There is a lot of disagreement among fantasy players about when to start taking relief pitchers. The one thing that most agree upon is that the first one to take is Jonathan Papelbon. The Red Sox closer has a three-year track record of success, pitches for a team that should clear 90 wins and is a young 28, with only 230 major league innings on his arm. Papelbon has an ADP of 54, which means that fantasy players start targeting relievers in the middle of the fifth round.
Papelbon’s K/9 fell from an otherworldly 12.96 in 2007 to 10.00 last year. But he compensated by cutting his walks in half. His BB/9 checked in last year at a minuscule 1.04, which was the third-lowest mark for relievers. After back-to-back seasons with a BABIP in the .230s, Papelbon had a .313 mark last year. Combined with a LOB% of 69.5 percent, he saw increases last year in both his WHIP and his ERA.
With a more typical distribution with his LOB% (the only player with 15 or more saves to have a lower rate was Brandon Lyon) Papelbon could easily exceed last year’s overall numbers. And if no pitcher challenges for the all-time saves record, Papelbon could meet pre-season expectations by being the top fantasy closer at the end of the year.
But fantasy players have to ask themselves how much they are willing to pay for Papelbon’s track record. Is it worth taking him in the fifth round, while passing on players like Joe Mauer and Dan Haren? Especially when 30-save pitchers like Kerry Wood and B.J. Ryan are available eight rounds later? Both of those players have had injury problems in the recent past, which makes the Papelbon decision not so cut-and-dried.