Too many keepers! (part 2)

Last year around the cut deadline, I took it upon myself to lead the charge that you’re keeping too many players on your ottoneu team. With the general premise that, despite our best efforts, leagues are heading into their annual auctions with less than optimal keeping habits.

This was not meant as some form of tell all. Certainly it’s reasonable to think that teams should keep some star prospects, or a slightly overpaid Mike Trout if they think they can trade him. However, with the keeper deadline a week and a half away, I want to take some time to update this study for completeness and also update some potential shortcomings. 

At the time, I really wanted to answer one question, are we making the best keeper choices we can?

One of the main justifications for my observation was that projections systems (while they can miss on any one player) do a very good job of fitting the total curve of production across a league. While Steamer or Zips might underrate that one sleeper you really believe in, they tend to do a very good job at predicting large samples. The player universe within one league is a large sample. So while one individual asset might be under priced, the overall number of keepers within a league can be seen as a more accurate benchmark. Using a sample of 14 leagues, I found that leagues that the average number of surplus assets was around 120, with a range between 100 and 130. Accounting for prospects and rental players who are actually worth keeping pushed the total up to about ~170. Ottoneu owners were, I estimated, keeping 230-240 players in leagues. This amounted to an extra 60-70 players per league and 5-6 extra players per team. This is working off of the general premise that we want to keep assets that we think our worth more than their salary, while cutting players we think are over paid.

Shortly after I opined that too many players, or rather, too many non-surplus assets, are being kept within the Ottoneu universe, Justin followed up by taking a look at how inflation increases as leagues age. I wish I had this data at the time, as it would have taken some of the guess work out of my totals. I am including the chart from Justin’s article below as it will help us to expand on the conversation.

Ottoneu FGPTS League Inflation
League Age Proj 1st # Keepers Salary Kept Value Kept Surplus Inflation
Sixth Year Leagues $549 294 $3,239 $3,553 $314 30.80%
Fifth Year Leagues $546 296 $3,293 $3,530 $236 23.00%
Fourth Year Leagues $535 301 $3,288 $3,451 $163 14.20%
Third Year Leagues $537 288 $3,237 $3,466 $229 21.20%
Second Year Leagues $507 271 $3,173 $3,197 $25 1.00%
Grand Average $536 291 $3,252 $3,453 $200 18.80%

*As Justin noted, each individual year only consists of a dozen or more leagues. So I would not put too much stock in the year to year numbers besides looking at a general trend. For example, the take away from this should not be “I am going into year two, so I should expect 1% inflation to occur.”*

As it turns out, I was wrong. While this is far from a mea culpa, I should make some acknowledgements.

1.) It worse than I thought. Looking at this data, we can see that on average leagues keep 291 players with a range of ~270-300. Last January, I had put my estimate at ~230-240. Turns out, I was wrong.  We keep even more players than I originally had guessed.

2.) The total number of surplus assets within leagues is higher than the 120 I had originally seen, that number is probably closer to 145 (range 121-164) after doing a once through of 50 Fangraphs points leagues. (Hat Tip, Justin Vibber).

A little give, a little take. We should keep more assets than I originally thought (about 20 or so league wide), while leagues as a whole keep ~50 more players than I thought.

This all brings me to the main issue I want to delve into today, mainly, Justin’s Wednesday post. If you have not read it, stop and do that. Justin clearly outlines the impact of inflation on keeper leagues, and that information is worth tying to our quest to find out how many players we actually should be keeping. From Justin:

“Making keeper decisions gets a bit more complicated when you try to account for inflation. Let’s say your league is two or three years old, and you expect there to be close to average inflation (15% or so for ottoneu FGPts leagues), should you keep a player with a $30 salary that you think is worth $28? Using a pure surplus strategy would suggest that the answer is no, but if we expect 15% inflation then that $28 player would be worth $32 at auction ($28*1.15), making that player look like a decent keeper after all. The implication for keeper decisions in leagues with inflation is that often it makes sense to keep a slightly overpaid player as long as that keeper premium is less than expected inflation.”

Justin makes a great point. One that him and I have talked about at length and could drastically help to set the record straight on if too many players are actually being kept. We know that inflation impacts our choices to keep players. We want to keep players if they cost less than what we expect their inflated price to be. So, is there a way to calculate this?

First, I have used Justin’s Steamer dollar values and added 20% inflation to player’s production, just north of the 18.80% average inflation for all leagues last season. While the inflation total will vary by league, this should get us much closer in aggregate. Then, to get us a general headcount, I have totaled the number of assets who’s inflated production is greater than there salary. How does this compare?

Number of Keepers
Non-inflated 20% inflation
Minimum 121 152
Maximum 164 207
Average 145 188
Prospects 36 36
Rentals 10 10
Keeper Min 167 198
Keeper Max 210 253
Keeper Avg 191 234
– Sampling of 50 Ottoneu Fangraphs Points Leagues. Courtesy of Justin Vibber.


  • We can see that on average leagues have about 145 assets worth keeping each year. Add in about ~36 for prospects, and another 10 for rentals (same assumptions as previous) and we get a new total of around 191 keepers per league. This works out to about 16 keepers per team.
  • With inflation this total increases to about 234 keepers per league with a range between 198 and 253 across 50 leagues. This is the equivalent of about 20 keepers per team.
  • At an average of 291 keepers per league, even accounting for inflation we are still keeping about 5 extra players per team. This accounts for rentals and prospects worth keeping.

Using this data, I will be looking very closely at my teams. When your league mates keep to many players, cutting aggressively and using the savings in the auction can be an easy way to rebuild. While accounting for inflation is necessary, it appears that we are not efficient in our keeping habits. I would take a hard look at the rentals and prospects you plan to keep and ask yourself if they really are worth keeping. What about your leagues, are teams keeping too many players? Is this a trend you have picked up on, or do you think we are actually not keeping enough? Let’s discuss in the comments.

We hoped you liked reading Too many keepers! (part 2) by Joe Douglas!

Please support FanGraphs by becoming a member. We publish thousands of articles a year, host multiple podcasts, and have an ever growing database of baseball stats.

FanGraphs does not have a paywall. With your membership, we can continue to offer the content you've come to rely on and add to our unique baseball coverage.

Support FanGraphs

Joe works at a consulting firm in Pittsburgh. When he isn't working or studying for actuarial exams, he focuses on baseball. He also writes @thepointofpgh. Follow him on twitter @Ottoneutrades

newest oldest most voted
Bartolo Colon
Bartolo Colon

Hey Joe, for purposes of this article how would you define a “rental player?”