Our Scott White has taken a list of general guidelines for Draft Day and organized it into a five-part series called the Draft Day Dos and Don'ts. With a little fine-tuning, you can incorporate these ideas into your own draft and have a clear plan to take down the competition.
Part II: Avoid the siren song of the C's (catcher and closer)
Oh, the temptation ... the insufferable longing ... the unending fascination with that which will bring about your destruction.
You know you feel it with closers. Catchers too.
Every year in the heat of the draft, with the picks flying off the board and your roster becoming more and more a jumbled mess of your own indecision, that sweet sound of saves becomes all the more enticing, that weakness behind the plate enough to drive you wild, until eventually, you relent. You say "OK" to K-Rod and "let's do it" to Ryan Doumit, and before you have a chance to look up, you're in over your head -- the latest casualty of a seduction so primal it's as old as time itself.
Part I ... Tier up for the big day
Part II ... Avoid catchers and closers
Part III ... Don't chase Ws, draft Ks
Part IV ... Let them make the decisions
Part V ... Most of all, be flexible!
What's wrong with that, you ask? You wasted draft picks. And while everyone in your league will waste a draft pick or two -- even the eventual champion -- if you waste one willingly and knowingly, you've all but given in to the siren song and thrown yourself after those winged women of ancient lore -- who, by the way, didn't even look that good.
I've seen pictures.
And if I can judge them that way now, with a clear and rational head, far removed from the wide-open sea and their enchanted singing, then you can do the same now for closers and catchers, before all the fireworks of Draft Day. Once you escape the distractions and look beyond the hefty contracts and multiple All-Star appearances, the logic against closers and catchers exposes them for what they really are:
Not worth it.
Let's start with closers, because the reasons to avoid them should come almost naturally. In a closer, you want one thing and one thing alone: saves. Sure, a sparkling ERA and WHIP help, but those contributions become almost negligible, lost in the innings upon innings accumulated by your starting pitchers. So unless you decide you don't need starting pitchers and want to adopt some bizarre strategy where you punt wins and strikeouts, I think we can all agree here: If you draft a closer, you draft him for saves. End of story.
So if saves is your one and only priority with closers, then you want to draft the ones that record the most saves. Sounds easy enough, right? But how do you do that?
|Download a Draft Kit! | Join a Mock Draft!|
|Sign up to play FREE Fantasy Baseball|
Do you target the ones on the most successful teams, thinking more wins means more saves? No doubt, the idea has a certain logic to it, enough that the closers on successful teams often go as many as 10 rounds earlier than equally talented closers on less-than-successful teams. But does the difference in actual output justify the difference in price? Let's examine the numbers.
Of the six closers that finished with 40 or more saves last year, four -- or 67 percent -- pitched for winning teams. Of the nine closers that finished with 30-39 saves, five -- or 56 percent -- pitched for winning teams.
So of the 15 closers who recorded 30 or more saves last year, 60 percent pitched for winning teams. A slight correlation? Maybe, but hardly an open-and-shut case.
Meanwhile, Bobby Jenks, considered one of the best closers in Fantasy entering the season, saved only 30 games for the first-place White Sox -- same as Trevor Hoffman of the last-place Padres and one less than George Sherrill of the last-place Orioles, who actually recorded all but three of his saves in the first half alone. Also, Takashi Saito and Jonathan Broxton combined for only 32 saves for the first-place Dodgers, 10 fewer than Joakim Soria of the 75-87 Royals, and Jonathan Papelbon, our second-ranked closer, got as many saves out of the Red Sox's 95 victories as Brian Wilson got out of the Giants' 72. You can't win!
Which is precisely the point -- you can't win. So why waste your early-round picks on a position you can't win when you can instead focus on ones you can?
I don't mean to suggest elite closers like Papelbon and Joe Nathan don't deserve to go off the board before lesser options like Wilson and Matt Capps, but by how much? Two or three rounds is one thing, but half the draft? That slight correlation between the success of a team and the success of its closer means only so much to me. Maybe I could take the plunge if it meant the difference between Brad Hawpe and Rick Ankiel in my outfield, but when I have to pass on Nick Markakis to lock up an elite closer like Papelbon, I can't justify it. I can't shell out my high draft picks for the best of the best closers ... which, again, might not even end up being the best of the best at the position.
|Is Jonathan Papelbon really worth that early round draft pick just for saves and maybe a low ERA? (US Presswire)|
It's a matter of elasticity, of how quickly the position loses its usefulness the further you go down the rankings. Eliminating Francisco Rodriguez as an outlier since he had 18 more saves than anyone else and smashed the previous record for saves in a season, the best closer in standard Head-to-Head scoring last year -- Mariano Rivera, by that account -- outscored the 12th-best closer by 153 points. Compare that 153-point difference to the 211-point difference at third base, the 221.5-point difference at second base or 237.5-point difference at third base, and you begin to see just how little you gain by investing early in a closer, assuming you even pick the right closer.
I like to call closers the kickers of Fantasy Baseball. They score enough points that you wouldn't dare go without one, but they don't have enough difference between them for you to care which one you get.
So if closers represent the least predictable and the most interchangeable position, what's the point? Why bother with them any earlier than you absolutely have to?
And in standard mixed-league drafts, you don't have to until much later than some experts would have you believe.
Catchers, meanwhile, suffer from a similar lack of elasticity -- at least up to a certain point. Really, this year looks like one of the few in recent history when you actually could justify drafting a catcher early, if only because Brian McCann, Russell Martin, Joe Mauer and Geovany Soto give the position a larger-than-usual elite tier, with Victor Martinez and Ryan Doumit not so far removed themselves.
But after that first elite grouping, the position remains as shallow as ever. You could find excuses for more, but for all practical purposes, the catcher position breaks down into three tiers (if you don't know what I mean by "tiers," go back and read Draft Day Dos and Don'ts, Part 1):
1. The elite. 2. Those I would consider drafting. 3. Those I wouldn't consider drafting.
Just look at the numbers. Beginning with the eighth-ranked catcher in our standard Head-to-Head scoring, you'd have to cycle through 15 names before you reached a 100-point drop-off at the position. Catcher No. 8 finished only 91.5 points ahead of catcher No. 22. Of course, you wouldn't even have to begin as far down as the eighth catcher if marginal options like Bengie Molina and A.J. Pierzynski didn't play especially well last year, skewing the results. In 2007, for example, catcher No. 6 ranked 99 points ahead of catcher No. 26, which should give you a better idea just how little you have to gain by taking one particular catcher over another.
But like I said, this year the position does offer more elite options, which increases the likelihood of one falling to you later than he should, at a place in the draft when no other pick would make more sense. And if so, go for it. By avoiding catchers and closers, you mostly want to avoid wasteful spending. If you get a clear value, then obviously waste goes out the window.
Likewise, you can't ignore closers completely. You still need saves; you just want the most affordable saves. The way I see it, the closer position breaks down into four tiers:
1. The elite. 2. Those with good stuff, but some degree of uncertainty. 3. Those with good stuff, but a higher degree of uncertainty. 4. Those with bad stuff.
Go ahead and eliminate the first tier because, as we discussed, it exists in theory alone. No, you won't get any of the big-name closers as a result, but you'll live. Trust me.
Instead, grab the most cost-effective closer from that next tier -- someone like Jonathan Broxton, B.J. Ryan or Francisco Cordero -- just so you have a relatively safe option to lead your bullpen. Then, you can make do with two closers from that third tier, which consists of guys who could still give you 35 saves -- Brian Wilson, Chad Qualls, Mike Gonzalez, Huston Street and the like -- but with enough risk factors to make them far more affordable than their 35-save counterparts.
And what if those risk factors come to pass and spell their downfalls? Well, any pitcher you draft comes with an inordinate amount of risk -- even the elite ones. Look what happened to Saito last year. Or Street. Or Billy Wagner. Besides, even if the unthinkable happens and all three of your closers don't pan out, you'll find replacements off the waiver wire easier than you might think. At this time last year, we weren't even talking about Broxton, Gonzalez or Qualls.
And with that, I've hopefully talked you off the Brad Lidge ledge, convinced you that Soto is a no-go, and given you a better appreciation of your late-round draft picks -- which, by avoiding catchers and closers, will yield players just as useful as some of your competitors' middle- and maybe even early-round picks.
But I won't leave you hanging from here. Tune in later for Part 3 of the Draft Day Dos and Don'ts, when I revisit the Shawn Chacon Rule: Draft pitchers for strikeouts; don't chase wins.
You can e-mail us your Fantasy Baseball questions to DMFantasyBaseball@cbs.com . Be sure to put Dos and Don'ts in the subject field. Please include your full name, hometown and state.