Draft Day Strategy: How Big Of An Impact Can Your Closer’s ERA Actually Make?

by Ken Balderston

As fantasy owners begin to put together their rankings for another year, the debate of how valuable a closer can be on draft day commonly begins.  There are enormous risks, rewards and strategies that turn relievers into one of the most variable set of positional rankings in the game.  In the end, most owners’ closer rankings are going to be top heavy on players who have held the roll for several years and have strong ratio stats, while the bottom third will be closers who are not believed to be capable of holding the job for a full six months.

However, last year there was an unprecedented amount of turnover at the Major League level.  Nobody was safe, as even Mariano Rivera owners were forced to worry about where they’d get their saves.  With that in mind, it is fair to wonder how important is a strong ERA from your closer?  What effect can it have on your team?

To answer this I decided to review 2 players with similar vanilla 5×5 fantasy stats from last year, except ERA, Rafael Soriano and Chris Perez:

IP            W            SV           K             K/9         ERA       WHIP
Rafael Soriano   67.2        2              42           69           9.17        2.26        1.17
Chris Perez        57.2        0              39           59           9.20        3.59        1.13

Remarkably similar seasons, but the ERA for Soriano was much better.  Without getting into the debate of who should be drafted first in your league, I’d like to take a look at what effect they would have had on your team last year.  Let’s say you were in a 12 team league, 1,500 IP, and your team ERA was 3.59, so if we sub Chris Perez in for 57.2 innings, he would net out to the same team ERA and have no positive effect on your team ERA.  If we subbed Soriano’s stats into the 1,500 innings limit, he would bring an impressive improvement your team ERA to 3.53.  That’s a 0.06 improvement!

The question then becomes is the improvement worth the difference in ADP?  That would really depend on your draft strategy and if you like to be risky or safe with your starting staff.  Now you do know when you’re making your rankings, and you project a closer to put up a 3.60 ERA and another to put up a 2.25 ERA, the difference this would make to your team is… 0.06!

Projecting an accurate ERA for a player is a non-exact science, but something we can do is project who will maintain a relatively bad ERA (say 3.60 or worse for a closer) and who has shown signs he can improve in the category.

Two Assets
Chris Perez – Indians – 3.59 ERA – Yes he was my whipping boy in the example above, and he did post a 3.59 ERA in 2012, but he has strong peripherals (1.13 WHIP and relatively low HR ratio of 1.07/9).  In fact, he maintained a sub 3.00 ERA most of the year, only to see it explode to 3.98 with back-to-back blow-ups in mid-August, accounting for 25% of the earned runs he’d allow all year.  Will he keep the job throughout 2013?  I don’t know, but it’s entirely possible his ERA improves and the rest is up to Indian’s new manager, Terry Francona.

Addison Reed – White Sox- 4.75 ERA – There was hysteria last year that swept the fantasy baseball landscape, and it was centered on Addison Reed.  Sleeper mongers hyped Reed to the point where they would pay anything to get him, and while he didn’t open the season as the White Sox closer he did earn and maintain the job most of the year.  The problem is he did this despite a 4.75 ERA.  A fly ball pitcher in US Cellular Field is not a recipe for dominance, but his FIP was 3.64, he was a little unlucky with a .323 BABIP and he did manage a solid 3:1 K/BB ratio.  All in all Reed has talent and has shown ability despite his inexperience.  Look for a noticeable improvement on the ERA and target him in the early to mid-teen rounds of your 12-team leagues.

Two Liabilities
Carlos Marmol – Cubs – 3.42 ERA – Marmol has control issues, it’s well documented, but last year he walked 7.32 batters per 9.  That is an absolutely astounding number, and makes maintaining a sub 4.00 ERA seem impossible.  Additionally, he only threw 44% of his pitches in the strike zone and while he generates plenty of swing and miss with his slider, there’s also plenty of full counts and potential for hangers.  In other words your team ERA and WHIP are not…

Joel Hanrahan – Red Sox – 2.72 ERA – Obviously Hanrahan has the ability to post a strong ERA, he did so last year, but his walk rate (5.43/9I P) also regressed to where it stood prior to his 2011 breakout.  He posted a pretty poor HR rate of 1.21/9 based on a 12.5% HR/FB and even benefited from a low BABIP of .225.  Factor in he’s moving from a pretty friendly pitchers park in Pittsburgh to Fenway, one of the better hitter’s parks in the sport, and the stage is set for disaster.  With a proven (but fragile) replacement already on the Red Sox roster in Andrew Bailey, I’ve basically taken Hanrahan off my draft board.

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  1. JR Ewing says:

    You’re making a huge deal about the better closer only making a .06 difference in ERA, but you have to include some relational data to truly represent what that means. If you consider a SP that you’d draft in that 6th-8th round where you get some low-ERA closers versus drafting one later you see a similar result in ERA. Assuming that same 1500 IP and 3.6 team ERA, having a 200 IP starter with a 3.55 ERA versus a 200 IP starter with a 4.00 ERA makes exactly… .06 difference in ERA. That’s right your team ends up with a 3.59 or a 3.65 ERA.

    The better closers also make a similarly noticeable difference in WHIP, while most SPs you’d draft early will offer more Ks (and you could argue about whether they would offer substantially more Ws or not).

    • KenInToronto says:

      The only truely relational data is how many points does this mean in your fantasy league. This is not possible for me to quantify for each reader, it’s dependent on the level of competition and scoring of each reader’s league. 0.06 is a subjective number to help build rankings before draft day.

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