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Are Closers Worth It?: Are Closers Worth It?

Chris Liss

Chris Liss

Chris Liss is RotoWire's Managing Editor and Host of RotoWIre Fantasy Sports Today on Sirius XM radio.

Jeff Erickson

Jeff Erickson

Jeff Erickson is a co-founder of RotoWire.com and the only two-time winner of Baseball Writer of the Year from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. He roots for the Reds, Bengals, Red Wings, Pacers and Northwestern University (the real NU).

In the RotoWire Staff League draft this year, I made a pretty grave mistake that's already coming back to haunt me. It's an 18-team, 5x5 auction keeper league, with owners capable of keeping up to 15 major leaguers and as many as 10 minor leaguers. Inflation runs rampant in the auction each year, so the top few closers not kept usually go for $30-plus dollars, and J.J. Putz went for $33 earlier in that auction. So later on I brought up Francisco Rodriguez, intending to drive some dollars off the table. It quickly went to $28 and I bid $29, thinking he'd easily go over $30, given the cost of Putz. Try again - I got caught price enforcing and landed him for the $29.


That in-and-of itself isn't the end of the world. K-Rod is a fine closer - clearly one of the elite, and one of the most consistent closers in the game, though well short of Mariano Rivera in terms of long-term reliability. Our friend Will Carroll from Baseball Prospectus has been worried about his mechanics and likelihood of getting hurt for years, but his statistical indicators have been nearly flawless. He has struck out over 12 batters per nine innings each of the last four years, posted a sub 3.00 ERA each of those years, and even lowered his HR rate last year. So while he blew up my auction budget, at least I got a good player out of it. I'd either get good stats all year, or have a good trade chit to help rebuild my team.


But then I saw him pitch in person on Saturday, grinding out the save against the Rangers. His fastball topped out at 90 mph, and he wasn't overpowering anyone. Then I saw the reports about his ankles hurting him, and then of course Monday's horrific outing against the Indians. Maybe an extended rest will help him heal, and allow him to get his velocity back. But I was already queasy about paying full freight for him, and now I've got a full-on case of buyer's remorse.


On the bright side, there are plenty of other closers that I don't have that already have problems. Jose Valverde blew the save last night and has allowed at least a run in all three outings. J.J. Putz is already hurt, and his injury seems like it could last more than the minimum 15 days. Meanwhile, the Mariners' options to replace him are a mess, in part because they were willing to throw in George Sherrill in the Erik Bedard deal (and how happy must they be to see Bedard already having some physical problems, albeit minor ones). Chad Cordero is already on the DL and might be there for a while. Joe Borowski had one of his signature blowup outings last night, punishing the owners who opted to go the discount route at closer with him (even though he rarely came at too great of a discount, given his skill set). And, of course, Trevor Hoffman lost another game on Sunday.


So, to tie this all together, I have a few questions for you. Are closers worth it? Sure, there are guys that pan out, and sometimes they'll earn their money, but as a general rule, they're almost always overvalued in auctions and drafts. When we do our projections and dollar values, the "earn" values always fall well short of the "bid" values, both at the elite level and among the lower tier. Which closers are you willing to pay full price for, and which ones (besides those already hurt) would you avoid for the cost?


Also, do you already have buyer's remorse on (besides Julio Lugo, whom we've discussed) after a week's worth of games? What can you do about it?


----Original Message-----
From: Christopher Liss
Sent: Tuesday, April 9, 2008 1:25 am
To: jeff@rotowire.com
Subject: Re: Charging

One guy you can never go wrong with, knock on wood, is Mariano Rivera. No one ever lost a league by drafting Rivera. And for some reason despite tremendous peripherals he slipped a bit in drafts this season. There aren't that many great closers year after year. K-Rod was actually one of them, along with Nathan, and I'm pretty sold on Jon Papelbon. But there have been plenty of closers who are lights out for a year or two like Brad Lidge and B.J. Ryan, but then get hurt or have their skills slip.

It's the same with setup guys - Octavio Dotel in 2003, Arthur Rhodes in Seattle, Scott Linebrink for a couple years in San Diego, Mike Remlinger in Atlanta for a few years - they all faded after a couple big seasons. And starters are even worse. Jason Schmidt, Chris Carpenter, Mark Prior, Kevin Millwood, Barry Zito, Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson - they all had their couple years as stars, then dropped off or got hurt. There aren't too many pitchers of any kind who are great year after year.

But the odd thing about closers is that they can still have value even when they're not pitching that well - Joe Borowski and Todd Jones being two examples - so long as they keep their jobs. So when you pay for a closer, you're paying for the job as much as the player. In the case of K-Rod, you're paying $10 for the peripherals and $19 for the job. But it's complicated because the peripherals to a large extent are what give the player job security along with tenure, the good graces of management, health and luck. So there's more volatility because when a closer goes south, he doesn't just put up bad numbers for three weeks - he loses the possibility of ever putting up the saves you paid for. You don't usually run into that problem with starters because you don't really pay extra for a spot in the rotation. So there's not this other terrible thing that can happen when he gets shelled for a couple starts. Starters can get hurt, but top ones can't really lose the job in a way that's semi-permanent so long as they're healthy. Even Zito still has his job.

I'm not sure whether that means you should pay a premium for the durable guys with long term track records in addition to the peripherals or whether you should skimp and try to pick up saves on the cheap. But you probably shouldn't assume that a guy who had elite peripherals last year will necessarily repeat it because you're taking on a lot of risk. Better to gamble and get a Joakim Soria on the relative cheap.

Speaking of which I have buyer's remorse already on Chad Cordero who I paid $15 for in our Staff League which has heavy inflation. (Think $10 in an NL only league). It seemed like a good value at the time, but then he got hurt, and I'm not confident that he'll stay healthy when he comes back. His peripherals were already slipping, but I thought he might survive based on tenure, so long as luck was somewhat on his side. We talked about Pedro Martinez last week and also Trevor Hoffman, who I'm not ready to throw under the bus yet. A couple bad outings, a bad patch last year, but if he's healthy, the Padres are going to have a hard time running him out of town. He could be this year's Borowski.

Anyone else? I shouldn't have paid $14 for Travis Buck in LABR - thank God he got a couple hits finally, but I meant to get Joey Gathright late, and that panic bid cost me Gathright and better end game pitchers. Finally, I got into a bidding war on Jeremy Bonderman in the Staff League because he wa


One guy you can never go wrong with, knock on wood, is Mariano Rivera. No one ever lost a league by drafting Rivera. And for some reason despite tremendous peripherals he slipped a bit in drafts this season. There aren't that many great closers year after year. K-Rod was actually one of them, along with Nathan, and I'm pretty sold on Jon Papelbon. But there have been plenty of closers who are lights out for a year or two like Brad Lidge and B.J. Ryan, but then get hurt or have their skills slip.


It's the same with setup guys - Octavio Dotel in 2003, Arthur Rhodes in Seattle, Scott Linebrink for a couple years in San Diego, Mike Remlinger in Atlanta for a few years - they all faded after a couple big seasons. And starters are even worse. Jason Schmidt, Chris Carpenter, Mark Prior, Kevin Millwood, Barry Zito, Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson - they all had their couple years as stars, then dropped off or got hurt. There aren't too many pitchers of any kind who are great year after year.


But the odd thing about closers is that they can still have value even when they're not pitching that well - Joe Borowski and Todd Jones being two examples - so long as they keep their jobs. So when you pay for a closer, you're paying for the job as much as the player. In the case of K-Rod, you're paying $10 for the peripherals and $19 for the job. But it's complicated because the peripherals to a large extent are what give the player job security along with tenure, the good graces of management, health and luck. So there's more volatility because when a closer goes south, he doesn't just put up bad numbers for three weeks - he loses the possibility of ever putting up the saves you paid for. You don't usually run into that problem with starters because you don't really pay extra for a spot in the rotation. So there's not this other terrible thing that can happen when he gets shelled for a couple starts. Starters can get hurt, but top ones can't really lose the job in a way that's semi-permanent so long as they're healthy. Even Zito still has his job.


I'm not sure whether that means you should pay a premium for the durable guys with long term track records in addition to the peripherals or whether you should skimp and try to pick up saves on the cheap. But you probably shouldn't assume that a guy who had elite peripherals last year will necessarily repeat it because you're taking on a lot of risk. Better to gamble and get a Joakim Soria on the relative cheap.


Speaking of which I have buyer's remorse already on Chad Cordero who I paid $15 for in our Staff League which has heavy inflation. (Think $10 in an NL only league). It seemed like a good value at the time, but then he got hurt, and I'm not confident that he'll stay healthy when he comes back. His peripherals were already slipping, but I thought he might survive based on tenure, so long as luck was somewhat on his side. We talked about Pedro Martinez last week and also Trevor Hoffman, who I'm not ready to throw under the bus yet. A couple bad outings, a bad patch last year, but if he's healthy, the Padres are going to have a hard time running him out of town. He could be this year's Borowski.


Anyone else? I shouldn't have paid $14 for Travis Buck in LABR - thank God he got a couple hits finally, but I meant to get Joey Gathright late, and that panic bid cost me Gathright and better end game pitchers. Finally, I got into a bidding war on Jeremy Bonderman in the Staff League because he was the last starter with any star power left and paid $30 for him (inflation adjusted that's more like $19). Still, it was way too much, and I would have controlled the end game there had I not panicked due to the lack of starters left. Auctions are funny things - you really have to keep your cool. On the one hand, you don't want to bypass all the expensive players and leave money on the table, and on the other, you don't want to spend all your money and miss out on bargains in the end game. I was pretty cool and disciplined for most of the LABR and Staff League auctions, but for some reason made impulsive moves late, and squandered my end-game advantages.


Of course, we'll probably look back and laugh at this "buyer's remorse after one week" exchange at the end of the year. But in the interest of creating another list that we can look back and laugh at, who are some of the players you're thrilled to have so far? Mine are Kosuke Fukudome, Chris B. Young, Rivera, Derek Lowe, Johnny Cueto (of course) and Jermaine Dye. I didn't include Carlos Delgado because that would be gloating, and I don't want to jinx him.


-----Original Message-----
From: jeff@rotowire.com
Sent: April 9, 2008 5:00 pm
To: liss@rotowire.com
Subject: Charging

Man, I was really grouchy in that last post. I'm sure glad I didn't make any trades. I probably would have ended up trading K-Rod for Jason Marquis, in the name of consistency, or something similarly tilt-induced.

The more I think of it, buyer's remorse based on a week's results is pretty silly. Sure, immediate remorse on how it affected the draft, like you had with Buck or Bonderman, makes a lot more sense. Am I worried about K-Rod, or for that matter RotoWire poster child Chad Billingsley? Sure, but I should temper that reaction by looking more at the overall skill set, and not just two bad outings. I'm not going to invoke the overused metaphor that I've already pounded to death on the site and on my radio show, but I need to just the let the players play and not overreact to a slow start. And hope that Dusty Baker does the same with Edwin Encarnacion.

I like your concept that we talked about on your show, about players you regret not buying. Because despite playing in so many leagues, there are plenty of players I've touted yet not drafted for one reason or another. I could go down practically the entire Rays roster - they seem to be a trendy team this year, but in particular I didn't end up with B.J. Upton, James Shields or Carl Crawford anywhere. Upton is the biggest regret - batting fourth in that lineup is going to make him a monster. At least I got Justin Upton in one of my Scoresheet dynasty leagues. He's hurt right now, but Howie Kendrick could very well have a monster breakout season this year - we know that he'll hit for average, but it looked like he was going to run more too, if the first week is any indication. I didn't get my favorite third-tier catcher, Arizona's Chris Snyder. I don't have Tim Lincecum anywhere - even without the wins, I want what he's going to provide.

Some of the guys I'm stoked to own - Johnny Cueto is an obvious one. Not only do I get to benefit from what he's bringing to my roto team, but I get to be a homer for my Reds with him too. I did really well in my NL home league auction, where I came into it with at best second-tier keepers, but walked away with Fukudome and Pat Burrell at a point where there was a pretty steep drop-off in the hitting talent available, and also got a cheap Greg Maddux (speaking of guys that'll never lose a league for you). Getting Jeff Keppinger for $1 in the Staff League end game could end up working well, though that's going to tail off some when Alex Gonzalez returns.

Who else do you wish you owned on your teams, or owned more of?

----Original Message-----
From: Christopher Liss
Sent: Wednesday, April 9, 2008 6:00 pm
To: jeff@rotowire.com
Subject: Re: Charging

The guy I most wanted but didn't get was Justin Upton. I know he strikes out a lot, he's only 20 and only had 409 at-bats above A ball, but by all accounts this is a once-in-a-decade type talent, and sometimes you need to dispense with the usual caution. Albert Pujols ripped it up at age 21 in the majors, and so did Miguel Cabrera, so once in a while a player is good enough to hit right away.

I wanted to get Hanley Ramirez, but he wasn't available in my two auctions (kept in the staff league and my other one was AL LABR), and I didn't draft high enough in the other three. Kerry Wood, too - who I knew early on would be the Cubs closer when everyone was still falling over themselves to roster Carlos Marmol. Or course, the Cubs named him the closer before most of my drafts took place, and Scott Pianowski snagged him in the Yahoo Friends and Family League (Not sure if our Wood notes influenced him or not, but I know he reads RotoWire).

And it would be great if I could have Julio Lugo in every league - especially if throwing errors were a category.

Article first appeared 4/9/08


Man, I was really grouchy in that last post. I'm sure glad I didn't make any trades. I probably would have ended up trading K-Rod for Jason Marquis, in the name of consistency, or something similarly tilt-induced.


The more I think of it, buyer's remorse based on a week's results is pretty silly. Sure, immediate remorse on how it affected the draft, like you had with Buck or Bonderman, makes a lot more sense. Am I worried about K-Rod, or for that matter RotoWire poster child Chad Billingsley? Sure, but I should temper that reaction by looking more at the overall skill set, and not just two bad outings. I'm not going to invoke the overused metaphor that I've already pounded to death on the site and on my radio show, but I need to just the let the players play and not overreact to a slow start. And hope that Dusty Baker does the same with Edwin Encarnacion.


I like your concept that we talked about on your show, about players you regret not buying. Because despite playing in so many leagues, there are plenty of players I've touted yet not drafted for one reason or another. I could go down practically the entire Rays roster - they seem to be a trendy team this year, but in particular I didn't end up with B.J. Upton, James Shields or Carl Crawford anywhere. Upton is the biggest regret - batting fourth in that lineup is going to make him a monster. At least I got Justin Upton in one of my Scoresheet dynasty leagues. He's hurt right now, but Howie Kendrick could very well have a monster breakout season this year - we know that he'll hit for average, but it looked like he was going to run more too, if the first week is any indication. I didn't get my favorite third-tier catcher, Arizona's Chris Snyder. I don't have Tim Lincecum anywhere - even without the wins, I want what he's going to provide.


Some of the guys I'm stoked to own - Johnny Cueto is an obvious one. Not only do I get to benefit from what he's bringing to my roto team, but I get to be a homer for my Reds with him too. I did really well in my NL home league auction, where I came into it with at best second-tier keepers, but walked away with Fukudome and Pat Burrell at a point where there was a pretty steep drop-off in the hitting talent available, and also got a cheap Greg Maddux (speaking of guys that'll never lose a league for you). Getting Jeff Keppinger for $1 in the Staff League end game could end up working well, though that's going to tail off some when Alex Gonzalez returns.


Who else do you wish you owned on your teams, or owned more of?


----Original Message-----
From: Christopher Liss
Sent: Wednesday, April 9, 2008 6:00 pm
To: jeff@rotowire.com
Subject: Re: Charging

The guy I most wanted but didn't get was Justin Upton. I know he strikes out a lot, he's only 20 and only had 409 at-bats above A ball, but by all accounts this is a once-in-a-decade type talent, and sometimes you need to dispense with the usual caution. Albert Pujols ripped it up at age 21 in the majors, and so did Miguel Cabrera, so once in a while a player is good enough to hit right away.

I wanted to get Hanley Ramirez, but he wasn't available in my two auctions (kept in the staff league and my other one was AL LABR), and I didn't draft high enough in the other three. Kerry Wood, too - who I knew early on would be the Cubs closer when everyone was still falling over themselves to roster Carlos Marmol. Or course, the Cubs named him the closer before most of my drafts took place, and Scott Pianowski snagged him in the Yahoo Friends and Family League (Not sure if our Wood notes influenced him or not, but I know he reads RotoWire).

And it would be great if I could have Julio Lugo in every league - especially if throwing errors were a category.

Article first appeared 4/9/08



The guy I most wanted but didn't get was Justin Upton. I know he strikes out a lot, he's only 20 and only had 409 at-bats above A ball, but by all accounts this is a once-in-a-decade type talent, and sometimes you need to dispense with the usual caution. Albert Pujols ripped it up at age 21 in the majors, and so did Miguel Cabrera, so once in a while a player is good enough to hit right away.


I wanted to get Hanley Ramirez, but he wasn't available in my two auctions (kept in the staff league and my other one was AL LABR), and I didn't draft high enough in the other three. Kerry Wood, too - who I knew early on would be the Cubs closer when everyone was still falling over themselves to roster Carlos Marmol. Or course, the Cubs named him the closer before most of my drafts took place, and Scott Pianowski snagged him in the Yahoo Friends and Family League (Not sure if our Wood notes influenced him or not, but I know he reads RotoWire).


And it would be great if I could have Julio Lugo in every league - especially if throwing errors were a category.


Article first appeared 4/9/08