Everyone knows the names of Trevor Hoffman, Billy Wagner and Mariano Rivera and the dominating runs they have had in the 9th inning…
You’re forgiven if you are reading this in a bit of a fog. After all, if you weren’t at least a little hazzy then you didn’t rock it all night in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, and that would be a shame. Since you’re likely not 100 percent focused, I thought I would launch into a discussion of sabermetrics today. I’m just kidding. I’ll try to keep things fairly straight forward today since I don’t want anyone to have to run for a pot of coffee after my article caused a headache.
Earlier this week I talked about Starting Pitching in Ready For The Journey Fantasy Baseball 2011: Therefore, it only seemed natural for me to talk about relief pitching today.
ACE RELIEVERS FEW AND FAR BETWEEN
Everyone knows the names of Trevor Hoffman, Billy Wagner and Mariano Rivera and the dominating runs they have had in the 9th inning. Of course only one of these ace closers is still pitching while the other two have ridden off into the sunset. Honestly, we’ve been spoiled by their greatness at the end of games to the point that some people fail to understand just how volatile the 9th inning can be. Some examples of the volatility follow.
How about we use the simple number of 20 as the baseline for a quick review of relievers.
29 relievers had 20 saves last year.
20 relievers had 20 saves each of the last two years.
12 relievers had 20 saves each of the last three years.
Eight relievers had 20 saves each of the last four years.
Six relievers had 20 saves each of the last four years.
If we up the mark to 30 there have only been five relievers who have hit that baseline each of the past three years. Face it folks, saves come from a myriad of sources and consistency is elusive at best. It’s not like 20 is a big number either, so I didn’t exactly set the bar very high.
Let’s go back a few years. Here a top-10 list of closers entering the 2008 season.
Heading into 2011…
Putz is trying to reestablish himself after arm injuries.
Papelbon is coming off his worst season.
Nathan is coming back from Tommy John surgery.
Cordero had a 7.31 K/9 last year, almost two batters below his career mark.
Rivera, well, he’s still a star.
Jenks is now a setup man for the Red Sox.
Lidge is all over the map ‚Äď as usual.
Valverde has produced only 51 saves the last two years.
Street is successful ‚Äď when healthy.
Wagner is retired.
The point should be clear: the position is wrought with peril. One of the main reasons for that is the fickle nature of managers. Too often managers are trigger happy and start panicking when their closer tosses back-to-back poor games. The temptation to yank a guy from the role is always present, especially because when a closer blows the game the team often loses (compared to a reliever stinking up the 7th inning which still leaves his team two frames to try and catch up).
Another issue is the fact that clubs often want to have a ‚Äúveteran‚ÄĚ work the 9th inning. What this means is that frequently teams deploy their best reliever, skills wise, in the 8th inning leaving the 9th to the ‚Äúveteran‚ÄĚ closer. Look no further than Philadelphia where Charlie Manuel continues to turn to Brad Lidge in the 9th even when there is little debate that Ryan Madson is the better pitcher. Just take a look at their numbers the last three years.
B.Lidge: 3.99 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 10.62 K/9, 2.20 K/BB
Madson: 3.00 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 8.83 K/9, 3.60 K/BB
Seems pretty obvious, if we are talking about skills, who the better hurler has been in recent times. Still, Madson continues to work in the 8th inning.
Given the uncertainty of how managers choose which hurlers to use in the ninth inning, coupled with the fickle nature of the role, how should you go about targeting relievers to draft for your squad in fantasy baseball. I’ve got a few tips for you.
Make sure you are looking at the right skills when you draft. Don’t pull a ‚Äúrookie‚ÄĚ mistake and look only at ERA and saves. That’s the surest way to come out at the bottom of the dog pile. ERA and saves are, traditionally, a very poor way to attempt to understand the value of pitchers. What measures should you look at when discussing relievers and their ability to help aide your fantasy squad in the coming season? I’d suggest a couple of categories.
First, a pitcher’s K/9 rate. A reliever comes into the game needing to get outs while limiting hits. The best way to accomplish that is to simply not let batters put the ball in play.
Second, a pitcher can’t come into a game and start issuing free passes. Therefore, keeping the walks in control is essential.
Third, pitchers that are fly ball prone generally don’t make the best late inning targets. A homer in the 9th inning can lose a game, while guys that keep the ball on the ground will likely have to give up multiple hits to allow a team to come back.
What are the actual numbers you should target when you are looking at relievers? For more on that give¬† How To Evaluate Relievers a read.
One last note. Which pitching line would you prefer?
Pitcher A: 15 wins, 2.88 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 230 Ks in 225.1 innings
Pitcher B: 21 wins, 2.44 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 219 Ks in 250.2 innings
Pitcher B is Roy Halladay.
Pitcher A is Luke Gregerson, Matt Belisle and Arthur Rhodes.
Keep this in mind ‚Äď rostering the right relievers can net you a bounty of production that could match the production of some of the elite talents in the starting pitching game, so choose those bullpen arms wisely.
There was a great article written by Seth Livingstone of USA Today this week about Young Closers . Here are some of the highlights of that piece.
(1) Only one pitcher in the top-35 for career saves posted more than 12 saves as a rookie ‚Äď Todd Worrell in 1986 had 36.
(2) Only one reliever in the top-10 all-time in saves had 12 saves in his rookie season, and that was Rollie Fingers in 1969.
(3) There have been 14 rookies who have recorded at least 20 saves in a season since 1995.
(4) Seven rookies have recorded 20 saves in a season in the last six years which seemingly signals that clubs are more willing to give youngsters a shot in the 9th. Still, you would be advised that history doesn’t support the belief held by many that youngsters like Craig Kimbrel and Drew Storen will have big save seasons in 2011.
Ray Flowers can be heard daily on Sirius/XM Radio on The Fantasy Drive, 5-8 PM Eastern, on Sirius 211 and XM 147. Ray’s baseball analysis can be found at baseballguys.com and his minute to minute musings can be located at the twitter.com/BaseballGuys.
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