It seems people tend to devalue closers in h2h fantasy baseball leagues (“never pay for saves”), viewing them as one-category wonders that can’t be trusted to either retain their job or finish games consistently from week to week.
While the latter half of that statement might be true, that doesn’t mean closers lack value. And there is a difference between “never paying for saves” and valuing closers.
For example, every week you have to maximize your results in the pitching categories. It’s incredibly hard to secure wins and Ks while maintaining a strong ERA and WHIP. So, typically, you are gaining two of the categories starters have more impact on, while sacrificing the other two. That makes saves the tie-breaker.
Basically, if you lock up saves, all you have to do is win four of the remaining nine categories for a tie or five of nine for a nifty .600 winning percentage. You increase your odds of winning by loading up on closers (roster permitting). This works because most h2h players eschew a bulk closer strategy and usually only have at most three. If you double that amount (depending on your roster slots/rules), you’re in good shape.
With closers, it’s important to remember that there is safety in numbers. However many RP or P spots you have, you should have a closer for each of those spots. So long as you have at least one above average closer and several fringe closers, you can pretty much guarantee your team will win saves and add 20 – 40 Ks.
You can also do some work to ensure the back end of your bullpen is similar to the front end. I suggest targeting the following closers:
Rafael Betancourt: When it comes to closers, there isn’t much separating them: a dash of trustworthiness, a small walk rate, a high K rate, etc. And Betancourt has all that. He strikes out over 10 batters per nine while walking barely one. He should be a lock for 35 saves, 70 Ks, a 2.40 ERA and 1.05 WHIP. He could, easily, be a top five closer.
Jordan Walden: Everyone talks about Walden’s blown saves (and they are disconcerting). However, he has a career 10.70 K/9 rate in 75.2 innings. He has always walked a lot of batters (3.93 BB/9 in MLB, 4.60 in AA in 2010), but so did Joel Hanrahan early in his career. I see Walden as similar to Hanrahan. Walden should finish with 37+ saves, a 3.25 ERA, 1.25 WHIP and 80 Ks. That’s darn nice.
Sergio Santos: For everyone who loved and believed in Matt Thornton, Santos was a shot to the heart. He had an impeccable 13.07 K/9 rate en route to 30 saves in 2011. Like Walden, Santos walks a ton of batters (and he is new to the pitching game – he was first an infield prospect). I see Santos with 40 saves, an ERA around 3.10, a 1.23 WHIP and 85 Ks. Those extra Ks can be super helpful in a weekly match-up.
The theme of closers is anarchy. Every year there is massive turnover at the spot. I have my eye, most notably on the White Sox, Athletics and Indians.
White Sox Closer Situation: First the challenger, Addison Reed. Born in 1988, he stands at 6 feet 4 inches and 215 pounds. He has very little pro experience, being drafted in the third round in 2010. He spent 2011 cruising through the minors (8 IPs at A, 28.1 IPs at A+, 20.2 IPs at AA and 21.1 IPs at AAA). Even in those small samples, he was successful at every stop. His 2011 minor league line: 78.1 IPs, 1.26 ERA, 0.73 WHIP, 12.8 K/9 and 7.93 K:BB rate. My god.
The *incumbent:* Matt Thornton is a bit longer in the tooth (he has thrown 460 innings in the majors). Anointed as the closer at the beginning of last year, a lot was expected of Thornton, but he struggled mightily. At the end of April, his ERA was 8.64. He eventually got his act together, finishing with a 3.32 ERA, 1.36 WHIP and 63 Ks. It was an odd year for Thornton. In the previous three seasons he had K/9 rates in the double digits, it was 9.50 in 2011. In addition, his strand rate was just 61.2% after being between 76% and 79% the previous three years. I expect Thornton to bounce back in a big way. I see 72 Ks, an ERA under 3.00 and a 1.21 WHIP. Of course, Reed poses a real threat to saves. If you draft one, I strongly suggest drafting the other.
Faustino De Los Santos: With the Andrew Bailey trade and cost of Grant Balfour, there’s a solid chance the A’s will be looking to younger players at some point to close for them. De Los Santos has been a fire-baller in the minors, routinely posting massive K/9 rates. Unfortunately, he’s typically paired those with equally unhealthy walk rates. It could be a rocky road for De Los Santos this year, however I have him pegged for 73 Ks, a 3.50 ERA and 1.33 WHIP. Even if he doesn’t get saves at the outset, his strong K potential makes him useful to have around. At the moment, he seems like a smart speculative play.
Vinnie Pestano: If Chris Perez continues to be, well, Chris Perez, the Indians are going to look to shuffle that bullpen. Pestano should be next in line for saves there. He really brings the ball, with a fastball that averages 92.7 MPH. He posted a 12.19 K/9 rate last year. Now, he does walk some batters (3.48 BB/9 last season). Still, he should be good for a sub-3.00 ERA, a 1.20 WHIP and 80 Ks. Even if he doesn’t earn saves, that amount of Ks in so few innings is valuable.
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