Fantasy Baseball 2017: The Evolving Role of Closers

Managers are using closers in situations outside of the ninth inning more often. How does that affect their fantasy baseball value?

Closers are primarily used in the ninth inning to shut down games. However, with managers becoming more strategic, closers are appearing earlier in games. This obviously takes them out of any save situation that may happen during the game. How does this affect the fantasy baseball value of closers?

Looking back at some of the best closers, they weren’t used outside of the ninth inning very often. The only time that would change is if the game is tied and went into extra innings. Let’s start with the all-time saves leader, Mariano Rivera.

Mo appeared in 1,115 games. He finished 952 of them. That means he finished 85 percent of the games he pitched in. In those games, Rivera recorded 652 saves. In his final season, Rivera finished 60 of the 64 games he appeared in. The 94 percent finish rate is not something you will see in this day and age.

Fast forward to the 2016 and more relief pitchers are recording saves. Last season, 148 different pitchers had at least one save. In 2015, 145 relievers recorded a save and just 134 in 2014.

The 2016 saves leader, Jeurys Familia pitched in 78 games and recorded 51 saves. That’s only 65 percent.

Of the top-10 saves leaders, Francisco Rodriguez had the highest percentage by recording a save in 44 of his 61 appearances. That comes out to 72 percent.

The reason for this topic is because of how two prominent relief pitchers were used in the World Series. While Andrew Miller wasn’t the Cleveland Indians closer, he pitched multiple innings in a few games. On the other side, Chicago Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman pitched early in games and that didn’t go well, especially in Game 7.

There hasn’t been much of a change with the amount of saves in baseball. Seven relief pitchers recorded 40-plus saves in 2014, five in 2015 and six last season.

There are still elite closers that are worth some will draft way too early. But, like I’ve said before, you can wait for saves. And, if the number of pitchers with a save last season doesn’t tell you that, nothing will.

The “closer” and “relief pitcher” titles are overlapping more often. That’s why certain fantasy baseball sites use the RP tag instead of CL for closers. It also proves why saves and holds leagues are more commonplace among fantasy baseball aficionados.

posted a piece on the St. Louis Cardinals signing Brett Cecil. In it, I talk about the possibility of the Cardinals using current closer as a starting pitcher or in a long relief role. I think the latter is more likely, which then has a domino affect on the Cardinals bullpen and how that shakes out. Is he still the closer or does someone else get those save opportunities?

Be careful when drafting a closer because they may not record as many saves as you think. Whether it’s injury or performance, that position is usually the first to go through changes.