Are closers worth it?

One of the more heavily debated tenets of the 411 strategy
is the notion that you should get not just one but TWO top-tier closers in the
first few rounds of a straight draft. This advice has been questioned in a few
channels since we took it to the air on the MLB Network last night, since there is such great volatility among closers year after year, so I
figured, why not test our theory? I’ve always believed in it, always done it,
but what do the numbers say?

 

KRod.jpg

I decided to look at last year’s top 30 closers (by my own
pre-draft NFBC rankings) and compare their projected stats to their actual
performance. Let’s take a look at them by tiers – the elite (ranked 1-10), the
good ones (11-20) and the gambles (21-30) – and see how their projected
(“Proj.”) stats compared to their actual (“Act.”) 2008 stats, averaging the
stats for the 10 pitchers in each tier.


TOP TIER

RK        PLAYER                       TM

1          Papelbon, Jonathan        BOS

2          Rodriguez, Francisco     LAA

3          Putz, J.J.                      SEA

4          Nathan, Joe                   MIN

5          Wagner, Billy                 NYM

6          Saito, Takashi               LAD

7          Cordero, Francisco         CIN

8          Valverde, Jose               HOU

9          Rivera, Mariano              NYY

10        Street, Huston               OAK

 

TYPE    W      ERA      SV     IP         H       ER     BB     SO    WHIP   SO/9

Proj.     4       2.63      37      71.7      58      21      22      78      1.11      9.8

Act.      4       2.62      34      62.9      50      18      21      70      1.12      10.1

 

Without question, on average these pitchers delivered the
goods as expected: their combined ERA and WHIP nearly exactly matched my
projections, they only fell short by an average of three saves apiece and, even
though they totaled fewer strikeouts, their strikeout rate was greater. On
average, you got what you paid for from the top tier.

soria1.jpg

MID TIER

RK        PLAYER                       TM

11         Jenks, Bobby                CWS

12         Capps, Matt                  PIT

13         Hoffman, Trevor              SD

14         Soria, Joakim                KC

15         Soriano, Rafael              ATL

16         Corpas, Manny              COL

17         Cordero, Chad               WSH

18         Gregg, Kevin                  FLA

19         Isringhausen, Jason       STL

20         Lidge, Brad                    PHI

 

TYPE    W      ERA      SV     IP         H       ER     BB     SO    WHIP   SO/9

Proj.     3       3.19      33      68.1      60      24      21      62      1.20      8.2

Act.      2       3.20      21      50.7      43      18      18      45      1.20      7.9

 

These guys delivered solid rate stats, but fell further
short of the innings projections and delivered only two-thirds of the expected
saves. You didn’t pay as much for these guys, and you didn’t get ripped off,
but you didn’t make a killing either.

 

RYan.jpg

LOWER TIER

RK        PLAYER                       TM

21         Gagne, Eric                   MIL

22         Ryan, B.J.                     TOR

23         Borowski, Joe                CLE

24         Sherrill, George              BAL

25         Wilson, Brian                 SF

26         Wilson, C.J.                  TEX

27         Lyon, Brandon               ARI

28         Jones, Todd                   DET

29         Marmol, Carlos              CHC

30         Percival, Troy                 TB

 

TYPE    W      ERA      SV     IP         H       ER     BB     SO    WHIP   SO/9

Proj.     3       3.45      26      61.7      57      24      22      53      1.28      7.7

Act.      3       4.44      22      51.7      47      26      25      48      1.38      8.4

 

These guys more or less delivered on the saves, but the
expectations were lower, and their rate stats were awful. So if the sole
objective here was to get saves, then these guys came through in general, but
at a great cost. The Tier 1 guys clearly provided the best bang for the buck.

 

Ah, but are these numbers deceptive? What about on an
individual basis?

 

Among the Tier 1 guys, six of them essentially delivered as
expected: Papelbon, K-Rod, Nathan, Cordero (although his WHIP was much higher),
Valverde and Rivera. Wagner and Saito delivered outstanding stats before
suffering season-ending injuries, although they combined for 45 saves, so they
weren’t a total loss. Street was a disappointment but still managed 18 saves,
and even though Putz was a huge letdown, even he provided 15 saves.

 

In Tier 2, only Soria and Lidge broke out with
above-expectation seasons. Jenks, Hoffman and Gregg were worthwhile but
unspectactular, and Capps pitched well when healthy. But Soriano, Corpas,
Cordero and Isringhausen did more damage than good, or didn’t do anything at
all.

 

Moving on to Tier 3, several delivered on their expected
allotment of saves: Ryan, Sherrill, Brian Wilson, C.J. Wilson, Lyon and
Percival. However, EVERY one of them did so with an ERA and WHIP higher than
projected, and only Sherrill and Brian Wilson exceeded the expected number of
strikeouts. In other words, these guys made you pay more for the saves than
just a draft pick… they hurt you in other areas. Beyond that, Gagne, Borowski
and Jones were borderline worthless, and while Marmol posted excellent numbers,
he never earned the full-time closer gig.

 

Which brings up a good point… where DID the saves come from
if not from these guys? Here are the 10 closers who earned the most saves last
year but were not in my original top 30 rankings:

 

brianFuentes.jpg

1. Kerry Wood (34) – he was drafted in every single league
after winning the closer gig over Marmol.

2. Brian Fuentes (30) – drafted in many leagues as a hedge
against Corpas and probably picked up early where not drafted.

3. Salomon Torres (28) – pure waiver-wire material.

4. Jon Rauch (18) – probably drafted in a few leagues and
picked up in a few others due to his solid setup man value.

5. Ryan Franklin (17) – another waiver-wire find.

6. Jonathan Broxton (14) – probably drafted in 100% of
leagues.

7. Mike Gonzalez (14) – probably stashed on many DL’s early
in the season.

8. Jensen Lewis (13) – no one saw this one coming.

9. Fernando Rodney (13) – probably picked up early as a
hedge against Jones’ awfulness.

10. Dan Wheeler (13) – a free agent until Percival got hurt.

 

In other words, had you drafted a mid-tier or lower-third
closer, and needed to find extra saves, and you didn’t get Salomon Torres, you
were stuck with scraps, none of whom got more than 17 saves, and that one (Franklin)
posted weak stats outside the saves.

 

Conclusions?

 

1. The top-tier closers delivered more value than the
mid-tier and bottom-tier closers last year, despite some injuries among them.

2. The waiver wire provided plenty of saves, but very few true
closer solutions.

3. Chasing saves is not fun! Saves are an important category, but they are only one category, and you can do real damage to your ERA and WHIP in their pursuit.

 

I don’t think this PROVES that the 411 strategy is “The Right
Way To Go”, but I think it clearly supports the value of our approach. My first
strategy point I offered on the MLB Network show was to find a strategy that
works for you, and this one works for me just fine.

 

Thanks,

Cory

 

 

7 Comments

Siano,
This is a follow up about my motives in trying to move Lincecum for Markakis along with the other consideration I mentioned, or even A-Rod straight up. Well I have Lincecum because he was one of my keepers from 08, and yes he was great. However, I’m really a pitch and ditch player and I have a man crush on Markakis. So, I was thinking of selling high on Lincecum. Plus, I have a feeling that I maybe in for a let down with the whole Cy Young season in the bank and all that. So I thought about marketing him to some of the teams in my league that I thought might want to deal. I like the upside feeling that I have on Nolasco, and I’m not wild about Hart either. Now that I mention the whole keeper thing, if I did one of these deals I might be kicking myself at the end of the season, when Lincecum isn’t there to keep for 2010.
So I’ll guess I’ll just hold!
Thanks–Paul

cross-posted from BP’s comments, my thoughts on drafting closers:

I’ve come around to this way of thinking as well. Like many readers of BP, I started to get into fantasy 5-8 years ago with the availability of free online leagues on yahoo and other sites. 2004, the first year I won my league, was also the first year I was checking boxscores online on a daily basis. This allowed me to pick up Brad Lidge (27 saves), Joe Nathan (44 saves) and Tim Worrell (19 saves) off waivers because I was a little quicker on the trigger than my leaguemates. I was also lucky that in that particular season, the closers that took over jobs were also great in other categories.

In subsequent seasons I became more and more attached to the Matt Berry approach: “Don’t pay for saves!” I would draft middling closers and raid the waiver wire expecting to find a Joe Nathan every year.

Last season, I drafted only Matt Capps and BJ Ryan late as my closers. Yes, they delivered some value; combined with a few waiver-wire dalliances I ended up finishing 8th in my league in saves and fell short of winning the league. Times have changed; now, every GM in my league checks his roster daily at work and watches games on MLB.tv. I can no longer get closers by being the first guy to the waiver wire; in my league, like many, a team’s new closer is usually picked up before the incumbent loses the job. If not, my leaguemates will add the new guy the second they see him warming up when the closer has loaded the bases and they show the concerned manager on the bench.

All that said, I now feel a lot safer with two reliable closers on my roster on draft day. They don’t have to be elite; they need to be guys you trust to hold the job and deliver. After that I’ll try to grab a third once I’ve addressed most of the rest of my roster. You can’t expect to find two stud closers on waivers in an active league these days; Besides, if you somehow do get a surplus of closers, it’s always easy to trade away an extra closer. Like Cory likes to say, it’s a zero-sum game: a surplus of saves on your roster is a deficit on someone else’s. Meanwhile, it’s absolutely true that you can always find depth at SP or 1B with so many talented youngsters getting called up over the summer.

I’ve been both a Matt Berry disciple of “not paying for saves” and of the 411 philosophy of taking reliable closers early and agree with both theories equally. I always enjoy it when people say “but what if that closer you took in the 5th round gets hurt?” What, only closers can get hurt? Because Chipper and Nomar would like a word with you. I also laugh when people say that you only need closers for saves. my league uses 5 SP and 3 RP slots so if I can get 3 closers that each pitch between 60 and 70 innings with an ERA under 3, a WHIP around 1.2 and a strikeout per inning, add those up and they equal the numbers of an ace starter. I’ll take that. Plus the 3 or 4 wins each is gravy.

I’m not sure how you would do this, but is it possible to compare the value of a player in terms of round value, or not? It would be interesting to see where the value is in drafting closers. If the top closers keep the job all year and do not get hurt, what is the value of those numbers? And what is the reliability of them reaching those numbers? What would the comparative value and possibility of break out from similarly drafted players.

This sounds like an afternoon of looking at last year’s tout and LABR stats…

Masters-

Bozjam makes a good point about stud mid relievers, dropped/added to compensate for ERA/WHIP, vulture wins, and occasionally be the closer if needed for several close games in a row, or even for closer injury.

I have been offered a trade in a vanilla 16 team 5×5 league that uses 4 OF, 8 P.

Putz for Dickerson

My P staff is
Matsuzaka, Gallardo, J.Johnson, Snell, Lohse,Hanson, Broxton, Lindstrom, Madson
My OF is Braun, Hamilton, Taveras, Stewart [also 3B], K.Morales [will be also 1B].
Are Putz and Madson a wash?
Is Dickerson worth more in your eyes than his >320 ADP?

@accxman: I’d pobably take Putz. With 16 teams, the extra SV opps make him more valuable, and I don’t see the marginal increase in the OF worth it. Are there good OF on the WW?

On a slightly related subject, I’m in a 12 team 6×6 league with Holds the extra pitching category and I’m struggling to work out the best way to maximize my pitching points. We have daily transactions and each day have 3SP, 3RP and 3P. In the previous year most teams used the 3P slots for RP’s split pretty even between closers and setup guys and rotated starters in from their 6 bench spots with a fair amount of PoD going on. This resulted in a pretty deep pitching environment I think.

My staff this year is Lincecum, Vasquez, Lester, Gallardo, Kershaw, Meche, Litsch and Randy Wolf with my RP’s as Heath Bell, Lyon, Morrow (likely to using in a starter spot when I can), Corpas, Howry, Madson and Jenson Lewis.

My question is does anyone have any suggestions/thoughts on how to get an average staff like this to produce a good return of points for this sort of league settings?

Cheers, Mark

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