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The First Cuts of the 2017 Season

Dave walks through the thought process as he selects his initial 12 keepers in a 14-team, mixed, rotisserie baseball league.

John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into the 2015 off season, my fantasy baseball league portfolio consisted of a few draft and hold, 50 round leagues and my 10-team American League only keeper league. I was studying to go 750 players deep for the draft and hold leagues and as such, felt that a mixed keeper league would be an appropriate addition to my portfolio of teams. Luckily, I was able to track down a league that nearly met all of my criteria - years of stability and 14 to 15 team mixed, being the main target points.

Further details:

  • 1c, 1b, 3b, CI, 2b, SS, MI, 4 OF, 1 UTIL, 8 Pitchers, 8 bench spots.
  • Standard 5x5 scoring
  • Snake Draft.
  • Keeper Rules: We keep 7 each year. By the end of November we must select 12 players we want to keep. These 12 eventually become the 7 keepers (due in March). Once the 12 are selected, owners are allowed to trade with other owners in an attempt to optimize their 7 keepers.
With the timing and title of this post, we're going to look into the thought process behind selecting my initial 12 keepers for the 2017 season. As mentioned above, I took this team over heading into the 2016 season. It had a couple of nice pieces at the time, but a quick re-tool was going to be needed. Through trades and free agent pick ups, my end of 2016 season roster was as follows:

Eligibility Player Signed Thru Pitcher Signed Thru
C J.T. Realmuto 2020 Jose Berrios 2020
1b, SS, OF Brad Miller 2020 Anthony DeSclafani 2020
2b Jonathan Schoop 2020 Raisel Iglesias 2020
2b, 3b, SS Javier Baez 2020 Sean Manaea 2020
SS Marcus Semien 2020 Eduard Rodriguez 2020
CI Yoan Moncada 2020 Bruce Rondon 2020
3b, OF Miguel Sano 2019 Hector Rondon 2020
OF Khris Davis 2020 Taijuan Walker 2020
OF Travis Jankowski 2020 Cam Bedrosian 2020
OF Max Kepler 2020 Nate Jones 2020
2b, OF Trea Turner 2020 Danny Salazar 2020
SS Dansby Swanson 2020 Vince Velasquez 2020
3b Mike Moustakas 2019
OF Billy Hamilton 2017
OF Michael Saunders 2020
OF Michael Brantley 2018

As you can see, quite a few players were recent additions during the 2016 season, which means they're keep-able assets through the 2020 season. Rather than go through each player (even I'll admit that would be quite boring), let's drill down on the 12 selections and a handful of players who just missed the cut and the reason(s) behind those selections.
  1. Trea Turner: With 1st round upside, this pick seemed like a true no-brainer. Even if Turner is only able to repeat his partial 2016 season over a full season in 2017, his production will be top-shelf. Dual eligibility is also a nice perk. You can also see my projection process for Turner in this article.
  2. Billy Hamilton: Between Turner and Billy Hamilton, I am hoping to have an easy path towards the top of the stolen base category. At this point, power will become a primary target for the remainder of my potential hitting keepers.
  3. Miguel Sano: Speaking of power, Sano has the upside to post a 40 home run season in 2017. The underlying power metrics are strong and his ability to draw walks lends itself to better pitch selection going forward. Batting average could certainly continue to be an issue however. Dual eligibility is yet another plus for this young slugger.
  4. Khris Davis: More power please. A return to 35-40 home runs for Davis is certainly possible based on the skills displayed over the previous 3 seasons.
  5. Max Kepler: I suspect this pick might be slightly controversial, but I'm a believer. The collection of skills show a young hitter with slightly above league average power and speed and a good batting eye. Personally, I could see a 25/10 HR/SB season in 2017 and even if you downgrade it towards Steamer's current projection of 19 HR/10 SB, he's a growth stock worth holding.
  6. Mike Moustakas: It really was too bad he was injured during the 2016 season as his skills were truly blossoming. Said injury is also the reason I was able to grab him off the scrap heap however, so perhaps it's not too sad, at least for me. With the skills displayed during both the 2015 and 2016 season, a 30 home run, .270 BA season isn't out of the realm of possibilities for 2017.
  7. Yoan Moncada: Top hitting prospect in the game. As you will see shortly when I show my projected statistics for my hitters being kept, Moncada's 2017 production is all bonus. At this point I have no clue what he'll contribute in 2017, but a talent like this needs to be kept, if for no other reason than he'll make a hell of a trade chip if the right deal presents itself.
  8. Raisel Iglesias: Could start or could close for the Reds in 2017. Either way, the skills are strong and I'm willing to hang on until at least March to see if his projected innings/role become clearer.
  9. Danny Salazar: I went back and forth on this selection as the history of arm troubles gave me pause. I then decided to throw caution to the wind and hope his return to the World Series means the injury is behind him. The skills warrant a selection in the top 12 rounds without a doubt - the question will become if he's a top 7 round talent come March.
  10. Sean Manaea: I originally did not think Manaea would make the cut, but everything I've read and studied show significant breakout potential in the 2017 season. A strong swinging strike percentage and first pitch strike rate all give me hope that he'll continue to improve his command in the coming season(s).
  11. Taijuan Walker: Another arm I had questions above freezing, but ultimately decided he deserved a spot towards the end of the list. There's a chance someone is a little higher on Walker than I and he could be included in a trade between the end of November and the start of March. Home runs are the big issue for Walker and perhaps a slight change to his pitching mix will fix this problem. Walker also had surgery to remove bone chips from his foot and there's a possibility those were a bigger problem than we heard about in 2016
  12. Vince Velasquez: Yet another high upside arm, but with some injury history. There's not a doubt in my mind that if Velasquez could throw 185+ innings, that he'd be a useful and top 7 round type of talent. He's currently on the bubble for me in terms of final 7 keeper status, but definitely someone to hang onto as the cut process is only at 12 for now.
As I mentioned in the Moncada blurb above, I wanted to get an idea of the potential offensive production these hitting keepers could provide. I'm not big into projecting pitching performance to tell the truth, so the same will not be completed for the arms above. With pitchers I look at a few sub-command indicators and performance metrics, but stop short of projecting a rotisserie style line for them. In my opinion, drafting and projecting hitters is more a science while the same for pitchers is more an art.
Trea Turner 18 97 64 44 0.291
Billy Hamilton 6 90 39 79 0.251
Miguel Sano 36 81 96 2 0.243
Khris Davis 37 82 94 4 0.246
Max Kepler 24 78 87 10 0.271
Mike Moustakas 30 73 85 1 0.273
Yoan Moncada N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
Total 150 500 465 139 N/A
Avg. Per Player 25 83 77 23 N/A

As the chart above shows, if I were to keep 7 offensive players as the March deadline approaches, on average, each selection would be essentially a 25 HR / 23 SB type of player. Again, this is without factoring in any production from Yoan Moncada. Anything he provides in this scenario is extra. Perhaps he's used to acquire an ace or another top hitter .

I also like to consider the projections from systems outside of my own. There's always a chance my process creates an overly optimistic projection for certain players or types of players. The below chart shows the same offensive players, along with the Avg. Per Player, but uses 2017 Steamer Projections from FanGraphs.

Trea Turner 15 73 75 39 0.300
Billy Hamilton 6 58 40 51 0.247
Miguel Sano 34 87 98 3 0.241
Khris Davis 32 78 2 4 0.246
Max Kepler 19 74 77 10 0.261
Mike Moustakas 24 74 6 3 0.267
Yoan Moncada N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
Total 130 444 298 110 N/A
Avg. Per Player 22 74 50 18 N/A

Instead of 25/23 HR/SB averages, we're lowered to 22/18 HR/SB averages. Even with the slight drop, to be essentially 6 rounds in and have a team that would average those categorical production numbers works for me.

Lastly a word of advice to anyone who is faced with a similar roster cut-down situation: if possible try to figure out who and what positions will be available at next year's draft. This can be done by looking at expiring contracts and also simply emailing owners with whom you've had conversations with in the past and simply asking.

In this particular league I will have the 3rd overall pick (assuming I don't trade up or down) and the available talent will be impressive. Players who had expiring contracts following the 2016 season include: Mike Trout, Paul Goldschmidt, Edwin Encarnacion, Anthony Rizzo, Freddie Freeman, Buster Posey, Max Scherzer and Chris Sale.

The talent available this coming season is the exact opposite of the talent pool for real MLB teams during the 2017 free agent hot stove season. With power hitting first basemen and also a couple of aces on the board when my pick rolls around, I was able to strategically pick my initial 12 keepers, while tossing back productive players such as Brad Miller, who qualify at first base, a position that is clearly deep in talent for this particular league/draft in 2017.

When cutting your roster down from the previous season, it's important to examine the roster and league at whole from as many angles as possible. As the above post details, difficult decisions have to be made, but with the benefit of  league context and categorical planning, you can give your keeper league team a leg up on the competition even during the cold days and nights of November.