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Silver League Update: Scrambling For Saves

It happens to all of us. You feel like you set a strategy for a category, you draft, and you come away feeling mostly good. But two months into the season, you're floundering.

I don't believe in paying for saves -- I mean, what if you drafted Mariano Rivera and Heath Bell and thought you were set? Instead, I believe in quantity over quality and a quick trigger finger on the waiver wire. Strategy: check.

Coming out of the draft, I drafted Carlos Marmol late, thinking he could anchor me with strikeouts and (relative) job stability -- remember, the Cubs had just traded Sean Marshall and installed a stats-savvy front office -- so they wouldn't be tossing Marmol aside over a bad outing or two. Then, I grabbed Grant Balfour for a good whiff rate and a big home park. I took my chances with Greg Holland, hoping that his 2011 success would count for more than Jonathan Broxton's "experience." I could have taken Jim Johnson too, but years of rooting for the Orioles in real life have given me this ironclad rule: never get a Baltimore closer. Feeling mostly good: check.

When Broxton got the job, I didn't sweat it. I made a trade, getting Sean Marshall, and I felt good again.

Abject saves failure: check.

The trouble with playing in a really competitive league is that by the time you realize your closer has lost his job, someone else already has his replacement. Or all three committee members. So much for my quick trigger finger. Now, I didn't write this article to get your sympathy (though I'll accept it), instead, I'm writing it because I'm at a turning point in my decision-making process--one that many of you are at too, unfortunately.

I've found myself with three saves-related points so far, thanks to this year's set of quality closers out for the year and the fact that someone else always punts the category. But with no real prospects for saves on my roster, I have to ask myself: Do I just give up and slip further downward, or do I try to scrape things together from the waiver wire?

My first inclination was to give in to the inevitable, forget about saves, and grab the best relievers I can, regardless of any save opportunities they might have. If you're close to slipping into the bottom and far from climbing up even one rung, maybe this strategy is for you. Tim Collins has struck out 34 batters in 22.1 IP, with good ERA and WHIP,  and is available in 99% of Yahoo! leagues, but he isn't exactly close to save chances. Some other quality relievers that aren't obviously close to getting saves include Brad Lincoln (1.11 ERA and 0.90 WHIP, 2% owned), Koji Uehara (1.04 ERA, .052 WHIP, 5% owned, but No. 3 on the Texas depth chart) and Sergio Romo (0.64 ERA, .086 WHIP, but stuck behind a dominant Santiago Casilla--he's owned in 26% of leagues). 

Real teams have had so much upheaval in their closer situations in the last couple weeks that there are a surprising  number of pitchers in line for saves on more than a few waiver wires. Those in shallower leagues and those who find themselves just lucky could go after any number of pitchers for saves. If you're in a deeper league, you may have to dig a little deeper down.

Top Tier

As the current Blue Jays closer, Casey Janssen is owned in only 37% of Yahoo! leagues. His numbers (18 K's in 18 innings and an 0.94 WHIP) are plenty good enough for him to hold the job until Sergio Santos returns, and maybe after. Tyler Clippard (46%) may well be owned in your league, but his co-closer, Sean Burnett (12%), probably isn't. With an 0.66 ERA, Burnett might inspire enough confidence to hold the job until Drew Storen returns. Per @CloserNews, Ernesto Frieri (36%) is in line for a piece of the Angels' saves picture and he's striking out over 16 batters per inning. He should be owned whether he takes over as closer or not.

Tom Wilhelmsen (7%) isn't famous and hasn't been awesome (4.44 ERA, 1,40 WHIP), but he strikes people out (11.1 K/9) and might be chair of the new committee in Seattle. James Russell (7%) and Shawn Camp (3%) are sharing the duties in Chicago for the moment, but the Cubs may turn things back to Marmol eventually.

Tomorrow's Closers Today

If you're in a deep league -- like the Silver, where Wilhelmsen, Russell, and Camp are all owned -- then you may have to plot a different course. The strategy is simple and common enough: find a struggling closer and get his setup man on your team. First on this list is David Hernandez (11%) and his 13.1 K/9. Though J.J. Putz has his manager's public confidence (for all the good that does), he's injury-prone and has an ERA over 6.00. That's a great combination.

Frank Francisco has been pretty bad so far, and Bobby Parnell (5%) got some closer-talk last year, so there could be an opportunity there. In Cleveland, Chris Perez has been pretty good, but how long will that last? If the answer isn't "all season," then there's a chance we could see Vinnie Pestano (22%) in the closer's role. With his strikeouts and good ratios, he's worth owning in plenty of leagues, even if Perez never implodes. Matt Capps has nine saves, but just nine strikeouts, so it feels a bit like a matter of time before he hands the job over to someone else. Glenn Perkins (1%) would be a likely choice for the job, as he's striking out over a batter per inning. Brian Fuentes doesn't inspire much confidence and Ryan Cook (16%) has a perfect 0.00 ERA and an 0.70 WHIP. A couple blown saves and the job might be his.

If you're really confident in your ratios, you could dive into the White Sox's closer mess, as Addison Reed hasn't been pitching especially well. Maybe they'll finally give Matt Thornton (27%) his turn, give the job back to Hector Santiago (12%), or put another starter into the closer's role for a day. Neither Thornton nor Santiago has been lights out though, so I don't know if I'd go that route unless you're really desperate. Check out our handy Closer Depth Chart if you aren't sure where to look for saves.

If you're like me, and down to no serious help in saves, you've got nothing to lose by taking your chances on unproven relievers with job shares, or quality setup men who might fall into the job down the road. If you're down to one mediocre closer, though, you might want to consider trading him away. A point is a point, no matter the category and any time you can get solid value for the mercurial performance of a relief pitcher you should consider it. In general, I'd say trade that closer away in a head-to-head league, but keep him roto style.

 This has been a big year for closers losing their jobs and getting hurt, and the more uncertainty there has been, the more uncertainty you can expect. Teams like the Cubs, White Sox and Nationals have proved how many changes a team might make in just a couple months. Every time a change is made, that's a new opportunity for you. 

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