Sleeper Save Targets

At this point so many words have been written about not paying for saves that it’s almost pointless to regurgitate all of that information here.  There is certainly some value to zig when your league is zagging and passing up on drafting closers but for the most part we all want to target those saves sleepers or if all else fails, those dirty, dirty saves.

Our RotoGraphs Reliever Rankings are up and running and that is certainly a fine place to check to target your closers or future closers in drafts but I will dive into some more detail on a few players who come August should be named the team’s closer, have a few saves under his belt or worst case, help your team in the ratio department. Without further ado…

Rex Brothers: As of now, LaTroy Hawkins is the closer for Colorado but he’s also 41 years old and moving to Denver from Queens. Hawkins was actually quite good last year for the Mets, throwing 70.2 strong innings with a 2.93 ERA and matching peripherals (3.12 xFIP and 2.96 SIERA).  Although he didn’t get many whiffs (8.5% SwStk% and 19.1% K%) his walk rate was minuscule (3.5% BB%), leading to an outstanding 5.50 K/BB, well above the league average. Normally known as a good ground-ball guy, Hawkins had a 48.4% ground ball rate and although his strikeouts weren’t awful, they were actually above his career norms.  I’m skeptical that at his advanced age, Hawkins will continue to post near career highs in whiffs.  Hawkins always pitches around the zone which isn’t a bad thing of course but without great swing and miss stuff or elite ground ball tendencies, his reunion  to Colorado could  be unwelcoming. I don’t expect Hawkins to implode but it’s no shock that Colin, Alan and I all ranked set up man Rex Brothers above him. Even if Hawkins is quite good, the Rockies are unlikely to compete this year and a cheap right-handed setup option (AKA Hawkins) would be compelling to a competing team. Brothers has his own warts (a lefty without much control) but there are too many potential opportunities where Brothers could see the ninth inning not to have him on your radar. His 1.74 ERA last year is not repeatable but unlike Hawkins, Brothers gets whiffs (career 13.2% SwStr%) and if he’s not closing, he should pad your team’s strikeout totals while supplying ratios lower than most starting pitchers.

Cody Allen: The last two seasons have been a bit of a roller coaster ride for John Axford and he now finds himself as the closer in Cleveland. The big problem for Axford of late has been the long ball. While Axford could be on the wrong side of luck, giving up  20 home runs in 134 innings pitched in Axford’s position is unacceptable. Axford has had a lot of success when he’s suppressed home runs but if that issue rears its ugly head in Cleveland again it won’t be long until Terry Francona thinks about looking elsewhere. As of now, the next man up would be Cody Allen. Allen quietly had a solid year posting a 2.43/2.99/3.27 ERA/FIP/xFIP and an impressive 2.74 SIERA to boot, upping his strikeout rate (29.2%) and decreased his walk rate (8.6%) from the year prior. Allen profiles as a ‘classic’ closer as a right hander with great velocity (95.4 FBv) and swing and miss (11.5% SwStr%) stuff. Unless Axford can harness some of his 2010-11 magic, Allen should get a chance in the ninth inning this season.

Tyler Clippard: Colin hit this one on the nose when he was asked about Rafael Soriano‘s low ranking in the comment section: “Can’t speak for the other rankers, but I see decline in FBv, decline in K%, decline in SwStr%, and decline in F-Strike% and I’m worried.” I don’t think I could explain Rafael Soriano any better than that. Soriano essentially slipped in every meaningful way a pitcher could last year and the guess is that his 2014 ERA isn’t as pretty as 2013 which could lead to a changing of the guard. There are nice options behind Soriano and that’s where Tyler Clippard comes in. I have doubted Clippard in the past as he’s thrown a significant amount of innings (no reliever has thrown more since 2009 – 383.1 IP) but he’s continued to be an excellent option for both Washington and fantasy owners.  Clippard’s strikeout rate dipped last year but he also had the second highest whiff-rate of his career so I’m still optimistic the strikeouts will rebound and either way, a K/9 over 9 is still plenty to be happy about for your squad. Clippard has been rosterable ever since becoming a fixture in the Nationals pen and he becomes an even more enticing option with Soriano’s decline.

Joakim Soria: With Joe Nathan off to Detroit, Neftali Feliz is expected to return to the closers role in Texas. However, his velocity has been low early on this spring, sitting in the 90-92 mph range. While there is good reason to believe his velocity will increase come April, his velo last year, after recovering from Tommy John surgery was 93.7 mph. That is still plenty fast but it’s not quite the blazing 96+ mph heat that Feliz showed last time he was closing. If Feliz’ velocity struggles or overall struggles persist, the Rangers have another closer removed from Tommy John surgery that they could turn to in the ninth inning in Joakim Soria. Soria sat out all of 2012 but came back last year to throw 23.2 OK innings for the Rangers. He wasn’t spectacular as his BB/9 ballooned to a career high 5.32 but he still had a respectable 3.80/3.68/3.56 ERA/FIP/xFIP and more importantly showed that he was healthy. If Soria could cut back his walks to his career norms he will be an intriguing option and arguably the best one for Texas. Spring Training results are largely irrelevant but this situation is certainly something to monitor. If your draft is coming up soon I wouldn’t hesitate to take a flier on Soria and if Feliz continues to struggle this spring, feel free to move Soria up on the draft board. Tanner Scheppers could enter the equation as well but Soria and his pedigree should get the first shot after Feliz.

Others of note:

• Anyone in Houston could be in line for saves although as Eno said, the situation looks pretty sad. If healthy, Jesse Crain would be the best fantasy option with his strikeout ability but he will likely start the year on the DL. Chad Qualls and Josh Fields are other options for the ‘Stros in the meantime. However, stashing Crain on your DL and hoping he gets the job upon return might be the optimal play regarding any Astros relievers. At the moment it sounds a little better than watching a few mediocre dudes battle for saves on a poor team.

• Like the Astros last year, the Cubs signed Jose Veras to be their closer and similarly, I expect the Cubs to trade him at or before the deadline. Behind him is Pedro Strop who should close if/when Veras were to leave. Strop throws hard (95.8 FBv), kills some worms (career 54.4% GB%) and should strike out ~ a batter per inning.  Add it all up and Strop is a compelling package and a nice target for those looking to take the slow play regarding saves.

• Rapid fire – Bobby Parnell‘s neck issue could lead to some Vic Black opportunities although as of now Parnell is expected to be ready by opening day. Likewise, Jason Grilli is expected to make his ST debut soon and be ready by opening day but Mark Melancon remains someone to keep an eye on as he’s also valuable even outside of the ninth inning. Huston Street is always a trade or injury candidate and newly acquired set up man Joaquin Benoit should continue to have success in San Diego. Steve Cishek was quite alright last year but remains a trade candidate putting Mike Dunn and A.J. Ramos on the radar. The Diamondbacks didn’t trade for Addison Reed so he could set up but J.J. Putz can still play and is still in the desert. I admittedly ranked Danny Farquhar too low. Fernando Rodney will be closing in Seattle but Farquhar made some real improvements last year and has real draft/roster worthy peripherals.

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When he's not focusing on every team's bullpen situation, Ben can be found blogging at Ben's Baseball Bias and on Twitter @BensBias

34 Responses to “Sleeper Save Targets”

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  1. Vic says:

    Carter Capps in Miami? What about Storen in DC?

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    • Good catch with Carter Capps, my mistake on leaving him out. If his gopher-itis from last season corrects itself, he profiles to be a solid late-inning option in Miami. In the event Cishek gets moved and he’s keeping the ball in the yard, he could certainly leapfrog to the ninth.

      Storen is still a fixture in the pen but my guess is on Clippard getting the first chance after Soriano.

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  2. Should Glen Perkins falter or get hurt Michael Tonkin is the vulture.

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  3. lipitorkid says:

    Everyone one of these guys listed is gone in my 14 team roto league. Can you release a “Deep Coma” Save Targets list?

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    • You know what, that’s a good idea. Admittedly the guys I listed were less about a name you weren’t aware of and more detailed explanations of those scenarios.

      I’ll put together a companion “Deep Coma” save list this week.


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      • brianwilliams42 says:

        Much appreciated! My 14-team, holds league is always scouring for these dudes. I have Benoit and Farquhar from last year, and passed on keeping Storen, so we are in agreement so far :)

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      • Xavier says:

        Another vote for the deep coma list. In a 12-team NL only, I am always mining for saves in the reserve draft since I refuse to pay top dollar for a closer. Found Cishek there two years ago and Grilli three years ago. Last year I wasn’t so lucky, but the guy who won the league selected Henderson in the reserve.

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      • Alright great, I’ll mine deep for saves for y’all.

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      • jpg says:

        +1 for “deep coma”

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  4. Will says:

    Great piece, Benjamin. As someone who goes with a RP-heavy strategy, I look for a lot of these types for all the reasons you describe. The one I would suggest adding is Santos. He and Janssen are just so close that I could see Santos getting the job easily should Janssen falter. He’s got the strikeouts, he gets grounders, can keep flyballs in the park, he has velocity and also has a wipeout second pitch. He’s also a tad younger. Janssen has a third pitch and a better track record with walks, while fewer K’s, but is otherwise pretty damn similar. And, as you said, even if these guys don’t get to close, they give you great ratios (including K/9 when one considers IP limits), so as a very cheap add I would suggest Santos here. Otherwise, though, I see pretty much all the bases covered. Nice job.

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    • Thanks for the kind words!Yeah, inevitably some guys are going to slip through the cracks, otherwise this post would have Bill Simmons-esque wordiness. So, it’s great to keep the comments coming!

      I totally agree regarding Santos. Janssen’s not a pillar of stability and has had a blip in ST so far with his shoulder. Provided he’s healthy it’s his to lose but Santos isn’t far behind. And he’s capable of providing value even outside the closers role.

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    • JimNYC says:

      You want to talk about a RP-heavy strategy? I’ve toyed in the past with the idea of going with an all-reliever pitching staff — punting wins and basically guaranteeing league leads in saves, ERA, and WHIP. This year, I decided to go for it. In one ESPN league this year I have the following relievers:

      Craig Kimbrel
      Aroldis Chapman
      Kenley Jansen
      Greg Holland
      Trevor Rosenthal
      Joe Nathan
      David Robertson
      Koji Uehara
      Jonathon Papelbon
      Jim Johnson
      Jose Veras

      And that’s my pitching staff. Even if a few of those guys don’t work out, I should basically be guaranteed three-category dominance.

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      • phaddix says:

        Only downside to this approach is that you are overpaying for the latter closers. Once you have the top 3-4 closers you guarantee yourself the maximum save points. So why waste your mid-round draft picks on additional closers. Instead draft offense and fill out your remaining pitching staff with middle relievers who no other team would pick at the very end of the draft. That said I have seen this strategy worked.

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      • Paul Sorrento says:

        This strategy is a loser. The max points you will end up with from the pitching staff is around 35. If you are targeting 80 points then you would need a dominating offense to reach/exceed 45 points. The other problem you would create for yourself in a 10 team league is that you’ll artificially inflate the SP capabilities of all the other teams by not carrying any yourself, creating the possibility that you could be threatened in ERA or WHIP. You will also allow teams to gain high points in the saves category with artificially low save totals. An astute owner could carry a bunch of high performing MR’s, a few aces, and a couple closers and easily score 45+ pitching points for the same cost as your mega closer staff.

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      • I’m generally not a fan of punting categories, but if you were to I’m with Phaddix in saying you don’t need to waste a few picks on mid-level closers who’s only value is era/whip as you don’t need their saves.

        The upside is that if your league trades often, you could probably swap Kimbrel/Chapman/Jansen etc. for quality pitchers to help you in wins. You most likely won’t be able to compete for first in wins, but assuming some teams give up you could finish middle of the road, while maintaining ERA/WHIP.

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      • Mod518 says:

        There is a guy in my league that uses a strategy similar to this. He has won two of the last three years. What he does is wait til he gets to 140 saves or so and guarantee himself 1st or 2nd in saves then starts trading them off. I am convinced the reason the strategy works isn’t as much cause he is so smart but the other owners are dumb for trading with him.

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    • Bill says:

      I think Delabar is the sleeper on the Jays – I can see him closing while Santos gets dealt.

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  5. kozilla says:

    I guess the reasoning for why people assume Reed wins the job in Arizona doesn’t make sense to me. Fangraphs traditionally preaches the value of using your best relievers before the 9th as often that is where the game can be decided.

    Putz has a track record of closing out games so even if Reed is the better pitcher why wouldn’t the D’Backs consider using him to set up and letting Putz close if he shows he’s back to form.

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    • Fangraphs does preach that type of managing, as the eighth inning or earlier is often a more important/higher leverage inning. However, there aren’t any real managers or organizations that do that on a consistent basis, least of all the Dbacks.

      Putz is a worthy closer and when he’s healthy, arguably as good as Reed. But, I don’t think they traded an actual prospect for Reed so that he could set up games.

      With all of that said, with Putz in tow, Reed may not have a long leash if he were to struggle.

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      • kozilla says:

        I concede your point, that may not truly be the motivating factor. But I do still think Putz could end up with the job. There have been reports that he is the favorite to close amongst the D-Backs pitching staff.

        A more logical reason for trying Putz one more time as the closer might be that it could increase his value for a potential trade if/when the D-Backs fall out of contention. I believe his contract with the club is up after 2014.

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      • kozilla says:

        Sorry for the multiple comments, and thanks for the article and response.

        I just wanted to follow up with evidence that I am not making this up.

        “by Michael Hurcomb |
        (02/09/14) The Diamondbacks made a big acquisition this offseason by picking up reliever Addison Reed in a trade with the White Sox. However, his arrival hasn’t deterred J.J. Putz from entering camp with hopes of regaining the closer’s role after he posted a 1.27 ERA in his final 27 appearances last season.

        “I definitely want to close,” Putz told The Arizona Republic. “Other than the beginning of my year last year, I thought I threw the ball really well when I came back (following stints on the disabled list for elbow and finger injuries). I feel good. I’ve been throwing more bullpens before spring started than I ever have. I’ve been working with (pitching coach Mike Harkey) on some things. Everything feels good.”

        According to the Republic, Putz is regarded as the leader for the closer’s job, particularly among the pitching staff.

        (I think KT (General Manager Kevin Towers) and Gibby (manager Kirk Gibson) are both extremely loyal people,” Putz said, when asked about the chance he’s being given to win the job. “I’m glad that they are at least giving me the opportunity, and I’m going to do everything I can to win that job when the time is appropriate to win that job. If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. The bottom line is just getting to the playoffs and seeing what happens.”)

        The report is old but there have been more recent reports confirming that it is an open competition for the job and Reed is on record talking about wanting the job but acknowledging that he might not get it.

        My read on things is that unless ineffective the job will probably be Putz’s to lose. He seems like the closer for the present while Reed is their insurance policy and probable closer for the future.

        I have significantly dropped Reed in my rankings, to the point where I will never get him, and then take Putz with my last pick. Am I crazy for doing this because I seem to be the only one reading the situation this way.

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      • Simon says:

        Well Putz is hardly going to say that he’d prefer to set up, is he? I don’t see any evidence that there’ a real competition there. In fact, some of the analysis I’ve seen suggests that Ziegler may be the first alternative to Reed, rather than Putz.

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      • Putz has every reason to continue as if he will be the closer, but that doesn’t guarantee he’ll be closing.

        Additionally, the team has very good reason to not simply hand Reed the job outright but I still maintain their want is for Reed to take the job. Even if Putz outplays Reed in ST, ST stats are largely irrelevant and my guess is Reed would have to be particularly bad to lose it.

        With all of that said, you make some good points and it’s another reason to knock Reed down a few points. His FBv decreased last year and he’s a big fly ball pitcher. Putz is a great late round snag for speculative saves too, but as of now I’m confident in saying Reed will close.

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      • Ruki Motomiya says:

        One possible reason to keep Reed off closing for the moment: Lower arb costs?

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  6. Steve Giufre says:

    Love your stuff on twitter and glad to see you on here. Agree from a fantasy perspective these are all pretty obvious guys that most readers already have thier eye on. Looking forward to the next one!


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  7. potcircle says:

    lottery tickets…

    darren o’day
    ronald belisario
    brandon kintzler
    sergio santos
    jake mcgee

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    • SKob says:

      Other deep guys –

      I’m not sure if Kintzler gets saves over K-Rod if Henderson goes bad.

      Heath Hembree if Romo finds the injury bug.

      If David Robertson falters a little in New York, look for Delin Betances. Since moving to relief he has been absolutely filthy!!!! Could absolutely be the next great NY closer.

      Thought Carter Capps was an interesting aquisiton by the Marlins. He needs to figure some things out first though.

      Look up Caleb Thielbar and Casey Fien in Minnesota. Perkins will have some trade value this year and Burton is not as effective as these other 2.

      Fujikawa on the Cubs will be back mid year and might see some save ops at the end of the season or if they trade Veras (or if he sucks). I think he’s the choice over Strop if he comes back into form.

      And I love Jansen, but I also owned him when his heart issue flared up… his frickin heart!!!! I’m investing in Brian Wilson on the cheap. I don’t care if the issue has been resolved or not!

      Don’t sleep on Jason Motte – Rosenthal is hurting and has been considered a starter.

      Love me some Steve Delabar!

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      • These are also some great notes!

        I love Fien in Minnesota, in other ballparks the homers might be an issue with his fly ball tendencies, which actually even hurt him last year.

        You’re right, Fujikawa would probably get a chance if he comes back healthy but there is so little known there I’d go with Strop for now. However, like crain, Fujikawa is an interesting DL stash for deep/NL only leagues.

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      • SKob says:

        I know it’s only spring training, but I’d like to reiterate the ‘filthy’ in regard to Dellin Betances. Apparently he’s fighting for a roster spot, but he already looks like the best bullpen arm they have!

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    • I like those. Santos we talked about in the comments but the others obviously weren’t mentioned.

      Tommy Hunter is a first time closer and doesn’t have much clout, Darren O’Day would be next in line and has been surprisingly good the last two years.

      Balfour will be closing in Tampa but Madden isn’t as beholden to the laws of closers as others and McGee certainly has talent to be a top notch set up man on fantasy teams, maybe getting a few saves against lefty heavy lineups.

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  8. centerfield_ballhawk says:

    Do you like Nate Jones’ chances to take the closer job and run with it in Chicago? I own stock all over the place.

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    • Yes, I’m definitely a Nate Jones supporter. I’ll be on record that he will beat Matt Lindstrom and Ronald Belisario for saves in Chicago.

      It might be a “tad” risky as the other guys are more secure in their job but I would recommend passing up on Soriano, Axford, Frieri, Street, etc types and getting Nate Jones.

      His high ERA (4.15) might scare off some people but we all know his K-Rate and peripherals suggest a very solid reliever who should be getting saves in 2014 as well.

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  9. garett68 says:

    Quick Side note, Looking to fill out the rest of a new Ottoneu League (This is Fantasy Baseball). Auction Draft, Fangraphs Points, group arbitration $99, draft on 3/23. Email me at

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  10. Dynasty Leaguer says:

    Jared Burton of the Twins is a guy who belongs on a deep coma list. I am fairly confident the Twins will goto him if something goes wrong with Perkins. I’ve gotten him pretty late in NFBC 50-rounders.

    Also, Luke Gregerson will be an FA after this year (no more Arb), and I think he’s a very good bet to get the crack at the Oakland job if Johnson falters. I see Ryan Cook getting drafted ahead of him in some NFBCs but he’s in his Arb years now and that’s likely the reason Moneybeane brought in Jim Johnson instead of turning the job over to Cook. I would bet my life on Gregerson getting those saves after Johnson.

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