Your Saves Savior: The Closing Strategy for Your 2013 Fantasy Baseball Team

Tuesday September 18, 2012

Peter Stein:  

The following stat is the most telling about the roles of closers from a fantasy baseball perspective: 47 players have recorded 5 or more saves and a total of 61 have record 3 or more in 2012. The dispersion of saves throughout baseball reaffirm the old fantasy adage to never overpay for saves, demonstrating just how volatile the closing position is… and the difficulty of predicting saves.

A look at the top-five save leaders tells us even more:

Fernando Rodney (0.66 ERA, 0.78 WHIP 43 saves)

Jim Johnson (2.82 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 43 saves)

Rafael Soriano (2.07 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 40 saves)

Chris Perez (3.48 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 36 saves)

Craig Kimbrel (1.14 ERA, .0.67 WHIP, 36 saves)

Kimbrel, of these five, was the only one supposed to be in this category before the start of the 2012 season. With his absurd peripherals (104 strikeouts in 55.1) innings, he is one of the few closers that is worth a high price tag. This is because Kimbrel provides value outside of his save total, which we know can fluctuate due to a variety of factors. However, the 60-70 innings Kimbrel pitches are premium and provide insane value to the ERA, WHIP, and K categories. The only other closer who is on the same level of Kimbrel is Aroldis Chapman, who has posted a 1.60 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, 35 saves, and 119 K’s in 67.2 IP. This is elite production in all five categories as well. However, there are still concerns with Chapman’s ability to stay healthy, and let us not forget that he only assumed the closer’s position due to injuries on his own team.

This gets us to the issue of injuries. Guys like Brian Wilson, Mariano Rivera, Huston Street, Matt Capps, and Sergio Santos were all drafted by owners expecting at least 30 saves, and in some cases 40 or more. This is the problem with overpaying for closers, because the bust factor, due to either injury or competition, is just too high. Rivera, for the last decade, was considered to be the safest option on the board. But, as we know, freak injuries can happen. As a result, Rafael Soriano was given the opportunity to close again and he has put up numbers that have Yankees fans already forgetting about Rivera. But remember, it was David Robertson who was supposed to originally get the save opportunities in New York.

Fantasy owners who were patient, and sat back and waited for the replacements (Tyler Clippard, Tom Wilhelmsen, Santiago Casilla, Casey Janssen, Greg Holland, Addison Reed, etc.), or paid a modest dollar for the Chris Perez or Jim Johnson types were rewarded in 2012. This is why the correct strategy is to pay modest dollars for guys with closing duties, draft a couple handcuff options, and then scour the waiver wire like a hawk throughout the season. The early bird does get the closer!

Referring back to the top-five save leaders of 2012, Chris Perez was considered a bottom tier option that would ultimately give way to elite set up man Vinnie Pestano. Despite Pestano’s excellence, Perez has flourished and racked up 36 saves while also providing value in the other pitching categories. While a Jonathan Papelbon and Heath Bell (bust alert!) type typically went for 20 dollars in auction drafts, spending about 10 dollars for Chris Perez and a dollar or two on Pestano as insurance is the wiser strategy. Jim Johnson was literally at the bottom of most closer rankings, and owners only needed to drop a few bucks for his 40 saves in 2012.

The biggest surprise of the year, however, is Fernando Rodney. Rodney wasn’t even drafted in most leagues, and for good reason after posting a 4.50 ERA and walking 28, compared to 26 strikeouts, in 32 innings pitched for the Angels in 2011. Rodney shows just how closers can emerge out of nowhere, and although he has closed in the past, he put up very ugly numbers while doing so. In 2012, the numbers are astonishing and he has amassed a WAR of 3.2 to date, after compiling a total WAR of 0.7 in his nine previous seasons combined. Somehow, with the help of the Tampa’s coaching staff, Rodney was able to reinvent himself in 2012.

Looking ahead, the Rodney, Johnson and Perez and other success stories of 2012, will now by overvalued and thus overpaid for on draft day in 2013. Believe it nor not, these guys are now the players to avoid next year! Here are the guys that I think will be worth targeting and available at a reasonable price in 2013:

Greg Holland, since he was finally give the chance to close, has run away from the competition on the Royals roster. Holland will finish the season with less than 20 saves, so he should remain low on most draft boards. However, what makes Holland so valuable, in addition to the saves, is the strikeout potential: 85 strikeouts in 61.1 innings pitched. He is the type of player who is valuable in the other pitching categories even when he is not closing, and the job certainly appears to be his heading into 2013.

Ernesto Frieri will likely be a hot commodity during the 2013 draft period for fantasy owners. Although he has had struggles of late, he is the next closest thing to the Kimbrel/Chapman level: 2.30 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, and 94 K’s in 58.2 innings pitched. I worry that his value will sky-rocket, but he is the type of player worth spending a few extra bucks on due to his value outside of saves. Just don’t go crazy!

Wilton Lopez assumed the closer’s role when Brett Myers was traded to the White Sox. Unfortunately, pitching for the lowly Astros, he has only eared six saves. There is no reason to think he won’t be closing in 2013, as Lopez produced elite ERA and WHIP for three consecutive seasons now. Wilton should be available inexpensively, will contribute to the other pitching categories, and doesn’t have any real competition in Houston.

These are just a few names to target on draft day, but remember to not be tempted to over spend for saves. Closers will get hurt, managers will grow impatient or employ matchups, and the closing position will remain volatile. Therefore, on draft day, grab a few closers that are ranked in the lower tier and insure yourself with their setup men. Target guys who provide value in the other four pitching categories and then play the waiver wire better than your competition to find next year’s Fernando Rodney or Ernesto Frieri.

(*** The views and opinions expressed in this report are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ***)

***Today’s feature was prepared by our Fantasy Baseball Analyst, Peter Stein.  We highly encourage you to leave your comments and feedback at the bottom of the page and share in the discussion with our readers.  You can also follow Peter on Twitter (@peterWstein)***


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Posted on September 18, 2012, in Players: Fantasy Baseball Articles and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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