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Why Adding Closers Is Better Than Drafting Them

Tue, Mar 23, 2010

Closer's Corner, Strategy

Image courtesy of: Dennis Adair

Closers are the most overrated players in fantasy baseball. The good ones deliver strong contributions to one category, but generally pitch less than five innings per week.

During drafts, I usually ignore the position until the late rounds. Despite this strategy, my teams are usually very strong in the saves category. In fact, my teams have finished first, first and second in saves over the last three seasons in my 10-team roto keeper league.

How is this possible you ask? It’s simple really. Let me run some numbers by you…

A total of 1,202 saves were recorded by 124 different relief pitchers in 2009. 744 of those 1,202 saves (61.8 percent) were nailed down by Opening Day closers, meaning 458 saves (38.1 percent) were likely available on the waiver wire in early April.

The problem with these numbers, however, is that 119 saves were registered by closers who totalled four or less saves during the entire season. These saves are essentially meaningless, as most of them were unconventional, coming from pitchers who had little to no fantasy relevance.

If we discount these 119 saves, we’re left with a total of 1,083. This gives us a slightly higher percentage (68.6) of saves that can be chalked up to 2009 Opening Day closers. Subsequent calculations reveal that 339 saves (31.3 percent) were probably not rostered early in the season. Ryan Franklin and David Aardsma (38 saves each in 2009) come to mind…

To be specific, three different pitchers claimed 30-plus saves last year, despite not recording their team’s first. Trevor Hoffman is the third, though to be fair, the start of his season was delayed by a short DL stint.

Five pitchers (Rafael Soriano, Leo Nunez, Andrew Bailey, Jose Valverde and Mike MacDougal) recorded between 20 and 29 saves, despite not owning the title of Opening Day closer.

Five more hurlers (J.P. Howell, Carlos Marmol, C.J. Wilson, Ryan Madson and Jim Johnson) closed the door on 10 to 19 games, even though they served as a middle relief or setup option in early April.

Even Scott Downs, Juan Gutierrez, Franklin Morales, Ramon Troncoso and Randy Choate were briefly useful to fantasy managers, recording between five and nine saves last season.

As you can see, the closer position experiences such a high turnover rate from year to year, it’s difficult for fantasy managers to rely on anyone not named Mariano Rivera.

In fact, only six closers (Francisco Rodriguez, Trevor Hoffman, Jonathan Papelbon, Joe Nathan, Francisco Cordero and the aforementioned Rivera) have recorded 30-plus saves in each of the past three seasons. Because Nathan is scheduled to undergo Tommy John surgery on Friday, fantasy managers are left with only five reliable options at the closer position for the 2010 season.

For this reason, you’d be wise not to waste multiple picks on closers in the early and mid rounds of your draft. It’d be even wiser to keep an eye on the Closers’ Corner this season, as we’ll be tracking the closing carousels and injuries that will effect save opportunities.

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