Fantasy Baseball Strategies: Sorry Brian Wilson, but Saves Come Cheap in 2011
I know I do.
He has elite talent on the mound and seems to understand that baseball is first and foremost entertainment before anything else.
Oh and he has the BEST beard in the universe. It rivals Tom Selleck's mustache for the most famous facial hair known to man.
I am a huge fan.
Now that I have expressed my admiration for him, I must confess that Brian Wilson will not be on a single one of my fantasy baseball teams in 2011. The reason? His average draft position (ADP).
According to Mock Draft Central, Wilson's ADP is 74. He is being drafted alongside power hitters like Paul Konerko and Jay Bruce, five-tool talents such as Curtis Granderson and Hunter Pence and Cy Young candidates like Josh Johnson and Francisco Liriano.
Players capable of contributing in every offensive category or hitters able to bash 30+ HR simply aren't available after pick 150 or so. Pitchers who can throw 200 or more strikeouts or have an ERA below 3.00 aren't found on the waiver wire.
Five-tool talent and dominant starting pitching have to be targeted early. Closers and saves, on the other hand, do not.
How Early Do You Draft a Closer?
There were over 50 relief pitchers to record 10 or more saves in 2010.
Twenty of those 50 weren't even the Opening Day closers for their team.
Based on the current ADP chart from Mock Draft Central, there are at least 10 relief pitchers being drafted outside the Top 300 capable of recording 10 or more saves in 2011.
Considering most fantasy baseball league's don't pick more than 250 players or so, there is a very good chance these closer candidates will be available extremely late in your draft or on your league's free agent list the following day.
Daniel Bard - Boston Red Sox (ADP: 301)
Daniel Bard is currently penciled in as a setup man for Jonathan Papelbon in the Red Sox bullpen. However, Papelbon was often shaky in 2010 and suffered through a 3.90 ERA and 1.27 WHIP. He will want to improve those numbers to stay out of Terry Francona's dog house. If he can't or gets injured, expect the team to turn to Bard in the 9th inning.
Even if Papelbon keeps the closer role the entire season, the Red Sox are projected to win a lot of games in 2011 and it is likely that Daniel Bard still has anywhere from five to 10 save opportunities throughout the season.
Jonny Venters - Atlanta Braves (ADP: 303)
Jonny Venters will be competing with Craig Kimbrel for the closer role in Atlanta during spring training and the early portion of this season, thanks to the retirement of Billy Wagner. Kimbrel is the preseason favorite, but early reports suggest that the two will split the role to start the season, which means Venters should have opportunities early and often in 2011.
If Venters impresses and Kimbrel falters, there is a good chance he could have sole possession of the 9th inning by June. The Atlanta Braves are expected to compete for the NL East and Wild Card again this season, which means Venters could acquire anywhere from 25-30 saves if he inherits the closer role before the All-Star break.
Evan Meek - Pittsburgh Pirates (ADP: 309)
Evan Meek will start the season as the setup man for Joel Hanrahan in the Pittsburgh Pirate's bullpen. It was expected that there would be a competition between the two during spring training, but new manager Clint Hurdle put an end to that notion right away.
Hanrahan is no Mariano Rivera and Meek was the team's only All-Star in 2010. If the Pirates expect to have any chance to compete, they won't be able to squander late-inning leads. Hanrahan can't afford to get off to a bad start, because Meek will be more than ready to step into the role.
Brian Fuentes - Oakland A's (ADP: 311)
Brian Fuentes has had success in his career as the closer for the Colorado Rockies and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Andrew Bailey is the team's closer entering 2011, however, he had elbow surgery in the offseason, which is always scary for a pitcher. Keep an eye on his injury in spring training. If he can't go, expect Fuentes to get the 9th inning and a lot of save opportunities in what should be close games in Oakland.
Aroldis Chapman - Cincinnati Reds (ADP: 318)
Aroldis Chapman is the closer of the future for the Cincinnati Reds and the future could be now if Francisco Cordero continues to see his K-rate decline and his walk rate increase. The Reds expect to compete for the NL Central again in 2011 and will want something better in the 9th inning than the 1.43 WHIP Cordero provided last season.
Leo Nunez - Florida Marlins (ADP: 324)
Leo Nunez has been the team's primary closer the past two seasons, but things have begun to sour in South Beach. Nunez should have the 9th inning on Opening Day and could earn double digit saves early in the season even if he does falter early. If he keeps the job, you get a full season worth of saves from a waiver wire pickup.
More to Consider:
Brandon League - Seattle Mariners (ADP: 339): David Aardsma could start the season on the DL, which would give Brandon League the closer role to start the season. If he excels and Aardsma doesn't recover or return to form, League could be a cheap source for saves for the 2011 season.
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