Closers are to fantasy baseball what kickers are to fantasy football. They can put up good points and may ultimately help your team out a lot, but at the same time, there are very few worth taking early and too much of their production relies on chance.
Also, and perhaps more importantly, taking a closer early means passing up on players who are in a much better position to help out fantasy teams.
Take Craig Kimbrel, for example. His 14.84 strikeouts per nine innings make him an attractive pick for points-based leagues, but his average draft position is 58.2. In that area are last-chance shortstops Starlin Castro and Elvis Andrus. Taking him would also mean passing up on Stephen Strasburg, Matt Cain and Yovani Gallardo.
Kimbrel is the first closer off draft boards by far though, as he goes a full 12 spots ahead of Mariano Rivera, who is ten spots ahead of the next closest reliever, Jonathan Paplebon.
But even at Rivera's position (70.5), he sits right in front of the National League wins leader, Ian Kennedy. Taking him or even waiting for Papelbon would prevent you from getting phenom Matt Moore, multiple-position option Michael Young and former stars like Carl Crawford and Chase Utley.
Much like kickers in fantasy football, closers rely too much on their teams for production.
A kicker has a 40-yard window of opportunity, and even that can be taken away based on the situation. Closers have a three-run window and can't go too many days in a row, so they may not even be able to take advantage of all of their chances.
When Bell can get 43 saves for a 71-91 San Diego Padres team while Ryan Madson gets only 32 for the 102-60 Philadelphia Phillies, you know that a lot of chance is involved even getting save opportunities.
The cream of the crop for closers come in the eleventh and twelfth rounds, where guys like Heath Bell and Jose Valverde can be found. Valverde led baseball with 49 saves for the Detroit Tigers last year, and Bell should figure to get more save opportunities as a member of the Florida Marlins than the Padres.
Andrew Bailey is available a full 90 picks later than Kimbrel, and as a member of the Boston Red Sox, he'll be more competitive in the saves category. Jordan Walden, who had 32 saves in his rookie season, can be taken six spots later.
There are 30 baseball teams and of those 30, about half will finish with a winning record. That's about 15 closers that have will have a legit shot at 35 saves or more. In other words, one closer for each team in your fantasy league plus some extras.
There are so many good fantasy closers that owners shouldn't be compelled to spend any of their first ten picks on one.
Don't take an elite closer when you can get guys who will be of more value to your team down the stretch. Closers' production is too reliant on situational play and there are so many options that two or three great producers can likely be found as free agents mid-season.
Instead, build up your team with reliable starters and fill out your roster. If you play in a league that is points-based and doesn't have a saves category, there may be no reason to take a closer at all.
Even if you are in a rotisserie league, you can tank the saves category and still win. Just make sure you're set up well for high finishes in the other categories and you'll be fine. You can do that by getting top hitters and starters in the middle rounds instead of closers.
That being said, if you're sitting on the 90th pick in the draft and Kimbrel is still available because everybody in your league read this article, take him. It can be nice to have a pitcher that you don't have to wait five days to get points from.
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