Save Opportunities According to Team Performance

This will serve as the 3/16 Daily Dose

There may not be a more polarizing subject in terms of how to approach it in fantasy drafts than relief pitching.  Some hold firmly to the mantra of “Don’t Pay for Saves” while others advocate doubling up on stud closers as early as the 4th and 5th rounds.  Still others play it by ear and kind of mix the two nabbing a reliable guy in the 7th/8th round and supplementing him with upside plays who might get saves, low end guys with the job right or punting a second one altogether and playing the wire during the season.

I think a lot of league variables go into deciding which is best for you in your setup.  One adage that always strikes me is the discounting of closers on worse teams (regardless of talent) because “they will get fewer opportunities” than the guys in better overall situations.

That isn’t an outlandish statement taken at face value.  It makes very good sense in a practical manner, but there have been several beliefs in baseball that seem viable enough on the surface and are accepted as truisms until further review blows them out of the water.  This one has always struck me as one that might not hold up against the numbers after digging into it.  So I decided to do the digging.

I just thought that with at least 65 wins per team each year, even the low end closers were getting enough opportunities to convert a healthy number of saves on par with those on the best teams.  Also, a worse team is likely playing closer games and a lot more of their 65 wins are probably coming down to the wire as opposed to those of a 90-win ballclub.   Essentially, I was worried that the disparity in opportunities between the best and worst teams may have been overstated.

Conversely, a team winning 87-90 games and up is likely to have a much better entire bullpen than the bottom feeders lending credence to original theorem because they wouldn’t blow leads in the 6th-7th-8th innings leading up to their stopper.  So there’s a balance between the good teams winning by 4+ runs more often against their overall better bullpen holding otherwise tenuous leads in the middle innings more frequently than the lesser teams thus creating more chances for their closer.

What do the numbers tell us?

Win Percentage

(The data set used is from 2005 through 2010.)

Let’s take a look at the average save opportunities on a real basic level of win percentage split between teams over .500 and teams under .500:

Win Percentage Data Pts Avg. SVO
.500+ Win Pct. 95 62
sub-.500 WP 85 58

On a macro level, the theory holds true that closers on better teams will indeed average more attempts.  The four attempt split isn’t drastic, but again this is a high level view so I’m not sure it tells us all we need to know.

Sticking with this split for another moment, how do things look from a conversion rate standpoint?

Win Percentage Blown Opps Close Rate
.500+ Win Pct. 1774 5919 70%
sub-.500 WP 1797 4895 63%

This goes back to the point I made above in support of the theorem that the better bullpens as a whole will generate more leads for closers thus leading to more saves.  We see a stark difference in the split here with the sub-.500 teams not only blowing more saves, but doing so with more than a 1,000 fewer opportunities.

Wins

Getting a bit more granular now, let’s look at how things breakdown at four different levels going by 10s until 70 and then using sub-70 as one level:

Wins Data Pts Avg. SVO
90-100 41 64
80-89 61 61
70-79 48 59
<69 30 55

Now we are really seeing where a good surrounding team can make a significant difference opportunity edge.  This only makes Joakim Soria’s two 40+ save seasons all the more impressive considering how much his team hamstrung him.  He has closed out 91% of his saves for his career and was at a 93% clip in the two 40+ seasons.

Yet another step down gives us our best look at how things stratify within the standings:

Wins Data Pts Avg. SVO
92-100+ W 31 64
87-91 W 32 62
82-86 W 27 61
76-81 W 31 59
70-75 W 29 59
69 or fewer W 30 55

The conclusion to this point fully supports the basic theory that closers on better teams (or perceived to be better since we can’t know how the season will play out) are likely to receive more opportunities from their team than those at or near the bottom of the standings.

I am thinking of doing a part 2 of this piece.  I want to take a look at things at the player level.  These numbers so far aren’t completely useless, they confirm an adage that has been in play for some time, but they also take into account all save opportunities including those blown by the non-closer before the 9th inning.

What can individual data tell us about this adage?  It would stand to reason, based on what we have seen so far, that guys like Mariano Rivera and Joe Nathan should be getting more opportunities than Soria or someone like Chad Cordero when he was in Washington.  Is that how it plays out or do we see opportunities tied more to team type where someone like Brian Wilson notches more opps than a Rivera because his team not only wins, but plays closer games because they aren’t led by their offense?

For now while we do have evidence that the better teams offer more save opportunities on average, I would be careful not to use it as an a primary factor for closer selection.  I would still focus entirely on the skill of the pitcher well before this opportunity factor came into play.

Soria, who I continue to mention since he is the best example of a great closer on a terrible team, deserves to be at or near the top of the closer rankings for 2011 regardless of how pitiful the Royals will be this season.  Don’t take a less skilled player on a better team (Francisco Cordero, for example) just because they might notch upwards of nine more opportunities over the season (and there’s no guarantee for that again because this data takes all save opportunities into account).

Tomorrow: My Closer Tiers for 2011

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One Comment to “Save Opportunities According to Team Performance”

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