Bob Wickman was the first closer I ever drafted. Coming off a strong 2001 season, it seemed like he was going to provide good value compared to some higher priced relievers. For my sixth round pick, I got 20 saves, an era over 4 and an injury; never mind Wickman’s injury, I’m referring to the injury to my pride when I picked up Mark Wohlers to replace him and get those precious Cleveland Indians saves.
I was traumatized, but unbowed. The following season I ponied up for Kazahiro Sasaki. He had saved at least 37 games in each of his three major league seasons, was a former Rookie of the Year and a two-time all-star. (These things mattered back then.) If memory serves he hurt himself before opening day. Then, another 4+ era and measly 10 saves.
Picking relievers was such a drag; they were so expensive and they kept burning me. I’d had enough. I had heard the “plan” espoused by certain fantasy experts. I knew what to do. Four little words. Say it with me now.
“NEVER PAY FOR SAVES!”
This was the way to do it! Let other guys take the top closers. I had an offense to fill up, future aces to draft, and Joe Borowski and Brian Fuentes to grab late anyway. This sounds silly now but those guys saved a lot of games. They looked hideous doing it but they saved a lot of games.
I spent a good number of years doing it this way. I’ve drafted Arthur Rhodes. I’ve drafted George Sherrill. Last year I took Nate Jones. It hasn’t always been a bust. I took Joe Nathan before he was proven and I’ve taken him after he was washed up (the first time). I benefited from that weird Armando Benitez renaissance in Florida. Point is, I’ve won some and I’ve lost some in my time speculating for saves. But I’m tired of speculating. In 2015, I am paying for saves.
Now, some of you may disagree with me and those of you who do will want to point to the slew of closers who lost their jobs last year. I will list a few of them: Tommy Hunter, Ernesto Frieri, Grant Balfour, John Axford … I could keep going, but this is already painful enough as it is. I mean, you had to have known the risks when you drafted those guys just as I did when I drafted veteran LOOGY Sherrill or notorious choke artist Rhodes – these are not very good pitchers who happen to have a chance to get saves. Craig Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman, or Greg Holland they are not.
By the way, you’ll note Kimbrel, Aroldis, and Holland and the other top closers didn’t lose their jobs or hurt your team. They struck out a ton, saved a bunch and helped your ratios besides. They were ranked at the top of the position before the season started and that’s where they finished.
So you see, it’s not that the closer position was unstable by nature. I’ve learned the hard way to discover that how I drafted closers was the problem. I was passing up very safe closers with really great stats. I didn’t realize the dregs of the position have been giving the position as a whole a bad name.
You know I like taking a look at the previous years’ drafts to see what we can learn. I looked at some of the players being drafted around the same time as Kimbrel and Holland last year and I was shocked. Here are a few of the hitters being taken right around the same time as Kimbrel in 2014: Eric Hosmer, Jay Bruce, Elvis Andrus, Yadier Molina. A round or two later, I passed on Holland for the likes of Matt Carpenter, Allen Craig, Joe Mauer, and Pedro Alvarez. I’m not even cherry picking; other than Altuve, the hitters chosen in this range were disappointments.
Starting pitchers didn’t fare much better. These were the guys that we thought would be number ones for number two prices. They were number two’s all right: Homer Bailey, Anibal Sanchez, Shelby Miller, and the like. Does using a high pick on a closer seem so risky now?
Meanwhile, if you chose from the bottom half of closers, you basically threw away your pick. Certainly the bottom third. Granted these were late picks, but you only have so many of picks and you want to use them with conviction. In addition to the guys like Frieri listed above, you might have taken Jim Henderson, or Jose Veras, or . . . the best way I can put it is that the most fortunate among us drafted Fernando Rodney.
I’ve said that I’m all about paying a premium for the top of the line in a given position. Why did I treat closers as an exception to the rule? I should be jumping at the opportunity to get a top-tier guy at his position in what, the fifth round? It might make me swallow hard when I pass on that slugger of that “future ace,” but they are not the locks for success that a top closer is.
So here are the closer groups I’m looking to shop in. First, I want one of Kimbrel, Aroldis, Holland, or Robertson. However, timing is difficult and depending on where I am in the draft I could easily lose all of them. Then target the guys with crazy good skills who might be a slight discount because they’re not “proven:” Betances, Melancon, Cody Allen. Then, guys with very good skills backed up some track record of closing games: Rosenthal, Cishek, Perkins, maybe Koji. If I can two guys from these groups, I’m happy.
I might jump into the closer bargain bin again, but if I can execute my plan, whatever contributions they make will be gravy. I’d be great if Jenrry Mejia gets 30 saves, but I don’t want to pin my fantasy hopes on it. And it won’t be nearly as painful when I banish him to the waiver wire.
Good writers use as few words as possible to express their ideas. After all this time I realize that I used too many words when expressing my views on closers. But in 2015, my philosophy on closers is little bit more lean and mean: “NEVER PAY FOR SAVES!”