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Fantasy Baseball Closers Strategy

Senior Fantasy Baseball Expert Shawn Childs explains his approach to relief pitchers and saves!

Wins may be the most difficult part of the game to figure out, but closers are the most frustrating. On draft day, I have a tough time using a high draft pick on them. I also hate chasing closers and closers-in-waiting around on the free agent market. The last couple of years in the high-stakes games I’ve tried to cheat saves. At times, it can work, but many times a weakness will cost me a bench spot which hurts my team in other areas. If you cheat saves, and you are wrong, you need to roster more inventory to increase your chances of finding the next closer to earn a job.  

In the NFBC, you need about 85 to 90 saves on the year (about 3.5 saves per week). The best teams will use seven starters and two closers. If you fall behind in saves, you are forced to use a third closer to make up ground. It can work as long as you are in the right position in wins and Ks.

Closers can make an impact in multiple ways – Saves, Ks, ERA, and WHIP.  At times, they can be a difference maker in wins. A great example of a five-category closer was Craig Kimbrel. His 2013 season should be my goal when I’m looking for a No. 1 closer. He saved 50 games with four wins, 1.21 ERA, 0.881 WHIP, and 98 Ks. One of my goals is to find 150 Ks from my two closers. If you can find two players with this skill set at the right price, you will beat most teams at the back end of your pitching staff. In today's game, we see a rise in possible closers that have the ability to get 100+ Ks.

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It’s hard to project wins from a closer, but some closers get a chance to pitch in tie games. Maybe the goal should be 45 saves and wins combined. As I mentioned earlier, I've cheated saves the past couple of years. This year I want to find one plus closer.

There are so many question marks this year at the closer position, which will allow some Fantasy owners to get out in saves by cheating saves. This allows Fantasy owner to gain an edge on offense or starting pitching. To me, it’s all about price point. Saves have gradually moved back in the high-stakes market. Even with that, you have to decide if your SP2 is more important than an elite closer. Most teams will draft two starters inside the first seven rounds. The question comes down to will a plus closer slide far enough to fit your plan or does your draft structure allow you to take a third pitcher in the first eight rounds? For most teams, they won’t look at the second tier closers until rounds 10 or 11.

If you decide to cheat saves, you are at the mercy of the inventory, “Beggars can’t be choosers.” At some point, saves become more valuable than skill set.  

In the past, I’ve drafted the player I’ve thought had the better skills set. I’ve learned over past couple of years; the player with the best skill set doesn’t always end up with the job in the 9th inning. Most of the time a manager chooses a player with the most experience. The key is drafting the right player. If you are wrong, you just gave away a pick. I’m not a fan of doubling up in one bullpen if both players are getting some respect unless the second option can be had in the late rounds.

The cloudier the situation, the more risk/reward. This allows all players to be discounted to a point. When we get closer to the season, we will have a better idea of the favorites to win closing jobs. At the same time, that player could have a short lease.

As I go through the closer inventory, I’m trying to identify the best options. At the same time, I need to understand the draft flow. I want to minimize my risk (giving away picks) and maximize my opportunity.

When I’m ranking these players, Ks are a big factor for me. Save opportunities are important, but it is sometimes difficult to predict. We have seen closers from poor teams match closers from top teams many times. I ranked the top closers as the players whom I think have the best chance of keeping their job plus K ability. The second half of the closers are ranked with upside in mind. Some have job security risk, but I like their opportunity.

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