Closers in baseball are a lot like kickers in football.
Both start with the hard-C sound. Both are forced to work in clutch situations. Neither should be picked high in your respective fantasy drafts.
Last August, I wrote a post advising fantasy football owners to kick the kicker rankings, looking instead at drafting specific players to instead looking at situations that would produce the most production at the position. My strategy led to suggestions of kickers you could snag in the final round of a draft, and looking back, each of them were solid selections.
Here is my feeble attempt to do the same at the closer position for your fantasy baseball aficionados.
Everyone on planet blue who plays fantasy baseball knows who Mariano Rivera is. The same people are just as fond of Jonathan Papelbon and Jonathan Broxton.
However, you are going to pay a hefty price for any of these guys. Just like people were forced to blow a middle-round pick in some leagues last fall for Stephen Gostkowski, the kicker for the vaunted New England Patriots. Too bad he wasn’t even in the top five of scoring kickers by season’s end.
When it comes to closers, you are mostly drafting them for their potential saves. They are typically one-trick ponies. Sure, many closers post incredible ERA, WHIP and even strikeouts per nine inning totals. However, they do so in such a small innings pitched sample size, that these numbers don’t always translate into roto success.
And, like kickers, closers are only as good as their opportunities allow. As I mentioned in the kicker strategy post in August, you should look at teams with incredibly solid defenses and mediocre offenses. Not miserable offenses, but ones good enough to consistently get within field goal range, but not potent enough to turn most of those drives into touchdowns.
Closers need ample opportunities, too.
Teams with loaded offensive lineups that beat teams by multiple runs on a regular basis don’t need their closers as often to eke out close contests. On the flip side, teams who get blown out or who don’t at least score enough runs to stay competitive with their opponents don’t provide a whole lot of save opportunities, either.
Francisco Rodriguez notched 40 or more saves for four consecutive seasons with the Angels, including 62 in 2008. With a Mets squad that imploded in 2009, he finished with 35. This isn’t horrible considering the situation, but not what the people who drafted him high prior to the 2009 season were expecting.
So which teams fit the mold in 2010?
I’m bullish on save opportunities for the Detroit Tigers. Their offense is potent enough to win plenty of games, especially in a fairly evenly-matched AL-Central. Their new closer, Jose Valverde, has been sneaky-good in save conversions, notching 116 in the past three seasons on much less potent teams. You can get him much cheaper than a Broxton or Rivera, and could match their saves numbers in 2010.
The Tampa Bay Rays are also a team that is plenty talented enough to notch ample wins while not blowing their opponents out of the water. The Rays acquired Rafael Soriano from the Braves this offseason and Soriano will be given every opportunity to succeed as the ninth-inning commando. He’s also a sneaky-good late saves guy.
The Arizona Diamondbacks are yet another team worth considering in terms of closer potential. Chad Qualls is the man there right now, and doesn’t have much competition for the job. Again, you’re not banking on a great ERA or WHIP with this strategy, but guys who are in positions to rack up some saves totals.
Which brings me to the one closer who I personally am coveting most … again, not because I think he has the best closer material, but because of his situation. The Seattle Mariners are much improved and playing in a division that has no clear favorite anymore after the Angels shed some of their better players. Seattle has two legitimate aces who can eat innings and hand the ball over to the closer. The Mariners offense isn’t potent enough to blow opponents out of the water. So, in many leagues, you’ll see me drafting David Aardsma.
How do you approach closers in your respective drafts? We’d love to hear about it in the comments section below.