Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Three Closer Gambit Revisited

Frank praised my endgame in the CBS Sportsline expert auction, particularly when it came to my cheap relievers:
You did a nice job in the end game. (Roy) Corcoran and (Miguel) Batista? Were you hoping to bag Seattle's closer?
I was. I also grabbed Tyler Walker in the 5th round of the reserve draft after the auction, so I'm banking on any Seattle reliever not named Mark Lowe grabbing the job. My hope is that Mariano Rivera ($24) and one of the Seattle relievers will get me 50-60 saves and I'll finish with 10 or 11 points in the category.

Something I didn't try but found myself thinking about was something that Eugene Freedman had suggested last year: the three closer gambit.

With the price of closers continuing to drop and drop, Eugene suggested buying three closers for a combined $40 and winning the category. It's a little cheaper than buying two elites for $25-30 apiece, and even if one of your cheap closers flames out, you should still be competitive in the category.

One thing Eugene is definitely correct about is that prices for closers continue to drop in 5x5. Here are the closers who went for $13 or less in both the A.L. and N.L. Sportsline auctions this year:

American League: Frank Francisco $12, Brandon Lyon $12, Chris Ray $8, Troy Percival $7, Any Mariner Reliever $1.
National League: Francisco Cordero $13, Joel Hanrahan $13, Matt Lindstrom $12, Chris Perez $12, Heath Bell $11, Huston Street $10.

In other words, 35.7% of the closers or potential closers in the A.L. went for $12 or less, while 37.5% of the N.L. closers dropped to $13 or less. You might not like these relievers, but would you be able to pass up on Francisco, Lyon, and Ray in your 5x5 if you could get them for $32 combined?

Would this strategy have worked last year?

Major League Closers @ $13 or Less, 2008
RkPlayer
IP
H/W
ER
K
W
SV
WHIP
ERA
Sal
$
+/-

1Carlos Marmol
87 1/3
81
26
114
270.9272.689
17
8
2
Kevin Gregg
68 2/3
952658729
1.2823.4111165
3
Brian Wilson
62 1/3
9032673411.4444.6210
144
4
George Sherrill
53 1/3
8028583311.5004.7311110
5
Troy Percival
45 2/3
5623382281.2264.531111
0
6
C.J. Wilson
46 1/3
76
31412241.6406.02
13
6
-7
7
Todd Jones
41 2/3
6823144181.6324.97135-8
8
Tony Pena
72 2/3973552331.3354.3375-2
9
Eric Gagne
46 1/3
6828384101.4685.44124-8
10
Jeremy Accardo
12 1/3
1995041.5416.5711
0
-11
11
Joe Borowski
16 2/3
32149161.9207.5613
0
-13

average
50 1/3
69
102253181.3774.47118-3

Yes, but only if you bought the exact pitchers to make the strategy work.

(I'm only listing the reliever from each pen with the highest average salary in the three expert leagues I track. B.J. Ryan worked out better than Accardo, but if three panels of experts gave Accardo a higher average salary, then I'm saying that conventional wisdom says that Accardo was the closer on Opening Day 2008.

In the N.L., Gregg and B. Wilson by themselves would have eked out a win in the saves category in Sportsline with their 70 saves. Gagne, Pena and Marmol would have been superfluous in saves - Marmol, of course, would have provided plenty of value elsewhere.

In the A.L., Eric Mack's 80 saves could have been topped - but, once again, only if you had the three correct relievers. It seems obvious now that Sherrill, Percival, and Wilson would be better than Jones, Accardo, and Borowski, but Borowski, Jones, and Wilson had the highest salaries of that group of cheap-o relievers. Guess wrong once and not only do you not win the saves category, but you get virtually no return on your investment.

I like the strategy better in the N.L. simply because the best N.L. closers in 5x5 last year - Jose Valverde and Brad Lidge - only earned $22. Kerry Wood, who fell behind Marmol in the pecking order with an average salary of $6, was the only other reliever in N.L. 5x5 to crack the $20 barrier. Maybe I would have failed with a cheap Tony Pena, in other words, but paying a mid-level price for Matt Capps for his $13 season doesn't thrill me either.

In the A.L., the best relievers in the last few years have been the same guys time and time again. More crucially, the best relievers have made much more of an impact than the bottom feeder closers. In 2008, Mariano Rivera ($31), Francisco Rodriguez ($26), Joakim Soria ($26), Jon Papelbon ($26), and Joe Nathan ($25) blew away the field; the next highest earner in the A.L. with 10 or more saves was Bobby Jenks ($17).

Those earnings aren't arbitrary numbers. They're telling you that Nathan was about $14 better than the best cheap-o closer in the A.L. last year, and Rivera was $20 better.

You might get the saves from a cheap combination of closers. But you're going to miss out on all of the other help that a great reliever provides if you do.


1 comment:

Frank said...

I like Tyler Walker, a lot, as a reserve pick. Better than average number of strikeouts per batter faced, lower than average number of walks per batter faced, and a groundball rate close to 50% -- that's a recipe for success.