by Howard Bender
We've all done it. We've all done it a thousand times in life, I'm sure. You think about something, rationalize every aspect, make a plan, but instead of executing, you zig when you should have zagged. Call it a brain cramp, a brain fart, a cerebral speed bump, whatever. You get right to that moment of truth, and rather than go with everything you had already set in stone in your mind, you go the other way. It's a classic blunder that makes a land war in Asia look like nothing. Well, that's what I did with the closers this year, and I'm regrettign every bit of it right now.
Usually....well not even usually.....always, I am a proponent of using a decent draft choice and grabbing a top closer. After that, I'll only wait a few rounds more before grabbing another one. Maybe he's not tops, but he's still in the top 15. Some people think I'm crazy, but to be perfectly honest, those that do are usually behind me in the final standings.
Those are the people that tell you that closers are nothing more than a one category player. They'll get you saves, but they don't help you anywhere else. These people will also tell you that because of that, you can just find cheap saves all over the place. When they're picking late they're going for unproven guys like Brandon Morrow and Joel Hanrahan and then they troll the middle-relief pool and latch onto guys like Jensen Lewis, Kip Wells, LaTroy Hawkins and Chris Ray.
Sure, there are some guys that do actually pan out like Scott Downs and Ryan Franklin, but even they don't have the security of the big time closer -- the Joe Nathans and the Mariano Riveras and the Jonathan Papelbons. Franklin could still slump and lose the job to Jason Motte or Chris Perez and Downs still has B.J. Ryan looking over his shoulder. Not to mention, for every one of these guys that does supplant the incumbent closer, there are 20 that don't.
So look where this kind of strategy leaves you. You've got guys that could blow up with one pitch and I've got guys who are so good, you know their entrance music and they're not even on your team. You've got 0.2 IP with 2 H, 3 ER, 2 BB and I've got 1 IP with 2K, 0 ER and a save. You've got the jitters and I've got the fantasy baseball equivalent of a Snuggie.
A closer brings a lot more to your team than you think. Aside from saves, you're also getting tremendous help on your WHIP and ERA. You don't notice it as much until you really examine the impact of 70 innings with a 1.50 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP. Not every fantasy team is loaded up with 200 inning guys. Hell, not every team is loaded up with 150 inning guys. If you can go back and look at your previous fantasy teams, take a look at how much each pitcher contributed to your team. Between roster moves, trades and playing the matchups, how many innings did your pitchers really give you?
I'm sure the numbers fluctuate a lot more than you think. You'll have a couple of guys that gave you 180-200 innings, but I'm sure you've got plenty that kicked in maybe 80-100, if they were performing well enough to warrant the roster spot. Just think if you had that closer in there kicking in 70 innings of quality ball. Your ratios from your elite closers end up fixing the disasters some of your starters created when they're not at their best -- Scott Kazmir's recent 4 innings with 7 ER just to name one. Without that balance, those shellings that every pitcher takes at some point or another hurt even more. And what's worse is that those ratios are some of the hardest to fix without killing yourself elsewhere.
But even after knowing all of that...even after years of doing it my way, what did I do this year? I went cheap on the closers. I went after the cheap saves in my auctions and waited until the 16th round to get my first closer. I'm sitting with Jason Motte and Jensen Lewis in one league. I own Brandon Morrow in another. And my best closer, Joakim Soria, whom I held over in my primary keeper league? Hurt with no one worthwhile to do his job. Sure, I've got Juan Cruz and Fernando Rodney, but really? Is that where I want to be? No. Definitely not.
Now my ratios aren't destroyed...well, atleast not yet. But they ain't good. They're in a spot where I'm looking to unload for some better starting pitching help, and I hate having to do that. No one's giving me Tim Lincecum or Johan Santana for what I'm looking to trade off my team. I have to look down a tier or two for that. Either that or start trading off one of my studs and see if maybe I can sniff a top tier starter -- and I hate doing that even more.
Take my word for it here. Do NOT dismiss the closer. They are an invaluable part of the fantasy success of your rotation. You get a nice little bump in strikeouts, and your ratios will be tight. The "cheap saves later" concept is only a viable option if you're willing to eventually forget about saves altogether and punt the category. And that, I will NEVER recommend.
Do the right thing next time. Let the brain cramp pass before making your decision. Swat away the air around that brain fart. Zig when you're supposed to zig and take that closer like you should. You'll be a much happier fantasy player in the end.
Looking for more thoughts on closers? How about some help with choosing off the waiver wire? Well check out what's going on over at RotoBuzz.com and help yourself win a championship.
Howard Bender is a freelance fantasy sports writer and champion in both rotisserie and head to head leagues. For questions, thoughts or comments you can email him at Howard.Rotobuzz@yahoo.com.