Should I Pay for Saves?

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!”

7 thoughts on “Should I Pay for Saves?”

  1. I agree. Two of the last three years in my main league I’ve come out champion. Those years I had Chapman/Kimbrel and Jansen/Street (Storen in the playoffs)…other than Street (16th) and Storen (waivers), they were all 4th/5th picks. I guess having Kershaw both years might have helped too ;), but you understand.

    Before these studs, it seemed the top RP was a lazy Susan, always rotating, and most were late rounders. While Rivera was awesome, the Yanks won a lot of 13-5 games, making Mariano slip in drafts. While he still was top five most of the time, it was the Billy Wagner’s of the world getting the top spot.

    Times are a changing. This year, I have the 15th/16th pick(s) in my snake. Happy or Kimbrel might not even get to me in rounds 3/4.

    …and btw, I happened to enjoy your “long” way around to your conclusion. 🙂

    1. Hi Chad,

      Thanks so much for reading. Having Chapman and Kimbrel on the same team is awesome; they basically gave you an even better Kershaw to go with the real one. Having those three gives you a huge head start in ratios which your fellow drafters might not have recognized. The flaw in my previous way of thinking is that it’s not just paying for saves; elite relievers help you in ratios and strikeouts too. And mediocre ones can hurt you in those same categories.

      That’s a good point about Mariano and closers in the past; zigging when they zagged paid off in previous seasons and you could find value by waiting a little. If Hoffman had an off year and people thought he was done,that was the year to go get Hoffman. If he had a great year and Rivera was a little off, go get Rivera that year.

      Good luck on landing what you want in your 15-teamer. And thanks for the compliment on the conclusion, it means a lot that you enjoyed reading.

      Michael

  2. Do you see Kenley Jansen as a bargain bin closer who may come at a discount do to the fact that he is gone until May? I generally rank him up with the top 4 closers you mentioned.

    1. Hi Brandon,

      Thanks for reading. I’m glad you brought up Jansen, I really should have mentioned him especially given his situation. When healthy, he is right there with the top guys. I’m thinking that drafters are probably sleeping on Jansen too much considering that he’s only out till may and that his injury is not to his arm. I can tell you this because I’ve been caught sleeping on him.

      Timing when to take him might be difficult. I’m thinking he’ll probably be taken after the Betances group and before or around the Cishek group. That means you’re looking at the 10th round or so? If he’s your second RP, that’s pretty phenomenal. I don’t think he’s going to slip that much further though. Still, you are turning a big profit potentially, even if it might feel like you are jumping.

      This is another way my thinking has changed; my stock response to this not too long ago would have been “I’ve got enough potential problems with my team already, I don’t want a guy who’s hurt.” But this is a closer with a big track record, great skills, and no competition for his job when he returns, plus as noted, the injury was a fluky thing, not an arm injury.

      You didn’t ask about these other two, nor did I mention them in the article, but I will mention that I want a much bigger discount on Jake McGee and Sean Doolittle, and I doubt they will be on any of my teams. Reread my description of Jansen in the paragraph above and you’ll see the situation on these two is not really similar. McGee and Doolittle possess the skills, but they have only closed for part of one season, have suitable replacements, and are recovering from arm injuries. So yeah, these guys need to go in the bargain bin and I’m not sure they are better options than, I dunno, K-Rod or Neftali Feliz.

      But back to your point, I don’t know how far Jansen falls, but I’d love to grab him in the midpack, especially if I missed out on Kimbrel et al.

      Thank you again for reading Brandon. I hope you get a good price on Jansen!

      Michael

  3. My main league is a 10 team AL Dynasty league so saves can be a little difficult to come by as there’s usually 5-6 closers kept yearly. I too have been one to wait on saves, or try to target a player through FA. Three years ago I lucked into Tom W off the waiver wire and 2 years ago I basically punted saves after swinging and missing on many a FA. Last year I said expletive it and decided to target saves early well I ended up taking Jim Johnson at #9 overall……then in the 3rd round I outsmarted myself and took Nate Jones……so I believe I had 1 save by the end of the end of April and not many more than that by June. Luckily I rescued my season by grabbing McGee while everyone was focusing their attention on Belisario and a few others. So I guess my question is in a dynasty league like mine what would be the best strategy? I’ve made a promise to myself to never keep a closer since the turnover is always pretty high. I read your article and it makes me want to go out and draft closers like I did last year. I understand that a good deal of fault falls on my shoulders given the closers that I drafted but once again it’s such a volatile roster spot that if I can’t get one of the top, which I remind you seem to be kept, maybe I should just plug and patch and try to put a season together. As always I love reading all of the stuff from this site and I’m sorry but you’re not going to get any recommendations from me to my league mates……you’re my little secret.

    Jeremy

    1. It’s an only league so things get a little more dicey, but I think a simple rule of thumb is this. If it is a H2H league don’t fret over not having a closer. If it is a roto league you should probably keep a closer, but only the ones that are virtual locks for at least a few years. Your pool is small with Robertson, Holland & Allen for elite choices, but Britton & Perkins are decent fall back options. If those guys are gone target Boxberger, Tyler Clippard and Andrew Miller as they could get you saves and their talent is on par with those top guys.

      Basically if you don’t have one of those top guys, go for the top set up men who could be your keepers next year. If they don’t work out do the same thing next year. Normally I would say don’t trade for one of those top guys, but in an only league I break my own rules. Would I keep a closer in a dynasty league, yes, but only one of the top closers – especially in roto.

      1. Hi Jeremy,

        Thanks for reading and commenting. Jim’s comment looks spot on to me, I would point out and re-emphasize that the set up men he recommends are skilled pitchers who can offer your team some help even if they don’t get saves. On the other hand, you might think Tommy Hunter has a shot at saves if Britton goes down, but he will do some damage to your ratios along the way.

        Nate Jones is part of the reason why I wrote this column. Even if he was a sixteenth round pick I was scrambling around before the season even started. Holland and Robertson will be given too many chances to mess up and they’re too good to not settle in and get clean saves eventually.

        Thanks again for reading.

        Michael

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