Saves


Closer Updates: Astros, Bravos, Cubs, Giants, Halos, Pirates, Rangers, Rays, Tigers, Tribe, White Sox

After a few quiet weeks, the closer scene started to sizzle again after a reliever swap between Los Angeles and Pittsburgh. In this week’s edition, we’ve also got a demotion out west and some closer-by-committee position battles. For good measure, we’ll sprinkle in an injury update (or two) too.

Atlanta Braves – Despite a heavy workload over the last week (4 appearances, 4 saves, 0 earned runs allowed), Craig Kimbrel is still looking like the same old stud for the Bravos. However, David Carpenter should be recalled from Triple-AAA Gwinnett this week and, once that move happens, Carpenter should quickly supplant Shae Simmons and Luis Avilan as a top setup option.

Chicago CubsHector Rondon has been fairly consistent over the last week for the Cubbies (3 saves, 1 earned run). Although his season numbers are just decent (11 saves, 3.62 ERA, 1.30 WHIP), he has converted 11 of 13 save opportunities so far and is a solid speculative option to gather up any of the Cubs save opportunities. If he fails to be consistent, Neil Ramirez is the one to watch (3 saves, 1.25 ERA, 0.88 WHIP).

Chicago White Sox – With manager Robin Ventura unwilling to name a closer, two candidates lead their closer-by-committee: Jake Petricka (2 saves, 1.94 ERA, 1.27 WHIP) and Zach Putnam (1 save, 2.30 ERA, 1.09 WHIP). Both have average strikeout rates (6.6 and 7.2, respectively) but lots of potential. Keep an eye on this situation if you’re desperate for saves – I’d probably go with Putnam.

Cleveland Indians – Even though manager Terry Francona is unwilling to name Cody Allen the “official” closer, Allen has done well enough in the position to deserve a little leash. With a couple of four-out saves and an impressive track record (8 of 9 save opportunities), he’s a good option to keep the gig for the rest of the season.

Detroit Tigers – After all that chatter about Joe Nathan, he seems to be back into his rhythm in Motown. In the past week, Nathan has two appearances and two saves. That being said, Joba Chamberlain (2 save, 2.94 ERA, 1.19 WHIP) isn’t out of the picture just yet – Nathan gave up two earned runs in those same appearances.

Houston AstrosChad Qualls, who has been consistent this season, was dealing with a slight groin injury earlier this week and a stray save opportunity fell to Tony Sipp – who converted. However, Qualls was warming up in that game just in case and should be ready to go moving forward... In other Astros reliever news, Kyle Farnsworth didn’t last long and was optioned to Triple-A last week.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim – In the past week, the Halos dealt troubled former closer Frieri to Pittsburgh for Jason Grilli (11 saves, 4.37 ERA, 1.54 WHIP). Although he will not immediately take the job from Joe Smith, Grilli will make a push for the gig once he gets his groove back. If that happens, he can be a top-flight closer (49 career saves).

Pittsburgh Pirates – Like the Angels, the Pirates were ready to trade one inconsistent closer for another – swapping Grilli for Ernesto Frieri (11 saves, 6.00 ERA, 1.36 WHIP). With a degree of confidence in Mark Melancon (and a solid backup option in Tony Watson), the Bucs took on the troubled Frieri. If he takes advantage of the fresh start in the National League, he could become a valuable weapon in their bullpen moving forward.

San Francisco Giants – One closer who lost his job in the last week is Sergio Romo. Romo has struggled over the past month (5 saves, 9.72 ERA, 1.44 WHIP) and manager Bruce Bochy expects them to go with a closer-by-committee approach in the short term. For now, it appears to be a race between Santiago Casilla (1 save, 1.15 ERA, 0.86 WHIP) and Jeremy Affeldt (31 appearances, 1.98 ERA, 1.10 WHIP), with Casilla having the early edge.

Tampa Bay Rays – After a rough start to the season, it seems that Grant Balfour may just be working his way back into the closer role. But… it only seems that way. On Tuesday, manager Joel Maddon gave him the save opportunity and credited it to “good karma.” Chalk this up to a one-time occurrence and expect the Rays to stay closer-by-committee with Jake McGee leading the show (followed by Joel Peralta and Juan Carlos Oviedo).

Texas RangersJoakim Soria has struggled in the past two weeks (0 saves, 13.50 ERA, 2.25 WHIP) and it’s a situation worth keeping an eye on. If these troubles continue, look for Jason Frasor (2.08 ERA, 1.15 WHIP) and Neal Cotts (3.38 ERA, 1.30 WHIP) to step in.

If you’re chasing saves in your fantasy league, there’s only one place to check out… For the latest news on closers to grab, stash, start, or bench, be sure to follow @CloserNews on Twitter.



Closer Updates: Astros, Athletics, Bucs, Cards, Halos, Jays, Mets, O’s, Tribe

Believe it or not, we’ve had another eventful week in the wonderful world of closers. As always, we’ve had a rash of injuries and poor performances, as well as some interesting demotions and depth chart changes. Without further ado, let’s take a closer look…

Baltimore Orioles – Given the recent struggles of Tommy Hunter, it may be a matter of days before Darren O’Day gets the call. After two consecutive blown saves earlier in the week, manager Buck Showalter wouldn’t commit to keeping Hunter in the role. While Brian Matusz is a strong candidate (3.75 ERA, 1.92 WHIP, 6.0 K/9), Darren O’Day (0.60 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 6.6 K/9) should get the first chance to close.

Cleveland Indians – After being removed from the closer role, John Axford has slowly been working his way back to the ninth and turned in a perfect inning of relief on Tuesday night. If he returns as closer, he’ll have to demonstrate that he can pitch consistently before skipper Terry Francona trusts him again. That being said, it seems that Bryan Shaw (1.45 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 8.2 K/9) has the slight edge over Cody Allen (1.76 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 13.5 K/9) when it comes to the Tribe’s save opportunities.

Houston Astros – Although the closer picture in Houston is still unclear, it seems that the closer-by-committee approach may be disappearing due to the injury bug. With Anthony Bass hitting the DL, the favorite is now Chad Qualls. Although Josh Fields has been recalled from Triple-A, Qualls should receive any save opportunities until everyone else becomes healthy (Jesse Crain and Matt Albers are also on the DL with Bass).

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim – On Tuesday, it appeared that Ernesto Frieri had regained his role in the ninth inning. However, the Angels followed up on Wednesday night by giving Joe Smith the save opportunity (which he converted easily). Therefore, manager Mike Scioscia has stayed true to his word by using both relievers to close out ballgames. Although Frieri should take the job outright from Smith at some point, it may take a little while and both relievers will have value until this situation sorts itself out.

New York Mets – After Wednesday’s game, the Mets released former closer Kyle Farnsworth (3.18 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 5.3 K/9) and left their closer job up for grabs. With a number of contenders, including Jeurys Familia (3.44 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 7.4 K/9), moonwalking Jenrry Mejia (4.89 ERA, 1.58 WHIP, 9.3 K/9), and Daisuke Matsuzaka (2.60 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 11.4 K/9), it’s not yet clear how they’ll proceed in Queens.

Oakland Athletics – After a brief attempt to return Jim Johnson to his closer role, the A’s have again decided to take a closer-by-committee approach in the ninth inning. Therefore, the normal candidates return to the fold, including Johnson, Sean Doolittle, and Luke Gregerson. Because Doolittle has struggled occasionally when closing in the past, Gregerson might have the slight edge in this race.

Pittsburgh Pirates – Although Mark Melancon has pitched well (only one run allowed since April 24, with five of six save opportunities converted) in the absence of Jason Grilli, it seems that Grilli may be ready to return to the majors (and the ninth inning) very soon. After a 24-pitch simulated game on Wednesday, Grilli declared that he’s ready to return. Melancon may still hold value even when he returns given Grilli’s proclivity for injury.

St. Louis CardinalsTrevor Rosenthal has had a strong season (10 saves, 5.19 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 10.9 K/9) and has only blown one save all season. That being said, former Cards closer Jason Motte has been rehabbing nicely and may return to the bullpen in short order after missing the entire 2013 season. Once Motte returns, the Cardinals will likely find a way to utilize the former closer extraordinaire and it should be a matter of time before he challenges Rosenthal for the job. With Rosenthal's knack for pitching himself in and out of trouble, Motte may perform well enough to take his old gig back.

Toronto Blue Jays – The Jays have to be excited that Casey Janssen has been activated from disabled list after a long first six weeks of the season. With the bullpen struggles in Toronto (their 4.77 ERA is good for the majors’ fourth-highest), Janssen should provide some much needed stability. If you’ve been waiting patiently for Janssen to return, you already know that he’s pitched well in his two appearances thus far (1 save, 2.0 IP, 33 pitches, 1 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K).

If you’re chasing saves in your fantasy league, there’s only one place to check out… For the latest news on closers to grab, stash, start, or bench, be sure to follow @CloserNews on Twitter.



How to Win 2014: Saves

No category and position are more closely related than Saves and the closers who luck into earn them. You certainly can't make up for lousy saves production out of your relievers by getting a third baseman who specializes in closing out ballgames. (You know...they way you might compensate for non-stealing middle infielders....) So, we're stuck with relievers.

There are more problems with relievers: they're inconsistent from outing to outing and year to year; they're pitchers and so more likely to get injured than others; they pitch in extremely small sample sizes, so luck doesn't even come close to evening out and a single bad night can ruin a season's ERA; their accumulation of Saves is subject to team performance, and that not even of winning but of winning by a certain small margin; their presence in the closer's role is dependent entirely on managerial fiat.

Wow. That list of problems is even worse in print than it was in my head. No wonder RotoAuthority's resident closer expert, Luckey Helms, argues against paying for saves

But I digress. The risks associated with relief pitchers aren't the topic of this article. How to reap their benefits is.

Strategy 1: Buy Those Saves

When you look at RA's Closer Rankings (or anyone else's, probably), you'll see four names far above the rest: Craig Kimbrel, Kenley Jansen, Aroldis Chapman, and Greg Holland. In some outlets you might see our fifth through seventh guys rated near them as well: Koji Uehara, Joe Nathan, and Trevor Rosenthal. These seven pitchers aren't so highly rated because they're the best sources of saves, though.

No, premium closers are premium because they do so much more than save games, offering the possibilities of sub 2.00 ERA's and K/9's over 12.00. All that is great if you're looking to build a balanced fantasy team (which you probably should), but it comes at a very high price. Getting one of these closers as an anchor could be a good idea if you're already willing to spend auction dollars and high draft picks on a closer, but getting two or three of them is likely a price too dear.

But that's not so bad, because there's no guarantee that the best closers will earn the most Saves. Sure, they've got the best odds to do so, but that doesn't keep Jim Johnson from saving 50 games a season with a K/9 of literally zero.* You can get saves without elite relievers. You can win Saves without elite relievers. You just need volume.

*Actually, his career number is 5.96, also known as figuratively zero.

When I advocate paying for saves, I tend to think in terms of my eighth-twelfth round draft picks--it's a lot tougher for me to part with auction cash than it is fourth-tier corner infielders and mid-rotation starters. While it's hard for me to part with a third round pick for Kimbrel and his greatness (the ghost of Eric Gagne keeps reminding me that only Mariano Rivera can be great forever), it isn't so hard for me to give up two or even three of my middle-round draft picks to lock down some saves. When I do, I'm really not looking for closer excellence; in fact, I want just one thing: job security.

Okay, I want excellence too, if I can get it, but job security is my top priority when I employ this strategy. With only this one factor under consideration, let's do a little re-ranking of closers.

Total Security

These guys have been closing games for a long time, earned the trust of their team, or just got a big pile of cash from a new team after closing games for a long time. Their managers likely can't remove them from the role without permission from the front office. They will safely ride all temporary storms:

Kimbrel, Nathan

Wow. Just two. No wonder they're so expensive.

Very Secure

These guys will have long leashes thanks to their strong track records, or standout performance, though they may not have been in the ninth very long. Their teams may have few other solid bullpen options:

Chapman, Holland, Jansen, Glen Perkins, Sergio Romo, Steve Cishek

Varying levels of quality here, but some potential value.

Mostly Secure

These guys are either quite good, or their team has few other options, but not both. They may be talented pitchers but lack the "proven closer" merit badge. Or their team may have had a turbulent recent history in the closer's role and be more open than most for quick changes. An extended stretch of bad luck could result in a demotion:

Uehara, Rosenthal, Casey Janssen, Johnson, David Robertson, Jason Grilli, Ernesto Frieri, Grant Balfour, Jonathan Papelbon, Fernando Rodney, Bobby Parnell

There are a lot of ways to be just "mostly secure," but these guys are still good bets to keep their job all year.

Basically Secure

These guys own their job without question for now, but poor performance could change that, as they aren't established, have inconsistent histories, or their teams have multiple decent alternatives:  

Addison Reed, John Axford, Jim Henderson, Rafael Soriano, Huston Street, Jose Veras

Out of this group, falling strikeout rates and the presence of elite setup guys in their bullpens makes me think that Soriano and Street are particularly volatile. I won't be drafting either in any format.

On Thin Ice

These guys have next to no job security (but may be available very late in drafts for excellent potential value):

Tommy Hunter, LaTroy Hawkins

Fighting for the Job

These guys don't technically have the job, but are in the lead for it at the moment. When they get it, their prize will be to move to the "On Thin Ice" tier. Yay for them. Their top competitors are in parentheses:

Neftali Feliz (Joakim Soria, Tanner Scheppers), Nate Jones (Matt Lindstrom, Daniel Webb, plus a bunch of other guys), Chad Qualls (Josh Fields, the injured Jesse Crain)

Possession is nine tenths of the law in closer land, so anyone who does end up with a job is worth drafting in the hopes that good luck and inertia are in your favor.

Job Stealers

These guys have a better shot than most at stealing a closing gig at some point in the season. If your purpose in drafting non-closing relievers is to snag saves, these are your guys:

Mark Melancon, Pedro Strop, Joaquin Benoit, J.J. Putz, Rex Brothers, Tyler Clippard, Darren O'Day, Cody Allen

Also included are anyone who loses in the above closer battles.

Strategy 2: Don't Pay for Saves--but Don't Ignore Them

I spent a lot of time on the first strategy, so I won't fill up too much more space with this one. Frankly, it's pretty straightforward, just a lot easier said than done.

A caveat: I don't find this to be a worthwhile strategy in leagues with weekly free agent/waiver wire moves--you need to pay to compete in those formats.

The first thing to do is set aside some roster space for relievers. Maybe you use some late-round picks on the dark horses in closer battles, or some slightly-less-late-round picks on the leading candidates or even full closers with low job security. Or maybe you just take the best setup guys available, regardless of whether or not their closer has good security. Whatever.

No matter what you do with this roster space (and you'll want at least three roster slots for this, I should think), you'll be treating the players you draft as highly expendable. These are your rotating Saves slots for now, not players on your team.

You also need to start following @CloserNews on Twitter. No Twitter account? Get one if you don't want to pay for Saves. Use this advice not only to find out which closers are about to lose their jobs, but also who's likely to get rested the next day. Then, pick up the setup guy for the teams with resting closers. You'd be surprised how many Saves fall through the cracks each year. Back in the old days, when I worked for CloserNews, I seriously considered attempting to get all my Saves like this with a fantasy team to see what would happen. Still haven't had the guts to try it.

Get up early (if you're on the West Coast) and stay up late (East Coasters) to catch the latest updates.When they announce that LaTroy Hawkins is being removed from the closer's role, somebody in your league will already have their fantasy team loaded up. Be that person. 

Keep a particular eye on the strikeouts and velocity of closers and the guys replacing them--sometimes that's even more important than their overall stats. Remember, being "closer material" is less about being the best pitcher in the bullpen and more about being the coolest pitcher in the bullpen, selling jerseys, growing facial hair, pumping up the crowd, and blasting Metallica or AC/DC.

I'm totally on board with the first half of the rationale against paying for Saves: closers are volatile and unpredictable. The second half, that Saves are always available on the waiver wire, has grown dicier. It's totally true--but your whole league knows it, and they'll be looking for Saves too.

Strategy 3: Hybrids

You can always mix the two strategies; in fact, anyone paying for Saves should be just as active on the waiver wire as anyone else. Not only can you benefit from more Saves (and make trades if you have excess) you're protecting your investment by making it more difficult for anyone to get similar value for free. Your only limit is roster space.

You can also make Strategy 2 your primary plan, but keep an eye out in drafts for solid value. If enough of your league wants to get their Saves from the waiver wire, you might want to go the other way. Alternatively, it might be good to get one closer with high job security to anchor you while you speculate on further Saves.

Good luck in Saves--you'll need it. Or, better yet, follow @CloserNews! We'll be back next week to wrap up the traditional categories with Home Runs.



RotoAuthority Rankings 2014: Closers

As you certainly recall, we’ve recently dug into a number of different position rankings for hitters (including Outfield, Catcher, First Base, Second Base, and Third Base – with Shortstop rankings to arrive on Saturday). Now it’s time for Closers to get a little love. Like the rest of the RotoAuthority rankings, we’ll break down the position into tiers with some extra attention to sleepers and setup guys. Unlike Opening Day, we won’t make you wait any longer…

Tier 1 – Top Guns

1. Craig Kimbrel

2. Kenley Jansen

3. Aroldis Chapman

4. Greg Holland

The top tier features four excellent closers with high-end career strikeout rates (Kimbrel – 15.1 K/9, Jansen – 14.0, Chapman – 14.7 K/9, Holland – 12.3). With 163 combined saves last season, each one of these guys can give you a serious advantage in the relief pitcher department week-to-week. Many will place Kimbrel in a tier all by himself, and perhaps rightfully so, but I think that Jansen, Chapman, and Holland will give him a run for his money in 2014.

Tier 2 – Next Best Thing

5. Koji Uehara

6. Joe Nathan

7. Trevor Rosenthal

8. Casey Janssen

9. Jim Johnson

10. Glen Perkins

Uehara had an outstanding end to 2013 and might be among the game’s best. If he can prove that his 2013 numbers aren’t a flash-in-the-pan (1.09 ERA, 0.57 WHIP, 12.2 K/9, 21 saves), he’ll be pushing Kimbrel with the rest of the top tier. Nathan has been consistent (340 saves over the last 10 years) and should keep the Joe Show going in Detroit. Rosenthal will have to prove that last season was not a fluke (2.63 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 12.9 K/9) and he can handle the ninth before moving up the rankings. Janssen, Johnson, and Perkins are all consistent enough to round out the top 10 for the fickle closer position.

Tier 3 – On the Cusp of Top-Notch

11. David Robertson

12. Jonathan Papelbon

13. Jason Grilli

14. Sergio Romo

15. Ernesto Frieri

16. Rafael Soriano

17. Grant Balfour

18. Steve Cishek

Robertson will inherit the ninth after Mariano Rivera’s departure and has outstanding numbers as a setup guy (2.04 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, and 10.4 K/9 last season). If he can keep these numbers up, he’ll perform admirably in Mariano’s stead and be a draft day gem. Although Papelbon seemingly struggled last season, he still posted good numbers (2.92 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 29 saves) and should have another good year. Grilli provides strong value this season and was a dominant closer most of last season (2.70 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 13.3 K/9, 33 saves) despite missing time due to injury.

Tier 4 – Steady Eddies

19. Addison Reed

20. John Axford

21. Huston Street

22. Jim Henderson

23. Fernando Rodney

24. Bobby Parnell

Without being too flashy, this tier is dependable if you’ve decided to wait at closer. Axford might return to form and move up a tier before the season’s end. Rodney is closing for the new look Mariners and could have plenty of save opportunities. If Parnell can stay healthy for 2014, he’ll provide some great value later in drafts.

Tier 5 – Position Battles & Closer Sleepers

25. Jose Veras

26. Tommy Hunter

27. LaTroy Hawkins

28. Neftali Feliz

29. Nate Jones

30. Chad Qualls

31. Mark Melancon

32. Rex Brothers

33. Jesse Crain

34. Danny Farquhar

35. Joakim Soria

Unlike the above tiers, this one if chock full of potential and uncertainty. Jose Veras will regain the ninth as closer for the Cubbies and Tommy Hunter seems to have won the closer gig in Baltimore. Hawkins might eventually lose his job to Rex Brothers, but the Rockies are paying him to be their closer on Opening Day. While Jesse Crain may eventually own the job in Houston (out until April with injury), Chad Qualls should be the first to have it in 2014. Neftali Feliz and Nate Jones would both be ranked higher if either were officially named closer.

Tier 6 – Setup Guys

36. Darren O’Day

37. Tyler Clippard

38. Cody Allen

39. Pedro Strop

40. J.J. Putz

41. Matt Lindstrom

42. Joaquin Benoit

43. Brad Ziegler

44. Tanner Scheppers

45. Sergio Santos

46. Daniel Webb

47. Brian Wilson

48. Jose Valverde

49. Francisco Rodriguez

This grab bag tier features a number of names you’ve seen before and some that are fairly new to the scene. Clippard and Allen are both elite setup men that could steal a few saves. Strop, Benoit, and Santos also provide tremendous value as setup men and can be useful in several fantasy formats (especially those that count holds). Putz and Ziegler are speculative picks that could pan out if there’s a closer competition in Arizona. Other wild cards include former closer studs Wilson, Valverde, and K-Rod.

If you’re chasing saves in your fantasy league, there’s only one place to check out… For the latest news on closers to grab, stash, start, or bench, be sure to follow @CloserNews on Twitter.



Closer Draft Strategies

Now that we’ve dug into division-by-division bullpen previews, as well as provided updates on the current closer position battles, there are only a few things left to cover before drafting season is well under way. Next week we will explore closer rankings, but now it is time to discuss different drafting strategies for closers. A few weeks ago, we used a Point-Counterpoint column to address an age old question – Should one pay for saves? Unless you’ve decided to punt saves altogether and avoid closers like the plague, your strategy will fall under one of the below approaches. Whichever you choose, RotoAuthority and @CloserNews will be here all season to help you win saves and your league.

Approach #1 – Early and Often

If you are a disciple of the Pay for Saves school, then you’ll certainly be targeting closers early. In particular, you’ll have your eyes set on acquiring one (or more) of Craig Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman, and Kenley Jansen. While any one of these closers can anchor a fantasy bullpen on their own, having two of them means that you won’t have to worry about closer again until the end of the draft. Obviously you’ll want to round out your fantasy bullpen with another reliever or two before all is said and done, but a couple of these top tier closers and you should be sitting pretty in the closer department. If somebody else swings early and starts the closer run before expected, be patient and have a backup plan. If you are willing to pay for saves, there’s a chance someone else will too and there’s still plenty of talent out there.

Approach #2 – Medium-Level Talent

Should you miss out on the three amigos above (Kimbrel, Chapman, Jansen), the next best bet is to target several medium-level closers. The difficult part about the closer position is predicting how many save opportunities a pitcher will have or whether a newly appointed closer will pan out. The top tier closers are ranked as such because of their ridiculous strikeout rates and high number of projected save opportunities. That being said, several pitchers will post 40+ save seasons in 2014 without ridiculous strikeout rates and still provide great value to fantasy managers. Despite the uncertainty inherent in the position, look toward closers that have been consistent throughout the years and have strong job security rather than young guns newly taking over the ninth. For example, Joe Nathan, Greg Holland, Ernesto Frieri, Glen Perkins, Jim Johnson, Jonathan Papelbon, and Casey Janssen will all go a few rounds later than the top tier guys and can provide enough value to lead you to a championship. Just keep in mind that one of them will not be enough and you’ll need a few to be truly competitive in saves.

Approach #3 – Good Things Come to Those Who Wait

Each season a few closers come out of nowhere and hold onto the ninth tighter than four-seam fastball. Some of them are prospects, some journeymen, and others simply win the job after a closer-by-committee situation. Therefore, the smartest move might be to grab a solid closer early and wait around to acquire the rest later. Although this strategy is riskier than the other two, it can be the most rewarding when executed properly. With late round value at closer, a manager has extra opportunities to draft offensive talent early. If you’re going to take this approach, there are two different types of closers to target.

When drafting, focus on pitchers that are either (A) the lead dog who will eventually take over a closer-by-committee situation or (B) an elite setup man who should have the closer gig in due time. Examples of (A) pitchers include Nate Jones, Jesse Crain, and Neftali Feliz. On the other hand, (B) pitchers include Rex Brothers, Danny Farquhar, and Tyler Clippard. The beautiful thing about the (B) pitchers is that they’ll contribute to your ERA and WHIP even if they don’t grab the ninth right away and give you saves. Finally, do not forget to follow @CloserNews each night as we’ll be giving you tips on who might step in and steal a save.

If you’re chasing saves in your fantasy league, there’s only one place to check out… For the latest news on closers to grab, stash, start, or bench, be sure to follow @CloserNews on Twitter.



Point/Counterpoint: Pay for Saves?

Fantasy baseball has changed so much over the past decade. When I started playing this game, I used to be adamantly against paying for saves. While others paid big bucks for Mariano Rivera and Billy Wagner, I always seemed to end up with the likes of Joe Borowski and Todd Jones. More often than not, however, I could still compete in the pitching categories by getting better results from my starting pitchers. DIPS theory was not quite mainstream at the time, so it was easier to fill out a staff with sabermetric darlings back then.

Andrew: Premium Closers Are Worth the Price

For a variety of reasons, I'm of the mindset that paying for saves is now the optimal strategy. For one, today's game is far different from the one we watched at the turn of the millennium. Last year's leaguewide .714 OPS was the lowest since 1992. To be more specific, though, the most glaring difference about today's game is the dramatic rise in strikeout rate. Seemingly every pitching prospect is able to throw in the high 90s, and power has dipped substantially with rules now in place to severely penalize for use of PEDs.

With a strikeout now taking place roughly once every five plate appearances, there have been several key fantasy ramifications. Power is scarce. A .260 AVG is actually good, not bad. More and more pristine results are required to compete in the pitching categories. Above all else, though, perhaps no category has been more impacted than strikeouts. In particular, the strikeout rates of closers have gone through the roof. A quick glance at the leaders in SIERA among relievers from last year reveals that 10 of the top 13 are current closers, all of whom had a K/9 over 10. It sounds weird to say, but in today's Roto game a closer who fails to strike out a batter per inning is actually damaging to a fantasy roster in that category.

To illustrate, let's take a look at the following scenarios:

Option A: Draft Craig Kimbrel (ADP 55) in Round 5 and then Danny Salazar (ADP 146) in Round 13

Composite Steamer Projections: 18 Wins / 28 SV / 285 K / 2.99 ERA / 1.13 WHIP in 238 innings

Option B: Draft Felix Hernandez (ADP 51) in Round 5 and then Jim Johnson (ADP 146) in Round 13

Composite Steamer Projections: 18 Wins / 28 SV / 236 K / 3.26 ERA / 1.18 WHIP in 257 innings

So yeah, I'm cherry-picking, but I think there's a point here. Wins and saves are rather whimsical while ERA and WHIP may not be all that different if other names are selected. Having said that, I'm a firm believer that a fantasy owner gains a significant edge in the strikeout category by drafting an elite closer like Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman, or Kenley Jansen. Particularly in leagues with innings caps, stellar innings from a lights-out closer are incredibly valuable.  

Luckey: Don't Pay for Saves

In theory, paying for saves can be a good bet when you know it will work. However, like most fantasy baseball projections, it’s hard to know when to draft a player for maximum value – and therein lies the rub. Before you draft your first closer this year, keep in mind three important things. First, closers have among the worst job security in baseball and can lose the ninth quickly. Second, the shelf life of a reliever is short and when they start to get worse – it happens in a hurry (see Trevor Hoffman in 2010 or Heath Bell in 2012). Third, closers become available throughout the season and are, therefore, much easier to find on the waiver wire than a top starting pitcher. So be sure to use that early draft pick on some consistent power or a sabermetric darling and minimize your risk.

1. Closers Have Poor Job Security – Sure drafting a Kimbrel or Chapman is sexy, but it probably isn’t the most efficient use of an early round pick. If you were to draft one of these closer studs, it’s going to cost you. Spend that pick on an ace or big-time offensive name and even with a week’s worth of poor games, you know they’ll still have their jobs. On the other hand, a closer that gives up a few blown saves in a week can easily be pulled for another reliever. If that new reliever pitches well, the job could soon be theirs and somebody else will certainly scoop them up at an amazing value. Last season, Mark Melancon stepped in for an injured Jason Grilli and pitched outstandingly (1.39 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 16 saves). This season, skip the big closer name and go with a position that’s a little safer.

2. Closers Do Not Last Forever – Like centers in basketball or running backs in football, closers have a fairly limited shelf life when they’re at their peak. Due to the physical demands of the position, many closers have a few amazing years before disappearing into oblivion and it’s often hard to predict when the wheels will fall off. A quick look at Kimbrel’s K/9 shows that it may be on a downward trend (having dropped from 16.7 in 2012 to 13.2 last season), while Chapman’s average velocity on his fastball has gone down in three consecutive seasons. Even though these two still have mightily impressive strikeout rates, taking them in the early rounds is a leap of faith. If you’re depending on a top starting pitcher, especially someone who relies on control rather than power, the fall from grace will not be so drastic.

3. Closers Can Be Found Later – It is important to note that players at the top of their position rarely fall to their expected draft day value and one of your fellow drafters may strike early. While it’s nice to think that all readers will have a chance to draft Kimbrel, Chapman, or Jansen at their ADP, you will probably have to overpay by a round or two to guarantee that he’ll be on your roster. Why do this when you can pluck a few closers from the waiver wire throughout the season that will be, cumulatively, just as strong? Keep an eye on the early competition battles in spring training and you’ll have an inside track in April. Once the injury bug hits, or a player loses his job after back-to-back blown saves, head to the waiver wire and take your pick…

Trust me on this, I used to pay for saves. If you do elect to wait on closers draft day, be sure to follow @CloserNews on Twitter this season and we’ll keep you up-to-date on any breaking news in the closer world.



Closers Preseason Preview: AL East

Editor's Note: The above byline is sadly inaccurate. Though posted by the writer whose name appears there, the work and writing of this article is from Luckey Helms.

Welcome to yet another year of fantasy baseball! As the big leaguers start to fine tune their skills for spring training, we’ll be helping you sharpen up the old fantasy toolkit. To start, we’ll explore each division and bring you the best insight on position battles, newly signed setup men, and any potential closers lurking in the wings. At the end of this series, we’ll give a clearer ranking system of the closer world – showing you who to snag, avoid, and root for in 2014… 

Baltimore Orioles

Closer – Ongoing Position Battle (Tommy Hunter & Darren O’Day)

There will certainly be some changes in the Baltimore bullpen this season. After trading away last year’s MLB saves leader Jim Johnson and bailing on Grant Balfour after a recent failed physical, the O's may still be on the market for a closer. That being said, their currently constructed roster sets up for a battle between Tommy Hunter and Darren O’Day, each of whom had their chances last season. Hunter posted a 2.81 ERA and 0.99 WHIP, with four saves and a 7.1 K/9. On the other hand, O’Day had similar numbers (2.18 ERA, 1.00 WHIP), but only converted two saves with his 8.6 K/9. Although Hunter converted a couple more saves last season, O’Day fits the mold of prototypical closer better and may take the job simply because of his ability to get batters to swing and miss more often.  

Bold Prediction – Darren O’Day wins the closer gig during spring training, the Orioles stay away from the closer free agent market (Kevin Gregg, Fernando Rodney, and Francisco Rodriguez), and O’Day puts up numbers similar to Jim Johnson’s MLB-leading 50 saves from last year.

Boston Red Sox

CloserKoji Uehara

Although the Red Sox bullpen went through its share of injuries during last season, they certainly found a ninth inning gem with Koji Uehara. After stepping in as closer mid-season, Uehara owned the ninth and almost every batter he faced. Koji’s effectiveness in 2013 cannot be understated - 4 wins, 1.09 ERA, 0.57 WHIP, and a K/9 of 12.2. Assuming that Uehara carries the same firepower as last season, and the BoSox offense puts him in the right positions, he could prepared for a monstrous 2014.

Bold Prediction – Uehara continues to own the ninth and a new dimension is added to the Red Sox – Yankees rivalry with the race between newly-minted closer extraordinaires (Koji Uehara and David Robertson). With the opportunity to close all season, Uehara earns an All-Star nod and closes the ninth for the AL in July. 

Who’s Lurking? – After initially being named closer in the wake of injuries to Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey, Junichi Tazawa eventually settled into the setup role for Boston. He continued in that role through the postseason, allowing only one run in appearances en route to Boston’s World Series victory and earning the trust of Red Sox Nation. Given the rash of injuries that the Red Sox bullpen suffered through last season, their front office brought in Edward Mujica to provide some always valuable bullpen depth. Despite the fact that Mujica closed for the Cards last season, the Red Sox will look to put him in a less stressful position this season and use him as Uehara insurance.

New York Yankees

Closer – David Robertson

Yes, Yankees fans will certainly miss Mariano Rivera. Unquestionably the best closer in baseball history, it will be strange to see a different pitcher take the mound to close for the Bronx Bombers. Any lingering disappointment about the name on the back of the jersey should be gone once David Robertson starts rolling. As a stalwart in the Yankees bullpen for a few seasons, fans are used to seeing him set up for the best and now it’s time to see if he can succeed him. If his numbers stay as consistent as they have over the past few seasons, Robertson will be a premier closer immediately.

Bold Prediction – If Uehara’s 2014 looks like last season and Robertson inherits the ninth, there may be a battle to see who the new closer king in the AL East is. If the Yankees offense shows up, look for David Robertson to have a Mariano-like year in his first year as Yankees closer.

Who’s Lurking? – If Robertson struggles, the Yankees may turn to reliever Shawn Kelley or Matt Thornton. Thornton has an average career stat-line for a closer (3.53 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 9.2 K/9), but he’s accumulated 18 saves over the last five seasons. Kelley provides an interesting contrast to the journeyman Thornton and carries a 3.77 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, and 9.6 K/9 through his five seasons. While each could be a substitute for Robertson, the Yankees will probably turn to the free agency or trade market if Robertson struggles mightily.

Tampa Bay Rays

Closer – Ongoing Position Battle (Heath Bell, Jake McGee, & Joel Peralta)

With Fernando Rodney still on the free agent market, Tampa Bay seems to be content with letting Heath Bell, Jake McGee, and Joel Peralta battle for the ninth inning. Although it’s possible that the Rays’ front office will snag another closer off the market, each of the three aforementioned pitchers (Bell, McGee, and Peralta) have experience as a closer and can easily earn the job in spring training. For anyone who owned Heath Bell in the last two seasons, they will certainly not forget his recent ability to melt down in the clutch. If the Rays sign a free agent like Grant Balfour, Bell is probably the first to go. With a 10.8 K/9, Jake McGee has the strikeout rate of a typical closer and has grown up in the Rays organization. If he proves his worth in the spring, the job can be his in 2014. With a handful of saves for the Rays in the last three seasons, Joel Peralta is probably the early favorite for the gig.

Bold Prediction – Because McGee and Peralta offer Tampa Bay a solid lefty-righty combo, manager Joel Madden decides to go closer by committee in 2014 and they surprisingly provide the Rays with the AL East’s most dominant bullpen.

Toronto Blue jays

CloserCasey Janssen 

Last season, Casey Janssen performed admirably in the closer role with a solid stat line (2.56 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 8.5 K/9) and 34 saves. Given his success in the last two seasons, the Blue jays will trust Janssen again and they should expect similar results. A quick glance over Janssen’s past three seasons (2011 – 2.26 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 8.6 K/9 ; 2012 – 2.54 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 9.5 K/9; 2013 – 2.56 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 8.5 K/9) proves he’s been a model of consistency in the Great White North.

Bold Prediction – Toronto’s offense starts living up to its potential and Janssen goes from above average to elite given his sheer number of save opportunities.

Who’s Lurking?Sergio Santos and Steve Delabar are both young relievers who have spent the last two seasons with Toronto. Should Janssen fall to injury or inconsistency, Santos and Delabar both offer a Toronto a similar set of skills. Although Delabar has a slightly better K/9, Santos will likely be the first one off the bench to replace Janssen in case of emergency.

If you’re chasing saves in your fantasy league, there’s only one place to check out…for the latest news on closers to grab, stash, start, or bench, be sure to follow @CloserNews on Twitter.



Closer Updates: End of Season Edition (As, Astros, Bucs, Cubbies, Tribe, White Sox)

As the regular season comes to an end, it’s time to close up our weekly Closer Updates column. Unlike previous weeks, there’s been some movement in closer circles this week and we’ll be happy to bring it to you. With further ado, let’s close out the season’s closer updates…

Astros

As always, Houston’s closer role is a constant question. However, it appears that Josh Fields has finally taken control of the position. Despite the fact that the Astros have not had a traditional save opportunity in the last week, Josh Fields is the guy to own in Houston. Despite a lackluster performance in the role, he’ll remain the guy over Chia-Jen Lo and Kevin Chapman for the season’s last few games.

Athletics

Fortunately for the A's, Grant Balfour has bounced back into form this last week. Although the Athletics have not had a traditional save opportunity, Balfour performed well in his Monday night performance with three strikeouts in one inning. Sorry, Ryan Cook owners. Clearly, the Athletics are still backing their guy and if he returns to mid-season form, they will be tough in the playoffs.

Cardinals

As the Cards chase home field advantage in the playoffs, Edward Mujica’s recent struggles have become too much to bear and they've installed Trevor Rosenthal in the closer role. While it's been said this move is temporary, St. Louis will likely stick with the hot hand.

Cubs

Last week, we announced that Pedro Strop would be receiving some save opportunities in place of Kevin Gregg. So far, those words have remained true. Last Saturday, Strop earned the save in a dazzling three-strikeout ninth inning. However, he was returned to the eighth inning setup role on Wednesday and Gregg earned the save. Consider it to be 50/50 shot this weekend as to who gets the call.

Indians

Although Cleveland has repeatedly stated that Chris Perez is still the closer, the writing is on the wall that somebody else might have the gig shortly. With the Indians in the midst of a playoff race, the closer position is not one they can afford to have in flux. Although Cody Allen has been tremendous this season, Joe Smith is likely the first to get the call.

Pirates

The battle for the Pirates closer job has yet another development. This week, it appears that Jason Grilli has regained the ninth and will continue to do so in the future (per Pittsburgh’s skipper). After struggling on consecutive nights, Mark Melancon yielded the role and Grilli has clearly earned enough confidence to be the Buccos’ closer through the playoffs.

White Sox

Addison Reed. Despite a superb season thus far, Reed has struggled mightily of late and had two blown saves in the last week. Because the White Sox are not jockeying for playoff position, don’t expect them to turn to Nate Jones with only a few games remaining.

Add-ition

Although journeyman LaTroy Hawkins is the Mets' closer from here on out, manager Terry Collins gave a save opportunity to Vic Black last week due to Hawkins’ heavy workload. Although it’s speculative, Collins may give Black another shot with the Mets so far out of postseason contention.

If you’re chasing saves in your fantasy league, there’s only one place to check out… For the latest news on closers to grab, stash, start, or drop, be sure to follow @CloserNews on Twitter.



Closer Updates: A’s, Astros, Bucs, Cubs & Rangers

This week, there’s been a shakeup in Chicago, a development in Houston, some potential trouble by the Bay, and minor updates from Texas and western Pennsylvania. Basically, we’ll be digging into some updates from all over the place and hopefully give you a little something to push you through those fantasy playoffs.

Astros

Ugh. In the last week, Houston has had only one save opportunity and it went to Josh Fields. Because Fields has the last three save opportunities for the Astros, he seems like the guy to own if you’re really looking for those saves. Despite struggling earlier in the season, he’s rebounded nicely in the past month (2.00 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 9.00 K/9) and Chia-Jen Lo hasn’t done much to impress over the same time (7.84 ERA, 1.74 WHIP, 9.58 K/9).

Athletics

What in the world is eating Grant Balfour? A consistent closer all season, Balfour has struggled mightily of late. In his last 9.2 innings, he has one blown save, six earned runs, and allowed 17 base runners. While his job is not necessarily at stake, it’s quite possible that the A’s look to Ryan Cook if this continues. Cook has been a little rocky lately too, but he’ll be their first alternative plan for the ninth. With the Athletics looking to clinch the AL West, they’ll want to get Balfour rested and stop those ninth innings from slipping away.

Cubs

On Thursday afternoon, manager Dale Sveum declared that Pedro Strop would be receiving some save opportunities over the remainder of the season. While the exact time share, if any, is yet to be determined, it’s clear that they're trying out Strop for next season’s closer gig. Despite the highly productive Kevin Gregg, the Cubs are certainly looking to the future and Gregg isn't that guy. If you’re scrambling for saves at the end of the season, Strop may be an ideal waiver wire pickup as he’s widely available in leagues across all platforms.

Pirates

While it seemed that the Buccos were trying to bring Jason Grilli back to the ninth, that plan may be on hold for now. While Grilli has begun to regain his form, he may remain a potent reliever instead of a saves guy over the last few weeks. Rather than simply re-inserting him into the closer role, he will likely be setting up Mark Melancon and, unless Melancon struggles or is injured, it’s clear Pittsburgh is comfortable with him closing games for here on out. Melancon owners shouldn’t be concerned about his recent blown save as he’d converted nine consecutive saves prior to Wednesday.

Rangers

While Joe Nathan is certainly not at risk to lose his job, the once-depleted Rangers bullpen is becoming fully healthy for the first time in a long time. Tanner Scheppers has excelled as a setup man, with an incredibly strong season (1.99 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 6.62 K/9). However, a friendly competition may be brewing between Joakim Soria and Neftali Feliz. Both are rebounding from significant injuries and have the stuff to be top closers if in the right position. Since returning in July, Soria has had 22 appearances and only allowed runs in four of them. While that is not an elite record, his six holds and 10.18 K/9 show that he’s starting to show glimpses of old times. On the other hand, Feliz has looked great, with no earned runs, a 1.29 WHIP, and 7.71 K/9 since returning at the beginning of September. If Soria and Feliz come around, the Rangers bullpen will have a surplus of weapons headed into the playoff chase.

Add-Vice

Should you be desperate for a save this weekend, B.J. Rosenberg may be a nice speculative pickup. He has dazzled in the last month (1.59 ERA, 0.79 WHIP, 11.12 K/9) and simultaneously taken over the eighth inning in Philly. Jonathan Papelbon’s struggles this season are well documented, so Rosenberg may be in for a save or two in the last two weeks.

If you’re chasing saves in your fantasy league, there’s only one place to check out… For the latest news on closers to grab, stash, start, or drop, be sure to follow @CloserNews on Twitter.



Closer Updates: Astros, Cubbies, Mets, Pirates & Tigers

Once again, the closer newswire has been fairly calm this week. Although this is unfortunate for fantasy managers hoping to scavenge a save in the midst of the playoffs, it does allow us to take a look at some bullpens that might otherwise go ignored.

Astros

At this point, it wouldn’t be a Closer Updates article without some attempt to figure out what’s been going on in Houston since Jose Veras was sent to Detroit. The only traditional save opportunity this week went to Josh Fields, who gave up a solo shot but still converted his fourth save of the season. It seems that Fields is the best option to own in this unpredictable bullpen, as Chia-Jen Lo struggled this week with a blown save on Monday. Fields is not setting the world on fire for the Astros, but he is converting the few saves that come his way.

Cubs

After starting the season with the Carlos Marmol experiment, Chicago quickly turned to journeyman closer Kevin Gregg at the end of April and were handsomely rewarded. Gregg is six saves away from his career high (37) and is posting a career-best 3.00 ERA. That being said, Gregg is definitely not the future closer in Wrigleyville and Pedro Strop could step into the ninth for the occasional save opportunity before the season ends. If he succeeds, Strop could be the guy going into next season.

Mets

As soon as it looks like LaTroy Hawkins has a firm grip on the ninth in Queens, guess who comes storming back from oblivion? Bobby Parnell? Nope. The immortal Billy Wagner? Sadly, no. The one and only Frank Francisco has returned to the Mets bullpen with fervor and gusto. In his first appearance back, Francisco earned the win in 0.2 innings (with one walk and no earned runs or strike outs). However, he’s been a little rocky since that first victory and manager Terry Collins doesn’t quite seem ready to pitch him in back-to-back days, let alone give him the ninth. However, the Mets have been patient with his recovery and may be willing to give him some save opportunities before the season ends.

Pirates

The time for Jason Grilli’s return to the closer role is nearly upon us. While Mark Melancon may be in the Pirates’ plans for next year, they are not paying Grilli to be a set up guy in 2013. Since returning to the bigs, Jason Grilli has been a little rusty but his recent promotion to higher-leverage situations indicates that he’ll being put in a position to regain his old gig sooner rather than later. Stayed tune and don’t be surprised if he’s officially the closer (again) by the time Closer Updates comes out next week.

Tigers

After beginning the year as one of the more precarious closer situations, Detroit has sorted out their bullpen situation quite nicely. With an early carousel of Phil Coke, Drew Smyly, and Jose Valverde, Joaquin Benoit emerged as the best and most dependable of the bunch. With a 2.05 ERA and 1.07 WHIP, Benoit has posted 18 saves and firmly held onto the closer role in Motown. Former Astros closer Jose Veras was acquired via trade and has been a holds machine since coming to the Tigers, while continuing to build on his solid season stats (2.88 ERA, 1.01 WHIP). With the emergence of Benoit and the acquisition of Veras, Detroit has gone from shaky shoals to smooth sailing in the bullpen seas.

Add-Vice

Due to the relatively quiet closer scene lately, much of our Add-Vice is speculative and this week is no different. If you’re in the middle of a playoff chase for your league title, Kelvin Herrera may be a sneaky pickup. Although he’s not a closer, he is a setup guy with a tremendous strikeout rate (11.4 K/9) who grabs a win from time to time (two in August). If you’ve got an open pitcher spot, he can add to your K's and maybe grab you that one win you’ll need to get over the top this week.

If you’re chasing saves in your fantasy league, there’s only one place to check out… For the latest news on closers to grab, stash, start, or drop, be sure to follow @CloserNews on Twitter.




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