May 19, 2014
My Closer Lost His Job and Now I Hate Everybody
Even if you play in only one fantasy baseball league, eventually you are going to suffer through a closer losing his job. Given the precious amount of capital we invest in closers, there is arguably nothing more frustrating than losing your closer to ineffectiveness.
We all share the same level of frustration when we lose a closer. However, there is always a temptation to rush into the breach and invest significant FAAB or a high-priority waiver claim on a closer. Is this the best course of action, or is it better to be more conservative and hope to get lucky?
Table 1: Non-Closers (Opening Day) Who Finished With 10+ Saves: 2011-2013
Table 1 lists all of the non-closers who cost less than $10 on average in the CBS, LABR, and Tout Wars expert leagues and saved 10 or more games. The zero dollar average salary means one expert league spent one dollar while the other two took a pass. The mixed column is from the 15-team Tout Wars auctions from 2011-2013.
There are 40 relievers in Table 1. While there are a few instances where multiple relievers from the same major league team saved 10 or more games in the same season (Heath Bell and Brad Ziegler in 2013 for example), there was still close to a one-in-three chance between 2011 to 2013 that the reliever you purchased was supplanted at some point during the season.
Just because there were 40 situations where you could find a reliever who could pick up 10 or more saves does not mean that there were 40 opportunities to acquire a 10_ save free agent reliever. In -only leagues, your chances of getting a replacement for your fallen closer were limited. A mere 13 relievers were not purchased or picked on reserve in all three of the expert leagues over the last three seasons. In 2011, mono-league owners had one opportunity in each league to grab a closer: Javy Guerra in the National League and Sergio Santos in the American League.
The pickings have been somewhat better during the last two seasons, but there is still a poor chance that you will land a closer via free agency. In the AL in 2013, only Farquhar paid off, while in the NL in 2012 Cishek and Lopez were the only 10-plus-save relievers available. There is a prevalent mythology that even in only leagues that you can pluck a closer off of the wire quite easily, but the American League in 2012 and the National League in 2013 look like exceptions and not the norm. Even if you expand the pool of free agent closers to zero dollar pitchers, only 18 pitchers saved 10 or more games, with only 10 of those pitchers saving 20 or more. If you do decide to invest in saves at your mono-league auction, you had better be sure that the closer or closers you buy are solid investments.
As you might expect, mixed league formats are a different story. Only 12 of the 40 relievers on Table 1 were taken in Tout Wars mixed either during the auction or the four-player reserve round. The lack of a pricing hierarchy between the only league and mixed formats suggests that there is a certain randomness to investing in relievers in mixed leagues during your auction. A two or three-dollar price tag isn’t a lot, but given the paucity of 10+ saves pitchers purchased at auction or taken on reserve, I would advise saving your auction money or draft picks. Take a closer in waiting during the reserve rounds in both auction and draft formats instead of picking someone earlier.
As far as FAAB goes, the differences between mono formats and mixed leagues are striking.
Table 2: 10+ Save Closers: Free Agent Acquisition Budget (FAAB) Price
Table 2 shows the 13 relievers who were not purchased in any of the expert leagues and their FAAB cost in Tout Wars AL or NL-only. There were a couple of big-ticket items here, but more than a few cases where early speculation led to a jackpot. Bidding big dollars on a potential closer can work, but it was more likely that you could spend $10 or less in FAAB to grab 10-plus saves. Given the randomness of the set up relievers—not to mention the “failures” not listed in Table 2—you might prefer using low end bids to buy weaker relievers or struggling closers rather than waiting to make a big splash on a specific arm.
Mixed leagues are different. With 28 potential 10-plus save options available, how did the Tout Wars mixed league players do over the course of the last three years?
Table 3: Reliever FAAB Purchases in Mixed Tout Wars: $10 or More
Table 3 lists every reliever in mixed Tout Wars (auction league, not draft league) who cost $10 or more in FAAB since 2011. From 2011-2013, 41 double-digit bids were used to land relief pitchers in Tout Wars mixed. Of those 41 bids, 18 of them purchased a reliever with 10 or more saves (these relievers are listed in bold). Another way of expressing this is that if you plunked down $10 FAAB or more on a reliever, you had a 44% chance of getting a 10-plus-save pitcher.
However, the payoff in mixed leagues was significant. There were 16 mixed league free agent pitchers who saved 20 or more games in a single season from 2011 to 2013. Out of those 16, only three: Salas (2011), Melancon (2011), and Benoit (2013) didn’t cost $10 or more. The failure rate in mixed leagues might be high, but I can see why mixed league owners plunked down big bucks on potential closers.
Something to watch going forward is how expert owners spent their money. In 2012, mixed league owners spent liberally on potential closers, bidding $10 or more on 21 relievers. For all of their trouble, only six relievers paid off. Last year, the success rate was eight out of nine, with only late addition Josh Fields failing to save 10 or more. The 2013 pitchers cost more, but spending more of your FAAB on a “sure” thing is a better proposition than throwing one-tenth of your budget down on what amounts to just another middle reliever.
In -only leagues, the best course of action is to speculate on closers-in-waiting before the season even starts. Most of your replacement saves come from pitchers who are purchased at auction. Pat yourself on the back if you purchased Mujica last year, but recognize in an NL-only that this is an anomaly and not the norm.
Mixed leagues offer more opportunities to improve your relief situation via FAAB, but your high priced bid still might not pay off. Despite the failure rate, the most successful relievers were captured with a high-end FAAB bid, so if you want to pick up a significant amount of saves via free agency you will have to spend.
It is difficult to look at any of these trends and make confident predictions of what might happen going forward. It is common for fantasy experts to bemoan the lack of reliable relievers and predict that the closer role is failing more than ever. However, the data prove that this is anecdotal. AL closers were extremely reliable after failing in 2012, while NL closers were extremely faulty after being very reliable in 2012.
The best strategy in terms of procuring saves is still trying to make wise decisions during your auction with your money or draft slots. If you lose a closer in season, you will have a hard time replacing him in any format, and will have to adjust to a reality in which you might not get as many saves as you were hoping for on Opening Day.