The Closer Conundrum
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One of the most frustrating situations to deal with in the world of fantasy baseball is to accurately predict which arms will operate in the 9th inning for a club. There are locks with guys like Mariano Rivera, Jonathan Papelbon and Brian Wilson, but a good deal of teams either (a) don't really know who their 9th inning arm will be or (b) don't really have an arm that is capable of handling the role for the duration of the season. That situation has never been more acute than early in the 2011 season.
The Rays said they would roll with a committee to start the year, but Kyle Farnsworth is getting all the 9th inning work.
The Jays had a bunch of guys get hurt making the situation even more muddled. For now, Jon Rauch and Frank Francisco are likely to get work in the 9th.
The Orioles say Kevin Gregg is their closer, but Koji Uehara is lurking.
The Twins started the year with Joe Nathan in the 9th, but he struggled. Matt Capps is currently their arm of choice at the end of games.
The White Sox opened the year with Matt Thornton. Unfortunately he had the worst 5-game stretch of his career opening up the year. Jesse Crain and Chris Sale have struggled at times, so now it appears Sergio Santos might get a look.
The Rangers have lost Neftali Feliz to the DL leaving things, apparently, in the hands of Darren Oliver. He has four saves in 602 career appearances.
The Mariners seem ready to demote the successful Brandon League with David Aardsma almost ready to return from hip surgery.
The Phillies started with Brad Lidge who was hurt. They then moved on to Jose Contreras who was hurt. Looks like option #3 is Ryan Madson.
The Nationals started the year giving the ball to Sean Burnett, but he really isn't a closer. Drew Storen, the club's closer of the future, has looked great and it appears that he is now the man.
The Braves were going to split work between Craig Kimbrel and Johnny Venters, but it's been all Kimbrel so far.
The Cardinals watched Ryan Franklin implode, repeatedly, before turning over the ninth to hard throwing, but inexperienced, Mitchell Boggs.
And it goes on and on, and we are talking about three weeks of games folks.
The point should be obvious – drafting relievers because of the roles they hold, and not based on the skills that they posses, is fraught with danger. Think of it. Of the 30 teams in the game a third of them have already switched things around in the ninth inning. And we see this every year. Put yourself back into your time machine and set the dial for March, 2010. Look at the following names who likely weren't even drafted at all, or if they were selected it was only as a late round, shot in the dark, type of gamble in the last round.
Leo Nunez – 30 saves John Axford – 24 saves John Rauch – 20 saves Alfredo Simon – 17 saves Juan Gutierrez – 15 saves Koji Uehara – 13 saves Hong-Chih Kuo – 10 saves
There are arms every year that come totally out of nowhere – i.e. from the waiver-wire – to produce solid and sometimes difference making saves totals. 2011 will be no different pointing out, yet again, why you don't always have to jump into the closer run on draft day. Just think if you passed on all the top closers this year and were astute about which middle relievers to roster at the end of the draft. It's eminently conceivable that you could have ended up with Brian Fuentes (six saves), Jose Contreras (five saves), Brandon League (five saves) and Mitchell Boggs (three saves) on your roster. If you had done that you'd have rostered 19 saves for virtually nothing. What type of odds would you lay right now that 19 saves is similar to the totals you'll likely get from guys like Andrew Bailey and David Aardsma this season?
In the end I think we need a new system to evaluate relievers. The way the system is currently set up rewards luck. Were you the first to run to the waiver wire to add Contreras when Lidge was hurt? Did you drop a quarter of your FAAB budget on Contreras only to see him come down with an injury? Were you smart enough to also add Ryan Madson? What about a guy like Mike Adams who has out pitched them all (0.82 ERA, 0.18 WHIP, 9.00 K/BB) but one who's really not posting any fantasy value to speak of in a mixed league cause he has no saves?
My solution? I propose the fantasy game goes with Solds, a topic I discussed a year ago in Around the Horn, April 14, 2010. It's not a perfect solution, but at least it's a start.
By Ray Flowers
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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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