Eno Sarris

Saves and Steals

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Stay the Course

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


It's happening already. Your league is losing managers to fantasy football preparation. This, even before your trade deadline is up. This, even with a month left in the season.

 

Pffffft I say. We know what the best fantasy sport is. The one with the biggest sample size, the most games, the biggest lineups… that's the sport that best determines your ability. Not the one with 16 games in which you're an ACL tear away from doom. Not the one with ten players in your average lineup. The one with 162 games, at least 25 players in your lineup, and a sport that's made for stats. That's the one.

 

This is not to disparage you fantasy football players that are still on board here. Despite wanting to quit fantasy football for good, I got roped into the RotoWorld Baseball Writers league -- where, like a blind squirrel looking for nuts I took Calvin Johnson sixth overall and followed with Jimmy Graham, Trent Richardson and Ahmad Bradshaw in our PPR. I get that it's fun, it's once a week, and it's an easy breezy game.

 

But I'm a hardcore fantasy guy, and I want results every night. Fantasy Baseball is my sport. I'll name the tiers after the different fantasy sports, then. It's time to pit them against each other.

 

Tier 1: Elite (4) (AKA: The "Fantasy Baseball" Tier.)

 

Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds
Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves
Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers
Joe Nathan, Texas Rangers

 

Was there any doubt? Baseball is a statistician's wet dream. There's a one-on-one matchup at the heart of it, it moves from static state to static state, and it's been gathering numbers from day one. Just look at all the readily available research out there, and you'll get it. Baseball and numbers were born hand in hand, and fantasy baseball is their natural love child.

 

There's also no doubt about the top two here. These guys are suddenly in the Cy Young chase, as R.A. Dickey slows and Johnny Cueto doesn't quite have the strikeout numbers to hang. If there isn't an obvious starter for the award, it could be Aroldis Chapman earning the hardware for best pitcher in the National League this year. After all, he now has 30 saves… and 29 hits allowed. That's amazing. He also has 112 strikeouts, which is more than Wandy Rodriguez has, and Wandy has pitched more than twice as many innings.  Jonathan Papelbon has 50 fewer strikeouts and is in the same tier. Wait, maybe that's not right.

 

Tier 2: Rock Steady (7) (AKA: The "Fantasy Football" Tier.)

 

Jonathan Papelbon, Philadelphia Phillies
Joel Hanrahan, Pittsburgh Pirates
Jason Motte, St. Louis Cardinals
J.J. Putz, Arizona Diamondbacks
Rafael Betancourt, Colorado Rockies
Fernando Rodney, Tampa Bay Rays
Rafael Soriano, New York Yankees

 

Basketball is my second love as a sport, but since we're talking second love here anyway, I'm going to go with the easy mistress that is fantasy football. She won't make me work too hard -- only one game a week -- and if it doesn't work out, there's always lousy luck to blame.

 

Jonathan Papelbon doesn't really have himself to blame here. He's still got excellent control and above-average strikeout goodness. It's just that he's not one of the 15+ K/9 guys, and he's not on a team that will hand him save opportunities by the bushel. Offense and bullpen strength are the best predictors of save opportunities, and the Phillies have none of the former and some of the latter. Papelbon's a tweener right now because of the state of his team.

 

Tier 3: OK options (7) (AKA: The "Fantasy Basketball" Tier.)

 

Tom Wilhelmsen, Seattle Mariners
Tyler Clippard, Washington Nationals
Ernesto Frieri, Los Angeles Angels
Addison Reed, Chicago White Sox
Chris Perez, Cleveland Indians
Greg Holland, Kansas City Royals

 

Basketball might be an easy third for others, but the choice here was difficult. I usually play four or five leagues -- easily second to my 15 baseball leagues -- and I'll win a couple of them, so it's not about being bad at it. I just find basketball… sort of in between. It has the nightly work of baseball, but the sport isn't quite made for the fantasy game. The link between the numbers in my box scores and the outcomes in real life seems more tenuous. And then, in the final weeks when everything is on the line -- most basketball leagues are head-to-head -- I'm suddenly required to watch the starting lineups up until game time to find out if that player is going to play. And don't get me started on the tanking.

 

Tom Wilhelmsen is fine. Yes, a couple other pitchers have gotten saves recently -- Lucas Luetge being the latest -- but his wife was having a baby. He gets a pass. HIs team might not hand him a ton of save opps, but they do have a great bullpen, so if they are ahead, they'll keep the lead. Now they just need to score some runs.

 

A note about Ernesto Frieri: Scott Downs returned and pitched in the seventh and the beginning of the eighth, meaning that Kevin Jepsen may have leapt ahead of him on the depth chart while he was out. Frieri is still the high-walk, high-strikeout closer in Anaheim. This concludes your note about Ernesto Frieri.

 

Greg Holland's walk rate looked terrible to begin the year, but he's really reined it in. In the second half of the season, he's averaged a walk every four innings -- that rate was two walks every three innings in the first half. In his last ten outings, Holland has two walks… against 11 strikeouts. Now the only question is what the team will do with Joakim Soria's affordable option, with the veteran coming off his second Tommy John surgery. It's worth mentioning that Holland will still come at one-tenth the cost of Soria, so he's probably the closer next year, too.

 

Tier 4: Question marks (5) (AKA: The "Fantasy Hockey" Tier.)

 

Jim Johnson, Baltimore Orioles
Jose Valverde, Detroit Tigers
Casey Janssen, Toronto Blue Jays
Steve Cishek, Miami Marlins
Carlos Marmol, Chicago Cubs
Grant Balfour, Oakland Athletics
Alfredo Aceves, Boston Red Sox

 

Say what you want about hockey, but it's still a sport. With athletes in it. Yeah, there's only a couple goals per your average game, and there are some interesting stats (penalty minutes are a positive?), but it's still a game that's played to a score. Fantasy racing? Huh? Fantasy golf? So I pick a guy per tier, but can only pick him twice but maybe three times if this happens? What? 

 

Jim Johnson is on a strikeout binge! He has six in his last ten outings! That means he's only cost you five strikeouts in the past month! He's a one-category guy at this point, and the rankings need to reflect that.

 

Jose Valverde deserves a little love. After his one-strikeout, one-hit, clean slate save Tuesday night, his last ten appearances look pretty solid. No blown saves, one walk, and nine strikeouts in ten innings. He still doesn't have an average strikeout rate, walk rate, or ground-ball rate, but he does have a lot of leash. And his velocity has been more up than down recently.

 

Carlos Marmol is the 'doing it dirty' closer of the tier, but he's been a little better recently. Even after his one-walk, no-strikeout performance Tuesday not (not a save opportunity), he has 11 strikeouts against four walks in his last ten innings. That'll do, especially in that bullpen, and on that team.

 

Grant Balfour is doing it clean. He's actually been really good all year and has none of the control issues that Ryan Cook has. He now has five saves in a row, and Sean Doolittle pitched the eighth Tuesday night. He's looking like he'll be the closer for the rest of the year, and, most improbably… the playoffs?

 

Read more about the most volatile closer situations on the next page.


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Eno Sarris is an editor and writer at FanGraphs.com. You can find his work gathered in one place at and enosarris.com. Follow his misadventures in writing on Twitter as well.
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