Fantasy Baseball: Why Not To Draft the Top Five Closers

Collin HagerSenior Writer IFebruary 12, 2010

BOSTON - OCTOBER 11:  Pitcher Jonathan Papelbon #58 of the Boston Red Sox delivers a pitch against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the eighth inning of Game Three of the ALDS during the 2009 MLB Playoffs at Fenway Park on October 11, 2009 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Relief pitching is almost a necessary evil when it comes to the fantasy baseball world. Last season, 37 players recorded at least 10 saves, but only one pitched more than 80 innings. It is that type of return that makes many owners question when they should draft a reliever. After all, why would you grab a player that, largely, impacts your team only three to four innings a week and only in one category?

As you begin to prepare for your draft, should your league require relief pitchers, you need to make a determination of the value to place on saves as a whole. In turn, that determines how you look at the top five closers in the draft. The names are easy to rattle off.

In some order, they go Joe Nathan, Mariano Rivera, Jonathan Papelbon, Jonathan Broxton, and Francisco Rodriguez. For the most part, these five are being drafted between picks 70 and 80 in mock drafts. In 12-team leagues, that is as early as Round Six.
That may be hard to swallow for an owner that may, at this point, not have drafted even one starting pitcher. Most are working on building their offense and addressing needs with players that impact a team every single day.

The best thing an owner can do is avoid these five.
There are reasons. First, all have some type of risk involved. Papelbon is far from the lights-out pitcher he was two years ago and has had lingering shoulder issues. At some point, Rivera's arm is going to fall off and you do not want to be his owner when that happens.
Broxton has a physique that is better suited for a bartender than a closer. Nathan has been the most steady, but even he has some minor injury concerns. Rodriguez plays for the Mets and is a heart attack to watch.

Most importantly, though, is to look back at one of the earlier statements. There were 37 closers with at least 10 saves. That means you can find players who can be mixed and matched to give you enough leverage within that category.
Add to that, there are always a handful of closers who lose their jobs each season. What this should point toward is waiting on closers longer than you might anticipate.

For the sake of argument, say you still want a 30-save closer. At pick 138, Brian Wilson would still be available. Miss on Wilson and you would still have Ryan Franklin and Huston Street available in the same general area. Want more stability? Target Andrew Bailey at pick 125. All of these players are coming at least five rounds after the top of the board is selected.

The possibilities at closer, at least in April, are endless simply because there was much more depth this past season than in others. In a quick straw poll I posed on Twitter the other day, many agreed targeting these early closers is still simply too high in the draft for players that contribute in one category in a limited role. The most common reasons why were some of the ADP's seen on closers later in the draft.

While the trio mentioned above for 30 saves have attractive draft spots, there are several other closers that are available so late that not drafting them would be a crime. One such player that generated buzz was Chad Qualls.
Qualls closed for the Diamondbacks last season but did have surgery during the winter. Arizona remains optimistic that he will be able to close for them come April. Qualls had 24 saves in 51 games last year with an ERA of 3.63.

Better still, he is currently being selected around pick 250. Getting 25 of anything at that point in the draft is worth the selection. Other closers available at or above pick 200 that generated some interest included Kerry Wood, Octavio Dotel, Matt Capps, Mike Gonzalez, and Frank Francisco. It is entirely possible these closers all achieve at least 25 saves this season.

Between a new and rejuvenated Orioles team for Gonzalez and a fresh start for Capps and Dotel, there are three players who owners should certainly be investigating at the ends of their drafts. Capps pitched well in Pittsburgh and will be "The Man" with the Nationals in 2010. Dotel is likely set to replace him as the primary closer for the Pirates.

Francisco is a slight question mark because of his durability and the potential emergence of Neftali Feliz, but he is not far removed from being one of the more reliable forces in the game. Injuries are history, and he still possesses the right stuff to do the job at the end of the bullpen. Wood is Wood, but he should get you 25 saves and at least a strikeout an inning. Not bad based on a pick that late.

For a year, any one of these players is going to give owners what they are looking for without having to spend a pick to grab the closers who are considered elite. Certainly, the top of any position may give you a sense of security, but knowing there are players just as valuable later in a draft may help you assign a value that would make your team better in the end.