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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.