So-called fantasy expert: Rash of blown saves opens closer market
When was the last time you had your mind blown? Was it when the Geico Cavemen notched their own TV show? Was it when Julia Roberts married Lyle Lovett? Was it when you realized British people say "th" like a "v," ordering "smoovies" instead of "smoothies"?
Through Tuesday night, there were 88 different players who had blown a save. There was a total of 118 blown saves among those 88 different pitchers. There were 24 players with more than one blown save this season. Thirteen percent of all games this season had a blown save in them.
Maybe I should change my original question to, when was the last time you had your saves blown?
I'm going to go out on a statistical limb here and say this is going to be the worst year for closers in baseball history (and possibly forever).
Teams have played an average of 30 games so far this season, with 132 left to go (that means they've played about 18.5 percent of their games). Major League teams averaged 19 blown saves last year, 18 in '10, 20 in '09, 22 in '08, 20 in '07, 21 in '06, 19 in '05, 21 in '04, 19 in '03, and 19 in '02. So in the past 10 complete seasons, teams averaged 19.8 blown saves in a full season.
This year, teams are on pace for 21.6 blown saves this season -- the most since '08, and the second-most in more than 10 years (and possibly much longer). In '08, 244 different pitchers blew a save. We're well ahead of that pace now, but it's tough to extrapolate that number. Amazingly, 2.9 pitchers per team have already blown a save, through less than one-fifth of the season, compared to 8.1 over a full season in '08.
The following closers were drafted in a 21-round, 12-team, head-to-head experts league that drafted in mid-March of this year (in order of selection): Craig Kimbrel, John Axford, Heath Bell, Jonathan Papelbon, Drew Storen, Mariano Rivera, Brian Wilson, J.J. Putz, Ryan Madson, Sergio Santos, Jose Valverde, Andrew Bailey, Joakim Soria, Joel Hanrahan, Joe Nathan, Jordan Walden, Carlos Marmol, Rafael Betancourt, Kyle Farnsworth, Jason Motte, Brandon League, Chris Perez, Matt Capps, Huston Street and Frank Francisco.
That's 25 relief pitchers with assured jobs as closers, who weren't fighting for a job or moving into the rotation. In that draft, Grant Balfour, Javy Guerra, Jim Johnson and Brett Myers were the only undrafted closers -- and three of those four still have the job, and all four are among the top 10 in saves! Chris Sale was also drafted, although he only recently got the closer gig.
Bell and Walden can be counted among the demoted group of closers, while Bailey, Farnsworth, Madson, Rivera, Santos, Soria, Storen, Street and Wilson are sidelined with injuries. Scott Downs (knee), who took over for Walden in Anaheim, is also out with an injury. And then there's Hector Santiago of the White Sox, who gained and lost the job over the past few weeks.
The current closers that went undrafted are: Alfredo Aceves, Jonathan Broxton, Santiago Casilla, Steve Cishek, Francisco Cordero, Rafael Dolis, Ernesto Frieri, Kenley Jansen, Sean Marshall, David Robertson, Fernando Rodney and Henry Rodriguez. And we still have four-fifths of the season to go!
Interestingly, the Rockies lead the majors with eight blown saves, yet Betancourt has been one of the most reliable closers (just one blown save). The Phillies had just eight blown saves all last season!
In the Tout Wars Mixed League (15 teams, Rotisserie), new closers have been all the rage during the FAAB process each week. Over the past five transactional periods, the following players have been the most expensive free-agent pickups each week: Rafael Soriano ($28), Downs, $27), Bryan Shaw $10), Casilla ($24), and Santiago ($26). All five players were relievers and of the four that were drafted as closers, their average price was $26 -- more than one quarter of the total budget we're allowed for free agents!
Needless to say, I'm showing you all of these stats because I can't remember seeing anything like this so early in the season in my 17 years of fantasy baseball play.
With so many star closers sidelined, about half of last year's save leaders are either injured, demoted, in rotations or still living in the Dominican Republic because they forgot what their name really was (Juan Oviedo/Leo Nunez).
My fear is that with all the star closers hurt or in the middle innings trying to figure things out, we're going to have a continually churning pool of relievers that get a shot in the ninth, only to end up folding under the pressure. Then they'll be replaced by yet another untested reliever who ends up folding, and the cycle will speed up until we end up with almost 300 pitchers with at least one blown save by season's end.
But Davey, you ask, what can I do in
First, don't call me Davey, I hate that. Second, here's what you can do -- if you have more than five reserve spots, start picking up these demoted closers and stashing them. You really think the Angels won't go back to Walden at some point? Or on the other side of L.A., won't the Dodgers end up giving Guerra (who was red-hot to start the season) another chance in the ninth? Miami paid Bell too much to have him pitch in the middle innings.
Also, if you own some of the current shaky closers, like Aceves, Balfour, Broxton, Valverde, Casilla, Francisco and even Rodney (what happens when Farnsworth comes back?), consider trading them to teams desperate for saves in exchange for help elsewhere.
If you own a stud closer, like Papelbon and Kimbrel, consider trading them midseason, once you've a) picked up their backups, and b) picked up a good amount of saves.
And finally, if you own pitchers that are playing above their heads, like Jim Johnson and Chris Perez, trade them now before the bottom falls out. Do you really expect the Indians and Orioles to be leading their divisions at the end of September? The wins are going to start thinning out soon, as will their save opportunities.
Experts admonish fantasy owners every spring to not pay big for closers -- yet, even we can't even help ourselves. (I spent $7 on Steve Cishek Monday!) Closers are a mixed bag -- and many times, you end up throwing that bag in the trash.