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March 5, 2014

Fantasy Three-Year Projections

Relief Pitchers

by Craig Goldstein

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There’s something that needs to be said about three-year RP rankings: They shouldn’t be done. You’re not going to like this list, and I certainly didn’t like doing it. Relievers are far too fungible to project out three years when it comes to saves, which is the all-consuming overlord of reliever production in the majority of fantasy leagues. Speculating for saves has its time and its place, but that place is on the waiver wire and that time is no more than five seconds of your day, in this humble author’s opinion.

For every success story (Kenley Jansen) there is, well… Kenley Jansen. This is the first season he’s entering the year as a closer, despite being dominant for the last three. Think about Tyler Clippard, who “should” have ascended to the role before Rafael Soriano was signed. Then there’s Rex Brothers, who is 2014’s reliever du jour. Everyone and their mother loves Brothers, but the problem is he doesn’t have the closer gig, is left-handed, and the Rockies signed LaTroy Hawkins to split duties at the very least. And y’know what? Hawkins isn’t actually that bad.

This is a long way of saying that if you’re speculating on saves, bet on skills. At least when that pitcher doesn’t get saves, he’ll still be half-decent and you didn’t just waste your FAAB money on Chia-Jen Lo just to see Josh Fields (equally cruddy) get the job instead. Don’t put too much stock into these rankings, because they’re mostly favoring players who have jobs now or have elite skills that could propel them to top-seven status if they do get the job (Cody Allen).

This is making the assumption that Robertson has no issues with the full-time closer role, and if he does, he should join the elite group above. All six should be near the stop of the league in strikeouts, WHIP, and saves.

All of these closers are 32 or under and have at least semi-firm holds on their jobs, to go with reasonable upside. The shakiest in terms of job security is Frieri, but he has the upside to warrant this placement. The rest are solidly in their roles and have been productive in the past. There’s no reason for their teams to replace them, except quite possibly to cash in a trade chip (Glen Perkins).

Veteran closers, come on down! Johnson has the big save totals but is only secure in his role for one season (if that), plus he lacks the strikeout totals. Nathan is going on 39. Papelbon has been good despite his decline. Rodney is leaving one pitchers’ park for another, but more importantly, he’s leaving the tender guidance of Jim Hickey and the Rays coaching staff who originally fixed him. Balfour is entering his age-36 season and heading to Hickey and company for another go-‘round. He should be valuable over the next two years but going beyond his current contract is questionable.

With Allen we encounter the first of the non-closers on this list. He could be working the ninth inning by mid-season, though. The others below him are a mix of potentially elite closers if they get the job mixed with productive veterans who are only signed up for one more season at the moment. Soriano is coming off a massive drop in strikeout rate. Grilli has one elite season and is turning 37 in 2014.

There’s an argument for Street to be included in the grouping above this one, but I think his injury risk pushes him down, which applies to Parnell, too. Henderson has control issues and Axford might not last the season in Cleveland.

A mixed bag of part-time closers (Crain, Qualls, Fields), bad pitchers who have one-year closing gigs (Veras), guys who will be replaced (Hawkins), and then there’s the Soria/Feliz situation. Feliz seems to be the preferred candidate, but it’s not exactly clear how well he’s coming back from Tommy John surgery, as he was recently clocked in the 90-92 mph range compared to his past readings in the upper 90s. Soria, meanwhile, returned to strike out 28 batters in 23 2/3 innings last year. I’ve been ranking him above Feliz all offseason and think he takes the job and doesn’t give it back this season.

Benoit should probably be a full-time closer somewhere, but he signed in San Diego, which means he’ll be the setup man until Huston Street gets injured. This is all but an inevitability, but given Benoit’s own frail nature, we can’t be sure he’ll be healthy and able when that injury occurs. The rest are setup men who have a chance at saves going forward. There are myriad players who fall into this category, but it was arbitrarily cut off at 40 because, really, almost anyone can close if given the opportunity.

Craig Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Craig's other articles. You can contact Craig by clicking here

14 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

bobbygrace

The fantasy coverage this year has been world-class. Thank you, guys!

Mar 05, 2014 03:33 AM
rating: 8
 
sbnirish77

Yes, this has been a lot of coverage for an organization the eschews counting statistics.

Mar 05, 2014 11:00 AM
rating: 0
 
bobbygrace

For feedback/future planning purposes, I wonder if there would be interest in the BP community in coverage of non-closers. I understand the reasoning behind using classic fantasy baseball stats to determine the rankings. That said, I'd guess that many BP readers' leagues use stats that make non-closing relievers valuable (such as holds and K/9).

So, poll for BP readers: Does your league use stats that make non-closing relievers valuable (such as holds and/or K/9)?

Mar 05, 2014 03:36 AM
rating: 5
 
bobbygrace

(Upvote for yes)

Mar 05, 2014 03:37 AM
rating: 31
 
bobbygrace

(Upvote for no)

Mar 05, 2014 03:37 AM
rating: 12
 
JoshC77

I was going to ask a similar question; but I must say, your creative use of the voting button is ingenious and in all my years here, I do not recall anyone doing this. Kudos to that!

I am in a holds league as well, and the one thing about them, they are even more volatile than saves, partly because of the asinine way in which the rules are written. Given that volatility, I tend to identify candidates in Holds leagues using the following process:

1. Pick out relievers with good rate/K stats.
2. Pick players on teams with well-established closers with secure jobs. For example, before Mariano Rivera retired, you knew he was secure and wasn't going to lose his job. If counting on David Robertson for holds, this was important as you knew he was going to keep his setup role.
3. From that list, identify players on teams projected to win a lot of games and/or teams with mediocre offenses that may be more likely to be in close games.
4. I also tend to stay away from multi-inning relievers. I'd rather take a guy who pitches in 80 games with 60 innings than one who pitches in 60 games with 80 innings. The more games they are in, the higher the opportunity to accumulate saves.
5. Give me a guy that has dual-eligibility as a SP (there are few, but can be valuable if you get one). If he does, you can slot him in there when your guys aren't starting.

I would love to see expanded coverage of other relievers as well. Even in 5 x 5 leagues (especially those with max innings pitched limits), I love snagging two or three elite non-closers. They can mitigate ratio damage and add a higher K/9 value; any other stats (wins) they add are just gravy.

Mar 05, 2014 05:14 AM
rating: 2
 
JoshC77

Darn it....typo in number 4...I meant to say accumulate holds...not saves.

Mar 05, 2014 05:15 AM
rating: 0
 
ares1800jr

Yes I would love to see something like this written without the 32 closers on the list.

Mar 05, 2014 08:38 AM
rating: 0
 
jimcal

I am speaking for myself, but may be could get some echo from other fellow subscribers. In dynasty league that rewards holds, the fastest way to rebuild your bullpen is draft good skill setup (young)men with a old/shaky closer in front of them. I was able turned around rather quickly with Benoit/Romo/Uehara/Melancon, and I think aside from Effective Wild favorite Vic Black, aforementioned Cody Allen, there must be many more for speculation and discussion. For example, Brian Wilson (one year contract to rebuild his reputation) may close somewhere else next year. Wouldn't it be great to have articles focus on this in a TINO fashion (early or late, we are always swimming in FA pool to find the best bet for closer).

Mar 05, 2014 09:04 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Craig Goldstein
BP staff

It's something that I'll certain talk to Bret about since you guys seem to want it, but I continue to reiterate that the save speculating that occurs is most often fruitless. The investment and roster space occupied by these "could be" players can often be a waste of space.

In regards to holds leagues, holds have extremely little year to year correlation. I agree with Jimcal in that you find a team who is strict with their roles and see if you can grab a setup man (i.e. LAD and Wilson, or even whoever ends up their 7th inning guy). But beyond that it can be funky. I like looking at LOOGYs for holds because they can pitch more often and still attain the stat. There are a million ways to target holds and it's generally worth it to just target good relievers because of what they'll bring in ERA/WHIP/K rather than chase the H stat.

A deep dive into non-closer relievers is clearly craved, but I think it's ultimately a fruitless endeavor because they're at the whim of managers who tend to ride hot hands more than anything. Just my opinion.

Mar 05, 2014 09:21 AM
 
JoshC77

I totally concur with your viewpoint. It IS frustrating for owners such as myself in Holds leagues and frankly, I have been fighting with our commish for a couple of years about retaining it as category given its superfluous nature.

I personally feel that the best way to give middle relievers value in fantasy leagues is to impose a restrictive max innings pitched limit.

One thing I would suggest is that when you guys run the graphical analysis of relievers is that you dive more deeply into the pool (maybe 60 to 90 deep; equivalent to about 3 relief pitchers per MLB team).

Mar 05, 2014 16:47 PM
rating: 0
 
bobbygrace

Thank you for your reply. I totally agree with your reliever strategy and understand why BP would hesitate to devote more time to analyzing relievers.

I hesitated to post my question and my little poll. It felt forward and a bit presumptuous. But I went ahead because BP is so clearly receptive and responsive to reader feedback. The site's responsiveness adds serious value to our subscriptions and undoubtedly contributes to an active and loyal readership. I know you all put in significant extra time to respond to readers' questions and I really appreciate it.

Mar 06, 2014 06:27 AM
rating: 3
 
BP staff member Craig Goldstein
BP staff

Bobby,

Please don't hesitate in the future. It wasn't forward at all - it is important for us to know what our readership is looking for, and that's what the comments section helps us find out.

Thanks for the kind words, we really do appreciate them and we'll do our best to keep earning them.

Mar 06, 2014 06:39 AM
 
agnatgas

Romo is pretty high on the list given he's in a setup role.

Apr 05, 2015 05:51 AM
rating: 0
 
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