Strategy room: Fishing for saves
One of the common misconceptions when it comes to closers is that their lack of innings renders their ratio contributions to be insignificant. Sorry gang, but that is simply not the case. Today, we will crunch some numbers in an effort to aid those who remain obstinate and are looking to add some saves to their roster. We will quantify the positive impact in the saves category and compare that to the potential negative effect on ratios, wins and strikeouts. We will set up a several scenario and add closers of varying quality to an existing staff and then prorate the numbers out and compare the final results to historical standings to quantify the impact of the closer.
Let us start with a standard mixed format with 12 teams. Let us also be very generous and suggest you pick up a closer right now from the free agent pool who ends the season with 25 saves. If you do not have any other closers on your squad and end the season with 25 saves, you probably have earned yourself one point as there is likely someone who went the entire season with nary a save. If you have a closer or two on your roster and are on a pace for about 35-50 saves, the addition of 25 saves could net you as many as 4 or 5 points, depending on the distribution of saves in your league.
In order to add the closer, you need to replace a present pitcher. Let us say you are replacing a low end starter, projected for about 10 wins and 130 strikeouts, typical numbers for a back end rotation guy in this format. Using a closer is likely going to cost you 7 or 8 wins and 50 to 60 strikeouts. While it clearly depends on your league, on the average, wins in 12-team mixed are closely bunched, so a difference of 8 is going to cost you 4 or 5 points. The 50 strikeouts will cost you another 2 or 3.
Looking at the plus/minus to this point, if you are not presently carrying any closers, you are down 5 to 7 points. If you are looking to add a second or third source of saves, you are only down 2 or 3.
Now let is factor in the ratios. For the sake of this exercise, we will put your team on a pace to finish in the middle of the pack with respect to ratios; back out a lower starter and add in the numbers of a top closer and one typically found as a free agent. The starter we replace would have contributed an ERA of 4.80 with a WHIP of 1.45 over 120 innings. A very good closer with an ERA of 3.00 and WHIP of 1.10 over 50 innings would probably net you 2 or 3 points in each category. A lower tier one spinning an ERA of 4.30 with a WHIP of 1.35 may get you 1 or 2 points in each.
Summing it up, if you presently do not have any saves, even trading for a very solid closer and replacing a very poor starter is going to result in your breaking even as a best case scenario. And considering you are going to have to deal away something of substance to acquire a very good closer, you likely have incurred a net loss. If you are adding a second or third closer, the outlook is a bit more favorable as a solid closer will get you 2 or 3 points. Now you have to factor in the cost of acquisition to determine if it is worthwhile in the big picture.
If you are picking up a lower tier closer, you are going to lose points if he is your only source of saves and basically break even if he is joining 1 or 2 others. In fact, if you are solely looking to replace an underperforming starter, you would be better off choosing a top-notch set up man as the points you gain in ratios surpasses those you would get in saves.
If this computation is done using analogous numbers in standard American League or National League-only formats, picking up a closer is a bit more fruitful as the assistance garnered from the ratios is more significant as you are likely replacing a starter of worse quality with the same level closer, so the net effect of losing the poor starter innings is greater. The difference is 1 or 2 points in both ERA and WHIP, so even picking up a lower tier closer will earn you positive results. And since there are fewer closers available in a single league format, you have the potential to pick up more points in the saves category itself. In a single league finding a closer off the waiver wire can net you 5 or 6 roto-points, which usually equates to at least one point in the standings.
It is important to stress at this point the above is not meant to be an argument for or against your draft strategy with respect to handling saves. Though a similar process of number crunching can reveal the potential points of a closer when designing your Opening Day roster. The purpose of this in-season exercise is to point out that a closer has ancillary contributions that must be considered. These vary between league formats and most importantly, are subject to the categorical distribution within your specific league.
Before we close, something else to keep in mind is the above utilizes a best case scenario to do the math. With so many of your competitors looking for saves, you are by no means assured of being able to pick up a 30-save guy with the 4.30 ERA and 1.35 WHIP. Maybe he gets fewer saves or worse ratios. This just adds to the risk and is another factor when deciding your in-season direction.