Monday, February 16, 2015

Reconciling The Closer

Image result for john franco
John Franco "The Closer"

If you are the kind of Fantasy Baseball owner who believes that Roto is the only way to go and that H2H players should just stick with Fantasy Football, this post is not for you. You're still welcome to read it and I hope that you do. You may even find some parts with which you agree. However, its written from a very H2H point of view. So, if you're mature enough to handle it without getting all judgmental join us for the ride. Otherwise, come on back a little later...

I had a friend in college that we nicknamed "The Closer". One of the reasons he drew that name was because he mistakenly aligned himself with a blood thirsty pack of hyaenas who got worked into a frenzy over the smallest hint of weakness. Oh, and also he routinely blew sure things.

Just about every "Closer" story went down the same way. Whether it was a food or beer run or late night with a particularly soused trollop, each time "The Closer" came into the picture he managed to mangle even the surest of things. What's worse is that he would cop to things he didn't even have to just to further cement the validity of the nickname. It got to point where it just made no sense at all.

Counting on "The Closer" to come through in any sort of way felt like watching a Sunday Night Baseball game when you're up by 1.5 pts in Head to Head and the only active player left in the match-up is your closer. You're just sitting there helplessly rooting against a narrow set of possible outcomes because you don't want to have to watch your guy go out there and do his job because if he fails you fail. And God forbid they trot him out without their even being in opportunity for a Save. Only bad things will happen.

Tell me how many other positions in all of fantasy sports are like this? None. No other position can swing from +8pts to -8pts in the course of one single play. Only the Closer can do that. Even the Kicker, the Goddamn dumbest position in Fantasy Football can't do that. Kicker misses a 21 yard kick down by 2 as time expires? Meh, no points for you. Better luck next time champ. But if a closer misses his spot by an inch, up by 1 with 1 on and 2 out? Buh-bye. You'd been better off his herpes flared up before the game and he was a scratch.

Take a moment to think back on your Fantasy Baseball history and try to remember a time when you were super pumped about a Closer you had on any one of you teams. Go ahead. I'll be here when your done...

Yeah, that's what I thought. Maybe you remember a time when one of your Closers had like a 45pt week, but you can't remember who it was can you? Then again, I'll bet you can tell me about the time a KRod meltdown cost you a playoff spot back in 2009. I can tell you all about how keeping Jonathan Broxton in 2010 was an absolute waste of a keeper spot, but I can't even tell you who any of my Closers were in the last 3 Fantasy Baseball seasons.

Those are some of the day to day problems with Closers. The other issue is that probably half of the teams in MLB have a closer situation that is in a perpetual state of flux. The 2013 World Series Champion Red Sox are remembered in part by the insane dominance of their closer Koji Uehara. Its easy to forget that Koji was signed only as a bullpen depth option that offseason and that Joel Hanrahan, Andrew Bailey, and even Junichi Tazawa got a crack at the role before injuries or ineffectiveness put the ball in Koji's hand in the 9th. Let me repeat, a team that won the World Series did so with their 4th closing option who ultimately had a stretch as dominant as any in baseball history.

So, please forgive me if I can't even be bothered to hide my seething contempt for Closers or Relief Pitchers when it comes to Fantasy Baseball (I'm sure many of them are very nice people in real life). All they ever do break your heart, get hurt, and force you to spend so much time on the waiver wire that your boss wants to know why you're always on you computer but never getting any work done. Despite all that, every season we go through the same challenge of trying to figure out which Closer we're going to curse out on a bi-monthly basis.

For me, I approach planning to fill my Relief Pitcher spot on my Fantasy Baseball team a lot like how I approach building my entire Fantasy Football team. Don't stress it, don't target certain players, and don't get caught up in the run. That Closer you reached for in your March draft might well wind up on mop up duty by May. And if you have a league that rewards Holds, then my goodness, why even bother with a Closer? Today's 8th inning guy is tomorrow's Closer and a top next week's trash heap.

The thing that probably irks my chain the most is that Relief Pitcher or Closer isn't really even all that real of a position. All infield positions are clearly delineated and assigned. The outfield in most fantasy leagues is somewhat murky, but outfielders are still outfielders. Nope, not pitchers. We have these guys we call "Starters" and usually they start baseball games, but sometimes in special playoff circumstances they come in for relief appearances. Or more often "Relief Pitchers" are called on to make spot starts. But regardless of when a pitcher enters a game, he is the only player manning that position at that time.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that pitchers are pitchers are pitchers. It shouldn't matter when they come into the game, they are still pitchers. There's no special roster spot for pinch hitters or defensive replacements. I don't have relief Second Baseman. Why should there be a special spot for "Relief Pitchers"? I know its an easy question for Roto players to answer, "Saves is a category. Starters don't get Saves". Well, nuts to you and your categories. The Save is barely even a real stat anyway.

Did you know, that the Save as a statistic is only 45 years old?  That's right, the Save is younger than the average baseball fan. This should be an easy rallying point for all those "baseball purists" out there to get behind, but no. They get all twisted up over the DH or fear of the impending pitch clock. (Quick aside; I spend a good part of my summer around the local AAA team. I will be covering how the pitch clock affects games) Really, the Save is the bastard cousin of the Win. People are wising up the W as goofy stat that the pitcher has little control over, so the Save's day of reckoning is coming.

Until that day, we will all have to live with the Closers and Saves the way that they are. Its possible that I can learn some sort of Zen technique when watching the 9th inning of a close game that will prepare me to accept that the universe will unfold as it should and that my Closer will throw strikes only if it is meant to be. Or maybe I'll finally just put up a chicken wire cage around my television so that I don't have to explain to my wife how that bottle "accidentally" left my hand again.

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