First, an R.I.P. To Don Zimmer, a Baseball Man (1/17/1931 to 6/4/2014). There are two images of Don Zimmer that stick in my head. One is Don sitting next to Joe Torre for all those Yankee World Series Titles. We know Joe was calling the shots, but I’m sure a nod or two from Don was a helping hand along the way. The other is the moment that cemented Pedro Martinez as one of the most hated players of Yankee fans when he knocked a 70 something Don Zimmer on his ass in the middle of a basebrawl. I’ll never forget that. He was a part of baseball for 66 of his 83 years on this earth. We should all be so lucky. Those of us who remember you are going to miss you, Don.
I was standing there at the AT&T store one day asking about data plans and smart phones, and trying to figure out how on earth I was going to fit the extra cash into my monthly budget. I mean, how was I going to justify the expense, when there was so much we needed around the house? Plus my wife had wanted to get her hair colored and highlighted, but we just didn’t have the cash. Then it hit me. The only reason I was doing this was to get the chance to be the first one to the wire when there was a closer switch or injury. You know the scene: You suddenly hear that this closer was hurt or that closer got bombed for the third time this week and was replaced, and you race to the computer. You are sure you are the first one to hear this, as you were listening to the game when it happened. You race to your league player tab and type in the name of the latest closer flavor of the day and wait for that player to come up with your finger on the “add” trigger…but no. “Player not found.” Someone else had already added him. In fact, it was probably the same guy who added the last one, and the one before that. Here I was, about to spend money I didn’t have just to try and race that same guy to the wire every time a closer coughed. Madness.
Think about this for a minute. Fantasy Baseball is supposed to be fun, right? Is there any position or stat other than the Closer and the Save that causes you more stress and anxiety (and probably more of your time) than any other position or stat? I didn’t think so. As much as we would like, we can’t control the pitches the closers make or the decisions of their managers, good or bad. All we can do is roll with it and try to react when things happen, and they will happen now more then ever, right? Maybe not. Maybe we can take control of the closer situation before it takes control of us, sucks all the fun out of the game we love, and causes us to make decisions that may not be in the best interests of our time, our families or our budgets. The closer position is so much different than any other for two reasons:
1. For the most part, only closers get saves.
2. At any given time there are only 30 closers in baseball producing saves.
We can get all the hitting cats from any number of players and we only need about half of the SP in the MLB to cover the starts of most fantasy leagues. We can only get saves from that select few players, however, yet there are never enough to go around and they change constantly. One Third of all closers were replaced in 2013. In 2014, already more than that number have changed, and some more than once. Yet the save still accounts for 10% of the cats in a standard league and about 8% in a 6×6.
I believe that winning a baseball league is about 80% skill and 20% luck, as long as the bulk of the league mates are playing with the same amount of experience and success at a high level of competition. Making up those skill sets are expertise in player evaluation and projection, current knowledge of the game, ability to predict trends and opportunities, extreme amounts of patience, and the ability to budget and plan. Along with that comes the ability to take risks and develop backup plans for the risks that don’t work out. It is a six month season, so a league champ needs all of those skills, plus a bit of luck to win his league. What about the guy who has the ability and time to always be on line? He gets the alerts and news first from multiple devices and outlets, and has the freedom and flexibility to always get there first to grab that coveted player. His biggest dilemma is who to drop to pick him up, and even that never seems to hold him up much. Now, I ask you, is that ability to know and react first a skill or an advantage? As LMs, we try to eliminate all the loopholes to make sure no one can manipulate the outcomes and take advantages that the other league mates don’t have access to. But, what do you do with the AOL Cowboy? He has an advantage you probably cannot keep pace with.
So, what can we do? I’m not good at playing the victim, so I’m always looking to find solutions to problems that restore balance, both in Fantasy Baseball and life in general. I play in a lot of leagues, so I have the opportunity to try a lot of strategies. I have found that strategies to balance both procurement and scoring of closers specifically, and for relievers in general can go a long way towards relieving all the stress caused whenever there is news about a closer. We’ll discuss procurement first.
Procurement of Closers
Draft Day: We all have our tried and tested draft strategies and put a good amount of time into them. There is always that one guy who starts a closer run far too early and messes up our strategy, though. Either we buck the trend and not veer from our plan no matter what, which guarantees we miss out on all the good closers, or we fall in with the sheep and draft the closer with the most job security once our turn comes, no matter how good he is or what slugging outfielders are still sitting on the table. Some guys go lightly on closers anyway assuming they can always find saves during the season. That is great as long as the AOL Cowboy is not in your league. The answer is to try an auction format for your draft. That way everyone has an equal shot at every player on the board, and one can decide how much cash they will dedicate to closers. If someone decides to go hot and heavy on closers, it will hurt him later in other areas.
Free Agents: AOL Cowboys will run for the hills like Superman from Kryptonite when someone mentions FAAB. That is Free Agent Acquisition Budget, not the old laundry detergent. The FAAB draft (which can be daily, weekly or in between, and can have minimum bids from zero to $1 or more) will effectively neutralize the gadgetry and spare time advantage of the AOL Cowboy. He is neutered in this type of set up. Now budgeting is far more important than hearing news or getting there first, as most of the league will have heard the news by the 10 or 11PM FAAB draft. Budgeting = Skill; Gadgetry and time = Advantage. It may take away some of your own flexibility, but you will make up for that in time saved not having to rush to the wire every single night to see what has transpired. If you are opposed to leagues that allow teams to “serial stream” their starting pitchers, FAAB goes a long way to mitigating that as well. All my Roto Leagues are FAAB now and I won’t play in anything but FAAB going forward. The lone exceptions are my MLFS Head to Head Leagues, but they have a limit of 4 transactions per week, which has a similar effect on closer hoarding as FAAB drafts.
This, however, is not enough. Especially in 2014, I’ve seen teams drain 20% or more of their FAAB budget for the season on one “potential” closer replacement. Imagine having a $1,000 FAAB allowance and dropping $135.00 one week on Kyle Farnsworth, and another $125.00 on Jose Valverde. There is 25% of your year’s money spent on 2 “potential” closers, who are not even in the majors a month later. Maybe that is foolish, but consider that the next 4 bids were also over $100. I bid around $35 or $40 on those guys, based on my valuation of the number of saves they would record for the rest of the season. I was outbid by at least 8 other guys. The problem is that the SAVE is worth far too much when it comes to scoring, considering the number of sources available to get them. Add to that the fact that closers do not add much to any other categories (sure, there is some Strikeout contribution and a bit of ratio help, but not much) and you have a player who is worth far too much in comparison to his contribution to your team. The answer is Alternative Scoring Strategies, or ASS. There is the KISS strategy and now there is the ASS strategy. Be sure not to mix them.
One of the first ASS strategies I ran into was a 10 team, 5×5, H2H League that combined the Save and the Hold into one scoring cat, the S/H. This succeeded in reducing the value of the Save, but it also pretty much eliminated any value of closers whatsoever, as one could just load up on middle relievers and set up men and there was no incentive at all to own a closer. That was a FAIL and I did not stay long in that league. Some want to eliminate the Save altogether, but then get tongue tied when you ask them what they would replace it with. The simplest way to get a nice ASS is not found on an infomercial. A simple nice ASS strategy is to add Holds to your scoring model and then add OPS to your offensive scoring to offset it. At the very least a save’s value is reduced about 12%, and now one must also manage to compete in Holds, which are accumulated by different players for the most part. To take this one step further, add in positions to the pitching side by setting active roster spots for SP, RP, P and putting max’s and min’s on them. This will force your league mates to use budgeting and evaluation skills as opposed to hoarding skills to compete. The closer will still be more valuable than the MR, for the most part. Email me or ask in the comments if you’d like more breakdown on that.
You can get an even nicer ASS with a little more effort. Makes sense, right? Have you heard of the stat IRS. Ok, so if you have not filed your income tax return yet you might end up following the AOL Cowboy out of town by now, but I’m talking about Inherited Runners Stranded. A quick look at last season’s results showed that the top 20 pitchers in IRS were mostly specialists of less than one inning per appearance. We don’t want to give them equality with closers, so how about combining Holds and IRS into one category. I was a skeptic at first like you are right now, but it works. I love the stat now. We have closers getting saves and MRs getting both Holds and IRS. Add the occasional Save or Win, and suddenly we have not only reduced the reliance on closers and the save, but we have given all the other rostered relievers in MLB some value. This is where roster management skills become important. One has to decide how many of the allotted roster spots for relievers (we use 7) should be for closers, middle relievers/setup men, and specialists. It can be fluid as well. In a H2H league, one might realize on Thursday that he is good on holds, but shy on IRS and saves, and a reallocation of resources can take place as long as one has not used up all his moves for the week yet.
Ah yes, Roster Management vs AOL Cowboy Rodeo. I’m sold, and my life is far less stressful now. A closer is important to me now, but no more important than having a good second baseman. This gives me a great vehicle for rostering one of my favorite players in all of baseball, the CLEW. If you read any of my reliever articles this Spring, you heard me talking about getting a CLEW or two. A CLEW is a “CLoser En Waiting,” or the guy who is likely next in line for saves on any given team. Pairing him up with the closer of one team is ideal, but even if you can’t, it is nice to have a farm of potential late season Closers on your roster. Plus they are giving you Holds, IRS, Ks and ratios while they are waiting to get the closer gig, and by now we know there will be changes in the closer ranks. However, they will no longer make the hair stand up on your neck and make you race for the Prozak after you miss out on all the new closers to the AOL Cowboy. Where is he now anyway? Legend has it, he is holed up on a mountain top looking for leagues he can still dominate.
So, have an auction in March instead of a draft. Use FAAB or transaction limits instead of open free agency. Add Alternative Scoring Strategies and Roster Models, and get a CLEW or two and you will have taken control of the closer debacle that has you looking frazzled right now. You may think that your league mates will never go for any of this, but you may be surprised how many of them are sick of this Merry-Go-Round themselves and will welcome some of these ideas. I helped get 8 ESPN Roto Leagues to change over to FAAB, and was also instrumental in the new ASS of quite a few leagues as well. I’ll admit, I was reluctant to some of this change as well, but I love it now and I don’t miss the race to the wire. Again, feel free to ask me to elaborate on any of the scoring models or procurement strategies I briefly outlined here. Till then, stop paying extra for all those devices and data plans. See you next week.