(*) NFBC: Finding Value in Closers is Never Easy
When the Houston Astros announced on February 28 that Brett Myers (RHP, HOU) would be their new closer, it showed just how fluid the closer’s role can be. Here you had a No. 3 starting pitcher with minimal value suddenly becoming a game-changer. It proves that really anyone can be put in that role at any time.
Let’s all admit this fact right now: No one saw this move coming. Certainly not fantasy baseball owners, who study rotations and bullpens religiously. In the NFBC, Myers had an Average Draft Position (ADP) of 335 and he ranked 87th among all starting pitchers. Now he has to move into the Top 180 overall and among the Top 25 closers. He suddenly has value when before he had very little.
That’s how it works with closers. Today’s stars are tomorrow’s bums and vice versa. It’s easily the most fluid and frustrating position in fantasy baseball.
For further proof, look at last year’s closers. The top closer in 2011 was Carlos Marmol (RHP, CHC). I know, a bad memory that we’d all like to forget. But he wasn’t alone. Only five of the Top 10 closers selected last year are back in the Top 10 this year and some of them—Neftali Feliz and Francisco Rodriguez—aren’t even closers anymore.
The best closer of 2011, in fact, was the 18th closer picked on Draft Day. Craig Kimbrel (RHP, ATL) is easily the top closer to get in 2012 and yet he went 164th overall last year. This year his ADP is 66 and the next closer being selected in NFBC drafts is Mariano Rivera (RHP, NYY) at 97. That’s a huge gap and one we certainly haven’t seen among the top two closers in a while. Kimbrel’s MLB best 46 saves, 127 strikeouts and 2.10 ERA are all very impressive from his Rookie of the Year season, but can we trust any good closer to repeat that type of performance?
Outside of Kimbrel going so high, there’s very little change in the value of closers from 2011 to 2012. NFBC owners used to take closers in the Top 60 5 or 6 years ago, but no more. They’ve been burned enough to stay away until around Pick 100. Only Kimbrel (66th), Rivera (97) and Jonathan Papelbon (98) are now going in the Top 100 overall. After that, you can mix and match 20 closers in the next 75 picks and half of them will probably fail.
Let’s take a look at the Top 25 closers being drafted in the NFBC and their ADPs:
Name ADP ====================== Craig Kimbrel 66 Mariano Rivera 97 Jonathan Papelbon 98 John Axford 108 Drew Storen 109 Heath Bell 118 JJ Putz 129 Jose Valverde 131 Joel Hanrahan 132 Brian Wilson 134 Joakim Soria 136 Ryan Madson 137 Andrew Bailey 141 Sergio Santos 144 Jordan Walden 150 Jason Motte 156 Carlos Marmol 163 Brandon League 165 Huston Street 168 Joe Nathan 169 Chris Perez 170 Kenley Jansen 171 Kyle Farnsworth 177 Rafael Betancourt 181 Frank Francisco 200
This list looks nothing like last year’s closer list, but then we should be used to that. The names and numbers change every year, except for Rivera. He’s been the one constant at this position, but at age 42 he could be staring at his last season in pinstripes. Here were last year’s Top 20 closers:
Name ADP ====================== Marmol 81 Bell 87 Soria 88 Wilson 90 Feliz 95 Rivera 101 Papelbon 110 Frncsco Rodriguez 120 Axford 121 Matt Thornton 135 Perez 136 Jonathan Broxton 138 Valverde 142 Street 145 Nathan 155 Bailey 158 Putz 160 Kimbrell 164 Francisco Cordero 168 Ryan Franklin 174
Interestingly, the high picks this year were the value picks from 2011. Drew Storen (RHP, WAS) was picked 186th overall last year and is now in the Top 110. The same value was found with Hanrahan (180 last year), Putz (160), Madson (317), Santos (677), Walden (420), Motte (394) and Jansen (472).
Is there similar value this year? It’s always possible. Addison Reed (RHP, CHW) is going 260th overall and outside of the Top 30 among closers, yet he could easily unseat Matt Thornton (LHP, CHW) at some point as Chicago’s new closer. The Dodgers may start out the season with a bullpen-by-committee, but Jansen looks like the one to get ahead of Javy Guerra (RHP, LA) (252). You get skills and value with Jansen.
Betancourt is an unknown in his new role, but he seems to have the fastball to lock down saves in Colorado and he’s being drafted 24th among closers. In Oakland, Brian Fuentes (LHP, OAK) and Joey Devine (RHP, OAK) are fighting for that job and one of them could be a bargain pickup.
In the NFBC, it’s impossible to win the $100,000 grand prize by punting saves, so you must find value in closers. Value can be found in the likes of Jansen, Walden, Motte, Betancourt and Reed. The smart money would say to grab a top closer and one of these lower value picks, but one can also grab two of these lower-tier closers and add someone like Reed later.
If you’re looking for real big sleepers, closers who could emerge after Opening Day, don’t lose sight of Broxton in Kansas City, or even Francisco Rodriguez. The Brewers will be trying to deal him all year and some team may need a mid-season closer. Also keep an eye on Vinnie Pestano (RHP, CLE), who could start the year as Cleveland’s closer while Chris Perez (RHP, CLE) recovers from an oblique injury. He throws hard, has experience in this role and could keep the job if he starts out hot. You just never know.
It’s a gamble play on my part to avoid the top closers, but then every time you pick a closer it’s a gamble. With any luck, you’ll own a bad starter like Myers who suddenly becomes a semi-valuable closer. Those are the type of breaks we all need every season.
(Greg Ambrosius is the founder of the National Fantasy Baseball Championship and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association Hall of Fame and the Fantasy Sports Trade Association’s Hall of Fame. For more information on the NFBC, contact him at email@example.com or go to nfbc.stats.com).