Generally, when it comes to closers I’m not interested in blowing too much draft capital. There are two reasons why. First, closers lose their jobs so frequently—by virtue of injury, poor high-leverage performance in small samples, or trade deadline deals—that it’s not worth investing too much draft capital in them. Second, because so many lose their jobs, others will always be available on the waiver wire at various times throughout the season. Look no further than 2019’s top two closers who both lost their jobs: Edwin Diaz and Blake Treinen. They not only lost the closer role, but they also wasted top-75 picks for their fantasy owners.

Recently, I took part in a mock draft where I selected three closers: Brad HandTaylor Rogers, and Ian Kennedy. I got them at picks 113, 176, and 224, respectively. After the draft, I wrote about my picks, which required me to research them in greater detail. And diving deeper into Hand, Rogers, and Kennedy only strengthened my resolve not to draft closers early.

In retrospect, Hand was a mea culpa, of sorts. That’s because there’s really not much that separates these three guys.

Name NFBC ADP Saves Blown Saves Team Save Opportunities
Brad Hand 120 34 5 58
Taylor Rogers 131 30 6 72
Ian Kennedy 205 30 4 60

Despite the divergence in these three closers’ ADPs, they actually had similar 2019 save totals. Hand led the way with 34, but Rogers and Kennedy weren’t far behind, each racking up 30 saves. To be frank, when paying for saves, if these guys could (and have) produced basically the same results, then why pay so much more for one over another?

Hand, the most expensive of the three, earned only four more saves than Kennedy, who is getting drafted 85 picks later. Hand wasn’t particularly more effective than the other two closers. His 87.2% save conversion rate was only slightly better than Rogers’s (83.3%) and actually worse than Kennedy’s (88.2%).

Rogers, however, had by far the best team save opportunity rate. You may be wondering why he only had 36 saves of his team’s 72 total save opportunities. He didn’t begin the season as the team’s closer and shared opportunities with ageless-wonder Sergio Romo down the stretch. Yet, the Twins should remain competitive in 2020, offering Rogers plenty of save opportunities, and the team hasn’t brought Romo back. While teams are often reluctant to name lefty closers, to the extent he retains the role, he could have the most save opportunities of the group.

Likely because the Indians were less competitive than before, they had 12 fewer opportunities for Hand than the Twins. To be sure, they’ll be more competitive than the Royals. But are you positive Hand will get more save opportunities than Kennedy again? In fact, the Royals had more opportunities as a team (60) than the Indians (58) last season. And Kennedy wasn’t utilized as much in the ninth inning early on in 2019, appearing more frequently as a closer first in June. He has far more of a stranglehold on the job now and should get a greater percentage of those opportunities.

Name IP SO K-BB% ERA SIERA WHIP
Brad Hand 57.1 84 27.3 3.30 2.93 1.24
Taylor Rogers 69 90 28.4 2.61 2.63 1.00
Ian Kennedy 63 73 21 3.41 3.46 1.28

From a performance perspective, Rogers was the most dominant of the three closers last year. His 28.4 K-BB% was elite, bolstered by 90 strikeouts in just 69 innings. Kennedy wasn’t far behind. His fourseam fastball played up in the pen from 92.4 mph in 2018 to 94.8 mph, boosting his strikeout rate to an excellent 27.4% mark and enabling him to secure 30 of 34 save opportunities.

Though Kennedy’s bottom line looks pretty similar to Hand’s, I won’t piss on your back and tell you it’s rain. Kennedy’s peripherals couldn’t keep up with Hand’s, even though the latter’s bottom line was weighed down by an uncharacteristic rough stretch precipitated by injury. I expect a bounceback for Hand, who, in each of the last three seasons posted a sub-3.00 ERA and at least an 11 K/9. Kennedy is simply not that pitcher.

Still, I’m of the mind that closer dominance isn’t all that important so long as your closers provide saves. In reality, the impact Rogers–who performed the best of the three–had on his fantasy team’s ratios and strikeouts were minimal considering he only pitched 69 innings. Starting pitchers should throw, barring injury, around 180 innings. That’s basically three times the amount that Hand, Rogers, and Kennedy pitched, and therefore three times the impact on ratios and strikeouts. If you’re regularly using seven or eight starting pitchers, each of which has three times the impact of your three closers on everything but saves, then selecting those closers based on their performance is a folly exercise.

I acknowledge that, perhaps, a closer who performed at an elite level last year is less likely to lose his job this year. But then again consider Edwin Diaz and Blake Treinen. In the end, closers pitch in such small samples that I’d rather bet on team and opportunity than skill.

And that brings me back to ADP review. There’s a good chance Hand, Rogers, and Kennedy again provide similar save totals. Each should enter 2020 as their team’s primary closer. In my view, that is the most important aspect of selecting a closer. The rest of their contributions matter very little. With similar save opportunities for each of them, why not pass over Hand and Rogers to load up on starting pitchers and hitters, then grab Kennedy at the end of the draft?

 

 
  1. AL KOHOLIC says:
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    wow,very interesting,this really has me planning a strategy for closers,thanks for the post

    • Dan Richards

      Dan Richards says:
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      Great, thanks for reading!

  2. LenFuego says:
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    This article makes good points, but it is worth noting that Hand, Rogers and Kennedy are 3 of only 11 pitchers that had at least 30 saves last year … and only 22 pitchers earned as many as 20 saves. So while using a lot of draft or auction capital on your overall relief staff is not wise, you can really be left up a tree if you do not grab at least one pitcher expected to be one of the significant save producers. Like at any position, sure, there is a risk you will be wrong, a la Diaz and Treinen, but plenty of the highly touted relievers did, indeed, produce saves at a high level, such as Yates (1st overall at 41 saves), Osuna (2nd at 38), Chapman (tied for 3rd at 37), Hader (tied for 3rd at 37), Hand (tied for 5th at 34) and Jansen (tied for 8th at 33). Even Diaz (26 saves and 99 Ks), and to a lesser degree Treinen (16 saves and 59 Ks), were failures more on ratios than saves.

    If you do not grab at least one of the top expected save producers, you may find yourself with *no* significant save producer and end up dropping a lot of FAAB (or whatever you use for player acquisition) in an often vain attempt to find an emerging saves producer. A *ton* of owners got burned last year chasing saves on guys like Pat Neshek with the Phillies instead of Hector Neris, Ty Buttrey with the Angels instead of Hansel Robles, and AJ Minter with the Braves.

    • Dan Richards

      Dan Richards says:
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      I definitely agree that punting saves is a poor draft strategy, and that wasn’t the takeaway. Instead, I advocate for finding saves in non-committee situations later in the draft, even if you think the team won’t get many wins (and, in turn, save opportunities).

      For example, Sergio Romo (20), Shane Greene (23), Ken Giles (23), Alex Colome (30), and Will Smith (34) all had closer roles going into 2019 drafts and returned excellent value. Jordan Hicks (14) also was available late and likely the closer-incumbent for the Cardinals. I may grab a closer in the Hand, Hendriks, Rogers range this year, but I certainly won’t be paying up for the most expensive guys.

      Thanks for reading!

    • BBHHI says:
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      LenFuego: Loved to get your thoughts on this minor conundrum….

      I’m in a AL-only keeper(8) league, and got totally burned last year by not getting an established closer. Chased all year and depleted FAAB terribly. That said, I can now keep (having traded for them at end of year to bolster saves) Hand ($22) and Osuna($21); those are not wild keeper values, but are two of the most safe closer bets in an AL only league. Given what happened last year and the total lack of sure bets at the position, it feels like I might be wilding underestimating the value of these two guys, beyond $ value.

      With all that said, here’s what I’m wondering. Do I keep both these guys and trade one of them for a coveted offensive player later on, either in auction or once it’s clear who’s struggling to keep up on saves in-season? Thoughts?

      • LenFuego says:
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        Hi BBHHI,
        That is a hard question to answer without knowing a lot more info, such as what the alternative keepers are, how many total keepers you get, and the history of reliever trades/value in that particular league. In general though, I would prefer to keep no more than one of those guys, so I would see if I could get good value for one of them in a trade *before* the keeper deadline. But if nobody was biting and I thought those two guys were the best value propositions amongst my keeper options, I would not be afraid to keep both and proceed as you suggested.

        • BBHHI says:
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          LenFuego,

          Thanks for the reply…..

          Here my potential keeper list. Framil Reyes and Roark are must keeps, so I can pick 6 other. Clevinger and Lindor are my best keepers.

          Arraez $10
          Polanco $15
          Lindor $30
          Framil Reyes $17
          Mallex Smith $11
          Clevinger $18
          Heaney $10
          McKay $8
          Yarborough $6
          Roark $1
          Osuna $21
          Hand $22

  3. Sweatpants Nation says:
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    I couldn’t agree more with your post. I went into last year in a keeper league with great promise to win the league. I chose to bid high on all “top” closers available as I had none going into the draft. I ended up with Vasquez and LeClerc. We all know how that went. I ended up chasing saves all year because of LeClerc and down the stretch with Vasquez. I came in last in saves and lost the league by 2 points. The cost for these bums was over 10% of draft money available. In hindsight I could have used that money for a quality starter who might have pushed my points up in K’s, wins, WHIP and ERA.
    Lesson learned- I’m with you Dan Richards.

    • Dan Richards

      Dan Richards says:
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      Thanks! Funny enough, Vazquez was actually pretty good all year until his suspension. That definitely hurts in a league with playoffs though.

      As I said above, I wouldn’t punt saves, because you don’t want to be chasing them as you did last season, but instead I would try to find them in more inexpensive places where you feel comfortable the guy is “the guy”

      • Snacks Zillion says:
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        Who are some rd 10-12 rps your targeting in a h2h pts 12 team league? Thanks!

        • Dan Richards

          Dan Richards says:
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          I don’t do points leagues, but from my understanding closer (ratios & Ks) performance actually matters more there. Some guys you can target as closers in those rounds include Giles, Rogers, and Jansen

          • Snacks Zillion says:
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            Thank you, appreciate the heads up. Its my only pts league but we draft today.

  4. Squat Cobblers says:
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    Great stuff! (though Romo is back with the Twins.)

    Similarly, I did a study of my RCL from last year..comparing end-of-season, 12-team player rater final values to draft cost. This particular RCL overpays A LOT for closers annually. Of the 54 RPs drafted, only 4! were profitable: Hader, Yates, Will Smith and Colome. They were the 9th, 10th, 21st and 25th RPs drafted, respectively.

    The 10,000 foot view:
    There were roughly 1180+ total MLB Saves last year.
    Of those, roughly 240 or so were from un-rosterable relievers (in most leagues)…leaving about 945 Saves that could be captured either via the draft or via waivers/FAAB.

    In the RCL I mentioned above, 693 Saves were drafted or 73% of the Saves that could be captured…leaving just 252 (27%) available to be picked off waivers/FAAB. And specifically by the time Colome was drafted in the 13th round (25th Closer off the board), 55% of all attainable Saves (520 of 945) were gone.

    Thinking back to the rare times I’ve done well with closers, it’s when I think of it as a ‘Draft within a Draft’…in other words, when closers start to fly off the board, I must eventually pay the going rate no matter the cost. Draft at least three in 12 and 15-teamers…avoiding the top four or five cause their costs make them the most risky given, as you put it, similar returns.

    This looks like the approach you’ve taken as well.

    • Dan Richards

      Dan Richards says:
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      Unfortunately I wrote this a month ago and it only published today, so I didn’t have the Romo news lol.

      I also often draft 3-4 closers, but later in the draft. Definitely wouldn’t punt the category because, as you say, only 252 were on waivers. The key for those is to be a week early on those guys, when established closers falter grab the setup guy

    • Al KOHOLIC says:
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      Great stats Thanks for the work

  5. Bamabterry says:
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    I just pay what it costs for Chapman every year and find the rest late. Its worked for the past decade or so.

    • Dan Richards

      Dan Richards says:
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      Excellent strategy

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