Collette Calls: Everyone Gets A Save!

Collette Calls: Everyone Gets A Save!

This article is part of our Collette Calls series.

The advice offered by fantasy pundits concerning drafting closers ranges from the aggressive to absurd every season. There are those who refuse to spend on saves and will just pick things up in the very end game while there are others who firmly believe you have to get at least one horse to hitch your saves wagon to. The NFBC leagues skew things a bit because you must draft for balance in that format, but the saves category continues to be the least enjoyable one in the game because of the volatility related to relief pitchers. 

Historically, we always see many pitchers picking up saves as the number has never been below 120 pitchers during the wild card era. Prior to Covid, we had a seven-year trend of increasing number of pitchers with at least one save in a given season:

This year, especially the last few weeks with the residual effects of the trade deadline, things feel more like this:

Cincinnati has already utilized 10 pitchers in save situations this season, which has paced the league. Some of that has been due to the injuries throughout their bullpen, but some of that has been to cover for ineffectiveness as well. On the other end of the spectrum, we have Pittsburgh who has used only the since-traded Richard Rodriguez and Chris Stratton for saves this season:

Team#MatchingRelievers
Cincinnati Reds10Tejay Antone / Brad Brach / Sean Doolittle / Michael Feliz / Amir Garrett / Mychal Givens /

The advice offered by fantasy pundits concerning drafting closers ranges from the aggressive to absurd every season. There are those who refuse to spend on saves and will just pick things up in the very end game while there are others who firmly believe you have to get at least one horse to hitch your saves wagon to. The NFBC leagues skew things a bit because you must draft for balance in that format, but the saves category continues to be the least enjoyable one in the game because of the volatility related to relief pitchers. 

Historically, we always see many pitchers picking up saves as the number has never been below 120 pitchers during the wild card era. Prior to Covid, we had a seven-year trend of increasing number of pitchers with at least one save in a given season:

This year, especially the last few weeks with the residual effects of the trade deadline, things feel more like this:

Cincinnati has already utilized 10 pitchers in save situations this season, which has paced the league. Some of that has been due to the injuries throughout their bullpen, but some of that has been to cover for ineffectiveness as well. On the other end of the spectrum, we have Pittsburgh who has used only the since-traded Richard Rodriguez and Chris Stratton for saves this season:

Team#MatchingRelievers
Cincinnati Reds10Tejay Antone / Brad Brach / Sean Doolittle / Michael Feliz / Amir Garrett / Mychal Givens / Heath Hembree / Michael Lorenzen / Josh Osich / Lucas Sims
Kansas City Royals8Scott Barlow / Jake Brentz / Wade Davis / Jesse Hahn / Greg Holland / Richard Lovelady / Josh Staumont / Kyle Zimmer
Tampa Bay Rays8Diego Castillo / Pete Fairbanks / J.P. Feyereisen / Andrew Kittredge / Trevor Richards / Ryan Sherriff / Jeffrey Springs / Matt Wisler
Toronto Blue Jays8Anthony Castro / Tyler Chatwood / Adam Cimber / A.J. Cole / Rafael Dolis / Julian Merryweather / Tommy Milone / Jordan Romano
Chicago Cubs7Rex Brothers / Craig Kimbrel / Alec Mills / Manuel Rodriguez / Kyle Ryan / Ryan Tepera / Keegan Thompson
Los Angeles Dodgers7Phil Bickford / Victor Gonzalez / Kenley Jansen / Joe Kelly / Corey Knebel / David Price / Blake Treinen
Philadelphia Phillies7Jose Alvarado / Archie Bradley / Connor Brogdon / Sam Coonrod / Ian Kennedy / Hector Neris / Ranger Suarez
Seattle Mariners7Diego Castillo / Kendall Graveman / Keynan Middleton / Rafael Montero / Paul Sewald / Drew Steckenrider / Erik Swanson
Arizona Diamondbacks6Tyler Clippard / Stefan Crichton / Chris Devenski / Sean Poppen / Riley Smith / Joakim Soria
Boston Red Sox6Matt Andriese / Matt Barnes / Tanner Houck / Adam Ottavino / Phillips Valdez / Garrett Whitlock
San Francisco Giants6Caleb Baragar / Jarlin Garcia / Zack Littell / Jake McGee / Wandy Peralta / Tyler Rogers
Baltimore Orioles5Paul Fry / Adam Plutko / Cole Sulser / Dillon Tate / Cesar Valdez
Detroit Tigers5Jose Cisnero / Michael Fulmer / Bryan Garcia / Daniel Norris / Gregory Soto
Houston Astros5Bryan Abreu / Cristian Javier / Ryan Pressly / Brooks Raley / Ryne Stanek
Minnesota Twins5Alex Colome / Randy Dobnak / Tyler Duffey / Hansel Robles / Taylor Rogers
New York Mets5Jacob Barnes / Edwin Diaz / Jeurys Familia / Seth Lugo / Trevor May
San Diego Padres5Miguel Diaz / Tim Hill / Mark Melancon / Craig Stammen / Ryan Weathers
St. Louis Cardinals5Giovanny Gallegos / Ryan Helsley / Justin Miller / Daniel Ponce de Leon / Alex Reyes
Los Angeles Angels4Alex Claudio / Raisel Iglesias / Mike Mayers / Patrick Sandoval
Cleveland Indians4Emmanuel Clase / James Karinchak / Bryan Shaw / Nick Wittgren
Milwaukee Brewers4Brad Boxberger / Josh Hader / Drew Rasmussen / Devin Williams
Texas Rangers4Ian Kennedy / Spencer Patton / Joely Rodriguez / Josh Sborz
Washington Nationals4Paolo Espino / Kyle Finnegan / Brad Hand / Tanner Rainey
Atlanta Braves3Chris Martin / Sean Newcomb / Will Smith
Chicago White Sox3Aaron Bummer / Matt Foster / Liam Hendriks
Colorado Rockies3Daniel Bard / Carlos Estevez / Lucas Gilbreath
Miami Marlins3Anthony Bender / Dylan Floro / Yimi Garcia
New York Yankees3Aroldis Chapman / Chad Green / Jonathan Loaisiga
Oakland Athletics3Jake Diekman / Yusmeiro Petit / Lou Trivino
Pittsburgh Pirates2Richard Rodriguez / Chris Stratton

This distribution of saves due to injury, ineffectiveness or relocation has led to some interesting results for closers this season. Before showing specific player breakdown, it is worth noting where the 798 league-wide saves have gone by ADP this season:

  • Closers drafted in the top 100 have accounted for 21 percent of those saves
  • Closers drafted in the top 200 have accounted for 35 percent of those saves
  • Closers drafted in the top 300 have accounted for 50 percent of those saves
  • Closers drafted in the top 400 have accounted for 69 percent of those saves

Recall that in a standard online championship format on NFBC, there are only 360 players taken. A review of the data shows that 36 percent of the saves have gone to pitchers taken after pick 360 and 29 percent of saves from pitchers taken after pick 450 (15tm format) based on ADP from 10/1/20-3/28/21.

The Top 100:

PitcherADPSaves
Liam Hendriks5326
Josh Hader5522
Aroldis Chapman6223
Edwin Diaz6723
Raisel Iglesias7524
Ryan Pressly8918
James Karinchak9911
Kenley Jansen10023

This group has mostly been worth the investment even if two are currently on the injured list. Karinchak is the clear loser here as he ended up in a job-sharing situation with Emmanuel Clase.

101-200

PitcherADPSaves
Brad Hand10321
Will Smith15522
Craig Kimbrel15923
Richard Rodriguez18914
Alex Colome1914
Matt Barnes19924

Alex Colome had enough red flags prior to the season to scare many away, and those problems did not take long to surface this season. Barnes ended up surviving the noise about who was going to get the closer role in Boston and has done extremely well with the job this season. Hand has performed decently as the closer, but he did not come cheap. Kimbrel has had a wonderful rebound season even though his opportunities will now be fewer while Rodriguez closed for an awful team that provided him few opportunities. He may steal some from Smith now that the two are teammates in Atlanta.

201-300

PitcherADPSaves
Rafael Montero2047
Daniel Bard24118
Jake McGee24724
Mark Melancon25132
Hector Neris25312
Diego Castillo25615
Greg Holland2667
Amir Garrett2697

This is where the real fun began as McGee and Melancon were mostly afterthoughts for saves with the attention going to Tyler Rogers and Drew Pomeranz or Emilio Pagan, and yet these two late-round vets have been tremendous values for those who waited on saves. Even Bard has managed to save 18 games for a terrible Colorado club. Conversely, the speculations on the shaky skills from Holland and Garrett's inexperience did not pay off.

301-360

PitcherADPSaves
Archie Bradley3112
Giovanny Gallegos3142
Gregory Soto32713
Alex Reyes33125
Ian Kennedy33518
Tejay Antone3403
Yimi Garcia34115
Jordan Romano3489
Emmanuel Clase35415
Tyler Rogers36011

Reyes has gone down the Shawn Chacon route for his 25 saves this season, but he was truly an afterthought on draft day and has delivered the saves. Kennedy was buried in the Texas bullpen preseason, but injuries gave way to his experience, and now he has the job in Philadelphia after the trade. We now have five relievers taken after pick 240 with 18-plus saves, which translates to them going after the 20th round in 12 team leagues. Most of the pitchers in this group would have been reserve picks by ADP.

361-450

PitcherADPSaves
Lou Trivino36117
Kendall Graveman36110
Joakim Soria3736
Stefan Crichton3984
Adam Ottavino4098
Pete Fairbanks4285

No pitcher in this grouping was the favorite to close, but they have each turned into decent spec plays for saves very late in the game with Trivino making the most of a wide-open opportunity in Oakland once Trevor Rosenthal was ruled out for the season. Graveman took advantage of the injuries in Seattle to take the job before being surprisingly sent away to Houston to give Ryan Pressly some help.

450 or Higher

PitcherADPSaves
Hansel Robles59910
Taylor Rogers5759
Heath Hembree6008
Cesar Valdez7098
Lucas Sims4857
Jake Diekman5017
Scott Barlow6396
Michael Fulmer7066
Josh Staumont5815
Cole Sulser7465
Trevor May5894
Jose Alvarado6094
Jonathan Loaisiga6864
Jose Cisnero7244
Dylan Floro7434
Keynan Middleton7444
Ranger Suarez7484
Paul Sewald7494
Brad Boxberger7514
Blake Treinen5413
Chad Green6063
Rafael Dolis6093
J.P. Feyereisen7473
Drew Steckenrider7513
Kyle Finnegan7513

I sorted this table differently and also cut off those relievers with fewer than three saves. Robles is the only reliever with double-digit saves who would have been a free-agent pickup in 15-team leagues. Otherwise, those teams would have had to effort to stream saves from this group of castoffs and afterthoughts all season. Some of these guys, such as Floro and Finnegan, have only recently come into the role on the club while many of these names had the role early in the season but have since lost it.

Saves continue to be a frustrating part of fantasy baseball, and those who advocate for paying for saves as well as those who advocate for waiting on them can look at this data and claim victory in one form or another. Fifty-eight percent of pitchers with a save this season — 87 of 150 — have fewer than three saves. We cannot count on that player pool to move the needle much outside of the anecdote where a final day save from Anthony Bass once won Glenn Colton and Rick Wolf the AL LABR league years ago. Saves feel like they're everywhere these days, but they are just more widely distributed and we can only wait so long to speculate on saves. 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jason Collette
Jason has been helping fantasy owners since 1999 at RotoJunkie, Fanball, Baseball Prospectus and now here at RotoWire. You can hear Jason weekly on many of the Sirius/XM Fantasy channel offerings throughout the season as well as on the Sleeper and the Bust podcast every Sunday. A ten-time FSWA finalist, Jason won the FSWA's Fantasy Baseball Writer of the Year award in 2013 and the Baseball Series of the Year award in 2018 for Collette Calls.
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