Am I keeping too many players? This is a question I am constantly asking myself as the Ottoneu keeper deadline approaches. Typically, Ottoneu leagues keep over 200 players (around 230-240) but what is the optimal amount? Certainly it’s extremely league dependent, but is there a general way we can get an idea of how many players actually should be kept? First, we need to answer a couple questions.
Why does it matter if I keep too many players?
Ottoneu championships can be difficult to win. If you want to increase your odds in the offseason, the main way to do so is to acquire players who are underpaid via offseason trades. These surplus assets allow you to enter the auction with more flexibility, often allowing you to purchase more talent at market value than your rivals. However, trading for surplus assets is only half the battle. Throughout my 4 years playing Ottoneu, I have witnessed many teams trade for surplus talent only to “waste” the benefit they receive from these players by keeping overpaid or marginal players. The two often negate each other. We want to trade for underpaid players, but we also want to be conscious of the impact of keeping overpaid players.
Let’s say that you currently own Francisco Lindor at a $10 salary and you believe he is worth $15 (a $5 underpay). On the same team, you also own Salvador Perez at $8 and Brandon Phillips at $6 (both of whom you think are worth $3). Perez and Phillips combine to be overpaid by $8. This a simple example for convenience, but the net impact of owning these 3 players is to overpay the group by $3. Each non-surplus asset owned counteracts the surplus assets you have worked hard all offseason to acquire. Owning a $10 Lindor is fun, removing the benefit you receive from a $10 Lindor before the annual auction even occurs is far less fun.
How many players should be kept?
It’s great to understand that keeping an overpaid player can negate the impact of keeping an underpaid paid player, but what if you’re new to Ottoneu? How do you establish a baseline for how many players should actually be kept? Luckily, Justin outlined the surplus calculator (pre-loaded with steamer) on Wednesday. One of the useful features of this tool is the ability to see how many surplus assets (keepers by default) exist within your league. While we can all nit-pick players who we believe will over-perform their projections, using unaltered dollar values from a projection system can actually be incredibly helpful to allow you to see a general “fit” of underpaid assets within a league. Using a sampling of 14 leagues, the average number of surplus assets within these leagues is about 120 (ranging low 100s to high 130s). Certainly check your specific league, but about 120 players gives you a good starting point for determining how many players should be kept.
What about prospects and rentals?
The surplus calculator only measures 2016 value, so it is true that prospects often get ignored in the pre-loaded dollar values. Certainly it is defensible to keep a number of prospects, but how many is reasonable? Crowdsourcing the Ottoneu slack community, it appears that many teams will keep between 2-4 prospects. Looking at prior prospect rankings (I know, these are not Ottoneu prospect rankings), it appears tier sizes of similar-future-value prospects drastically increase around the 30th prospect ranked. These two pieces of information jive pretty well. Keeping 3 prospects per team would add ~36 keepers (let’s call it 40 for simplicity) to our starting point of ~120 keepers league wide, bringing our total number of Ottoneu keepers to about 160.
Overpaid rentals are another component of league wide keeper decisions. Many times a rebuilding team will keep an over-paid star, like a $75 Mike Trout, in order to trade him with a loan after the auction occurs. By doing so, the seller hopes to provide extra incentive to buyers who would not otherwise have kept a player due to salary constraints. The number of players it actually makes sense to do this with is minimal (typically limited to the most elite players at a position who are also overpaid). In my experience I have seen about 3-4 players per league that it actually makes sense to do this with, but in the interest of being conservative, let’s assume there are 10 such players in your league. This brings our league wide keeper total to about 170 players, well short of standard keeper practices within Ottoneu leagues.
How can I take advantage of this?
As always, the best way to use this thought process is to apply it to your own leagues. It’s certainly possible that some of your league mates may already be taking advantage of this tactic, and as a result your league may be perfectly reasonable in its keep/cut habits. Also, you should not let go of your convictions just because you see evidence that your league could be keeping too many players. If you really believe in a couple of players on your squad, you should keep them. That should never be discounted. However, this should serve as a gut check to perhaps reevaluate your convictions. Too often (it appears) we talk ourselves into keeping a player, and allow our convictions to be altered by the endowment effect. Keep a couple guys you feel strongly about, cut the rest.
It appears that many Ottoneu leagues are keeping about 40-80 players who are overpaid. If you play in a league where this appears to be standard procedure, perhaps you should live a little more dangerously and be more ruthless with your keep/cut decisions. By doing so, it is very likely you find yourself in a more flexible positon than your rivals (cash, roster spots, or both), going into the auction. While they are busy rostering that $6 Brandon Phillips, you’ll be picking up a comparable 2B for $1-$3 and be in prime position to outbid your rivals on that marquee free-agent who was cut.
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