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March 20, 2013
Saves Are Everywhere
The beauty of baseball lies in its unpredictability—which spawned the #ycpb (you can’t predict baseball) hashtag, as well as youcanpredictbaseball.com. While the sport may not be predictable, it only takes a cursory glance at the statistics from recent seasons to see that offense is down and pitching is up.
One particular part of pitching that is on a rapid rise is saves. Last season, there were 1,261 saves converted in baseball, and that total was just four shy of the post-expansion era record of 1,265 set in 1998, when the Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Devil Rays brought the league to 30 teams. Between 1998 and 2012, the numbers have been all over the place, as the save stat remains as risky league-wide as it is on an individual level for fantasy owners.
As quickly as the saves category exploded after the last league expansion, it collapsed two seasons later to its post-expansion low of 1,178. The category recovered to another boom in 2005, only to bust over the next three seasons, before turning the corner in 2008 and continuing to rise ever since.
Despite the rollercoaster ride the statistic has taken fantasy owners on in recent years, things have been rather stable in the past few seasons. Since 2009, at least 27 pitchers each season have saved 20 or more games, which is a step up from the previous four season, when no more than 25 pitchers attained that benchmark. Even in the peak year of 1998, just 23 pitchers saved 20 or more games, and baseball has not seen a total that low since 2008. That season, just 22 pitchers saved 20 or more games, marking the lowest total in the post-expansion era.
Since we know the category has had just a seven percent variance over the past 14 seasons, the trick becomes figuring out where those saves go. What makes that an exercise in futility is the fact the saves truly do come from everywhere—after all, both Brad Lidge and Shawn Chacon saved 30 more games in seasons where they had ERAs over 7.00. Joe Borowski led the American League in saves in 2007. In fact, from 1998 to 2012, there are 42 examples of pitchers saving at least 20 games in a season in which they had an ERA of 4.50 or higher.
In looking at the current ADP reports from NFBC, we have a sample size of 156 drafts that have taken place in their format. These are the ADPs of the top 40 relief pitchers:
Under the premises that saves can come from anywhere and that high ERAs do not necessarily stop pitchers from piling up saves, a case can be made for punting the category in your draft. After all, even if you wait until pick 180, you can still land a solid skills pitcher such as Glen Perkins or Steve Cishek, and take a chance on two closers on whom the market is down: Chris Perez or Brandon League. The League situation is rather comical, as Kenley Jansen, the pitcher behind him on the Dodgers' depth chart, is being taken three full rounds before him in drafts. Even Carlos Marmol, a pitcher everyone believes is doomed to fail, is still being drafted 22 picks before his setup man, Kyuji Fujikawa.
If you decide to wait out saves into the 200s, you are still left with good options such as Cishek, Jason Grilli, and whichever Angels reliever emerges from the first quarter of the season with the job. You also cannot forget about Tigers rookie Bruce Rondon, who continues to slide. Rondon’s current ADP is at 249, and yet I was still able to draft him with the 286th pick in my own NFBC league on Friday night.
There seems to be more uncertainty on the closer market this season than in most years. If Chapman does come back to the closer role, we are left with seven closers that should have strong seasons: Kimbrel, Chapman, Papelbon, Motte, Rodney, Soriano, and Nathan. After that, there are question marks for each of the others, ranging from injury recovery to low strikeout rates to the lack of a track record. There seems to be a clear-cut push to wait on saves this year, as the market seems to finally be coming around to the fact that saves can be found just about anywhere. They truly have no face.