There are two competing camps when it comes to the most enigmatic of fantasy baseball positions: relief pitcher. One camp says to pay for saves, the other camp says to not pay. Relief Pitcher is the only slot on the roster that garners saves, and it is the one position that is most disagreed upon. In a head-to-head league, however, you have precious few resources to ensure your dominance in the majority of categories in your matchup. Why, then, expend some of these resources disproportionately towards players whose main contribution to your lineup is one that they could easily lose, or go weeks getting relatively few saves compared to your investment in the player?[Jeff]
Instead, focus your resources on cheap relief pitchers who won’t get you saves, but will produce equivalent or better statistics than their save-garnering counterpoints, and will do so at a fraction of the cost. Since wins are completely fluky, you’ll want to look at who gets you the most bang for your buck in ERA, WHIP and strikeouts. You’ll also need to focus on pitchers who get enough innings to make an actual dent on these statistics. What good is an above-average ERA & WHIP pitcher if he only throws a handful of innings every few weeks?
Below you’ll find much cheaper options who will get you similar production as some of the most expensive closers, just without the saves. If you are punting saves, this is your short list if your league has an RP slot. All auction values and projections are courtesy of FantasyPros.com’s aggregate projections and expert consensus rankings.
Dellin Betances ($4) & Andrew Miller ($5) compare to Kenley Jansen ($16)
Betances and Miller create a dynamic duo that are the best at ERA, WHIP & K/9 as a set of statistics, ahead of the #3 relief pitcher, and the top closer on the board. The cat is out of the bag on Betances and Miller, but the two players come in at a $7 savings combined compared to Jansen, who is the most expensive pitcher. If you combine their expert consensus rankings, you get 136 innings of 2.25 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and 200 K, for an average cost of $9. Miller has gone up in price due to the Chapman suspension, but the two players together far outpace their $16. They aren’t the deepest dives, since they are as expensive as (or pricier than) some full-time closers, including Santiago Casilla ($4) and J.J. Hoover ($2).
Darren O’Day ($0) compares to Craig Kimbrel ($14)
O’Day’s aggregate projections have him at a 2.54 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 10 K/9. While he doesn’t match Kimbrel’s projected K/9 (10 vs 12), that comes out to one extra K every other week. Kimbrel’s projected ERA & WHIP (2.59 & 1.0, respectively), are actually outpaced by O’Day’s projected statistics. The difference? O’Day is essentially free.
Hunter Strickland ($0) compares to Jeurys Familia ($12)
Strickland is my dark-horse candidate to end the season as the Giants’ closer. The nation last saw him grooving fastballs to Bryce Harper in the 2014 playoffs, but with the San Francisco bullpen aging, the future closer in waiting may prove the future is now. He has a low innings projection (56 IP), but his talent will break through and he will end up in the 65 IP range. This will put him in the same range as last year’s breakout closer, Familia. Familia is projected for a lower ERA (2.64 vs 2.77), but Strickland projects to a lower WHIP (1.01 vs 1.22) and identical K/9 (9.5).
Brett Cecil ($0) compares to Trevor Rosenthal ($10)
Their similarity diverges because Rosenthal is projected to have a higher WHIP than Cecil (1.14 compared to 1.23). Cecil and Rosenthal have identical projected ERAs (2.83) and K/9 (11). Unlike Strickland, it is unlikely Cecil changes roles at any point this season (Storen & Osuna are set to flip-flop setup and closer while Cecil stays on in short spot relief), so his innings pitched will remain in the projected sub-sixty range.
Koji Uehara ($0) compares to A.J. Ramos ($7)
Uehara was one of the better closers in baseball before the Red Sox decided to make the Bullpen of Doom with Uehara, Kimbrel and Carson Smith. Uehara has been delegated to the setup role, and sits a hairs breadth from closing. Kimbrel was disastrous in San Diego last season, and if he doesn’t bounce back, Uehara could easily snatch the closer role back up. For those of us trying to abstain from paying for saves on draft day in head-to-head leagues, Uehara will save you big bucks. He is better than Rams in ERA & WHIP and is slightly worse in K/9 (9.9 vs 10). Here’s the thing with Uehara: he’s old, and he’s unlikely to get better. He’s also already banged up in Spring Training. He’s a gamble to be useful in extended innings, but his asking price is literally nothing.
While punting saves is not a strategy I condone in season-long rotisserie leagues, the return on investment is astonishingly low. The article above outlined a strategy wherein $13 ($9 on Miller/Betances & $1 on every other pitcher) could be spent at auction and could build a corps of relief pitchers whose only discernible difference between it and a $59 reliever corps is the number of saves acquired. In head-to-head leagues, it is all about maximizing your strengths to win the majority of categories, and punting saves is definitely not recommended in roto. Expending resources to get premium closers, or sacrificing ERA, WHIP and K-rate on sub-optimal closers to obtain the almighty save is foolhardy when you consider the turnover at the position and that you are investing in a fleeting role. Instead, exploit the RP market inefficiency, which is high-quality, low-save relievers. They are often overlooked on draft day and frequently slip through the draft completely untouched.