This week’s post is one I’ve been avoided for quite a few weeks now.  As most of you know, conventional fantasy leagues have several major flaws.  The biggest one, in my eyes, is how they treat relief pitching.  Most of us loyal Blankards hate the save statistic with effervescent vigour; we cringe when managers steadfastly refuse to manage their bullpen with logic and instead decide managing to the save stat is the best way to do things.  I’m not opposed to having a defined “closer” per se, I mean, I kind of get that the egos of relief pitchers feed off of such nonsense.  However, when the game is on the line, nothing frustrates me more than watching a manager trot out his “eighth-inning guy” when clearly his best reliever should be taking the mound.

It is for this reason that I have avoided writing a ‘What’s Your Fantasy’ post on closers.  When I play in standard fantasy leagues, I actually punt the save statistic in favour of relievers with better all-around numbers.  Not only are they cheaper in auction drafts and in overall salaries, but oftentimes, getting the best relievers regardless of how many saves they will accumulate often helps more than having a pitcher with a middling ERA but a ton of saves.

Back before the season started, I encouraged you to stay away from premium closers because of the price they would command and the volatility of the position.  My theory is to grab the “tier two” guys at a cheaper price and receive close-to-equal production.  Now that we’re closing in on the half-way point of the season, selling those tier-two closers may net you some great returns.

Sell-High – Chris Perez

One of the pitchers I said would be undervalued in auction drafts was Perez.  Perez had a lights-out season in 2010, but because he plays in Cleveland he wasn’t getting the attention that other high-profile closers like Jonathan Papelbon or Mariano Rivera were receiving.  At this point in the season, Perez has 17 saves, a 2.39 ERA and has yet to allow a single homerun.

Perez is a solid pitcher who will likely continue to put up decent numbers, but now that he’s putting up a ton of saves for the second straight year, trading him for other pieces you need may help you get the upper-hand in your league.  The more saves a pitcher has, the more over-valued he is.

Perez is due for some regression.  First off, he’s pitching in Cleveland.  Part of the reason he has so many saves is because of Cleveland’s hot start; now that they’ve come crashing down to earth, his save numbers will likely tail off.  Secondly, Perez’s strikeouts are down more than two-and-a-half per nine innings and his walks are up almost one per nine innings from last year.  He will eventually give up some homeruns since his flyball-rate is actually higher than his career norm and his BABIP is a low .240.  All of this is reflected in his 4.76 xFIP.  He’s also leaving a lot of guys on base; eventually they’ll start scoring.

Sell High – Joel Hanrahan

Like Perez, I encouraged you to buy-low on Hanrahan at the start of the season and if you listened (you should always listen), it’s paid off.  Hanrahan has probably been the best closer in the National League on a Pirates team that has out-performed expectations.  He currently has 19 saves and a 1.39 ERA.

Like Perez, some regression is in the cards.  His walk-rate is currently at 1.95 BB/9, which is outstanding, but his career mark is middling 4.39 BB/9.  There’s no way he’s going to sustain that number for too long.  He also has a terribly high left-on-base percentage and a very low HR/FB rate.  Like Cleveland, Pittsburgh probably won’t sustain their solid play for too long so the save opportunities should gradually decrease.

Hanrahan is also inducing far more groundballs than normal this year, although that likely has to do with the fact that he’s drastically increased the frequency with which he has thrown his fastball.  He’s also throwing it much harder and has completely eliminated his sparsely-used changeup and curveball going with his fastball and slider exclusively.

Like Perez, there is some value here; Hanrahan’s a solid pitcher, but trading him for more valued parts is probably a smart idea.

Buy-Low – Sergio Romo

When replacing your recently traded closers, why not scour the waiver-wire for some elite relievers who aren’t given the opportunity to close out games?  They may not help you in that one measly category, but if they pitch a few times per week with great effectiveness, they’ll give you an edge in other pitching categories.

The perfect example of this type of pitcher is Giants’ setup man Sergio Romo.  Romo is owned in only 13% of all Yahoo! Fantasy leagues yet has put up some astoundingly good numbers while being underused by the Giants; something Bruce Bochy will hopefully realize soon.  Romo has a staggering 8.51 K/BB ratio and a superhuman 0.96 FIP.  Most of his numbers fall in line with his career norms and even if there is some regression, what he’ll regress to is still great.  Since 2009, Romo has a higher cumulative WAR rating than many noted closers such as Huston Street, and Franciscos Cordero and Rodriguez.  Chances are, you’ll be able to grab him off waivers for close to nothing.

Other relievers in this category are Yankees newly anointed setup man David Robertson, Braves setup man Jonny Venters, and Cubs lefty Sean Marshall.

Until next week, happy baseball!