Fantasy baseball — The best strategies for drafting closers

MLB


We’re still more than a month away from the start of the MLB season … so how do you approach drafting bullpen arms at this time of year?

Tristan H. Cockcroft: As would be the case with any position, the further ahead of Opening Day that we’re drafting, the more heavily I’m weighing the “skills over roles” axiom when it comes to relief pitchers. It’s simply a more pronounced strategy at that position compared to others, even if that seems odd because fantasy value is more role-oriented there than at any other position.

Saves are the easiest category to fill after the draft, when the least is known about who will be getting them — more saves still up for grabs means more will likely land in the free-agent pool. And the downside of drafting an ordinary (read: no ERA/WHIP/K’s help) reliever who winds up in middle relief, providing you no value whatsoever, is simply too scary at this early stage.

In short, this is a time during draft season when I’m going to pass up Fernando Rodney and his inconsistency and history of poor ratio support, instead grabbing Addison Reed, who has superior skills, in the much-later rounds.

It’s a time when I’ll take a chance on Archie Bradley, the most talented of the Arizona Diamondbacks‘ top three closer challengers, or even David Robertson, hoping that maybe the New York Yankees will need to shed his salary in a trade to stay under the luxury-tax threshold.

And I’ll be more apt to pass on Luke Gregerson, the St. Louis Cardinals‘ de facto closer, and Kelvin Herrera, whose skills declined sharply in 2017.

Worst-case: If I end up with no saves coming out of the draft, any saves “dart throws” I took that missed would just end up being my first cuts for the eventual winners of these spring closer battles.

Eric Karabell: In ESPN standard formats, I likely don’t deal with bullpen uncertainty at all. These are shallow leagues, and saves will always be available on free agency in April, May and beyond.

I think, for example, that Los Angeles Angels manager Mike Scioscia, wily veteran that he is, will eventually settle on right-hander Blake Parker, who pitched so well in numerous roles last season — including the ninth-inning role — so I might spend a pick in the final round or two on Parker. I probably will not, though, because I do not see much upside there.

After all, don’t we know by this point that nearly a third of closer roles for Opening Day — and we are still a month from that point — will change?

So I am more likely to use precious bench spots on upside options for other statistical categories in case they make their respective MLB rosters or their situation becomes more positive during spring training.

For example, top outfield prospects Ronald Acuna and Victor Robles seem like better initial investments than Parker, Miami Marlins right-hander Brad Ziegler and Texas Rangers lefty Alex Claudio. Same with Tampa Bay Rays right-hander Brent Honeywell and St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Alex Reyes.

In deeper formats where it might be tougher to secure saves during the season, then I will likely bypass the top-100 closers — I always do — and take four or five lesser relief pitchers with the hope a few perform well and secure roles.

I like Parker. I think Parker, Bradley and a few others who are off the radar, like Milwaukee Brewers right-hander Corey Knebel a year ago this time, can actually be top-10 closers if the opportunity presents itself. But still, we are talking about late draft selections here, after a deep roster of hitters and rotation depth is secured.

AJ Mass: It’s all about job security when it comes to closers, whose value in category-based formats is almost completely tied to how many saves they can give a fantasy manager. So, while the ideal scenario would be to actually know the results of the many spring battles for that ninth-inning role as possible, when time is not on your side, for many teams, you’ll simply have to make your best guess.

Obviously, established relievers like Kenley Jansen, Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman are very unlikely to lose their jobs and are, hence, “safe.” Similarly, Wade Davis didn’t get a $52 million contract to pitch in long relief. In cases like his and that of Rodney, follow the money.

For the rest of the bunch, I’d play the “follow the leader” game. If someone picks Mark Melancon, I’ll grab Sam Dyson. If Jeurys Familia gets drafted, I’ll pounce on AJ Ramos. For one thing, the more “lottery tickets” I draft in this fashion, the more chances I have that at least one of these closer competitors will come out on top come April. Plus, say my Carl Edwards Jr. ends up as the Cubs’ go-to guy. That opens a big door for me to call the guy who put all of his eggs into Brandon Morrow‘s basket and name my price.

Kyle Soppe: The necessary evil of forecasting bullpen usage is nothing short of a pain — and often a game-changer. If I’m drafting today, I’m making a run at, but not reaching for, one of the six top closers.

From Jansen to Ken Giles, if value presents itself, I’ll happily lock in the few “safe” saves on the board and piece together the rest, knowing that I have an edge on at least a handful of teams, given the stability. But if you decide to pass on the top options, my philosophy is pretty simple: go for talent or resume.

The thought with the talent angle is that, at the bare minimum, you’re supporting your ratios while you wait for a role to present itself (the Bradley approach). The resume idea is more of a short-term plan, hoping that loyal managers look in the past to determine who they hand the ball to in the ninth (the Melancon-rebound approach).

I prefer the Bradley approach, as there is less risk involved, but it is important to understand that you are not the only manager struggling to secure saves (29 players had 15-plus saves last season, but only 10 had more than 30), and that this category is often decided during the season.



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