Inside the CI Keeper Ranking Process

As I prepare my yearly Fantasy Assembly rankings for keeper leagues, I wanted to share some of my observations and my ranking process. Keeper leagues are trickier than a redraft league. There are numerous factors to consider, with projected long-term value a big part of it. You have to look harder at age and health, and I find that random breakouts don’t necessarily climb as high on next year’s list because of the uncertainty factor — I like some consistency, when possible.

With that in mind, I’m going to give you some of the questions I asked myself while compiling lists, as well as my own answers.

How many slots do you knock down an aging
but still solid slugger like Edwin Encarnacion?

He certainly worried keeper owners in April, and he struggled again in July. However, his end results were in line with what he’s done for years, and he had a slow start in 2016 as well. The power seems stable. But note the bad trends in his swinging strike rate and contact rate. He’s getting riskier, unlike someone like Joey Votto. You do have to knock him down the ranks, especially if you’re not in a position to win in 2018.

What about someone like Adrian Beltre
who’s even older, or Ryan Zimmerman, who’s never healthy?

Beltre had two different leg injuries that cut into his at bats, but his overall skills are still solid. The spike in home runs from 2016 was due to a spike in FB% that he hasn’t retained, but his high average potential gives him extra value in this era. Like Encarnacion, if you aren’t in a position to compete, maybe you should pass. However, I’m in a 16-team, 20-keeper league, and I’m capable of winning in 2018, so I’m keeping Beltre as one of my 20 guys.

Zimmerman is a different story. He’s younger than Beltre, but he hadn’t been healthy for the three seasons before 2017. He had out of this world production in the first half of 2017, but some of that is unsustainable (BABIP, career year HR/FB). He’s been around forever, but he’s “only” 33 for 2018. That said, a long history of poor health and a career year means I’m still steering clear. First base is plenty deep that you don’t want to take on extra risk. If he does end up falling, and you can grab him for your DH, then I’d bite if you’re playing to win.

What about a total crash in value
like Miguel Cabrera, Chris Davis, or Hanley Ramirez?

Let’s be honest: Hanley’s only had one great, and full, season in years, and that was 2016. Too many injuries, too many disappointments. You shouldn’t have overbid on Hanley in 2017. If you did, lesson learned: injury risk + aging + inconsistency = avoid.

Davis is a bit of the same thing. You know he couldn’t keep up a good batting average; going into 2017, two of his three previous seasons were under .225. The injury couldn’t be accounted for in preseason projections, and so he would have easily hit 30+ HR again with more at bats, due to his HR/FB floor of 24%. But last year home runs were plentiful at a record pace, so a low-BA, high-HR hitter simply doesn’t carry as much roto value anymore. Lesson learned: one- or two-category hitters aren’t valuable — unless those two categories are BA and SB.

Miggy’s drop came as a surprise, even if you were projecting some decline as he ages, and considering 2016 was a late-career peak. Back issues are bad news for a hitter, and two herniated disks don’t magically heal the next year. His first half was still solid, with a hard hit rate above average and a HR/FB down from 2016 but better than 2014-15. He’s still a skilled hitter, and the back was likely to blame for a dip in contact, not a drop in overall ability. That said, a potentially lingering health issue that could wipe out his season’s production is riskier than someone like Edwin Encarnacion, who stays on the field and is facing some small skills erosion. High risk, high reward has its place, but not in the top-10 of keeper ranks when the batter is entering his age 35 season.

How much do you boost a young player like Greg Bird simply based on
long-term potential, even if he hasn’t yet lived up to lofty expectations?

Longtime readers of Fantasy Assembly know that I’m bullish on prospects and as-yet-untapped potential. For an easy example, look at Jurisckon Profar, or how about Dansby Swanson struggling? So when it comes to a power bat who has been hurt with multiple injuries, I’m less likely to rank him in the top-15 or even top-20 until he’s proven he can stay on the field and slug.

Again, for corner infield, there are plenty of safer options right now. Maybe I’d take him for my DH or bench, but I’m not valuing him as a weekly starter. The long-term potential is certainly high, but his lack of contact could also see him quickly turn into another Chris Davis, and we know that one-trick ponies aren’t valuable (most years).

What about ranking a breakout player like Travis Shaw (a bit older with MLB experience) compared to Rhys Hoskins (younger and no previous MLB time)?

Like I often say, most prospects take time to develop. Not many can come out of the gate like Trout, Machado, and Bryant, keeping up MVP production from year one. That may have been the case with Travis Shaw, who was never a top-10 prospect but had high hopes based on his minor league stats. His HR/FB dipped in 2016, but it rebounded to be even better than his rookie year. He also found a way to hit lefties in 2017, helping him earn more playing time. His hard hit rate was above average, and he improved his K% and BB%. I’m going to buy into his breakout, or at least most of it: .260 and 25+ HR seems like a good base.

Hoskins is riskier despite the big power potential. We simply don’t know what he can do for a full season. His contact rate dropped as time went on, so I can’t believe some pundits saying he may hit .300 if all goes well. It’d take a lot of luck for that to happen, especially because his LD% dropped from his first month to the second. His walk rate is great, but his K% jumped. His HR/FB did fall from August to September, though it’s still elite and his FB% is still high. That said, given his age and his homer-friendly home park, I’m okay with rolling the dice in deeper leagues. Just be sure you aren’t paying for six months of August.


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Kevin Jebens

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Fantasy baseball player since 2000; winning leagues ranging from 12-team H2H to 18-team experts 5x5. Has written for various baseball blogs, including the 2013 Bleed Cubbie Blue Annual.