay competitive in order to prevent dump trades.

Aaron
Guest
Aaron
Our league did two things to prevent dump trades that seem to be working for us. -put in a minimum and maximum cap, it goes into effect at the end of april different leagues will need different minimums we use 250 as our minimum and 300 as our max.  We use slightly different rules to pick up our players so decide on the min/max for your leauge, but this makes it impossible to either load up on too much top talent or dump all of your top talent. -number two is have the teams loose a keeper for failing to… Read more »
neoforce
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neoforce

Whats wrong with dump trades?  The entire point of a keeper league is that if your team stinks, you can build for the future. 

I’m in a pretty stable keeper league, with rules designed to meet the three requirements that Michael put in his article.  And some times the best fun I have is when I’m out of it and trying to make trades for the next year.

If you have proper rules, and no collusion, then dump trades are part of the joy of keeper leagues.

Matt
Guest
Matt
I pretty much agree with Neoforce in that the “dump” trade is a key component of keeper leagues, especially “dynasty” ones. However, I do think that until a league establishes its identity and gets a good set of rules worked out (which could take several years of tweaking), there is certainly a point to be made about dump trades potentially negatively impacting a league. In our 10-team league, we use a cap ($500) to start each year, but there is no in-season cap.  Our cap each year consists of the value of 10 keepers under contract subtracted from the $500,… Read more »
Craig Birkemeier
Guest
Craig Birkemeier

After thinking about it some more, I agree that dump trades are okay, but you still need to have an incentive to keep teams from tanking. If you take the 4-5-6 keepers examples from the article, there’s actually incentive for someone to finish in 9th rather than 8th. What’s stopping them from benching everyone?

Michael Lerra
Guest
Michael Lerra
KY, my apologies, I did misread that.  So yeah, for leagues in which there’s no prize for 8th and 9th place (which is, most of them of course), then yes I can see the incentive to tank.  In the league I’m setting up, we’re looking at doing a weekly prize for the top team.  Nothing much, but hopefully enough to incent the lower teams to at least start their players and make an honest effort each week. I kind of think the fourth rule you propose is simply an extension of #2.  But like some of the later comments, I… Read more »
KY
Guest
KY
4-5-6 was misquoted.  1st and 2nd, 1st last and 2nd last get 4.  middle teams get 6.  teams in between get 5.  So you get more freezes if you finish higher from the bottom.  The losers pay more above is similar.  But in our league that was not enough.  We have rules beyond that to prevent dumping, because; It seems that in many league owners do not realize that their entire team is worthless once they are not going to win.  Say you have 3 good freezes, and 4 slots.  Once you are out of it the smartest thing to… Read more »
KY
Guest
KY

neoforce “If you have proper rules, and no collusion, then dump trades are part of the joy of keeper leagues. ”  What were the “proper rules” that prevented people from dumping entire teams to the contenders?  I’d be interested in learning if there’s a better way then we’ve done it.

keeperleaguegm.com
Guest
keeperleaguegm.com

I have been in several keeper leagues, and by far, the constitution is the most important component of any keeper league.  I posted the league constitution we have used as a template in many of our leagues.  I have included a downloadable doc for those interested here: http://www.keeperleaguegm.com/?page_id=7

Happy drafting.

Thanks,
Mike Caprio
Keeper League GM

Mark Morrow
Guest
Mark Morrow

I think most of you were missing the point that I believe Aaron was trying to make above.  In established leagues where the competitiveness is very high, rules need to be put in place to keep a balance.  One really bad (dump) trade can be enough for one team to win.  That is not fair.  By instilling rules to reduce the dump you increase the balance and therefore the year to year competitive balance.  Otherwise you would have an endless procession of worst to first to worst seasons.  That is not healthy, or fun for any league.

Mike H
Guest
Mike H
I have been in a 16 team head to head keeper league since the beginning of it in 2002. It deals with contract. If you pick a guy in round 1 he has a 1 year contract. Rd 2, 2 year contract, rd 3, 3 year contract. Rd 4 to the end of the draft are 4 year contracts. Its the greatest league I have ever been in. After the draft we have a farm system draft that consist of 2 rounds were we draft minor league players. When we “promote” someone from our farm team he automatically gets a… Read more »
William S
Guest
William S
I am currently doing research to start a keeper league amaongst my friends. I have a lot of questions. What’s wrong with setting up the league as close to being a real GM as possible?For example, have your initial draft and sign players for as long as you want (so long as it’s within the amount of time your league will be running). Obviously, you would need to increase each player’s salary to prevent owners from strictly keeping their team intact. Also, you could have a farm system and each year’s draft would involve drafting minor leaguers. Since I am… Read more »
Craig Birkemeier
Guest
Craig Birkemeier

William,

The only problem I could see with that league setup is keeping some managers involved year-to-year. Say, one team becomes like the real-life Pirates. How long until they give up completely?

William S
Guest
William S
Thanks Craig. That’s a great point. The only way I could see to prevent that issue from happening is to have some sort of league fees each year and since the Pirates have a vested financial interest in the league they can either try to compete or they can just give up but they’d lose that money. People respond to incentives. Plus I think people know going into a keeper league that it’s gonna require a lot of effort. Also I think the commissioner/founder of the league needs to be selective in choosing members who can join.But you are very… Read more »
Derek Ambrosino
Guest
Derek Ambrosino
…You’d be surprised how easily the allegedly dedicated drop out if they become the doormat of a league. Anyway, the question of whether to allow full dumps is interesting philosophically. In its essence its a question of whether you want to enforce regulations on the market to prevent stratification of wealth. As a side note, it’s funny how so many people espouse the virtues of the unfettered market in a political/economic sense but change their tune when they are personally involved even in dynamic even is something as mundane and irrelevant as fantasy baseball. But, I digress… Here’s the thing… Read more »
Luis
Guest
Luis

Man, I’d really love to be in one of these “hardcore” leagues.  I can’t seem to find the perfect one.  I’ve been playing for over 10 years, been in several keepers and dynasty but after 2 or 3 years they break up because one or two teams are great while the rest lose interest.

If anyone ever needs an extra, I’m available!

Luis
luisfe [at] gmail.com

Dean
Guest
Dean
Wow, great input!  I have been co-commissioner in a competitive 14 team points-based league for about a decade.  Our “constitution” has become weekend reading. We came to where we are organically, and this is the first good source of insightful information I found – but I never really looked before.  Here’s why: We use a commissioner league which allows a pretty good engine for customized scoring, which we feel rewards the preformace of the MLB player over his real team situation (Quality Start negates a Loss, less points for a short relief Win, points for SAC hits, penalties for Errors,… Read more »
DominicanRepublican
Guest
DominicanRepublican
I’m also a big fan of that $1, $4, $7,… idea for auction keepers. One thing that I would say is that it doesn’t allow you to keep as much of your roster that you’d like. If you want to be able to keep 7 or 8 guys it shouldn’t cost you $19 and $22 above value. What if, regardless of league, you figure out how many guys you’re keeping and set an average of, say, $5 to that. If you want to keep 7 guys, you spread the costs at something like $1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9.… Read more »
Jeremy
Guest
Jeremy
This article and the comments are great. Exactly what I’ve been looking for. I am in a 10 team mixed head to head draft non-keeper league. This season, by about June, half the teams were so far out of it, they gave up. Doesn’t make it much fun for the rest of us. So, I really want to make the league a keeper legue next season and maybe add some in-season incentives to keep managers involved. After reading all of the above, I am leaning toward allowing managers to keep up to 5 players using the Avergae Draft Rule or… Read more »
Sam
Guest
Sam

Michael, our commish is setting up our league based on your article. To be clear, in your example of averaging out price guide values, are you saying that the price a player is actually drafted for in an auction is completely irrelevant? You had said you drafted Papelbon and his value was $4. What if his value was $4 but you drafted him for $1? Are you using $1 as the 2009 price or $4? Thanks for your help!

Royster
Guest
Royster

Jeremy,

  How about trying this.  A 1st round pick can be kept in subsequent years as a first round pick. A second round pick can also be kept as a 1st round pick, and a third round pick (in the 2 round penalty) would also be a first round pick, however since you only have one 1st round pick you have to choose one of the three and the other two must be returned to the draft pool.  This insures good players in the draft pool each year.

John
Guest
John
I know you mentioned it in your previous article, but in order to protect rule #1 in an auction format, you suggested that the player could purchase his player back from the market value at a 15% discount.  You also cited that the other managers have the ability to collude to prevent a dynasty, albeit at their own expense.  One possible way (obviously far from perfect and manipulation) to correct for this is to implement a first price sealed bid auction whereby each manager independently submits his intended bidding price for each player.  Doing a live auction provides managers the… Read more »
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