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.