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2012 Fantasy Baseball Closer Analysis: Yankees, Marlins, Cubs, Angels and More

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Saves are stupid. 

This insanely flawed statistic repeatedly causes managers to misuse their relievers.  A team’s best bullpen arm is often its closer which means the team’s best reliever will often protect a three run lead in the 9th as opposed to pitching in higher leverage situation like a tie ball game in the 7th.  And as fantasy owners the statistic forces us to roster guys who aren’t very good pitchers like Chris Perez (96.5% owned) and Brett Myers (91.5%) while studs like Alexi Ogando (10.5%) and Addison Reed (8.2%) sit on the wire.

Until the day when one of the major fantasy sites offers net shutdowns/meltdowns (explanation here) as a category option, we’re going to have to keep chasing down the Brett Myers’ of the world.  And it was a crazy day for closers, so there’s lots of chasing to be done at the moment.  Here is a look at a few teams with a spotty closer situation at the moment and how I think it shakes out.

New York Yankees

While shagging fly balls during BP before Thursday’s game, Mariano Rivera had to be carted off the field with an apparent knee injury.  Some early reports say he just twisted it while others say he was in serious pain.  While we wait on the results of an MRI, there is plenty of speculation to be done.  The Yanks have two potential substitute closers out in the pen in David Robertson and Rafael Soriano.

UPDATE 5/3/12 8:40 PM: According to Joe Girardi, preliminary reports indicate Mariano Rivera indeed tore the ACL in his right knee. The best closer of all time will miss the rest of the 2012 season.

Robertson is an excellent pitcher.  In just over 200 IP since 2009, Robertson has a 2.79 SIERA with a 12.71 K/9 and a 4.61 BB/9, good for a K/BB over 2.50.  In eleven innings so far this year, he’s been great with 18 strikeouts and just three walks.  Soriano, on the other hand, used to be an excellent pitcher but was never as good as Robertson is now.  And since signing with the Yankees last year, he has been less-than-effective and injured. 

But I still think Soriano gets the first shot at saves because of one pair of numbers:  $15,000,000 and $1,600,000.  The first is Soriano’s salary for the year and the second is Robertson’s.  They’re paying Soriano closer money, so I’m betting the egos that overruled Cashman when they signed him overrule him again and give Soriano the first shot.

Miami Marlins

Heath Bell....WHOOF!  Bell has just been brutal so far this season.  In 7.2 IP he has an 11.74 ERA (7.70xFIP), 5.87 K/9, and ugly 9.39 BB/9.  The dirty little secret is that he wasn’t an elite version of Heath Bell last year.  He posted 40+ saves for the third straight year with a sub-3.00 ERA, but he got some BABIP and strand rate luck leaving him with a 3.67 xFIP.  And his swinging strike rate dipped from over 10% to around league average at 8.3%.  This year his swinging strike rate is at 4.7%, his velocity is down across the board, and he’s essentially a fastball-cutter only guy.

It’s entirely possible, if not likely, that the Marlins keep running him out there in the 9th for now.  After all, they did just give him $27MM this offseason, and it hasn’t even been ten innings yet.  But the numbers certainly indicate that Bell’s effectiveness may be in steep decline.  So if you’re speculating for saves around here, Steve Cishek and Edward Mujica are the names to watch.  Mujica got the save today, but both Bell and Cishek were unavailable.  This was only Mujica’s third save in over 300 innings, so he may not be the guy.  Cishek is younger and has the more powerful arm, so my money is on him if Bell loses his job.  He’s better against righties, but still serviceable against lefties, and can rack up the Ks more so than Mujica.

Chicago Cubs

Carlos Marmol has faced 47 batters in 2012 and has walked 12 of them.  If you’re bad at math, that’s more than 25%!  His career BB/9 is almost 6.00, so maybe it’s time someone else closed in Chicago.

Initially I thought Kerry Wood would end up being the guy, but apparently Dale Sveum is considering James Russell and Rafael Dolis for the job.  When that news hit Twitter, the consensus seemed to be that Dolis would be the first choice.  But Dolis wasn’t great in the minors and is having trouble striking out more guys than he walks in the majors.  James Russell has all of zero saves at any level and hasn’t been great in his first couple of seasons, so neither guy is an attractive option.

Unless you’re in a league deep enough so that saves are at a premium, you shouldn’t be adding either of these guys.  If it’s a mixed league it probably needs to be 16 teams or larger before you consider either, and they’re obviously worth taking a shot on in NL-only leagues.  The same could pretty much be said about Cishek since Bell’s role isn’t quite as shaky as MarmoLOL’s at the moment.  If you’re absolutely desperate for saves in a shallow mixed roto league, take a shot on Cishek only if you have deep enough benches or an easily droppable player (pass altogether in H2H formats).

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

I despise Mike Scioscia.  Nothing made me happier than when he traded away Mike Napoli and kept Bobby Wilson (.189 average in 111 AB in 2011).  His decision to replace Jordan Walden as the closer after four innings this season wasn’t quite as egregious, but two wrongs don’t make a right.

Scioscia gave the job to veteran Scott Downs.  Don’t get me wrong, Downs is a perfectly fine pitcher.  He’s an elite groundball pitcher (63% last year) with good control.  But he doesn’t have the swing-and-miss stuff we usually see in closers (~7.0% SwStr% last two years).  And his recent success (63 IP between 2011-12) has been somewhat luck-fueled.  His BABIP over that span is .215 and only eleven of the 62 baserunners he has allowed have come around to score (82% LOB%).  He can continue to have better-than-league-average numbers in those categories because of the high groundball rate, but the luck is going to even out quite a bit.

More importantly, Walden is a good pitcher.  He had a 2.98 ERA (3.01 SIERA) last year while striking out essentially ten batters per nine innings (12.4% SwStr%) and walking less than four per nine.  Those are the numbers we’re used to seeing from a closer.  So I have to believe that Walden will get the job back sooner rather than later.  If you own him, sit tight unless you absolutely can’t waste the roster spot in a shallower league.  If someone dropped him, grab him if you can.  And like Dolis/Russell/Cishek, Downs should be added in deeper mixed leagues (14+ teams), AL-only leagues, and in shallower mixed leagues only by those desperate for saves in a roto format.

Written by Brett Talley exclusively for thefantasyfix.com.  Brett is a law student in Dallas who is severely depressed about taking his last law school final exam today.  He liked being supported by a combination of his parents and the government for the last 25 years.  You can tell him to go make something of himself and/or ask him for fantasy advice on Twitter @therealTAL.

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