Fantasy Baseball Roundtable: Closer chaos

by Todd Zola, on May 9, 2012 @ 14:23:47 PDT


What a season this has been for closers. Who knew Andrew Bailey and Ryan Madson would have so much company? Everyone else is talking about it; the knights may as well join the fray.

First off, congratulations if you drafted Jonathan Papelbon or Craig Kimbrel. For those of us that did not, how are you handling this completely wacky closer situation? How do you decide where to invest and where to pass? Do you even care?

Nick Minnix is first out of the bullpen:

With panic. Although I didn't strongly advocate avoiding using a lot of money or high picks on relievers, I did follow that pattern, for the most part. In leagues where I took a couple of quality closers, even, I'm suddenly concerned.

In the spring, I thought about suggesting that paying for the top dogs at the position was worthwhile since the market had cooled on them a bit. Then I said to myself, Nah! Cheap is still the way to go! It's not the cheap way to go. Saves cost a crapload in FAAB. Put me in the faction that hates the category now.

Brian Walton is in wait and see mode:

In NL Tout, I punted closers, but hopefully not saves. In other words, I did not draft incumbent closers, instead getting several closers in waiting with solid peripherals. So far, it seems like more of the closer merry-go-round action has been in the AL. And in the NL, I haven't had the right ones - yet. Good thing it is early.

Lord Zola makes a rare in discussion appearance:

Guess who had the foresight to grab Rafael Dolis a couple of weeks ago in NL Tout?

I'll give you a hint; it was the same guy that released him this week so he could get Andrew Cashner to handcuff Street, opting to keep Cishek instead of Dolis.

Timing is everything.

(Note this was before Heath Bell was demoted, elevating Cishek to closer, at least temporarily.)

Rob Leibowitz chimes in:

I approached closers from a second-tier established type standpoint. Had the number $16 in my head during AL Tout and drafted Joe Nathan and similarly added Jose Valverde in another league. I'm in a "crossing-fingers" pattern at the moment with Jose Valverde presently looking pretty awful.

Nick is back for more:

In our analysis draft, held in early February, I drafted Mariano Rivera. Figuring that I had nearly two months before the season began, I wanted to insure him to some degree, so I took Rafael Soriano with my last pick, figuring I'd dump him in one of the first FAAB periods if all went fine. (Ray Flowers took David Robertson, like a few picks before mine, I think.) Sure enough, Mo came out of ST healthy. In a 12-team mixed league with 28-man rosters, I wasn't going to keep Soriano, but I wasn't in a rush and didn't FAAB a replacement until this past weekend. Crap.

Tim Heaney just heard the Mariano Rivera news:

Excuse me for a moment while I wipe my Pinstriped tears....

Saves ... whatever, as a fantasy requirement. Can't disagree with the fantasy-wide movement to devalue them.

That's why, like Rob and others, I made a point of drafting middle- to lower-tier closers in most of my leagues this year: the likes of Huston Street, Rafael Betancourt, Sergio Santos, Joe Nathan, Frank Francisco. Exceptions: The highest-rated closer I drafted was Drew Storen, in the FSWA contest, which values RPs because there's a GS limit. John Axford graces my Tout Wars mixed team.

Those buys were opportunistic, relatively speaking. Axford cost $16, relative to Kimbrel being 18 or 19. Storen was a Round 8 selection. I found it more suitable to buy into offense early on because we've seen the nature how often these roles change - performance, injury. So far, I've acquired in various leagues the likes of Alfredo Aceves, Santiago Casilla, Henry Rodriguez, Brad Lidge, Francisco Cordero (handcuffing Santos ... blech).

I typically devote much of my FAAB money to the saves chase, and I'm at least hanging in there in most places. Not to say it'll last, but if you speculate and have good instincts on when changes will happen and whom managers will choose, you can get by. You do your best to gauge decisions and act before the crowd; that's a part of the game's management skills.

Lawr Michaels shares:

I don't like punting anything, ever. There is little enough margin for error in this game without giving up on a category.

So, I always try to get at least one front line closer, and two if I can. In LABR that served me well for I drafted John Axford and Brian Wilson, so this way at least I still have one closer.

And, those second tier guys - like Cordero and Santiago and now Rodney - are also always worth a stash as a third reliever or on the reserve list.

In all honesty, saves are not an issue in any of my leagues. Even in the XFL, where I have a horrible 13.5 points (I am rebuilding and expected to finish last, but well, the lowest possible is ten points) the one category that saves me is saves, where I traded for Cordero after the season started, and he was a throw in. there I am tied for second to last in conversions (go figure).

Ryan Carey with his take:

Because I didn't spend big on closers, and many of my picks were speculative, losing a closer early means you have no choice but to dive into the pool of emerging closers. If you drafted a guy early who succumbed to season-ending injury, you have to go big to get his replacement IMO. The problem is that you are competing with your FAAB dollars for those resources. I have been aggressive in my leagues in FAAB. When you spend big on a "new" closer early on in the season, your goal is to try and get a guy who can keep the job all season if possible. I passed on Hector Santiago in my leagues, because I had Reed, and didn't see how Santiago was going to keep the job all year. I did however go big on Santiago Casilla, Jonathon Broxton and Sean Marshall. These guys were looking at situations where they could conceivably keep their new gigs all year long, and being early in the season that could mean 40 saves. Throwing money at a guy like Santiago, with all the other options available in Chicago, was one to be cautious of. 

At this point I begin turning my attention to speculating, however having drafted Jansen and Reed so often - I pretty much did this at the draft table.

Lawr reacts to Ryan:

Well, I do think it is too hard to try and anticipate like that, for most closer jobs go to someone in waiting with some experience. Like Balfour or Cordero or Rodney, even.

If you punted saves, you should have surplus to swap for them. If you hoarded, you have trade bait.

Saves are pretty elusive to grab on FAAB fliers in my opinion.

Ryan's retort:

First off, anyone getting save opportunities is worth a roster spot, and if you are in a league that doesn't allow trades (like many I am in) the only way you are going to get saves if you need them is to buy them. Obviously you have to keep an eye out for emerging situations. If you own a struggling closer, you want to get the guy in the second chair if you can afford to. Steve Cishek in Miami is the perfect example of this. If you had Heath Bell, Cishek would be a must-buy for me at this point. If you were a Mariano Rivera owner, you may have already had David Robertson or Rafael Soriano on your squad as insurance.

If those two are still out there, I side with Lawr when deciding who to take a chance on. Go with the guy who has the experience first. Managers play it safe most often and if they have to scramble they will most often turn to the guy on the roster who has closed before even if skills say he isn't the best choice. Soriano has the experience; he's the guy I am betting on. Also, you leave Robertson in the 8th where he is more valuable anyway. I own Aroldis Chapman in my biggest league as Sean Marshall insurance.

You have to balance how long you can hang onto guys like this, but it is definitely worth the $1 you could have gotten Cishek for last week as opposed to having to spend big money if/when Bell loses the job.

If you are falling behind in the category (particularly in an Overall contest), you have to take a shot on a guy like Dollis. I'm not saying you break the bank necessarily, but you have to mine for saves where you can. The key is to not get caught up in the frenzy and pay too much. You will be competing against you league-mates for these precious resources, try to evaluate who else might be chasing saves along with you, then study there bidding habits to see if you can better judge what to spend. Nothing worse than overbidding because you misread the market. I'd rather miss out by being conservative and take my chances on the next guy to emerge than blow my budget on someone like Scott Downs, who might only keep the job for two weeks.

Nick is back:

Miami Marlins RP Heath Bell
Dropping like flies

There's no formula, thankfully or unfortunately, I'm not sure. Does the club want the demoted closer to get his job back, or is it open to reinserting him? Why did he lose it in the first place? How long will it take him to fix the problem, if he will or can?

How well can the fill-in(s) do the job? This we all usually answer with some answer involving his stats labeled skills, which is a good place to start, but the manager, his staff and sometimes even the front office are involved in decisions about roles. There's information we're not always aware of.

Judging from the way FAAB bids usually go down, not all owners in your leagues are going to be aware of the answers (or at least the possible answers) to these questions. More often than not, it results in exorbitant FAAB bids on the next closer somewhere. Occasionally, it works in your favor, if you're frugal - like me.

Don't be frugal. Be a better evaluator; gamble more wisely than your competition. For instance, Dolis is the example that came up, I guess it's because he replaced Marmol the other day and saved one. Dale Sveum told the media today that he's leaning toward using his only lefty RP, James Russell, more often in save situations. It's a committee, which sucks for fantasy. Chicago is still invested in Marmol and believes they can fix him. Right now, the only thing Sveum cares about is getting outs when he has a lead late. Russell has done the best job of it and may be best equipped to continue doing so. Some people think Dolis is the better buy and will bid that way. That may work out. What has gone down so far is enough to convince me that I should go after Russell with more enthusiasm than I would Dolis, though. And not for much, because this sounds temporary and none of the options are attractive.

You know with saves that your gambles always going to work out every time. They may not work out more than half the time, in the long run.

Tim has recovered from the Mo unfortunate circumstance:

Among the points for assessing bullpen controversies: the RPs' skills and velocity; the bullpen makeup; situations in which the relievers are employed; their role experience; their reputation with their manager and in their career; unusual in-game circumstances that could lead to a change; and what is being said in the press (yes, this matters and shouldn't be ignored). Not all situations will be determined by all of these factors, but knowing the spectrum of these indicators clears up many cases. 

For example, when Joakim Soria went down, many analysts were all over Greg Holland because of his skills while, to a degree, writing off Jonathan Broxton, whom KC acquired for the very notion of subbing for Soria. He primarily needed to recover health-wise. The combination of his reputation meaning something to KC and the fact he was getting his skills back in the spring, at least hinting at what he used to do with the Dodgers, provided the writing on the wall. 

Sorry, back to inseason. The Mariano Rivera injury could play toward the experience factor, as well. The Yanks signed Rafael Soriano to be Mo's backup with that big contract they gave him two years ago. Of course, David Robertson has matured since then and has, in nearly all facets, become the better and more vital pitcher. Still, would it be surprising if the Yanks gave Soriano at least a portion of the closing chances? There's a hint of loyalty there that they could easily side with, even if Robertson looks like the guy to own out of the gate.

Santiago Casilla did the gig when Brian Wilson was hurt at the end of 2011, and Bruce Bochy stuck to his guns there despite hints of a committee. It's not really a time share; it would be when Casilla isn't available. Knowing the history there helps.

The Cubbies, meanwhile, have Kerry Wood just coming back from the DL and have said recently that they want to keep him in less important innings until he works his way back into form. Knowing Wood, that's a chore in itself given his injury history, but the hype around Dolis and Russell could produce only a temporary yield; Dale Sveum could decide Wood, who has much more experience, is good to go next week. Dolis looks like a Matt Lindstrom type to me, and if Russell remains the only bullpen lefty, that'll limit his chances. Situations like this where the skipper isn't all that sure of the arrangement reek of committees; maybe adding pieces will work, but you might be better off being outbid on either pitcher.

I wound up spending a little extra on Fernando Rodney after reading that the Rays moved him to the first-base side of the rubber; that was a tangible reason for his improvement and essentially makes him Tampa's latest reclamation project - this year's Kyle Farnsworth. That's two months of save opps right there.

You're going to whiff often when it comes to this category, and as a few have mentioned, holding your speculative options could prevent you from addressing other needs and often prove futile since you may drop them before they rise up. That was the case - I dropped Reed because I had a few injuries strike in Tout Wars. Ugh. That goes in line with the challenge of balancing your roster, though.

Perry Van Hook with our ninth inning duty:

I always care because if the loss isn't mine it is one competitor's or the other's - so there is always some team management dynamic to consider - ESPECIALLY in trading leagues.

And every injury or failure presents a buying opportunity that has to be considered.

Funny because the "closer" position is the one fantasy baseball player that translates to fantasy football and the idea of handcuffing your player. However in many leagues the roster limitations limit fantasy baseball players from doing much of it. Still if you have followed the comments at Mastersball it is one more reason - however slight - that we promote the use of high strikeout, skilled relief pitchers because any given banana in the road might give them an opportunity.

It is not just the league(s...plural sadly) where I own Heath Bell where I have already rostered Steve Cishek and/or Edward Mujica.

The other thing to watch is somebody dropping a Bell or Marmol or even a very skilled setup guy. Just because they aren't closing this week doesn't mean they won't next week - or next month.

Lord Zola's Wrap Up

To paraphrase Norm from Cheers, "closers, can't live with them, pass the beer nuts."

There are only a couple of additional points I want to share; the knights have covered this well.

First, this has been an exceptional year. The level of turnover, and the lower quality of replacement is unique to this season and should not be considered the repeat last season, so be wary of changing your strategy next season. Personally, I am going to do what I always do, focusing on the tier below the studs but above the questionable or risky options then cross my fingers.

The second point is don't forget closers also contribute to ratios, and with the ERA and WHIP categories being more compacted than in previous seasons, the damage a closer passes onto your ratios may wipe out the help they provide in saves. Like anything else, this is contextual, but if possible, it may be best to let others chase these lesser skilled stoppers and get some saves, then deal for a more reliable closer from a competitor with an excess in saves. In no-trade leagues, I am more inclined NOT to chase saves from a lesser skilled guy, even if he has the job.

And before I go, it is somewhat ironic that in the time it took me to put this together, Casey Janssen has displaced Cordero in Toronto, and Reed looks to be the go-to guy for the Pale Hose as Chris Sale has a date with an MRI technician.

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About Todd Zola,

Focusing primarily on the science of player valuation and game theory starting in 1997, Todd Zola and Mastersball carved out an important niche in the fantasy industry. In 2006, Todd became the Research Director for, and in 2009, he relaunched Mastersball and is now a managing partner.

Todd competes in Tout Wars and the XFL, and has been a multiple-time league champion in the National Fantasy Baseball Championship. He has been a contributor to the fantasy content at and, is a frequent guest on Sirius/XM and Blog Talk Radio and is an annual speaker at the spring and fall First Pitch Forum symposiums. Fantasy Baseball

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