Fantasy baseball Draft Strategies: Take a cheap option for a closer

Friday March 7th, 2014

Craig Kimbrel may be the No. 1 closer, but it's not worth drafting him with even a moderately high pick.
Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

Fantasy baseball 2014 draft prep: Player rankings, position primers, burning questions and more

Fantasy football veterans know that at some point during the draft, someone is going to proclaim a pick as the "worst pick of the draft," or even the ignominious "worst pick ever." It's going to happen, we all know it. We've all probably said it at one time or another, and we've all likely had the accusation lobbed at us, as well. It's a silly, trite thing to say, but hey, it's fun to talk trash, too.

There's seemingly no way to quantify the worst pick in the draft, especially as the arbiter of all picks good and bad is making the claim. Sure, you could go back through your draft picks at the end of the season and determine at least the short list for the worst pick, but by that point no one will remember who said which pick was the worst. Again, it's an insult that might get a few laughs and start a short debate, but it will be forgotten in a matter of minutes.

For those of you who are interested, though, there is a nearly sure-fire way to determine the worst pick in your draft. No, you don't need a complex algorithm or fancy piece of software to determine it in real time. In fact, it should be so obvious that it leaps off the draft board or your computer screen. If you still need more help, it will look something like this.

Craig Kimbrel, RP, Atlanta Braves.

That's not a knock on Kimbrel specifically. It's actually something of a compliment, given that it means he's the No. 1 closer in the league. But therein lies the answer to the whole "worst pick" conundrum. The worst pick in nearly every fantasy baseball draft is the first closer off the board. Unless your league has a dramatically depressed closer market, he will almost certainly go too early, thus canceling out most of the value he generates by being the best closer. In the third installment of our Draft Strategies series, we look at why there isn't any sense in paying for saves.

GONOS: A deeper look at the notoriously volatile closer position

Last year at this time, Koji Uehara was a total afterthought in the fantasy community. Seemingly no more than a setup man in Boston, Uehara's average draft position was outside the top 400. Then, he went on to have one of the most remarkable seasons for a relief pitcher ever, posting a 1.09 ERA with 21 saves, a 0.57 WHIP and 101 saves in 74.1 innings. He finished as the No. 2 closer in fantasy leagues.

At the same time, 2,300 miles to the west, Greg Holland was in his first spring training as the Royals' closer. He took over the job during the 2012 season, saving 16 games with a 2.96 ERA while striking out nearly 1.5 batters per inning. His impressive strikeout rate made him well-known to fantasy owners, but there were still 13 closers coming off the board before him in the average draft. I'm sure you remember how Holland's season unfolded. He was third in the majors with 47 saves, had a 1.21 ERA, 0.87 WHIP and 103 strikeouts in 67 innings. He finished as the No. 3 closer in fantasy leagues.

Yes, I realize this is just one season and surely we cannot draw such a conclusion from one season. Well, here's some historical data. In 2012, Fernando Rodney was not among the first 450 players selected in an average fantasy draft. He ended up going a perfect 48-for-48 in save opportunities, put up a 0.60 ERA, 0.78 WHIP and 76 strikeouts in 74 innings. Jim Johnson had an ADP of 180 in 2012. He ended up leading the league with 51 saves while amassing a 2.49 ERA and 1.02 WHIP. Ernesto Frieri was slumming it with Rodney outside the top 450. He rode his blazing fastball to 23 saves, a 2.32 ERA and 98 strikeouts in 68.2 innings.

JAFFE: Booms and busts -- relief pitchers

There are not just good surprises at the position, either. The No. 4 closer by ADP last year was Jason Motte. An elbow injury cost him the entire season. J.J. Putz and John Axford were each among the top-10 closers in many drafts last season. They combined for six saves, and Axford suffered the worst closer meltdown of 2013.

From Matt Capps in 2010 to Jeremy Accardo in 2007 to Joe Borowski in 2003, there are always cheap options on whom to make a huge profit at the closer position. Don't use a pick on Kimbrel or Aroldis Chapman when guys like Starling Marte and Wil Myers (in the case of Kimbrel), or Josh Donaldson and Gio Gonzalez (in the case of Chapman) are still sitting there in average drafts. You don't want to make the worst pick of the draft, do you?

Fantasy Baseball Draft Strategy Series:

Strategy 1. Draft a first baseman in the early rounds
Strategy 2. Wait until middle rounds to draft starting pitchers
Strategy 3. Take a cheap option for a closer

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