Fantasy Baseball Draft Preparation – Closers

By Jeff Boggis “The Sultan of Stats” For Fantasy Sports Empires

Craig Kimbrel
February 22 2013 Lake Buena Vista FL USA Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Craig Kimbrel 46 throws a pitch to catcher Gerald Laird 11 in the third inning against the Detroit Tigers during spring training at Disney Wide World of Sports complex Champion Stadium Kim Klement USA TODAY Sports

Introduction

Whether you are a fantasy baseball league expert or new to this game, everyone seems to have a different strategy when it comes to drafting closers. Some league managers, who may have been burned in previous years, may jump the gun and grab an elite closer, but at what cost?  Then we have the other end of the closer spectrum where league mangers don’t pay for saves and they are able to wait towards the end of their league draft and speculate on which closers may lose their job during the season and draft a handful of setup men that will assume the closer role.  In 2012, 63 percent of major league baseball teams replaced their closer at some point in the season. On average, at least 33 percent of closers that begin the season as the closer will lose their job at some point during the season. Do you grab elite closer to avoid having your closers lose their jobs, or do you draft setup men on the cheap in anticipation of closers losing their job sometime during the season?

Approach

My approach to drafting closers is as follows:

  1. Determine how many saves it will take to compete in your league setup.
  2. Determine who are the closers and setup men for each of the 30 major league teams.
  3. Determine the average draft position and which rounds each of these closers and setup men are being drafted.
  4. Label each closer/setup men with the following categories: Elite, Neutral, Caution
  5. Project closer/setup men statistics for saves, strikeouts, ERA, and WHIP
  6. Include the sabermetric of K/9 or strikeouts per innings pitched

Findings

There are 30 major league teams. In a 10 team league, the average number of closers per team is three. In a 12 team league, the average number of closers per team is 2.5.  In a 12 team league, you can gain a competitive advantage by having a minimum of three closers on your team. Here is a chart of the expected number of fantasy points that you can expect to achieve based on the number of saves you obtain this season. The goal is to finish in the top three in saves in your league. In a 10 team league, your goal is to accumulate between 105 and 125 saves. In a 12 team league, your goal is to accumulate between 90 and 110 saves. Below is a chart that projects the number of fantasy points you will obtain versus the number of saves that you accumulate at the end of the season in both a 10 team and 12 team league formats. The numbers are the same, regardless if you play in a Yahoo, CBS Sports, or ESPN league format.

Points

10 Team League Format

12 Team League Format

12

 

110

11

 

100

10

125

90

9

115

80

8

105

70

7

95

60

6

85

50

5

75

40

4

65

30

3

55

20

2

45

11

1

35

1

Using the stat projections (courtesy of ESPN), here is the current average draft position and round that each closer is currently being drafted.

Closer Rank

Player

Team

Round

ADP

K

SV

ERA

WHIP

S/9

K/9

Setup Man

Closer Status

1

Craig Kimbrel

ATL

5

51

120

41

1.99

0.85

5.4

15.9

Jonny Venters

Elite

2

Jonathan Papelbon

PHI

8

89

85

39

3.04

1.09

5.2

11.3

Mike Adams

Elite

3

Jason Motte

STL

9

97

76

40

2.96

1.04

5.4

10.2

Mitchell Boggs

Elite

4

Mariano Rivera

NYY

11

125

50

36

2.29

0.91

5.9

8.2

David Robertson

Elite

5

Rafael Soriano

WSH

11

128

61

37

2.89

1.14

5.9

9.8

Drew Storen

Neutral

6

Fernando Rodney

TB

11

129

61

38

2.53

1.14

5.3

8.6

Joel Peralta

Neutral

7

Joe Nathan

TEX

11

131

72

38

3.29

1.11

5.4

10.3

Jason Frasor

Neutral

8

J.J. Putz

ARI

12

136

64

36

2.89

1.06

6.1

10.9

David Hernandez

Neutral

9

Sergio Romo

SF

12

138

68

30

2.60

0.92

5.2

11.8

Javier Lopez

Neutral

10

Jim Johnson

BAL

14

158

45

40

2.83

1.07

5.1

5.8

Pedro Strop

Neutral

11

Huston Street

SD

14

160

52

31

2.66

0.98

6.3

10.6

Luke Gregerson

Neutral

12

John Axford

MIL

14

165

90

38

3.47

1.31

4.9

11.6

Mike Gonzalez

Neutral

13

Greg Holland

KC

14

166

78

37

3.00

1.25

4.8

10.2

Aaron Crow

Neutral

14

Joel Hanrahan

BOS

15

176

74

34

3.00

1.19

4.9

10.6

Andrew Bailey

Caution

15

Addison Reed

CWS

16

181

78

36

3.39

1.16

4.7

10.2

Matt Thornton

Neutral

16

Tom Wilhelmsen

SEA

16

182

61

30

3.93

1.31

3.8

7.7

Stephen Pryor

Neutral

17

Jason Grilli

PIT

17

192

68

31

3.48

1.24

4.5

9.9

Mark Melancon

Caution

18

Chris Perez

CLE

17

193

54

36

3.27

1.22

5.9

8.8

Vinnie Pestano

Caution

19

Rafael Betancourt

COL

17

195

68

33

3.20

1.05

5.0

10.4

Rex Brothers

Neutral

20

Glen Perkins

MIN

17

202

60

27

3.36

1.15

3.6

8.1

Jared Burton

Neutral

21

Casey Janssen

TOR

18

207

65

23

2.90

1.06

3.3

9.4

Sergio Santos

Caution

22

Grant Balfour

OAK

18

208

65

24

3.21

1.20

3.9

10.5

Ryan Cook

Caution

23

Jonathan Broxton

CIN

18

214

54

35

3.14

1.29

4.8

7.4

Sean Marshall

Neutral

24

Kenley Jansen

LAD

19

223

105

17

2.71

1.06

2.4

15.0

N/A

 

25

Ryan Madson

LAA

20

228

65

19

2.83

1.06

3.2

10.8

Ernesto Frieri and Scott Downs

Caution

26

Steve Cishek

MIA

20

231

63

32

3.22

1.36

4.3

8.5

Jon Rauch

Caution

27

Brandon League

LAD

21

246

51

20

3.18

1.29

2.6

6.8

Kenley Jansen

Caution

28

Ernesto Frieri

LAA

21

248

99

21

3.04

1.19

2.8

13.1

N/A

 

29

Bruce Rondon

DET

23

267

62

28

3.86

1.36

4.5

10.0

Phil Coke

Caution

30

Carlos Marmol

CHC

24

277

95

20

3.82

1.44

2.7

13.0

Kyuji Fujikawa

Caution

31

Bobby Parnell

NYM

25

292

59

15

2.96

1.19

2.0

7.9

Frank Francisco

Caution

32

Kyuji Fujikawa

CHC

26

300

71

20

2.71

1.16

2.9

10.1

N/A

 

33

Jose Veras

HOU

26

304

76

18

4.09

1.44

2.5

10.4

Wesley Wright

Caution

34

Sergio Santos

TOR

26

314

64

18

4.13

1.33

3.4

12.0

N/A

 

35

Frank Francisco

NYM

27

320

51

20

4.5

1.46

3.9

10.0

N/A

 

36

Vinnie Pestano

CLE

28

330

80

4

3.04

1.12

0.5

10.6

N/A

 

37

Drew Storen

WSH

28

336

61

7

3.23

1.23

1.0

8.6

N/A

 

38

Ryan Cook

OAK

29

351

68

11

3.05

1.15

1.5

9.4

N/A

 

39

Sean Doolittle

OAK

30

365

79

6

3.29

1.11

0.9

11.3

N/A

 

40

Joaquin Benoit

DET

31

371

76

10

3.57

1.14

1.4

10.9

N/A

 

41

Luke Gregerson

SD

34

407

62

8

3

1.17

1.1

8.5

N/A

 

42

Mark Melancon

PIT

36

429

58

7

4.36

1.33

1.0

7.9

N/A

 

43

Andrew Bailey

BOS

37

442

45

7

3.06

1.21

1.3

8.6

N/A

 

44

Octavio Dotel

DET

38

459

65

2

3.57

1.09

0.3

10.1

N/A

 

45

Jared Burton

MIN

39

469

57

10

3.09

1.14

1.4

8.0

N/A

 

The Elite Closer (4)

Craig Kimbrel, Jonathan Papelbon, Jason Motte, and Mariano Rivera

If you want to sleep easy at night and have peace of fantasy mind, you may want to draft one of these top closers that as elite and safe as they get. In the case of Mariano Rivera, last season proved that even elite closers can go down to injury. Kimbrel’s stats are as good as they get, especially when you think about the 12o strikeout projections. That is more than a typical number four or number five starting pitcher, but with a lower ERA and WHIP. But to draft Craig Kimbrel, you have to do this with a fifth round draft pick. You would have to pass on such players that are going around an ADP in round five such as Allen Craig, Ben Zobrist, Brandon Phillips, Yu Darvish, and Adam Wainwright, just to name a few. And what happens if you are highly leveraged in Kimbrel and he becomes injured? Just ask Mariano Rivera owners last season. To land one of these elite closers, you will have to draft them somewhere between rounds 5-11.  Too rich for my drafting blood. The big head scratcher for me is fantasy league managers who are drafting Jonathan Papelbon in round eight. When you look at his K/9 and S/9, they are no better than closers that are going several rounds later. Plus his projected ERA is over 3.00 which is hardly elite status for a closer.

The Neutral Closers (14)

Rafael Soriano, Fernando Rodney, Joe Nathan, J.J. Putz, Sergio Romo, Jim Johnson, Huston, Street, John Axford, Greg Holland, Addison Reed, Tom Wilhelmsen, Rafael Betancourt, Glen Perkins, and Jonathan Broxton

I like to refer to this group as the “Goldilocks Closers” as they don’t cost you a high draft pick, they are not in danger of losing their closer role, and they are just right. They key is to draft at least two of these closers from this group as your set of base closers. These closers currently have an ADP between 128 and 214 which allows you to draft these set of closer anywhere between rounds 11-18. Not all of these neutral closers are the same, and here is where I like to use the sabermetric of K/9 and S/9 as my filter. Although Jim Johnson is a neutral closer, he does come with a lower K/9 rate than the other closers at 5.8. I would also avoid closers with projected ERAs in excess of 3.20 and a WHIP greater than 1.15. Of these set of closers, I would target Sergio Romo, Huston Street, Rafael Betancourt, J.J. Putz and Rafael Soriano.

The Caution Closers (12)

 Joel Hanrahan, Jason Grilli, Chris Perez, Casey Janssen, Grant Balfour, Ryan Madson, Steve Cishek, Brandon League, Bruce Rondon, Carlos Marmol, Bobby Parnell, Jose Veras 

Whether it is an injury issue, a better setup man in waiting, or poor peripherals, if there were a group of closers I would draft with caution, this would be the list. The good thing is that you don’t have to spend a high draft pick to obtain any of these closers as they are currently being drafted between rounds 15-26. It’s not so much that closers like Joel Hanrahan are likely to keep their closer role for most of the season, it’s that he may rack up the saves, but at a greater cost. Hanrahan’s walk rate, home run rate, and ERA are all on the rise from last season. Hanrahan will most likely have an ERA north of 3.00 in 2013, where most closers on your opponent’s team will be far less. Luckily for Hanrahan owners who draft him, he benefits from little competition and will most likely keep the job for most of the season. Then there is a group of unproven and small sample size closers such as Jason Grilli, Steve Chishek, Bruce Rondon, Bobby Parnell, and Jose Veras. They could go on to have a stellar year at closer, but this is also highly unlikely as these closers will all be on a short leash.  Think of the mentality of closers and from a mental perspective, will these set of newer closers have the mental makeup to overcome a blown save and the pressure of being ready on a moment’s notice every day of a grueling season? I’m betting that they won’t, and this is why is make more sense to draft a top setup man versus a group of unproven closers that may end up on your waiver wire by May.  There are the injured closers such as Chris Perez, Casey Janssen, and Ryan Madson that may spend some time on and off the disabled list and may end up losing their closer role if their successor gets the hot hand in their absence. Then there is Carlos Marmol who is in a class by himself.  He never should have held on to the closer role for this long. His ERA will be closer to 4.00 this season and has an incredibly low 2.7 saves per nine innings pitched. Top it off with a 1.44 WHIP due to control issues and Marmol is the one closer I will be avoiding in all fantasy baseball league drafts.

The Elite Setup Men (5)

Kenley Jansen, Ernesto Frieri, Kyuji Fujikawa, Sergio Santos, Mark Melancon 

These are the players to target in your fantasy baseball league drafts. They come relatively inexpensive in auction league drafts and you can draft them fairly late in your serpentine drafts and they are currently going off the board between rounds 19-36.  Even if they don’t become closers, if you can draft at least two of these names, they offer better statistics than a number five starting pitcher. Their K/9 is between 10 and 15, with ERAs and WHIPs well below the closers mention as cautious. I believe through either injury or performance, these setup men will have an opportunity to be closers sometime during the 2013 season. In the meantime, they will contribute in obtaining vulture wins and strikeouts per innings pitched, while helping lower your team’s overall ERA and WHIP.

And let’s not forget prominent free agents which include Brian Wilson, Jose Valverde, Francisco Rodriguez, and Francisco Cordero that could sign with a team in need of a closer.

Happy closer drafting everyone!

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