Let the chase begin

The 2022 Major League Baseball season is underway, which means a significant number of fantasy baseball managers are now chasing closers. I am playing in three leagues, and I find myself scouring the waiver wire in all three. Opening day yielded two finds – David Robertson of the Cubs and Tony Santillan of the Reds.

It’s a safe bet that no one is going to drop Josh Hader or Liam Hendricks for one of these guys, but they’re both interesting. I claimed both in one of my public leagues and added Santillan in the other public league (only because Robertson was taken about five minutes after the Cubs game ended on Thursday afternoon). 

Robertson, 36, was one of the top closers in the game several years ago. He earned 110 saves over three seasons for the Yankees and White Sox from 2014-2016. But he missed almost all of the 2019 and 2020 seasons due to undergoing Tommy John surgery. He joined the Rays for the final month of the 2021 campaign, making 12 appearances.

Robertson was competing for the job when he arrived in Chicago, but Cubs manager David Ross wasn’t tipping his hand on who would be closing in the Windy City until Robertson took the field in the ninth on Thursday afternoon. Rowan Wick was given the edge by most analysts, but there was some buzz about Robertson because of his experience.

Santillan was a complete surprise when he appeared in the ninth inning in Atlanta to earn his first save for the rebuilding Reds. Santillan, a native Texan, was selected by the Reds in the second round of the 2015 draft and made his MLB debut last year at 24-years-old as a starter. He pitched 43.1 innings in 2021, struck out 56 batters and had a 2.91 ERA.  

Manager David Bell said as recently as two weeks ago that the right-hander was still being considered for a spot in the starting rotation. He wasn’t listed on any bullpen depth chart that I saw before the season began. Will Santillan be handed full-time closer duties? Why not after he threw 11 of 15 pitches for strikes and retired the Braves in order.

Summoned from the bullpen to guard a three-run cushion, Santillan made it look easy as he struck out Travis d’Arnaud and Dansby Swanson to end the contest. In between those two at bats, Guillermo Heredia managed only a weak ground ball. Imagine taking the field in the ninth and earning your first save against the world champions?

Frankly, this is the kind of stuff that makes baseball fun. I read a cautionary note on one of the websites, advising managers to reign in expectations for Santillan. That certainly makes sense since Bell used 10 different relievers in the ninth inning last year. If the Reds manager sticks with a committee, no one is going to have double-digit saves for the Reds.

But this didn’t stop me from putting down a substantial FAAB bid in my deep TGFBI league this weekend. Let me explain why. Bell told reporters a few days ago that he envisioned Santillan filling the same high-leverage role for the Reds in 2022 that Tejay Antone filled during the 2021 season before he underwent Tommy John surgery in late August.

I was happy to have rostered Antone last year in spite of erarning only three saves. He struck out 42 batters across 33.2 innings and posted a 2.14 ERA and 0.891 WHIP.  You should be looking for more than just saves from your relief pitchers. You want pitchers who can eat some innings, add strikeouts, and not hurt your ratios.

The savvy fantasy manager knows that saves is only one of ten categories 5×5 rotisserie leagues. Amateurs playing this game put an inordinate amount of value on relief pitchers who can put up a significant number of saves. They are drafting closers like Hader and Hendricks in the second or third round and rostering a few more in the early rounds.

Every year, I watch managers squander early round picks for a player who is going to get his or her team one stat – a save. When said managers gets one, he’s taking a victory lap around his house. Bully for you for increasing one stat column. But if your guy blows a save, he blows up your ERA and WHIP. How does that make sense in any economy?

Top fantasy managers like Todd Zola of CreativeSports and Mastersball use early round picks on starting pitchers and position players. They then draft a few speculative relief pitchers who might get ninth-inning work late in their draft and then join the chase for closers emerging during the regular season on the waiver wire. You are advised to do the same thing.

I haven’t been playing fantasy baseball that long, but it’s long enough to see star closers gets injured and young studs or a journeyman come in and saves 30 games. This was the path to closer success for both Hader and Hendricks. I was able to pick up both guys off the waiver wire in the past, but I refuse to pay up for them at their current price.

Follow Thomas L. Seltzer, AKA Doubting Thomas, on Twitter @ThomasLSeltzer1.

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