You hear it every year: Don't pay for saves.
Yet, you still take a big name closer before the seventh round each season.
The overused cliche rings with truth and I can attest to it. You simply should not be wasting high draft picks on closers.
Before I go any further, I should make it clear that I'm talking about rotisserie leagues with standard 5x5 categories. Obviously certain custom leagues could place more value on relief pitchers, but this is not the case here.
Last year in my private league with friends, I waited until the 15th round to select my first closer, Frank Francisco, watching 17 closers/relief pitchers fly off the board before making my selection. I then selected Michael Wuertz (19), Scott Downs (20) and Jon Rauch (22).
That's three selections after pick number 200. Did this pay off? In short, no, but it did allow me to boost the other areas of my team by waiting so long.
Francisco got off to a horrid start and relinquished his role to Neftali Feliz. He battled injuries and wouldn't save a game after May, but he did end up with a nice 2010 season.
Michael Wuertz was a disaster until the second half. Scott Downs was brilliant, but never wrestled the closer role away from Kevin Gregg.
Jon Rauch, on the other hand, was a sparkling success. If only he had spent the first half of the season on my team. I inexplicably dropped him for someone I cannot remember. I can't tell you why I did it. I can only tell you that I am notorious for making questionable moves.
I once traded Adrian Beltre for Bill Mueller in 2004. I told the owner of Mueller that I had a hunch that Beltre was going to have a nice year. Mueller had just come off of a career year (.326 / 17 HR) and I thought it was definitely the right move. My hunch was right, but I never expected Beltre to produce his best season to date that year (.334 / 48 HR / 121 RBI).
That was easily my worst moment, but I was a rookie then. I can't say I've learned from my mistakes though. I dropped Ryan Braun in his rookie season (before he really got hot) and I also dropped Buster Posey last year (while I still had a healthy Carlos Santana and Posey hadn't flashed any power yet).
Still, even after the tumultuous disaster of my drafting relief pitchers I would place fourth in saves, netting me nine points. I had 93 saves and I was way behind the top three in the league (3rd place finished at 117). My final roster ended with Neftali Feliz (acquired by trade), Chris Perez and Brandon Lyon. All three of those guys took over the closer role at some point in the season.
This is just one of many examples of why not to reach for closers in your draft.
I follow this strategy every year. It usually gets me at least one closer who saves a lot of games. The rest of my saves come through trades or waiver wire pickups (Papelbon, 2006). In my last three seasons, I've place 3rd twice in the saves category and 4th once.
Here are some sure fire strategies to selecting your relief pitchers.
1. Don't panic when a run starts on closers.
During every draft, a run or two will take place on closers. You'll see your queue dwindle in seconds, but don't panic. Instead, take a player that someone else passed on because they joined in on the run. Solid closers open up on the waiver wire every year and your pick can best be spent on a bat or a pitcher that offers upside.
I generally wait until the 13-15th rounds to take my first closer. By then, I've filled out most of my offense as well as a few starting pitchers. If it doesn't work out, well....
2. Be Aggressive.
If you follow this strategy, you will have to be aggressive with free agents. This means picking some guys up before they take over the role (I grabbed Papelbon in 2006 after watching his first appearance of the season) or making a small swap via trade. Free agency is your best bet.
Make sure you grab at least one guy in your draft who is locked in as a closer beginning the season. It won't always work out this way, but it helps.
Keep a watchful eye on the volatile bullpens and be ready to pounce. Guys like Kerry Wood or Octavio Dotel are almost destined to pass the torch at some point during the season.
3. Ride the hot hand.
Don't avoid a guy just because he may lose his job in a week. You never know what might happen, and that guy could end up holding on to the role longer than anticipated. Two weeks of extra saves from a part-time closer could give you a leg up later in the season. Scrap for those saves.
4. Avoid closer by committees.
Committees can be a mess and I strongly recommend avoiding them. Unless there is a clear cut favorite emerging, save yourself the frustration and move on.
5. It's not the name on the front, it's the name on the back.
It doesn't matter if a guy plays for the Pittsburgh Pirates or the New York Yankees—if a guy is good enough, he will save games. Take Joakim Soria for example. Soria has finished in the Top five in the saves category in two of the last three seasons despite being on the cellar dwelling Kansas City Royals.
Soria has blown a mere nine saves since 2008. Heath Bell is another great example. The Padres won 75 games in 2009 and Bell saved 42 of those games. You're missing out on quality closers if you dismiss a player because of his team.
6. Don't try to win the saves category.
Seriously. Don't sacrifice early draft picks on a guy that is going to contribute mostly toward one category. As long as you place in the top four or five in saves, then you're doing just fine.
There will be guys in a lot of leagues who try to hoard all of the saves. Don't try to compete with that. Just worry about placing high enough.
Following these guidelines won't guarantee you first place in the saves category, but if you're aggressive enough and draft the right guys then you will put yourself in good position to place near the top.
It's entirely possible to wind up with two or even three solid closers by waiting to the middle rounds to make your picks. You have to look at each team's situation and assess the job security. Realize that every closer's role is not safe. An injury could befall any player at any moment.
Remember, it's a long season and you can make a run toward the top even after a month into the season.
Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comment box below. You can e-mail me suggestions or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me on Twitter @JoeSportswriter.