Closers may not win your fantasy league, but they sure will destroy it quickly, especially in a points league. The combination of lost points for blowing a save, earned runs, a loss, hits/walks will result in a potential week killing outing. I’ve been the beneficiary of this circumstance on multiple occasions and I do everything I can to avoid high risk failures. It’s better to coast along with a stable RP than risk your season going after a ticking time bomb. However, I’ve noticed that most high save totals have more to do with chance than anything because it results from the team being put into a save situation, rather than anything the RP actually does. The best team in the league may have a limited number of save opportunities because they’re winning by more than 3 runs most of the time for example. Because of this, I choose to target RP who have shown a stable skillset including a high K/9, a low BB/9 and a higher GB%. The Achilles heel for any RP is giving up any runs, so by limiting free passes, striking out batters to prevent runners from advancing and keeping the ball in the ballpark, you’ll have a reasonable chance of success. Then it just comes down to being put into a save situation.
The following three players are closers who have demonstrated red flags in the previous season and who I’ll be avoiding as a result.
A closer who finished 2016 with 40 saves looks like he would typically be a sure thing. However, a deeper look into his statistics from last year point to a pitcher who was erratic and lucky. Ramos walks almost 5 per 9 innings, putting himself into danger more often than not. As your little league coach would always say, you need to “make them earn it” by hitting their way on base. Not only did Ramos allow a lot of runners on base due to his inaccuracy, he is not a ground ball pitcher. His 36.4% GB rate limits his ability to get double plays and the possibility of giving up a home run. To that point, his most alarming figure is his 1.6% HR/FB rate. This number is incredibly low and is due to regress back to the mean. When that happens, more runners will be scoring and as a RP, that will result in more blown saves, losses and negative points.
Prediction: 29 Saves, 6 Blown Saves, 3.89 ERA
The Pirates have enjoyed a steady period with a succession of effective closers. After Grilli and Melancon, Watson ascended to the closer role last year after Melancon was traded to Washington at the deadline. A terrific set-up man, Watson was effective at getting the ball to the closer and have them finish the game. However, looking at his stats, there are numerous concerns for his 2017 prospects. Watson is not a power pitcher by any means with a 7.71 K/9, resulting in more outs that can move runners over into scoring position. Further, his high left on base percentage (LOB%) show that when those runners did get on base, he was able to strand them at a slightly lucky rate. His inability to strike out batters at a high rate will result in many of those runners advancing and scoring, leading to more blown saves and losses moving forward.
Prediction: 33 Saves, 5 Blown Saves, 3.67 ERA
K-Rod has seemingly been around for ages, and his statistics have shown a trend in a downward fashion that may be due to his age. With a severely declining K/9, an equally alarming rise in his BB/9 and the fact that he’s entering the 2017 season as a 35 year old, father time may be catching up to him. His 44 saves is something that simply can’t be relied on anymore. His ERA jumped over a full run from 2015, and his FIP and xFIP both corroborate the data that it was warranted. Will he be able to regain his strikeout power? His K/9 has dropped from 10.41 in 2013 to 8.02 in 2016 while his BB/9 has gone from 2.70 in 2013 to 3.24 in 2016 (with a minor renaissance in 2015 of 1.74 seemingly the outlier). Signs point to a further regression and at such a volatile position, do you want to be left holding the bag when it finally hits?
Prediction: 34 Saves, 8 Blown Saves, 3.71 ERA