Do You Have To Wait On Closers?

Punting saves is one of the most popular strategies promoted by some of the most read fantasy analysts in the business. Don’t feel comfortable completely ignoring the category? That’s ok, you can always pick up saves late in a draft or play the waiver wire. There’s so much turnover at the position that you are bound to find someone solid. At least, that’s what the analysts will tell you. The strategy has been driven into our heads so many times now, however, that there may actually be value in targeting closers relatively early in drafts.

Many analysts caution against drafting closers early by claiming they only affect one stat category. While that’s true in a sense, having strong closers can lead to strong performances in the ERA and WHIP categories. In that situation, drafting closers earlier than normal has it’s advantages. Like most pitchers, however, there’s always a heightened risk of injuries. When you combine that risk with the fact that there is so much turnover at the closer position, a wrong decision could prove disastrous.

However, as the RotoGraphs’ rankings show, there are some really dependable options in the top tiers of the position. The first two tiers feature closers with elite skills and job security. If you aren’t enthused with the options at left at some of the other positions, you shouldn’t have a stigma about selecting Joakim Soria early just because he’s a closer. (The only player in those tiers I might avoid is Carlos Marmol due to his high walk total).

Grabbing an elite closer early also gives you the luxury of “setting and forgetting” another lineup slot. By grabbing a closer you can count on, you won’t have to play the waiver wire game all season. If you play in a league with other knowledgeable and competitive owners, you know that this can prove to be a frustrating exercise. Plus, as you reach the middle tiers at the closer position, a lot of uncertainties emerge. By tier three of our rankings, legitimate concerns start to emerge. Jonathan Papelbon and Jonathan Broxton could be on short leashes this season, John Axford carries a high walk rate, Francisco Rodriguez has his own issues and Andrew Bailey is already dealing with an injury.

It gets worse as you move further down the tiers. As Howard Bender recently described in his first Kicking Rocks column, closers can cause fantasy frustration. Howard’s article also brings up another interesting point; it’s incredibly difficult to know which closer will grab hold of an opportunity. An owner can draft Craig Kimbrel because they believe his skill set will lead to success at the closer position, but if he blows a couple of games early, the team could turn to Jonny Venters for the rest of the year.

That’s not to say there aren’t legitimate options at the bottom of the closer position. Sometimes, it’s possible to draft Matt Capps and Jon Rauch extremely late (as an owner in one of my leagues did last season) and watch as they make you look like a genius. More often than not, however, waiting on closers does lead to playing the waiver wire throughout the season. If you feel comfortable with your abilities and your league, perhaps you can take that risk. If you feel like having some breathing room, you might want to consider breaking the rules and grabbing an elite closer early.




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Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.


13 Responses to “Do You Have To Wait On Closers?”

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  1. DrBGiantsfan says:

    Saves is the most scarce comodity in fantasy baseball. There are only about 15-20 reliable closers in the game at any given time. If you are in a league with 3 RP and 2 P categories like I am, some managers try to scarf up 5 closers. You don’t have to be a math genius to figure out the supply runs dry pretty quick. Last year, I ended up with just 1 reliable closer because of an early run and the other two borderline ones crapped out early in the season. I ended up trading the reliable one an punting the category. I DO NOT RECOMMEND DOING THAT! In H2H leagues, the numbers really run against you if you punt even one category. If you win 5 of the remaining 9, you still are only .500 for the week and winning 6 of the remaining 9 is a pretty tall order.

    This year several closers were already off the table because other teams made them Keepers. Once the first closer went off the board, I had not choice but to jump in and make my next two picks closers which turned out to be Matt Thornton and Francisco Rodriguez. Several rounds later I picked up Kimbrel and then I took Jose Contreras and Jake McGee at the end of the draft.

    I was able to pick up good position players late and good pitching was very ease to find at the end of the draft. My last pick was Edwin Jackson!

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  2. tonysoprano says:

    Punt it. I drafted Broxton last year. He was the first closer taken. He tanked. This year I will wait until way later in my draft to grab a closer.

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    • DrBGiantsfan says:

      You can point to any number of positions players or SP’s taken early who tank. If it’s a scarce commodity and you can draft a reliable option early, there are no guarantees, but chances are you will come out OK. In H2H leagues, you can’t afford to punt any category unless you are overwhelmingly strong in other areas.

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    • DrBGiantsfan says:

      Here’s just a partial list of position players drafted highly who tanked either due to injury or poor performance: Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, Jason Bay, Grady Sizemore, Jacoby Ellsbury, BJ Upton. Pitchers don’t have a corner on injuries or “tanking.”

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  3. Kinanik says:

    There’s no cut and dry answer, it all depends on what your opponents do. Think of it like Rock-Paper-Scissors; if your opponent plays 40-30-30 then you will maximize your winnings by playing 0-100-0; (splitting ties, 55% win rate), but if your opponents change their strategy depending on what you do, you can’t make it that drastic, but the best strategy is still to randomize while selecting Paper more often.

    In this case, what you want to do depends on your opponents. If everyone in the league has internalized the “punt closers” mantra, your best strategy is to get elite closers. If everyone in your league believes that “saves rule” it’s best to punt them and focus on other areas that people are sacrificing in order to pursue saves. Basically, the best thing to do is the opposite of what everyone else does.

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  4. kjorg23 says:

    I would not dissuade anyone from punting saves in a H2H league where closers are highly valued at the draft and in season.

    I waited on saves last season during the draft of a 12-team 5×5 H2H keeper league where the high-value closers were kept, taking only Brad Lidge and Kerry Wood later in the draft. In season I was the first to add Kevin Gregg and John Axford, but dropped them days later out of pessimism and impatience, trying to land more secure closers through trades. At midseason, having not once won the saves category, I dropped the two or three part-time/short-leash closers I had, and replaced them with starting pitchers for a total of 13 (with 10 batters). From then on I locked up Ws and Ks comfortably each week. With a good staff, winning at least one amongst ERA and WHIP is more than attainable, even against an opponent heavy with closers and other relief pitchers.

    Indeed, following the zag-while-others-zig mantra might be the best policy. If done by your lonesome, punting saves and loading up on SPs (possibly exempting one or two high-K RPs) certainly fits the mantra and should be considered in H2H, at least as an in-season adjustment.

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    • DrBGiantsfan says:

      It is very tough to win ERA and WHIP against a team that has a solid starting staff when you are running 13 starters. You may be able to get away with it in the regular season, but you will certainly face a good staff in the playoffs that will then beat you in Saves, ERA and WHIP. W’s are very fickle too. Having 13 starters is no guarantee of winning W’s, although you will probably win the category most of the time.

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  5. onbekend says:

    I “broke the rules” and paid good money for the dependable Joakim Soria this year in my auction pool. My other relievers are nothing to write home about. Hopefully, the money I saved was wisely spent elsewhere and if Soria plus some lucky pickups keep me mid-range in the save department I’ll be overjoyed. We’ll see …

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  6. Max says:

    Another factor that one must take into account in this case is league type. In a deeper league, or one that also counts holds, most of the closers-in-waiting will be gone by the end of the draft. Playing the waiver wire can work in shallower leagues, but if they’re all on teams already, it is that much more difficult.

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  7. Chad Bro Chill 87 says:

    Wooooo, love the shoutout for Capps and Rauch

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  8. Ameer says:

    “Wait on closers” is always a strategy people bring up. But, in a competitive league, everyone knows who the “cheap” closers and elite set-up guys are. If you don’t grab a closer or two early, it’s very possible that none of your late-rounders will pan out. To make matters worse, getting behind in a counting category like saves in roto puts you in a corner. To catch up, you need MORE closers than everyone else. I understand that you don’t need to pick up Rivera, Wilson, and Bell in round 3, 4, and 5, but if you don’t have a closer yet in the 18th and your only options remaining are Kevin Gregg, Jason Motte, and Luke Gregerson, then I wish you luck being competitive in that category.

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