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Optimizing Return on Early-Season Dynasty/Keeper Trades (Fantasy Baseball)

by Carmen Maiorano | @carmsclubhouse | Featured Writer
Jun 4, 2020

Keeper and dynasty managers should targets young players like Willie Calhoun who start their season (or career) slow.

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After mastering how to get value for your draft picks in keeper and dynasty leagues, you want to turn your attention to making hay on early-season dynasty and keeper trades. While there is some overlap with redraft league trading strategies, there are definitely specific elements to these longer-term leagues that you’ll want to consider.

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Target Slow-Starting Vets

We’ve all been there, staring at the face of a consistent early-season underperformer. Think Corey Kluber on the pitching side. K-BB% has been demonstrated to be one of the best predictors of ERA, and Kluber has routinely improved after a subpar opening month.

Month Career K-BB%
April 18.8%
Lowest in all other months 21.0%

 
If the person who owns Kluber doesn’t know that he starts out colder than the Cleveland weather in April and finishes hotter than the Texas weather in August, use that to your advantage by trading for him at his lowest value at the end of April. Otherwise, you’ll be selling a premium prospect or good player from a position of depth for him later in the year. The hitter example of this would be Edwin Encarnacion.

Month Career wRC+
April 101
Lowest in all other months 121

 
Of course, if this is a long-running dynasty league, whoever has Kluber or Encarnacion likely knows by now that they start slowly. So the next step is to target players who have poor surface-level stats, but solid underlying metrics with stable sample sizes.

Know Your Sabermetrics and Minor League Context

In the words of infamous band The Clash, should the player stay or should he go? While you may prefer to steer clear of these types of players in redraft leagues, they can be more valuable in a dynasty or keeper league.

Metrics that stabilize quickly include walks, strikeouts, ground-ball and fly-ball rates, and isolated slugging. All of these stats can be found on FanGraphs. Expected batting average (xBA) and expected slugging percentage (xSLG) also determine if a player has “earned” their performance. If a player on your team is doing well in a couple of hitting categories but also has a career-high strikeout rate, optimize your return with an early trade. Similarly, a player with a high average due to an unsustainable BABIP — as a result of getting lucky and/or not optimizing their exit velocity/launch angle combination — is a player to sell. Refer to the “early-season underperformer” link above for more detailed information on this strategy.

To apply this more specifically to a dynasty or keeper league setting, there might be a guy absolutely raking in Triple-A’s Pacific Coast League. Said player might have 10 homers through 60 games with a combined 70 runs and RBIs. However, the PCL is a haven for hitters, so his wRC+ may only be 105, or five percent above league average. Don’t believe me? Look at Sam Hilliard’s Triple-A stat line in 2019.

Average HR R RBI Steals
.262 35 109 101 22

 
His wRC+ was a whopping 107. Only seven percent above league average! If other owners are unfamiliar with the context of minor league stats, you can exploit those numbers to your advantage in trades.

Lack of Playing Time

If your roster is constructed to win in a year or two, and you want to start making moves to inch closer to a championship, target highly skilled prospects with a lack of playing time after the first month or two of the season. A prime suspect would be Garrett Hampson in 2019. While he received a solid amount of at-bats in April, he had just 16 at-bats in May. If you traded for him in a “win later” scenario, he would have ridden your bench through the summer, but then put up a .318/.368/.534 slash line with nine steals in September. You would feel extremely confident heading into the offseason that you won that trade.

When in doubt, trust the skills to win out. Even if that player is on a team that ruthlessly holds back rookies and prospects in preference of veterans.

On the flip side, you can optimize returns on pitching by trading youngsters with innings limits. Think Chris Paddack in 2019.

Half IP
First 82 1/3
Second 58 1/3

 
Paddack didn’t help much if you were fighting for a playoff spot in August or battling through the playoffs in September. Yes, his stats were great, but the lack of strikeouts and potential for wins may haunt you in that playoff run. In this case, you can trade these types of pitchers at their highest value in May. This strategy works better when you are looking to win a championship in the current year, as Paddack is obviously a top asset for the next several years.

Struggling with Change

Every year, plenty of guys jump to the next level of the minor leagues — or make it to The Show — and perform poorly. Examples include Austin Riley in 2019 or Willie Calhoun (MLB numbers depicted in the table below) prior to that.

Year PA’s Average HR wRC+
2017 37 .265 1 75
2018 108 .222 2 53
2019 337 .269 21 110

 
If the owner in your league soured on Calhoun prior to 2019, you could have jumped the gun and easily won the trade. The best way to find these types of players is by researching each team’s top prospects and seeing which players have struggled when jumping to a new level. Alternatively, you can review dynasty rankings from several sources and determine who they think is still a good prospect despite struggling. Getting these players before they turn it around is key. Again, trust the skills.

As you no doubt noticed, several of these tips intertwine with each other. Leverage the data provided, do your homework, and take advantage of short-sighted competitors.

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Carmen Maiorano is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Carmen, check out his archive and personal fantasy blogand follow him @carmsclubhouse.

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