As we roll on into fantasy baseball draft season us fantasy baseball players all across the land are perfecting our strategies, looking for sleepers, etcetera, etcetera. One common mantra among many a fantasy baseball participants is to not pay for saves and I for one believe in that wholeheartedly. Every major league team will have a closer, maybe two or three, come opening day, but how many will you really trust going into the upcoming season? More than 10? Maybe. I guess it depends on what you are trusting them to do. Obviously the biggest role for the closer in the realm of fantasy baseball is getting saves on a somewhat consistent basis. More or less, I would argue that a good fantasy closer is one that hangs onto that role for the full season, so let us start there. How many closers do you think will keep the closer role from start to finish?
It’s not really something I really thought much about in previous seasons as in many leagues I don’t draft a closer at all, but rather, pick some closers in waiting and keep my fingers crossed. Ryan Cook and Greg Holland were just a couple of guys I had on rosters last season, while I waited for them to become their teams closer, basically punting the saves category for a good portion of the season. It is by no means a foolproof strategy, clearly, and it’s hard to stick by. Predicting which closers will lose their jobs at some point in the season is by no means an easy endeavor. While advanced stats are not necessarily directly going to help your fantasy season, per se, they are our best way to gain some suspicions on what’s to come. I mean few, if any, leagues are going to use FIP or SIERA as direct statistics, we need to use said stats to extrapolate information to predict the future of a player, kind of like playing the stock market, if you will. But we’ll come back to that in a little bit, so sit tight. Back to how many closers you may trust to keep their closer roles for a full season. Half, maybe? Perhaps two-thirds of the closers? And of those how many would you say are dominant, absolutely reliably consistent closers? Half of them, if that? So what’s my point? My point is, the reason you don’t pay for closers is having an elite closer is not only hard to get, but hard to project. I would say maybe five to seven closers will be consistently great in 2013, and for a position with such a high rate of turnover, you’re better off trying to find those saves on the cheap later on in your draft. It is the position that can be the biggest crap shoot in fantasy baseball. Just ask 2012 Jose Valverde owners.
In 2011, Jose Valverde was the closer du jour for a good part of the season on a team that made the playoffs. Valverde put up 49 saves, blowing no save opportunities, while posting a 2.24 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP. A monster season to be sure. But I was suspicious of Valverde’s future. His FIP was 3.55 and he coupled that with a very low BABIP of .247. Now, after looking through several relievers’ numbers, the BABIP is not super concerning. Most closers seem to have low numbers in that regard. As for the FIP, well, that is something I read a bit more into. It is impressive to some degree to not blow any saves, but I think many may agree that there could be a good deal of luck involved for such a feat. That 3.55 FIP especially points to some luck for Jose in 2011. Not to toot my own horn too much, but I was very adamant that Valverde was headed for a decline and was a closer I would be avoiding come draft day 2012 and low and behold, what happened? Valverde ended up becoming so unreliable he lost that closer role in the biggest, most high stakes portion of the Tigers season. But was he really much worse than in 2011?
We already saw that Valverde’s 2011 FIP was over a run higher than his actual ERA, pointing to an eventual ERA regression. In 2012 Valverde regressed in that ever so precious fantasy baseball statistic, posting a 3.78 ERA and, as I mentioned, eventually losing the closer title for the Tigers’ playoff run. The interesting thing here though, is his FIP in 2012 was 3.62, not far from his 2011 number in that very same category. I am by no means a Valverde fan and in fact, I have been the complete opposite, downplaying his “greatness” to a large degree over the past few seasons. Right now, Valverde is a free agent and is being penalized for pitching as he should have been pitching, more or less, all along. Well, to some degree, as I am not going to get into the monetary ramifications, but obviously they play a large role as well. So, am I saying that when, not if, but when, Valverde finds a landing spot, he will become a sleeper fantasy closer no 2013? Is he a guy you should draft with a good feeling that he may fall back into a closer role in 2013? Well, let’s slow it down there a bit.
You see, the ERA should drop a tad and since not much will be expected of him, I guess you could consider him a sleeper candidate, in that regard. There’s no saying he can’t get a large dose of luck and save 50 games, but the likelihood of that happening is, well, not great. But the real reason I would not label him a sleeper in the closer capacity is a pesky little stat I have neglected to talk about thus far, his K/9 numbers. Say what you will about Jose Valverde, there was always the chance for good fantasy numbers in the past, because he could strike batters out at a good rate. Valverde’s K/9 has been 8.59 or higher every season of his career…until 2012. In 2012 Valverde’s K/9 plummeted to a terribly low 6.26 a two batter drop from 2011. Now if you had been following Valverde’s career numbers, and really I guess there would not be much of a reason for you to do so, you would have noticed that his K/9 rate has been slowly dropping every season since 2007. But the drop from 2011 to 2012 was a huge red flag, which probably means his days of closing in the major leagues are numbered.
Does Valverde deserve to be on a major league roster in 2013? I think so. Does Valverde belong on a fantasy baseball roster? Maybe, but not as number one closer, that is for darned sure. In my humble opinion, Valverde is still hands off, but as far as fantasy standards are concerned, if he gets signed he could have a shot at some saves, but looking for him to top 20, would be highly optimistic. So when draft day arrives, in case you were thinking Valverde is a sleeper and could magically put up his 2011 numbers, heed my warning and steer clear. It is best to just let undrafted Valverdes lie.