Closer carousel goes round

Real baseball and the fantasy version begin Thursday, but The Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational (TGFBI) had its first of 27 FAAB runs on Sunday night. I predicted that New York Mets reliever David Robertson would be the hot ticket, and I was right – at least in my 15-team league where he went for $145. I bid $107 on him, but my bid fell well short.

TGBFI uses a $1,000 FAAB budget, unlike many other leagues that allot only $100. That may sound like a lot of money, but keep in mind that it needs to last for the entire season. My wife, who knows nothing about fantasy sports, understands living on a budget. She chided me last year for running low on FAAB dollars in the second half of the season.

If this isn’t your first year, you’ll recall that D-Rob was in the spotlight a year ago after earning one save for the Chicago Cubs. At that point there was no guarantee he would be the full-time closer for the Cubs. But managers paid up, with the average winning bid at NFBC $166 for Robertson. He went on to earn 20 saves for the Cubs and Phillies.

Robertson will get most of the saves in the Mets’ bullpen if you believe some analysts. Steamer and The Bat both project him to save 24 games following the Edwin Diaz injury. But Adam Ottavino, Diaz’s setup man in 2022, had better ratios. Ottavino racked up six wins, three saves and 20 holds, His 2.06 ERA and 0.97 WHIP were top 20 rates among relievers.

That’s why I’m not too upset taking home Ottavino as my consolation prize on Sunday night. I only paid $11 for him. Paying $150 or more in some NFBC leagues for a pitcher who might be the team’s closer borders on insanity in my mind. But there’s always an insatiable hunger for closers and possible closers – even if they only help you in one category.

This leads me to my point. There is no category more frustrating in roto than saves. Thehigh-stakes players at NFBC push up top-tier closers as high as top-25 ADP. In my TGFBI League, four of the 11 winning bids on Sunday night were on relief pitchers. There’s always an insatiable hunger for closers and possible closers – even if they can’t help you much.

Less than a month ago, I watched all of those relief pitchers fly off the board during mydraft. In my league, managers showed some early restraint, with Emmanuel Clase going No. 34 overall and Edwin Diaz 38th. They had been going in the first two rounds in many drafts. I bit my lip and took Josh Hader with the next pick in the third round of our 15-team league.

I hated taking Hader that early because of the opportunity cost. I would have preferred to take a starting pitcher, and I lost out on Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Zack Wheeler. I was able to take Julio Urias in the fourth round but would have liked him to be my SP2. A starting pitcher can help you in four categories, while a closer really only helps you in one.

Hader was fine for three months last year and then awful for the next two months. He waseven being dropped by many managers in August when he briefly lost his closing role in San  Diego. Hader finished the season with 36 saves but an unsightly 5.22 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP – his worst ratios of his stellar career. I sure hope that doesn’t happen in 2023.

Meanwhile Liam Hendriks, the consensus No. 2 relief pitcher last year behind Hader, finished third in saves and produced good, not great ratios – 2.81 ERA, 1.04 WHIP. But eight of the relievers who finished among the top 20 – Ryan Helsley, Daniel Bard, Evan Phillips, Paul Sewald, Alexis Diaz, Clay Holmes, Felix Bautista and Jorge Lopez  – went mostly undrafted.

These statistics are the reason why Todd Zola and many other of the finest fantasymanagers won’t use an early draft pick on a closer. Others, like defending TGFBI Champion Michael Richards, embrace the Hero-RP approach. They’ll pay up for one of the elite closers because of the scarcity at that position. I understand both sides of this argument.

There are about 10 major league teams who have not settled on a closer. I predict that about half of these will take a committee approach and several more of the “settled” situations will have a new closer by the end of the season. But still, all of us managers will continue searching desperately for relievers we hope will emerge from these murky closer situations.

“And the closer carousel, goes round and round,And the ERAs go up and down.We’re all captive on the closer carousel.We can’t get off, we can only look around,Behind, from where our pitchers came.And go round and round and round, in the closer game.”

Thomas L. Seltzer, AKA Doubting Thomas, writes about baseball and football for CreativeSports. He also shamelessly adapts song lyrics lyrics from Joni Mitchell and other popular songwriters. Be sure to follow Thomas on Twitter @ThomasLSeltzer1.

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