The common refrain you hear from those owners who choose to punt saves is “saves will come into the league”. This is in reference to the volatility of the closer position causing new, previously unheralded guys to be thrust into the role and availing the league of another save source. Of course these owners generally assume they will somehow automatically collect these saves and as such they feel justified in their strategy. Regardless of your league’s pickup process (waivers, FAAB, fastest-finger), no one can guarantee that they will the benefactor of the new saves that invariably enter the league. I am not saying you absolutely can’t win with the strategy, but I don’t think it’s a good one at all.
The amount of turnover we have already seen among closers this year (Texas, Baltimore, Toronto, Cleveland, Minnesota, Los Angeles Angels, Colorado and Philadelphia) have the punters out in full force collectively sticking out their tongue as if to say, “This is why I don’t pay for saves!!!” I actually believe this volatility hurts their case and gives merit to paying for saves. Of those eight teams who have had a closer change due to ineffectiveness or injury, only two (Minnesota & Colorado) had top tier closers and both of them went down to injury. Injury doesn’t prove a theory like punting saves. Grady Sizemore’s injury last year doesn’t create a rash of outfield punting. In season management is hard enough without purposely adding the ridiculously stressful task of chasing saves to your agenda.
And I’m not sure why paying for saves has such a negative connotation as if the top closers are costing you a 2nd round pick or something. The top three, Jonathan Papelbon, Jonathan Broxton and Mariano Rivera, had an average draft position of 63-64-65 (note: I’d actually rank them Broxton, Rivera then Papelbon), which lands you in the 6th round. Of course, they aren’t the only quality closers, either. Some of my favorites coming into 2010 included Heath Bell (9th rd), Joakim Soria (9th), Jose Valverde (11th) and Andrew Bailey (12th). I also liked Billy Wagner a lot (12th), but he definitely had and I guess still has injury risk. Another thing often overlooked with the best closers is that they aren’t just one-trick ponies. My group of six averaged 34 saves, a 2.19 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, and 80 K in 67 innings of work. That takes your back of the rotation starter with a 4.50 ERA/1.35 WHIP down to a 3.77/1.25 guy. And that’s just the peripheral benefit. Obviously the gaudy save total and job security is why you select one of them in the first place instead of punting or selecting a Matt Capps-type bottom tier guy.
Depending on which podcasts or publications you listen to/read, you will hear different opinions on closers. Some experts swear by locking down top guys while others allegedly refuse to pay for saves. I don’t think you can really build a solid case for the latter as I’ve outlined. But if I had to give one reason why I believe that investing in the closers is valuable is because this game is about mitigating risk and I can’t think of anything more risky than putting your production in an entire category (as well as an impact in three others) on the fate of a FAAB bid or waiver order or whether or not you are the first one at the computer when news breaks of the latest closer going down. Wouldn’t you rather have just drafted Jonathan Broxton and supplemented him with guys like Jon Rauch or Chris Perez who could be had for next to nothing despite being first in line for a job/closing for sure for six weeks? Obviously those two wildcards worked out, but there were a host of others you could’ve rolled the dice on once you secured an elite guy. And even if you wanted to just go with your ace closer and then a highly skilled middle reliever or two while playing the wire for new saves, that’d be fine. At least you’re not purposely taking a zero in 1/5th of the pitching categories. That’s just silly.