We need to reevaluate how utilize relievers in fantasy baseball. I've made that point for years. Currently we don't care much about the skills of the player. All we really care about is whether or not he's called on to generate the last three outs of a ballgame. Time after time we draft lesser skilled arms merely because of the role they are placed in – i.e. closing. I've argued elsewhere that we should transition the 5x5 game away from saves as the main category for relievers to SOLDS (saves+holds). That way we would focus more closely on the talents of the relievers instead of the roles the manager put them in. Regardless you have to play the cards you are dealt, and the way we do things now is dependent on saves. In this piece I'll explore how the bullpen situation has played out thus far in 2014. Was it wise to invest heavily in closers or would you have been better off letting someone else spend big dollars or early draft picks on relievers?

Let's start out by taking a look at my Preseason Rankings from the Fantasy Alarm Draft Guide (the rankings are updated on the 1st of every month. All you need to do is to belong go the Assistant GM Package to gain access). We'll use this list as the baseline for our discussion.
 

Rk First Last   Rk First Last
1 Craig Kimbrel   26 Mark Melancon
2 Kenley Jansen   27 Tyler Clippard
3 Greg Holland   28 Tommy Hunter
4 Joe Nathan   29 Casey Janssen
5 Trevor Rosenthal   30 Aroldis Chapman
6 David Robertson   31 Junichi Tazawa
7 Glen Perkins   32 Jim Henderson
8 Ernesto Frieri   33 Kelvin Herrera
9 Grant Balfour   34 Matt Lindstrom
10 Sergio Romo   35 Cody Allen
11 Jason Grilli   36 Craig Stammen
12 Steve Cishek   37 LaTroy Hawkins
13 Jim Johnson   38 Francisco Rodriguez
14 Koji Uehara   39 Nate Jones
15 Jonathan Papelbon   40 Chad Qualls
16 Fernando Rodney   41 Jake Mcgee
17 Addison Reed   42 Joel Peralta
18 John Axford   43 J.J. Hoover
19 Rafael Soriano   44 Jose Valverde
20 Huston Street   45 J.J. Putz
21 Rex Brothers   46 Pedro Strop
22 Jose Veras   47 Sean Doolittle
23 Joakim Soria   48 Jesse Crain
24 Sergio Santos   49 Luke Gregerson
25 Joaquin Benoit   50 Nick Vincent

The top-3 have been elite.

Then we run into problems.

Arms ranked in the top-10 who would clearly be labeled failures to this point.

#4 Joe Nathan
#8 Ernesto Frieri
#9 Grant Balfour

Inside the top-25 (failures):

#11 Jason Grilli
#13 Jim Johnson
#18 John Axford
#21 Rex Brothers
#22 Jose Veras 
#24 Sergio Santos
#25 Joaquin Benoit

Didn't put #10 Sergio Romo in there – he has been a disappointment – but he does have 22 saves. For the same reason I almost left out Nathan (19 saves), but he's still got the job despite a disastrous first half. 

Now you might say – 'Ray, you're just stupid. How on earth did  you rank guys like that?' I don't agree with you, but even if you're right and I was wrong... you should still notice all the failures at the closer spot. Here are some other early season closers that have also gone caplooie:

Tommy Hunter
Jim Henderson
Nate Jones/Matt Lindstrom

Let's take the opposite tact. Let's not look at who I loved. Let's look at all the arms that have picked up at least five saves who either weren't closers or weren't even drafted in the majority of mixed leagues.

Francisco Rodriguez – 27 saves 
Mark Melancon – 16 saves
Zach Britton – 15 saves
Joe Smith – 15 saves
Sean Doolittle – 14 saves
Cody Allen – 12 saves
Hector Rondon – 10 saves
Jenrry Mejia – 10 saves
Ronald Belisario – 8 saves
Jake McGee – 7 saves
Jonathan Broxton – 6 saves

One or two of those guys might have been drafted in your mixed league. Be honest though. The majority weren't. Look at that list again. You could have hit the waiver-wire hard, added Britton, Smith and Allen... and picked up 42 saves. If you drafted Aroldis Chapman and Koji Uehara, big ticket items on draft day, you would currently have 39 saves. Surprised?

Let me be clear here. It's not all about which scrap heap adds are on your team team at the moment. It's also about the guys you knew of but weren't excited about. Look at the saves marks of arms that were certainly drafted but not though of very highly. The closers, lets say, that were listed outside the top-15 in most peoples rankings.

Fernando Rodney has 27 saves. That's tied for third in baseball. Remember he was coming off a somewhat down 2013.

Huston Street is always hurt. He hasn't been this year as he has 24 saves in 25 chances. Flipping dominating (1.09 WHIP, 0.76 WHIP).

Rafael Soriano was aging, losing velocity, and losing strikeouts. He's rebounded to the tune of 22 saves with an ERA under one (0.97).

Steve Cishek has 20 saves and 45 Ks in 38.1 innings.

LaTroy Hawkins has 17 saves. He hasn't been great, he has 14 strikeouts over 33 innings, but he’s only blown one save chance and has a 1.09 WHIP.

The fact is, each year, evidence is growing that more and more teams will end up switching their closing option, perhaps more than once, and that a massive chunk of saves are left on the waiver-wire on draft day. I'm not going to sit here and say that drafting a closer early or spending substantial money on a closer is wrong, but take some time to ponder this one last fact before you make up your mind as to how you plan to attack the position in 2015.

There are 32 men in baseball who have 10 saves at the All-Star break. At least eight of them, fully a quarter, almost certainly weren't drafted in your mixed league. At the same time, as the above has shown, the 2014 season has presented us with three catastrophic failures and there are seven others that came into the year in the top-25 who have also flamed out. Seems to me that we're trending more and more to the point where letting others spend their big dollars on draft day might be a decent way to go.




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About Ray Flowers

The co-host of The Drive on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio (Sirius 210, XM 87: Mon-Fri 7-10 PM EDT), Ray also hosts his own show Sunday night (7-10 PM EDT). Ray has spent years squirreled away studying the inner workings of the fantasy game to the detriment of his personal life. Specializing in baseball, football and hockey, some consider him an expert in all three.

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