StrategyMarch 3, 2009

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Use the Rules: Closers (Part 2)

By Drew Szczerba

Last week, I talked about how closers are impacted by both the number teams in a given league as well as the number of closers per team. Today, I’d like to discuss a few other rules and how they might influence closer values.

Some of the most important things to consider when determining player values are the specific categories in which you will need to compete. Although many leagues still have traditional 5×5 scoring, I’d argue that there is no such thing as a “standard league.” League formats are becoming increasingly varied and those differences can affect value. As categories are added or removed, closers will likely see the greatest fluctuations in their worth. This is because they are generally the only players that are drafted primarily for just one category. Although closers do contribute in ERA, WHIP, wins, and strikeouts, they are drafted for saves. Relief pitchers do not pitch nearly as many innings as starters over the course of a season. Consequently, their impact on non-save categories is diluted. This is why while Jonathan Papelbon’s 1.00 WHIP is merely helpful, while Johan Santana’s is golden.

Since closers are drafted predominately for saves, it makes sense that their values would go up as non-save categories were removed. Similarly, if categories are added, closer values go down. In a 4×4 league, pitchers compete in just four categories (get to the point, I know). Usually, either strikeouts or WHIP is removed from traditional 5×5 settings. Even though closers will no longer contribute in these areas, their values go up because saves is now one of only four pitching categories. This is an important distinction and it can have a substantial impact player value. In most cases, I’d be willing to spend an extra $5 or $6, or make a move two rounds earlier for some of the better closers.

Perhaps more common than a 4×4 league is a 6×6 league in which a category such as complete games (CG) or quality starts (QS) is added to traditional 5×5 settings. In these leagues, closers are devalued because saves now represent one of six categories. Furthermore, complete games and quality starts are categories that relievers can not obtain. At least with conventional non-save categories (i.e. wins), a relief pitcher can contribute even though it is not why he was drafted.

The last part of this discussion on closer valuation deals with the rarest of birds: the SP-eligible closer. These endangered species look to fend off extinction in 2009 with names like Villanueva, Kuo, Sarfate, Bennett, and Masterson. They will likely be SP-eligible in your league, and even though none of them will begin the season as the closer, all could see saves this year. Should any of them get a chance to close, it will be important to know whether or not you need to make a quick roster move.

So what is an SP-eligible closer worth? More importantly, how much additional value does the “SP-eligible” part provide? Depending on your league rules, a lot, a little, or nothing at all.

Now that I’ve gone out on a limb, let’s examine the type of situation where an advantage can be obtained. SP-eligible closers provide additional value when the number of total closers started in a given league is held below an optimal level due to format constraints. An SP-eligible closer is usually most valuable when he is your third closer and everyone else can only start two. Here, you have a clear advantage as you can quickly make up ground in the saves category.

SP-eligible closers are weakened by weekly transaction leagues. This is because you have to sacrifice a starter to get them in the lineup. In a daily transaction league, you get the benefit of the additional closer without sacrificing the number of starts provided by your rotation.

Certain league settings can turn SP-eligible closers into nothing more than ordinary closers. Leagues that include flex spots for pitchers are often an example of this. An SP-eligible closer is no longer unique in such a format so his value is significantly diminished. Another example would be a 12-team league in which teams are permitted to start three closers. Here, the total number of closers needed (36) exceeds the number of closers available (30). It is more than likely that your SP-eligible closer will be slotted in your lineup as a regular “RP” because you probably won’t have more than three closers on your team.

The final point I’ll make regarding SP-eligible closers is that people tend to have widely differing opinions as to their true worth. This means there could be someone in your league who severely overvalues them. If he or she is willing to overpay, don’t hesitate to better your team in other areas.

This wraps up a look at how your league rules will greatly affect how you should value closers when preparing for your draft. And don’t forget that coming this season, the Cafe will be featuring a thought-provoking lineup of weekly columns! In one column, we’ll break down the bullpens in flux and tell you which setup men you save-chasers should target. Happy drafting!

Drew is a born Yankees fan who, not surprisingly, doesn’t particularly care for the Red Sox or Mets. He does, however, have a soft spot in his heart for most small market franchises. He gets an uneasy feeling every time the Yankees overpay for latest big name, and fears they may someday begin to acquire whole teams. Drew has been playing both fantasy baseball and football for 10 years. You can catch up with Drew in the Cafe's forums where he posts under the name Case Ace.
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