Closers are the most overrated players in fantasy baseball. The good ones deliver strong contributions to one category, but generally pitch less than five innings per week.
During drafts, I usually ignore the position until the late rounds. Despite this strategy, my teams are usually very strong in the saves category. In fact, my teams have finished tied-first, second, first and first in saves over the last four seasons in my 10-team roto keeper league.
How is this possible you ask? It’s simple really. Let me run some numbers by you…
A total of 1,176 saves were recorded by 116 different relief pitchers in 2010. Of those, 773 saves (65.7 percent) were nailed down by Opening Day closers, meaning 403 saves (34.3 percent) were likely available on the waiver wire in early April.
The problem with these numbers, however, is that 119 saves were registered by closers who totalled four or less saves during the entire season. These saves are essentially meaningless, as most of them were unconventional, coming from pitchers who had little to no fantasy relevance.
If we discount these 119 saves, we’re left with a total of 1,057. This gives us a slightly higher percentage (73.1) of saves that can be chalked up to 2010 Opening Day closers. Subsequent calculations reveal that 284 saves (26.9 percent) were probably not rostered early in the season. Neftali Feliz (40 saves) and John Axford (24 saves) come to mind.
Brandon Lyon (20), Alfredo Simon (17), Juan Gutierrez (15), Fernando Rodney (14), Koji Uehara (13) and Hong-Chih Kuo (12) also recorded measurable amounts of saves last season despite not being a closer on Opening Day.
So what does this mean for 2011?
Consider this: More than half of the 30 MLB teams will have a new closer on Opening Day this year. Many of these changes are due to injury, but that’s part of the reason closers are so unreliable.
Here are the 16 relief pitchers who began last season as a closer but are no longer serving that role: Brian Wilson* (48 saves in ‘10), Rafael Soriano (45), Matt Capps (42), Billy Wagner (37), David Aardsma* (31), Bobby Jenks (27), Andrew Bailey* (25), Matt Lindstrom (23), Octavio Dotel (22), Chad Qualls (12), Trevor Hoffman (10), Ryan Madson (five), Jason Frasor (four), Franklin Morales (three), Frank Francisco* (two), Mike Gonzalez (one).
*Wilson, Aardsma, Bailey and Francisco will begin the 2011 season on the DL but are expected to return as their team’s closer.
Two closers—Brian Fuentes (24 saves in ‘10), Jon Rauch (21)—will start 2011 as a closer (just as they did in ‘10) but with a different team. However, both will be relegated to setup roles when Andrew Bailey and Frank Francisco return from injuries.
This means that only 12 relievers who began 2010 as a closer still serve that same role for the same team: Heath Bell (47 saves in ‘10), Joakim Soria (43), Francisco Cordero (40), Carlos Marmol (38) Jonathan Papelbon (37), Mariano Rivera (33), Leo Nunez (30), Ryan Franklin (27), Jose Valverde (26), Francisco Rodriguez (25), Chris Perez (23), Jonathan Broxton (22).
Of the so-called closer stalwarts, only five (Papelbon, Cordero, Rivera, Soria and Wilson) have recorded at least 30 saves in each of the last three seasons.
Bottom line: don’t pay for closers. If you’re an active manager throughout the season, it’s easy to add enough saves to keep you in contention each week.
For more on the fluid bullpen roles of every MLB team, check out the 2011 Closer’s Corner. Be sure to bookmark this page, as it will update every week throughout the season as ninth-inning duties change hands.
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