The offseason is a great time to look inward. Without any leagues at stake, you can re-evaluate your stances and strategies to make sure you're making the right choices.
The first step in looking inward is looking backward. So today's column will feature a retrospective ranking of the closers this year.
Of course, this ranking will include much of the same strategic decisions that you've seen me make in the column over the year. I helped develop the engine behind this ranking with Zach Sanders over at FanGraphs, and three versions later, I feel pretty good about it. By comparing reliever stat categories to the pool of all pitchers first, and then comparing that value to a replacement level pitcher, we hope to best assess a reliever's contribution to your team.
What this means in practice is that relievers almost all have negative value in the strikeout category. Compared to starters, they don't contribute as much in that stat. That keeps their overall value down when compared to all pitchers. But when you then take relievers and compare them to a replacement level reliever, a reliever can once again have value in the strikeout category. You could say the same for wins.
In order to reflect the fact that relievers are owned for saves, however, we limited the pool of ranked relievers to the top 40 in saves. That keeps relievers like (the excellent) Trevor Rosenthal from ranking highly on the closer rankings. He was a useful pitcher, and if you punted saves, he could have been very valuable. But this column still knows that you're here for saves, so saves you will get.
So, without further noise, your 2013 Retrospective Value Reliever Rankings. Rolls off the tongue.
There are a few players that I may have under-rated. Steve Cishek, in particular, surprised me with his place in these final rankings. I had him 18th in my final rankings, and probably let his early season struggles color my opinion too much. Addison Reed was one spot ahead of Cishek in the final rankings, but there's more reason for that. The in-season columns are supposed to be forward-looking, and there was at least some risk that Addison Reed would sit the final week out. He was struggling and had thrown a lot of innings.
Maybe I over-rated Grant Balfour. Balfour was seventh in my rankings, and generally lived in the seventh to tenth range all season. But his stats were generally average across the board. The average closer in our sample had a 2.14 ERA and a 0.97 WHIP with 79 strikeouts in 66 innings... so Grant Balfour was pretty much your average closer. Amazing! Closers have been getting better.
The final regular-season column had Jim Johnson ranked 10th, and he figures as 11th in these rankings. His fifty saves were great, but every reliever ahead of him on the rankings had a better ERA and WHIP and more strikeouts. A team with three Aroldis Chapmans at closer would come up 36 saves short of a team of three Jim Johnsons, but would also profit from 168 extra strikeouts.
I promised I would check what that would mean in my different fantasy leagues, but I ran into a problem: I win strikeouts in most of my fantasy leagues. But in one league, if you took away 168 strikeouts, I would have lost 12 points in the standings. If you took away 36 saves from that team, I would have lost five points in the standings. In another league, I would have dropped seven points in strikeouts and eight points in saves by removing those numbers from my final tallies. None of these teams had three Jim Johnsons or three Aroldis Chapmans, of course, and this is an impossibly small sample, but it's clear to me: if you have an innings cap, you need to get as many strikeouts from every inning as you can.
Of course, there are leagues where you don't have innings caps. I'm in a few. I'd be interested in hearing if you thought most leagues don't play with them, but the roto league defaults on most major platforms include an innings cap, so it makes sense to write for that setting. And even in leagues with no caps, it makes sense to try to maximize strikeout rates. In my 20-team dynasty with no cap, 168 fewer strikeouts would have meant seven fewer points in the standings, and 36 fewer saves would have meant seven fewer points in the standings.
Lastly, there are the ancillary benefits of strikeouts. Strikeout rate is one of the few things that's correlated with closer changes. Strikeouts minus walks are the best in-season ERA predictor.
Strikeouts may be fascist, but they help you win leagues, wherever you can get them.