Early-season keeper strategies

by BaseballHQ.com on May 19, 2010 @ 12:20:00 PDT


So, here we are. For the sizable majority of fantasy baseball players, you're past your draft or auction. You have your team, and you are now getting past acquisition mode, and into management mode. In this article, we will discuss some early season tactics that make sense for keeper leagues.

Get Your Bearings

The first thing that any manager, in any league, needs to do is gain a sense of where his team stands. How successful was the draft? How does the team stack up for this year? In a Rotisserie league, does the team have categorical strengths or weaknesses? Will the league's player replacement rules (and the quality of players available for acquisition) permit some gains?

Once you know how your team looks, you should know what to do. At this time of year -- the first few weeks -- there is an opportunity to capitalize on some early gains, and make some progress in the goals that you have set for your team.

Good Keepers - First Impressions

Savvy fantasy managers understand not to overreact to early season results. A week or even a month of statistics can very easily be a product of white noise, not truly revealing the talents of the players. Recognizing early season statistics for what they are can give you an opportunity to make gains based on early season results.

If you drafted well, you probably have a number of players who already look like possible keepers -- players who either went for below what you project their value to be, or players who are likely to improve their value by the start of next year. Maybe this is a function of your projections differing from those of your league rivals, maybe you were just smarter than they were in spending your money or making your draft picks. Perhaps it's dumb luck. Regardless, you hopefully have some keeper capital as a result.

Here are a few categories of keeper capital arising from early season surprises:

The Hot-Starting Veteran: Most leagues will recognize this for what it is. A player who has an established track record of performance at a certain level isn't likely to be showing a whole new skill set based on a few weeks in April. That mid-level outfidler may be momentarily among the elite hitters, but is his glistening slugging percentage a function of this player suddenly discovering dormant power skills, or just the simple nature of short-term statistics and a characteristically streaky player? Most will believe the latter, of course.

With the established player off to a good start, it's difficult to squeeze great value out of his keeper potential. The best strategy in this case is to try to capitalize on the good start in a deal for another veteran player who is off to a relatively poor start.

The Hot-Starting Youngster: Here we have the truly tantalizing morsel for fantasy owners... the young player, presumably with some upside potential, who has hit the ground running in the major leagues.

There may not be a better opportunity to capitalize in a keeper league than this exact scenario. The notion of getting a genuinely great keeper by spotting a breakout star early is so tempting, that it often attracts disproportionate interest. Therefore, it's often a possible angle to use in a keeper league to pursue an immediate gain in security, by trading off the upside potential for an established commodity. That puts the skills onto your team, boosts your forecast for immediate production from that position, and moves the risk (both upside and downside) to your trade partner.

Is This the Breakout Year? We sometimes find players who have had their turn as the "rookie phenom" and now are still working out the kinks at the big league level. Ron Shandler has discussed the "ten step" process that precedes the emergence of many top-shelf fantasy players. So, we all are looking for those players of about the right age and experience who are just ready to have their big breakout years. Early season performance gives us hopes that we might know who they are.

In general, the best guidance here is to watch the underlying skills closely, including those from the spring. Talented yet free-swinging players can be taught plate patience. Pitchers with good "stuff" can be taught to throw strikes and challenge batters. These elements of player development most often reveal themselves in the underlying base statistics if the player's development is "for real."

For most players, if the underlying indicators were not there to suggest a breakout (the proper age, good underlying skills not yet leading to good categorical performance), then the best move at this point is to bet against. If you can find a willing trade partner, make a deal.

The Golden Opportunity: Young players are often forecasted for values based on some median expectation of opportunity. If that player moves quickly into an impact role, is it wise to part with that hotly-hyped prospect? Maybe so. Fantasy teams may be convinced that some "can't miss" prospect is the next Albert Pujols. As Shandler has said in the Baseball Forecaster, guys like Pujols come along "once in a decade." If your potential trading partner is looking for an annual renewal, look to make a large deposit from the bank of elevated intentions.

As a very general rule, the future is vastly overrated in keeper leagues. Economists use a term like "net present value" in assessing the current worth of things that are to benefit you in the future. When discounting money, it's a fairly simple matter of foregone opportunity. In fantasy baseball, the here and now towers over the someday in terms of tangible benefit. Injuries, trades, managerial decisions, off-field episodes, and just bad luck can all intervene in the best-laid future plans of your baseball team. Take all future year projections with a sizable grain of salt, and if your rivals fail to do so -- you have the advantage, and can capitalize.

Besides, if you were so smart in your drafting this year (and got all those keeper gems)... why shouldn't you be able to replenish the shelves next year?

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About BaseballHQ.com

Ron Shandler began publishing statistical reports for baseball analysts and fantasy leaguers in 1986. Since then, his enterprise has grown into one of the largest information providers in the industry, producing quality products continuously and over a longer period than any other fantasy baseball company.

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