Kicking Rocks: Cheap Saves Not So Cheap This Year

One of the trends fantasy baseball has witnessed over the last few years is the decline in value of the closer.  Not so much that closers are mere one category contributors, as we all know that not to be the case, but that, with the volatility at the position, saves have been much easier to come by on the waiver wire throughout the season.  Last year, we saw 14 teams change closers during the course of the season and that doesn’t even include the long term injury replacements for Huston Street and Brad Lidge.  It seemed like every time you scoured the waiver wire in need of saves, there was someone there.  This year, the trend seems to be bucking in the opposite direction and those that thought they could bypass reliable closers in their drafts and pick up saves throughout the year are finding it more of a struggle than they anticipated.

That’s not to say that there isn’t still a certain amount of volatility to be found at the position this year.  Ten teams, this season have made changes at the closer position due to injury or ineffectiveness, and that’s not even counting the slight hiccup in Kansas City when Joakim Soria was replaced by Aaron Crow for a nanosecond.  However, if you compare this season’s changes to last season’s, you’ll see that those who drafted wisely or acted immediately are the ones sitting pretty with closers while the rest are likely floundering in the saves department and have very little relief help to assist in balancing their ratios.

In 2010 there was a total of 1,204 saves for the entire season.  Of those saves, 809 of them were accrued by players who began the season as their team’s closer and were acquired by fantasy owners during the draft (using your average 12 team mixed leagues as the guideline).  If you add in the saves of Neftali Feliz, a player assumed to be taking over the job in Texas last year and drafted in most leagues, that gives you 849 — 70.5% of the total saves for the season.  That’s a fairly substantial number of saves left to be had during the course of the season.

This year, to date, there have been 791 saves recorded.  Of those, 551 saves came from players who began the season as their team’s closer — just 69.7%.  However, if you factor in that Andrew Bailey was drafted and stashed in most leagues and that Jordan Walden was handed the job three days into the season, that number climbs to 587 (74.2%).  Now throw in Sergio Santos who hasn’t looked back since being handed the job on April 25th and Fernando Salas who took over in St. Louis on April 28th and now we’re at 626 (79.8%).  And who can forget the fact that Ryan Madson was picked up in drafts all over with Lidge being hurt?  Bump that number to 645 — 81.5%.  That’s not leaving many scraps available past the first month of the season now, is it?

In fact, since the end of April, only the Diamondbacks (injury), Astros (injury), Dodgers (ineffectiveness), Mets (trade), and Phillies (injury) have replaced their ninth inning guy.   You’ve got a pair of special cases with the Twins and Blue Jays, but those situations were tenuous to begin with and all saves specialists involved were claimed very early on in the season as well.  Bottom line is that there are actually very few saves to be had on the waiver wire this year.  Sure, there are obviously some available, but nothing with any sort of consistency.  Managers seem to be giving a little more rope to their closers and are only making the change if it’s absolutely necessary.  While that’s great for those who were wise enough to make the early season/draft investment, it’s leaving plenty of other owners out in the cold.  Sure, there could be some additional movement at the trade deadline, but those that are in need of saves are all going to be fighting for players at the same time.  There’s no guarantee that you’ll even get your guy.

The moral of the story?  Stop sleeping on closers.  Don’t wait to see how things pan out next season and get caught without quality bullpen help.  I tried it this year and it’s been an uphill battle all season long.  Make the investment early on.  Your standings in the pitching categories and ultimate peace of mind will love you for it.

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Howard Bender has been covering fantasy sports for over 10 years on a variety of websites. In addition to his work here, you can also find him at his site,, Fantasy Alarm, RotoWire and Mock Draft Central. Follow him on Twitter at @rotobuzzguy or for more direct questions or comments, email him at

19 Responses to “Kicking Rocks: Cheap Saves Not So Cheap This Year”

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  1. Chris Bowyer says:

    Er, doesn’t this make the opposite point? Santos, Salas, Madson and Walden were all floating around on most league’s waiver wires at the beginning of the year.

    At most, you’re saying that you can’t wait all year. But you absolutely could’ve ignored closers completely in the draft and speculated afterwards and gotten most of these guys, if not all of them. I didn’t draft a single closer or closer handcuff, and I had 4-5 by the end of April.

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    • Tom B says:

      So? All that proves is your league is not very active.

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      • Mr. Thell says:

        Now now Tom, play nice. Chris makes a good point.

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      • Jason B says:

        (but, too, so does Tom, in his own snarky way.)

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      • Tom B says:

        I think my point is very valid. How could he have acquired all 4 “FA” closers any other way?

        Assuming there are 10+ managers in your league vying for closers… and there have only been realistically those 4 closers come to light since the beginning of the season… 5 if you count melancon… you certainly shouldn’t expect or plan to nail down all 4 of them before another manager.

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  2. Steve Balboni says:

    In that 4th paragraph, you transform 69.7% into 81.5% by squinting just so to change all the parameters. What happens if you apply the same exceptions to 2010, can we get from 70.5% to 82.4%? Also, what happens if you move the goal posts to the end of April in 2010 (like you do in the 5th paragraph)?

    The story is not that cheap saves are unavailable in 2011, they were (you can’t argue with italics), but it all happened in a the compressed period of April, you had to speculate at the draft (Brandon League $1, Capps $4, Farnsworth $1) or make a big FAAB bet in April (Melancon $3, Salas $5, Santos, Madson (Contreras was favored after the coaches and GMs comments)).

    At this point, since I disagree with you, the customs of this place require me to toss a few insults and question your motivation, so here goes: you are all muscles and mush, a truly lamentable spectacle, a baby with whiskers, a rabbit with the frame of an auroch, a feeble and preposterous caricature of man, in short, a mountebank.

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    • Howard Bender says:

      Actually didn’t have to do much squinting as most of the closers’ job that changed hands in 2010 occurred between early/mid-May and August with a few late season switches as well. Nathan and Lidge being lost early and Feliz’ anticipated take-over in Texas were the only ones that happened between drafts and late April.

      The point here being that in years past, cheap saves could be had all year long. This season, if you didn’t act fast, you were left out in the cold as there are very few consistent saves to be had past the first month of the year.

      First time I’ve been called a mountebank; not the first for baby with whiskers or lamentable spectacle. Nice work.

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    • Skip says:

      That last paragraph is brilliant. Thanks for the chuckles.

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  3. sprezzident says:

    The numbers you use to compare 2010 to 2011 are total save numbers, but that’s an imperfect midseason proxy for the trend you’re trying to demonstrate. The 2010 numbers will capture the full effect of a mid-season closer switch but the 2011 ones will only show a fraction of the effect for the switches that have already happened and no effect for the ones that will happen in August or later. The only closer gigs that will have made a demonstrable impact on the percentage of total saves by this point in the year are the ones you “squint” away because they have been in place for awhile. By writing this roughly 104 games in (I’m just using the Royals games played count because that’s my team) you’re cutting the study off at the ~63% mark, and you’re “squinting” away closer changes that happened before the end of April (which for KC was 27 games in, or the ~17% mark). You’re therefore looking at save totals for players that have gotten the closer gig less than half the season ago. This proxy won’t demonstrate the effect of the actual trends until the season ends.

    Anyway, I think your overall conclusion that refusing to pay for closers leads to headaches remains true–I just think most people employing that strategy are aware of that and know that they need to take chances early on in order to try to nab the Santoses and Salases of the year.

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    • sprezzident says:

      i overstated that–it’s not that the only gigs that will have made an impact on the splits are the ones you squint away, rather that their impact is exaggerated given the slice of the season you examine

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      • Howard Bender says:

        Fair point. More than happy to re-visit with end of season numbers. Barring many trades of closers who then become set-up men, I feel like the percentages should remain relatively the same. We’ll see come October though…..

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  4. sean says:

    are you advocating “paying for saves”?

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    • Howard Bender says:

      I am advocating locking in atleast one premium closer on draft day with a second, much cheaper alternative as well. Fish on the waiver wire for a third as support.

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      • benjipants says:

        Given the facts at hand, couldn’t we just as easily argue that it makes sense to punt saves in certain formats? If we figure closers start to go in the 7th or 8th round, and you’re not likely to get saves from the waiver wire (and closers tend to contribute only in one category, with a limited impact on two others) then perhaps you’re better off giving up on the category and using the picks on something else. If you draft a premium closer or two, you may not be able to pick up more saves off the wire, making the marginal value of saves lower, somewhat perversely, because of the need to accumulate counting stats.

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  5. Nils says:

    I think that you might see a large shift in your #s after the trade deadline when established closers like (Krod already) Bell, Nunez and Farnsworth are traded to serve as non-closers. That means that there will be at least 4-5 new pitchers earning saves, which will bring down your percentages.

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  6. Rick Roll'd says:

    Idk, i see ur point. But at the same time I drafted zero closers n managed to grab Guerra, Nathan, n Melancon off the waiver wire (after trading Mike Adams n Fernando Salas too.) Plus, I have Rauch, although he kinda sux. Just waitin for the carnage at the trade deadline to pick up a 4th guy. 12 team league too. I managed to load up on pitching, n its treatin me pretty well

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  7. stumanji says:

    I’m pretty happy with my draft strategy on closers this year (12 team roto, can start 2 or 3 RP). I grabbed The Beard as my top RP in the 10th round (6th closer off the board) and then waited until the latter “hit-or-miss” rounds to grab a handful of iffy guys hoping at least one or two would stick. Ended up drafting Storen (awesome) and Aardsma (never came back from injury), and got Contreras as a FA (solid until injury). Rolling with Wilson and Storen has me comfortably in the top third in Saves, and I have Mike Adams waiting in the wings. I also could have easily pre-emptively grabbed guys like Melancon or Guerra if I needed them; all you need to do is stay on top of closer situations.

    Bottom line, I don’t think Saves are as hard to come by as you’re making it out to be. If you draft at least one known quantity in the mid rounds and then get others on the cheap, you can be where you need to be in Saves. I’m in a very active league; I think the key to getting closers is not being afraid to make a few prospective pickups BEFORE everybody and his mother knows the guy is going to get save opps– knowing they won’t always work out–until you have 2 or 3 solid guys and you’ll be fine. Sure, I’ve picked up my fair share of Kenley Jansens and Wilton Lopezes, but they’re all low risk-high reward and much more available than a contributing bat.

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