Major League Baseball and its fantasy counterpart really don’t have all that much in common.
Defense doesn’t count in the game most of us play, and while the stolen base is a valuable statistic in the real game, it carries much more weight in the game involving the fans. But whether it’s the big league game or rotoball, there’s no position that generates more buzz than that of the closer.
In the real game, the math whizzes still cling to an insistence that the specialist assigned to ninth inning duties is an overrated commodity.
From a purely statistical standpoint, they’re correct.
But this is the one case where the numbers just don’t tell the story. Getting those last three outs in a close game remains one of the toughest jobs in the game. Plus, if your favorite team doesn’t have a reliable closer, you can pretty well bet the house money that team won’t be a contender. From a purely psychological point of view, the closer is huge.
In the world of fantasy baseball, the closer is indeed overrated.
Every team has to get its share of saves, but aside from that category, closers aren’t terribly important. Obviously, any owner is better off with a high end closer who gets the job done without blowing up the other counting categories. But even if you’re stuck with the weakest ninth inning guys, they don’t pitch enough innings to have a huge impact overall. As long as they rack up the saves, it’s mission accomplished.
And it’s for this reason that I have always resisted drafting a closer in any early round. It’s the same story for me in auction leagues, where you’ll seldom see a winning owner spending serious dollars on one of the big names, when they can more than likely snare someone for far fewer dollars.
Nevertheless, closers are always hot commodities, and that’s why I always pay close attention to those who are second in line throughout the majors. These pitchers will frequently inherit the closer role at some point during the season. Not only can they hold value just from that vantage point, but they also can become major trade pieces, particularly in dealing with owners who overvalue closers and will pay through the nose to try and corner the market on saves.
If you’re in a deep league of more than 12 teams, or in an auction league where budgets are always a concern, the pitchers I’m listing here are at least worth following now, or perhaps grabbing right away depending on your individual circumstances.
Atlanta : Billy Wagner is having a monster season, and he’s got the ninth inning locked up. But assuming his plans to retire don’t change, the Braves will need a new man next season. Craig Kimbrel is currently back in AAA, but he’s looked good in a couple of trials with the big club and is the likely 2011 Braves closer.
Arizona : The ninth inning has been a total disaster for the Diamondbacks, who are on pace for the worst bullpen ERA in baseball history. The Snakes recently recalled Sam Demel and I’m confident he will be given a chance to close sooner than later. Given the instability of this team’s pen, I’d grab Demel right away in fantasy formats, and he’s also worth trying to steal on the cheap with FAAB dollars in auction leagues.
Boston : Jonathan Papelbon is a great bet to be wearing another uniform by next season. Daniel Bard is going to grab a few saves this season, and he should take over the full time role next year. Forget about Bard in any auction leagues, he’s almost certainly already owned. Good trade target if that’s the case, as he’ll be worth substantial dollars down the road.
Chicago White Sox : Now that the Chisox are back in the AL Central chase, the likelihood of Bobby Jenks getting dealt has diminished. However, J.J. Putz is putting up stellar numbers, and I would definitely say he’s worth following and perhaps grabbing now if you’ve got roster space available.
Cleveland : Chris Perez actually ought to be closing now for the Indians. I have little doubt he will be soon enough, as Kerry Wood will either get traded, injured, or will simply lose the job at some point.
Houston : Matt Lindstrom has been okay for the Astros, but I’d still keep an eye on Brandon Lyon . Lindstrom’s back issues can flare up at any time, and even on a weak entry like this one, there are still ample save opportunities available.
Los Angeles Angel s: Brian Fuentes is clearly the closer, but he’s shaky enough to only be rated as having medium security on the job. Just for that reason, make sure you at least track Fernando Rodney .
Milwaukee : Trevor Hoffman is likely done as this team’s closer, but the all-time saves leader may yet snare a few opportunities to add to his record. Nevertheless, I don’t believe he’s worth rostering at this point.
Pittsburgh : I have no idea why the Pirates haven’t simply given the ninth inning to Evan Meek as he’s without question the team’s closer down the road. He’s better than Octavio Dotel, and there’s no reason for Meek not to be closing already. But as it’s likely Dotel will get moved by the trade deadline, Meek is worth owning now if he’s still available. I doubt he is in auction leagues, but he may well be a free agent in deep annual leagues.
Seattle : David Aardsma is 16/20 in save opportunities this season. Not bad, but my gut feeling is that Brandon League gets a shot at some point. League has been amazing at Safeco this year, and the Mariners seem to be gearing him toward taking over the role eventually.
Washington : Matt Capps has had a strong comeback campaign, and that has undoubtedly boosted his trade value. Even if Capps stays in Washington all season, Drew Storen is the future closer for the Nationals. As is the case with Meek, I doubt that Storen is available in any quality auction leagues. But there’s a good chance he is in the pool in annuals, so keep a sharp eye out for him in those leagues.
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