Contributed By: Mike Muyskens
Every year in fantasy baseball drafts around the globe, managers scramble to draft the upper echelon closers. Some fantasy baseball pundits argue that because saves are such a precious commodity, it’s imperative to draft the best closers available. I put that reasoning to the test, however, and I would argue closers simply aren’t worth drafting in the earlier part of the draft.
First off, I have to mention that league formats are clearly important in determining where a closer should be drafted. Saves are one of four pitching categories in a 4×4 draft and therefore have much more significance. For the sake of this discussion, I’m going to assume league settings are 5×5 with 1250 IP cap.
In order to draft one of the better closers in the game, fantasy managers have been tempted to take them as early as the third, fourth, or fifth round. This is the area of the draft ace starters will still be drafted as well as the upper echelon catchers and second tier short stops & outfielders not to mention the last of the impact second and third baseman. Any player in this area of the draft that contributes to all five batting categories is inherently more valuable than a closer that impacts four stats. Although closers contribute to as many categories as starters, the impact is not as great.
The reason a top closer isn’t as valuable as a top starter is that the starter is going to contribute around 200 innings of stats to the team total while a closer will be lucky to pitch 75 innings a year. Let’s take a look at the impact of the top closer going in mock drafts as of this writing, Jonathan Papelbon, and a starter who is getting drafted quite close to him in mock drafts right now, Danny Haren. Assuming we place either of them on a team that has a 4.00 ERA over 1000 IP, Haren will have more of an effect. Add Haren’s 216.1 innings of 3.33 ERA and the team ERA drops to 3.877. Papelbon’s 69.1 of 2.34 ERA drops the team ERA to 3.888.
Although Papelbon has slightly more effect on this hypothetical team’s WHIP, 1.184 to 1.187, we have to take in effect that those additional 147 innings that Haren contributed would need to be made up by the version of the team with Papelbon. Unless that starter was taken soon after Papelbon, than more than likely he would wind up raising both ERA and WHIP. And by taking a starter shortly after the Boston closer, this fantasy team would miss out on some of the impact bats available. Not only that, but all of this assumes that both Papelbon and Haren are taken where they currently are in mock drafts – the fifth round. The comparison becomes much, much more drastic if we compare Papelbon to some of the third and fourth-round starters that are being drafted (i.e., Cole Hamels, Jake Peavy).
Add to that the fact that every year there are a couple of late draft and waiver wire pick-ups that are difference makers in the saves category. League leaders in saves over the past decade have included such luminaries as Antonio Alfonseca and Jose Valverde. John Smoltz closed out 55 games his very first year in the role. In 2008 we saw Joakim Soria come out of nowhere to be one of the most dominant closers of the year. Brad Lidge remembered how to pitch after leaving Houston and returned to unhitable form. Brian Wilson registered 41 saves and finished second in the NL for 2008. My point here is that every year there are a few players who come out of nowhere to contribute top 10 stats at the position.
So instead of reaching on a top-flight closer early in the draft, stockpile quality bats, choose a couple of ace starters, and target the second-tier closer talent in the middle of the draft to put you in contention for saves.
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