RELIEVERS: Buying/selling closers in the NL

This week, this column looks at relief pitchers active on USA Today's LABR-NL teams (12 team, 5x5, NL-only). Here are the teams:

                Sv  Pts  Closers/Quasi-closers
=============== == ====  ============================  
Karabell        39 11.5  Melancon, Ziegler 
Van Riper       39 11.5  Ramos, McGee (DL) 
Radomski        36 10    Jeffress, Rosenthal/Siegrist
Gardner         28  8.5  Familia
Walton          28  8.5  Rodney, Vizcaino
Moyer           25  7    Casilla, Cingrani
Colton/Wolf     23  6    K.Jansen
Del Don         21  5    Kelley/Papelbon
Melnick         19  4    J.Gomez
Carty           16  3    Rondon, Estevez
Dennis           6  2    Oh
Ambrosius/Childs 2  1    -

Obviously, a team needs closers to get more than a handful of saves. Equally obviously, these are not all the rostered relievers on these LABR teams, there are plenty of others as well who may get saves down the road. However, this is a good starting point to examine whether any of these teams should be thinking about buying or selling a closer. Everyone handles these kinds of analysis differently—this is just your humble columnist's way of examining this market.


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First, each team has a plus/minus in points based on a plus/minus in saves relative to current position. If my favorite team, (currently with 6 saves if you are wondering which team that is), buys a closer worth 13 saves over the balance of the season, 6 + 13 = 19 saves and it seems unlikely to gain any points in the standings. That team, of course, could lose a point to the Ambrosius/Childs team. So the overall plus/minus for the Dennis team is 1. If we systematically look at this plus/minus as adding/subtracting, it looks something like this:

                Sv +/-  Closers                    
=============== == ===  =========================  
Karabell        39  2   Melancon, Ziegler          
Van Riper       39  2   Ramos, McGee (DL)          
Radomski        36  2   Jeffress, Rosenthal/Siegrist  
Gardner         28  4   Familia                    
Walton          28  4   Rodney, Vizcaino           
Moyer           25  5   Casilla, Cingrani          
Colton/Wolf     23  5   K.Jansen                   
Del Don         21  5   Kelley/Papelbon            
Melnick         19  4   J.Gomez                    
Carty           16  2   Rondon, Estevez            
Dennis           6  1   Oh                          
Ambrosius/Childs 2  1   - 

Teams that have a plus/minus of 4 or 5 have a much greater incentive to buy a closer (or own at least own two), and those with a 2 or 1 have less incentive and can sell a closer (or at least own one fewer). For fair value (of course!). So using this blunt instrument, Gardner, Colton/Wolf, Del Don and Melnick should be buyers and Karabell, Carty (and possibly Van Riper and Radomski down the road) should be sellers.

Here is a relative look at the value of these closers going forward, using current BaseballHQ.com projections:

proj.              Sv  IP xERA WHIP  DOM  CMD HR/9  G/F  BPV  $
================   ==  == ==== ==== ==== ==== ==== ===== === ==
K.Jansen (LA)      23  31 2.65 0.84 12.8  7.3  0.9 34/49 195 26
Melancon (PIT)     22  39 3.20 0.97  7.9  4.3  0.5 53/25 122 24
Familia (NYM)      23  39 3.11 1.15  9.0  3.3  0.5 60/22 125 23
Rondon (CHC)       22  31 2.93 0.97  9.9  4.9  0.6 49/30 150 23
Ramos (MIA)        20  39 3.74 1.15 10.6  2.3  0.7 41/39  85 18
Casilla (SF)       22  23 3.44 1.22  9.4  3.0  0.8 52/29 115 17
Oh (STL)           13  39 3.53 1.05  9.0  3.6  0.9 45/37 116 17 quasi
Papelbon (WAS)     19  31 3.87 1.10  7.8  3.9  0.9 43/40 107 16 [DL]
Ziegler (ARI)      19  31 3.56 1.13  5.5  2.1  0.6 68/15  75 16 
Vizcaino (ATL)     17  39 3.53 1.26 10.6  3.1  0.5 41/35 117 16
Rodney (SD)        19  31 3.62 1.19  9.0  2.4  0.6 53/28  91 15
Jeffress (MIL)     16  27 3.47 1.30  8.0  2.7  0.7 57/18  98 13
McGee (COL) (L)    16  27 3.60 1.15  9.7  4.1  1.0 40/42 129 13 [DL]
Siegrist (STL) (L)  6  39 3.85 1.10 10.2  2.9  0.9 33/48 100 11 quasi
Kelley (WAS)        4  39 3.31 1.10 11.1  4.0  0.7 38/42 141 11 quasi
J.Gomez (PHI)      12  39 4.26 1.26  5.8  2.5  0.9 50/29  69  8
Rosenthal (STL)     5  35 3.57 1.40 11.3  2.6  0.3 46/33 110  6 out
Cingrani (CIN)     13  35 4.76 1.46  9.0  1.8  1.0 37/41  38  4
C.Estevez (COL)     3  12 4.18 1.50  8.3  3.7  0.8 43/37 109 -5

One can debate the relative values and projections, but using these in conjunction with our buyers and sellers list, Karabell should expect to get something valued slightly above Brad Ziegler's (RHP, ARI) projected $16 because of the premium buyers on the list should pay for the incremental leap in points. Carty, on the other hand, will have to find a gambler to give him value on Carlos Estevez (RHP, COL) which BHQ has valued at $-5. Carty could, of course, sell Hector Rondon (RHP, CHC), valued at $23, but it will be difficult to bring back that premium for a player valued so highly.

Players who are "quasi-closers" or who are currently on the DL or who are still around but recently lost the closer role likely won't bring a premium at all. This is due to the risk involved. Owners don't want to trade for a $13 closer only to find he doesn't come back or if he does, doesn't get to save games. Buyers should be asking Karabell for Ziegler and gamblers can look to Van Riper for Jake McGee (LHP, COL) or Carty for Estevez.

Obviously, the other side of the equation is critical. Someone asking for Ziegler had better come to Karabell with something he needs in another category. These are the decisions that teams have to make at this time of year. Otherwise, their competitors will get the jump on deals—and the incremental points needed to win in tight races. Too often, teams near the top wait too long to make a deal in June/July and get passed up in August/September.

Shifting gears, notice that there are three Cardinals on the list. That is because Trevor Rosenthal (RHP, STL) was finally removed from the closer role. Rather than go to one reliever, the Cardinals mentioned a match-up approach with Kevin Siegrist (LHP, STL) and Seung Hwan Oh (RHP, STL). Here is how these three compare in the projections:

STL                Sv  IP xERA WHIP  DOM  CMD HR/9  G/F  BPV  $
================   ==  == ==== ==== ==== ==== ==== ===== === ==
Oh (STL)           13  39 3.53 1.05  9.0  3.6  0.9 45/37 116 17
Siegrist (STL) (L)  6  39 3.85 1.10 10.2  2.9  0.9 33/48 100 11
Rosenthal (STL)     5  35 3.57 1.40 11.3  2.6  0.3 46/33 110  6

All three relievers have value, according to the projections, but Oh is the reliever to own for now. With skill sets this close, usage decisions can change at any time. Here, Rosenthal had a tough streak, but his prior season performance demonstrates that he can turn it around quickly once he regains his command.

Next week, this column looks at the BHQ projections at the season's half-way mark.


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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.