About two weeks ago I wrote How to Evaluate A Player in which I described a quick and easy way to evaluate players performance. That piece dealt only with hitters. In today's article I'll detail some of the key points you'll want to consider when you are attempting to evaluate relief pitchers for the 2011 fantasy baseball season.
Target Skills not Roles. This is the hardest idiom to abide by on draft day because though it inherently makes sense to target skills, it doesn't always result in the most fantasy value. Let me address that "fantasy value" issue first.
There are five main categories in fantasy baseball for pitchers: wins, ERA, WHIP, Ks and saves. Obviously only reliever can pick up saves, and that marks "closers" as premium targets on draft day. However, there are many issues associated with this.
(1) Closers don't hold their roles all season in many cases making it a volatile position to predict with any certainty.
(2) There are always a handful of guys who rack up large save totals that come completely out of nowhere (think John Axford who had 24 saves last year despite having only 7.2 innings of big league experience prior to the start of the season).
(3) Closers often rack up saves despite pedestrian results.
Francisco Cordero had 40 saves despite a 1.43 WHIP. Bobby Jenks had 27 saves with a 4.44 ERA. Ryan Franklin had 27 saves with a mere 5.82 K/9 mark.
(4) Having success closing games year-to-year is much harder than you would think. If a guy had 20 saves he'd probably be considered a low end second reliever, right? Do you know how many hurlers have saved 20 games in each of the past three seasons? The answer is only 12. Simply, it's a very volatile, and variable, position - closing that is.
(5) Pitching the ninth inning to gain a save is a random event that is nearly impossible to predict. Factors that you have to take into account include:
* Did the offense score enough to gain the lead, without scoring too much to get past the limit for saves (3 run lead).
* Which reliever will be called on? Will the manager go with his best arm? Will he play the righty/lefty matchup game? Will he lean on the veteran who has been there and done that even though he hasn't been pitching well? Will the manager give his reliever some rope and allow him to remain in the game if he lets people on base?
And that last point is really the main point of this whole exercise. In many cases its patently obvious which reliever a team should turn to in the 9th inning. However, that doesn't always mean that team does the right thing and slots their most effective reliever in a 9th inning role. The bottom line is that there is no way to predict the opportunities than any reliever will be given, nor is there any way to get inside the head of a manager to understand how he will deploy his pitchers from game to game.
Therefore, this is what I recommend - target skills not roles.
Skills aren't susceptible to the whim of a manager. Skills aren't dependent on the game situation. Skills pay the bills.
What skills should you look for? A quick primer follows.
Target at least a 7.50 K/9 mark. You need a reliever who can get out of a jam with a punchout. Also, the fewer balls that are put in play, the better the chance is that the batter won't produce a hit (a brilliant statement I know).
Target a BB/9 mark below 3.00. You can't have a reliever come into a game searching for the strike zone.
Those two simply targets may not seem like much, but adhering to just those two categories and their benchmarks will likely help you from rostering relievers that will not hurt your ratios. Amongst relievers that tossed 60-innings last year, here are the only names that racked up a K/9 mark over 7.50 with a BB/9 mark under 3.00.
Casey Janssen Matt Thornton Sean Burnett Rafael Soriano Joaquin Benoit Luke Gregerson Joakim Soria Neftali Feliz Darren Oliver Kyle Farnsworth Edward Mujica Matt Belise Billy Wagner Sergio Romo Rafael Betancourt Hong-Chih Kuo Joba Chamberlain
That's a pretty darn small list isn't it?
There is obviously more to pitching than this simply review, but in terms of relief pitchers this type of data is extremely relevant. Also make sure you keep an eye on the GB/FB column, I'd look for numbers of 1.25 or better there if you can (big flies are murder on relievers).
At the end of the day there are very few "locks" at the closers position. After the first 20 or so guys are off the board I think it makes more sense to roster high skill relievers with major upside versus slacker relievers who are lined up to begin the year as the closer for their team. Sooner or later the lack of skills will doom those guys to mediocrity while your "skills guys" should continue to have success no matter what role they are asked to fill .
By Ray Flowers
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The co-host of The Drive on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio (Sirius 210, XM 87: Mon-Thurs 7 PM, Fri. 9 PM EDT), Ray also hosts a 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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