Archive for ‘Closers’

Tuesday: 03.5.2013

They Could Also Trade Miguel Cabrera for Nick Punto…

A tidbit out this morning from MLB Trade Rumors talks about how the Tigers are now looking for a closer via the trade market because SURPRISE SURPRISE their entirely unproven rookie who spent 32 seconds at Triple-A and has all of his pitches guided by Apple Maps (I’ve used this joke ~718 times now) isn’t panning out. Who could’ve possibly guessed that this wouldn’t work?! I personally feel they have several worthy options in-house already including Octavio DotelJoaquin Benoit, and the best of the bunch in my opinion Al Alburquerque, but manager Jim Leyland seems to favor Phil Coke over all of them and now going outside is an option. I’m not one of those guys who thinks I could be an elite GM off of the street tomorrow and I love Dave Dombrowski, but I don’t understand the thinking there. How was there no contingency for Bruce Rondon and why are none of these hard-throwing studs the team already has an option? You were OK going with someone whose never been in the majors, but Al-Al can’t get a look? His stuff is straight up NSFW!

This part of the news item from MLBTR especially killed me:


Don’t you dare trade a high upside 24 year old potential stud for a freaking closer. Yeah I’m sure teams would line up around the corner to get Porcello for a closer. The Dodgers would also move Nick Punto for Miguel CabreraAndrew Bailey. GTFOHWTS. To be fair, he didn’t say Bailey for Porcello, but just GTFOH with Bailey no matter what. He pitches 30 innings a year.

You better get a helluva lot more than that back if Porcello is the centerpiece of a trade. Honestly, this situation sets up perfectly to go by committee, but Leyland is a bit more old school about the closer’s role so he’d probably just want one guy. Coke could be nasty against teams like the Royals and Indians, both of whom have several lefties. Like I said, I trust DD to make the right move. I would definitely be interested in any of the Nationals guys or I guess I should either because they aren’t trading Rafael Soriano five minutes after signing him. So Tyler Clippard or Drew Storen would look great in the 9th inning for the Tigers, but if the price is too high just stay in-house. And for the love of beagles, do not sign Jose Valverde.


Thursday: 03.17.2011

2011 Closer Tiers

Here’s a look at my 2011 closer rankings.  I’m going to do my Middle Reliever article soon so the top 7th and 8th inning guys will get their coverage there.  I mentioned a few in here, but none of them are ranked unless they are in a committee to close.

Stat consideration in order of importance: Strikeouts, Saves, ERA, WHIP.  I would take a few less saves for a ridiculous strikeout rate.  Closers can impact ERA a decent bit (at the truly elite levels), but their WHIP impact is often insignificant (even at its worst, more on that later).

Tier 1

Joakim Soria – He has an incredibly rock solid skills profile over the past four seasons and yet he is still just 27 years old.  His inferior team hasn’t prevent him from two 40+ save seasons and in non-40 save season he struck out 69 in 53 innings (he wasn’t the full time closer in the first of his four seasons).

Carlos Marmol – Too many outlets greatly overrate the impact of a reliever’s WHIP (and ERA for that matter) on your team’s bottom line.  Take Marmol’s awful 1.46 WHIP in 2009 and add it to a standard team with 1250-1300 innings and it increases the WHIP by 0.01.  You can’t tell me that his otherworldly strikeout rates for a reliever don’t more than cancel out that negligible impact.

Heath Bell – Similar to Wilson, he’s on a team that can win, but when they do it’s close because they aren’t powered by offense.  This has led to 42 and 47 save seasons the last two years for Bell.  He’s also notching better than 10 strikeouts per nine with elite ERA and WHIP totals to boot.

Neftali Feliz – After a back-n-forth Spring Training and rampant speculation about whether or not he was going to start or close, he has finally been locked down as the closer again.  He was brilliant last year and I expect no different in 2011.  He has devastating starter’s stuff which plays pretty well in one-inning bursts.  Remember that with the tiers, I see everyone within a tier relatively similarly.  So if you wanted to take Feliz first in an AL-Only (or mixed for that matter), I support that.  I ranked them how I prefer them, but there’s little difference one to the next.

Mariano Rivera – He’s a freak, even at 41. The Ks dropped last year (6.8 K/9), but ratios remained absurd and I’m not betting against him.  K rate dropped to 6.6 in 2006 and then he reeled off three straight seasons above 9.0 at ages 37 through 39, so don’t let the 41 years make you believe he can’t bounce right back again.  He almost deserves his own second tier because there is a little risk with anyone his age, but I’ll give him the T1 respect.

Tier 2

Brian Wilson – He’s just on another level right now delivering near-Marmolian strikeout rates (10.3, 11.2 last two years) with great ratios and high save counts (on a team that wins, but not with offense meaning more close games).  Update: Injuries move him down, but still worth drafting pretty high.

J.J. Putz – Last year Putz looked a lot like the guy who notched 36 and 40 save seasons back in 2006 and 2007.  Once an elite closer, Putz quickly earned a closer’s role this offseason and there is no reason to believe he won’t once again become a big time stopper.  He’s being a little overlooked so far this draft season.  If you want to skip the first wave, jump on Putz a few rounds after.

Matt Thornton – Rightfully given the job to start the season, Thornton has been an elite reliever for three years now though many might not realize it as he has just 13 saves in that time.  Posted a ridiculous 12.0 strikeout rate last year, but even if he’s “only” at the 10.6 he averaged the two years before, he is still an excellent investment.

Jonathan Papelbon – For all his issues (ascending walk rate, ERA and WHIP; dropping save totals), his strikeout rate is actually ticking up yearly since 2008 (10.0, 10.1, 10.2) and at 29, he’s still well within in his prime.  As annoying as Papelbon can be personally, he could be an undervalued fantasy asset this year as his demise is being overrated.

Francisco Rodriguez – We are seeing a lot risk in this tier which says a lot about the state of closers in the 2011 preseason.  K-Rod is no different, but it’s hard to deny the talent.  The main concern is that if the Mets don’t trade him, they might game his playing time to avoid a vesting option for 2012 (needs to finish 55+ games).

Tier 3

Jonathan Broxton – He is inexplicably being written off for three bad months.  He was brilliant through June 26th with a sub-1.00 ERA and 48 Ks in 33 innings.  The wheels came off the next day with a 4-run outing and he was never the same the rest of the year.  No way I’m going to write off a 27-year old with as much talent as Broxton just yet.

Jose Valverde – An up and down season in 2010 that was essentially four great months and two horrible ones.  Elbow soreness likely caused some of the issues that led to 8.25 and 7.00 ERAs in July and August, but he bounced back with eight strong innings in September.  He looks good so far in Spring Training so I’d be comfortable investing in a standard Valverdian season.

Andrew Bailey – He might have crept into Tier 1 if it weren’t for the major injury scare a few days ago during a spring outing.  We are being told he’s fine for now and doesn’t need surgery, but the uncertainty of his elbow plus his injury track record make him a frightening investment.  Handcuff Brian Fuentes here.

Joe Nathan – He might ease into the role for a few weeks in April, but I think he will be the full-time closer no later than May given health.  Like Putz, I think we’ll see a quick return to form and Nathan will once again be a reliable premier asset.

Chris Perez – He came into his own last year and started paying dividends on his top 100 prospect status from 2008 (97) and 2009 (91).  Control is the missing element in his game to this point (4.3 BB/9 in 162 career IP), but at 25 years old there is still plenty of time.  His stuff is undeniable and he should feel secure in the job.  You should feel secure when investing.

Tier 4

Huston Street – The skills are there, always have been, but it’s hard to rely on him being there for you all season.  That lack of consistent health is why he has just two 35+ save seasons in his six years in the majors.  Each of the other four has yielded 23 or fewer.

John Axford – Burst onto the scene last year for a huge rookie season taking over for Trevor Hoffman with nearly 12 strikeouts per game and 24 saves in 27 chances.  His control needs work (4.2 BB/9), but that and a deep track record are the only missing ingredients for an elite closer.

Joel Hanrahan – You may be shocked to learn that Hanrahan has improved his strikeout rate each of his four seasons in the big leagues and had a career-best 3.4 BB/9 last year.  He’s been given the job for now, but Evan Meek looms if he fails.  The skills are there, but does he have the fortitude to closer?  I’d bet yes.

Leo Nunez – He had a career year in his first as the full-time closer which is enticing, but can it last?  He makes a strong secondary or tertiary closer on a team with a T1 in mixed leagues.  I also like him as a cheap option in an NL-Only if you don’t like investing a ton in saves.  I like him a lot more than most and I think he’s being a bit underrated.

Tier 5

Brad Lidge – A sore biceps tendon has caused a preseason scare, but Lidge asserts it’s something he has dealt with before and writes it off as no big deal.  Even still, he’s far from “Lights Out” these days despite the still impressive strikeout totals.  Tread cautiously. Update: Injuries also move him down as he’s now set to start the season on the DL.

Frank Francisco – He’s closed before and posted 3.2 K/BB rates or better each of the last three years, but a sore pectoral has cast some doubt over him, especially in light the depth of competition in Toronto.  If healthy, he could be a cheaper option that pans out very nicely.

Francisco Cordero – His eroding skillset belies the gaudy save totals (79 the last two years) as his strikeout rate has dropped in each of the last three seasons coming in below 8.0 each of the last two seasons.  Mix that in with his age (36) and legitimate competition behind him (Aroldis Chapman and Nick Masset) and Cordero becomes a risky proposition.

Craig Kimbrel/Jonny Venters – Listing them together because they are set to share the job for now.  I think one will emerge, but who knows who?  Venters was brilliant in 83 innings so it seems like he’d be more reliable, but Kimbrel really impressed with 40 strikeouts in 21 innings.  I wouldn’t be afraid to invest in either or both if the prices weren’t out of whack.  They only rate this low because saves are the guiding factor of these tiers.  From a pure skills standpoint, both can be elite relievers.

Kevin Gregg – Middling skills combined with legitimate competition on hand (namely Koji Uehara) make Gregg a risky option.  Throw in a mediocre at best team in the league’s toughest division and this could get ugly.  That said, he held on for 37 saves in the same division last year.

Ryan Franklin – Regression popped his ERA last year, but he tightened up the control a lot yielding an even better WHIP than 2009.  Still, I don’t like closers with lame strikeout rates especially if I can’t count on excellent ERA and WHIP.

Tier 6

Alexei Ogando – My main concern is that Ron Washington seems to lack much confidence in him and this whole Neftali Feliz melodrama might not be over yet, either.  Buying Ogando while things remain pretty uncertain could represent a nice bargain as I think he is the clear choice behind Feliz if he does end up a starter (which he should if Texas is smart… and they generally are…)

Jake McGee/Kyle Farnsworth – Manager Joe Maddon is firm on going with a committee marginalizing the value of both of these guys, who would otherwise be pretty valuable if they were the lone closer.  Their skills and team situation is better some of the other committees found in T6 so they still rate above them even as a tandem.

Fernando Rodney – I can’t envision a scenario where he keeps the job all year long.  Any one of Jordan Walden, Kevin Jepsen or Scott Downs would be better options.  Of course, they will probably get their shot in reverse order of how I listed them.  Downs is on the DL right now, but Rodney should at least hold it through April.

Brandon League/David Aardsma – League is a placeholder until Aardsma is healthy after having hip surgery in January.  I loved League heading into last year after his 2009 season, but he pretty much flopped and made his 2009 skills (9.2 K/9, 3.6 K/BB) look like an outlier.  Don’t buy both.  If you buy one, it should only be as a third option regardless of league format.

Drew Storen – A rough spring is putting his grasp on the job in serious doubt as manager Jim Riggleman obviously doesn’t realize how worthless Spring Training numbers are in the grand scheme.  Add in the myriad of options (none particularly good) behind Storen and he becomes a serious risk.

Brandon Lyon – A lesser version of Ryan Franklin on a much lesser team.  Wilton Lopez lingers, too, but I’m not sold he keeps the 0.7 BB/9 he displayed in 67 innings last year.

Wednesday: 03.16.2011

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.


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

Monday: 04.19.2010

Kyra Sedgwick is Your Friend

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.