4th and Gold: Closing Thoughts on a Fantasy Draft
If any of you participate in fantasy sports, you know that there are basic strategies that you should follow before entering into your league’s draft. In fantasy football, you should fill out the rest of your roster before drafting a kicker.
In fantasy basketball, you should look at your league’s settings to see if the guard who will give you a couple of three-pointers per night will be more or less valuable than the center who will give you double-digit rebounds.
Having participated in and succeeded in (the regular season matters, not the playoffs – am I right Carlos Boozer?) many fantasy baseball seasons, I have learned quite a few things, but my number one draft strategy each year though remains the same: do not draft a closer early!
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On May 18th, approximately one-quarter of the way through the 2012 Major League Baseball season, I went back and looked at the Yahoo! rankings for relief pitchers (for all intents and purposes meaning closers) from March 29, 2012.
These rankings were from before any team (besides the Athletics and Mariners who had already played on “Opening Day”) had played a regular season game.
Of their top sixteen ranked relievers (I really looked at the top eighteen but did not include Matt Moore or Corey Luebke because they were really starting pitchers with relief eligibility), only four of them were healthy with an ERA under 4.00.
Think about that. Only four of the top sixteen, not just a random grouping of sixteen relievers, but the best ones (according to the “experts”), were still pitching adequately just a month and a half into the season. Seven of the pitchers were on the Disabled List, consisting of future Hall-of-Famer Mariano Rivera, Carlos Marmol (now back but with an ERA of 6.35), Sergio Santos, Andrew Bailey, Ryan Madson, Brian Wilson, and Drew Storen. Four others (Heath Bell, J.J. Putz, Jose Valverde, and John Axford) were “healthy” yet had ERA’s over 5.00! The only other pitcher remaining of the twelve – Jordan Walden – is no longer the closer and has not even recorded a save since April 20.
This season may be an anomaly; I cannot know for certain without digging into it further.
In either case, anyone who participates in fantasy baseball knows that if they spend one of their middle-round draft choices on a first, second, or maybe even a third tier closer, they expect an ERA under 4.00.
Well, just like every other year, the people in my leagues started to get the ball rolling with closers by the late single-digit rounds, while I waited patiently until Round 21 to pick my first of three relievers in one league and regrettably ”reached’ in Round 15 to take my first of three relievers in my other league.
They were taking the Bell’s, the Valverde’s and Marmol’s; I was taking the Ethier’s, Cueto’s and Dunn’s.
I am not saying that bagging saves and intentionally drafting closers only at the end of the draft will automatically lead to good things (although in some league set-ups, bagging saves can definitely work). You have to be waiver-wire savvy.
For example, when you see Andrew Bailey go down, you have to anticipate that Alfredo Aceves will likely fill-in. When you see Wilson injured, you have to go and pick-up Sergio Casillas. When you read about Madson’s season-ending surgery, you have to add Sean Marshall without thinking twice about it.
An injury (or demotion) to a closer (or to any player for that matter) has to be seen as an opportunity for you to capitalize. In my league with 25 rounds, I did not draft a reliever until the 21st round. My team has more saves than any other team in the league.
Obviously there is a lot of luck involved, but one of the safest assumptions that you can make in any fantasy sports season is that the thirty “closers” going into the season will be tremendously different than the list of closers by September. A lot changes between April and September, but the one constant is that change itself.
Some of you may be reading this and thinking “thanks for telling me this now, the draft was two months ago!” Think of this as my advice to you for the future. When your fantasy draft rolls around next March, think back to this, and maybe by May of 2013 you can join me in laughing at the guy who spent his eighth round pick on Drew Storen. You can thank me later.