Originally written on Baseball Professor  |  Last updated 10/30/14
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How’s that for a short answer? But seriously, year after year we end up saying, “so and so had how many saves?” This year it was Jim Johnson and Fernando Rodney that surprised us. Next year it will be another pair of guys. Joe Nathan came back after his Tommy John struggles. Newsflash: Saves are unpredictable! It’s time for some more proof. Will picking Craig Kimbrel 58th overall (ADP according to MockDraftCentral.com) in your draft kill your chances at a championship? Probably not because he’s that damn good, but I bet people who drafted him last year over Buster Posey, Aramis Ramirez, or even Shin-Soo Choo regretted it come September. The extra strikeouts are nice, but you could also get those same strikeouts (and then some) by streaming one pitcher per week. Case #1: Jim Johnson has always been a pitcher who induced a lot of groundballs (career 57.7 GB%) with great control (career 1.93 BB/9). So why did he break out and save 51 games in 2012? Well, the Orioles were an unrepeatable 29-9 in one-run games, which is a .763 winning percentage and the highest in baseball history. He was drafted 243rd overall. Case #2: Before last year, Rodney accumulated a WAR of 3.2 over his nine-year career. Last year alone his WAR was 2.4. He went from a 0.93 K:BB ratio to 5.07. It was a turnaround performance for the ages, which makes him almost impossible to predict. Just make sure you don’t forget about Jake McGee, who had a better K:BB ratio (6.64) and struck a lot more batters (34.4 K% vs. 27.0 K%). By the way, Rodney was not listed on MDC’s list of 514 drafted players. Case #3: Chris Perez posted career bests in K:BB (3.69) and GB% (40.6), which led to a career-best 39 saves. He was drafted 199th overall. Case #4: Aroldis Chapman took the closer world by storm by tossing 29 consecutive scoreless innings and ended the year with ridiculous 44.2 K%. He’ll definitely have more value as a starting pitcher as he makes way for Jonathan Broxton, but it was a lot of fun watching him dominate one inning at a time. Oh, he was drafted 253rd overall. Case #5: There was a lot of hype surrounding Addison Reed before the season, but his bullpen was very crowded. He eventually won out and finished with 29 saves but didn’t do it in dominating fashion. Still, he showed promise with a very good 3.00 K:BB ratio and the ability to miss a bat or two (9.3 SwStrk%; 22.7 K%). He was drafted 248th overall. Case #6: Thanks to Jordan Walden‘s struggles, Ernesto Frieri was able to take over and become everyone’s favorite Italian-sounding black athlete (seriously, Ernesto Frieri sounds like the name of someone who has their own line of canned pastas). He doesn’t have great control (11.2 BB%) and could benefit from more ground balls (26.3 GB%), but he’s a great source of strikeouts (36.4 K%) and should be a safe bet for 30 saves. His draft position was 411th. Case #7: Tom Wilhemsen didn’t wait for Brandon League to get traded before he took over the closer’s role, which helped him get close to 30 saves (29). What also helped was a 26.7 K% and 48.3 GB%. He went undrafted according to MDC. Case #8: Thanks to injuries to Drew Storen and Henry Rodriguez, Tyler Clippard had sole possession of save opportunities for the Nationals for most of the season. His ERA rose to a more sustainable 3.72 (as we predicted), but he still struck out a solid 27.4% of batters. Unfortunately, this job should be Storen’s assuming health. Clippard was drafted 246th overall. Case #9: Grant Balfour is currently slated to close games for the A’s after ending the season with 15 saves in the final two months. Good for him. He was drafted 240th overall. Case #10: Finally, Kenley Jansen has the Kimbrel potential (at least with strikeouts), but with League signed to a new three-year deal he will need some injury luck to get a crack at saves. If League can keep his walks under control, his propensity to induce ground balls (career 59.5 GB%) could help him become a top-10 closer on a suddenly stacked Dodgers’ squad. League was drafted 184th last year. Now for all you guys in holds leagues. If you think saves are hard to predict then don’t even look at holds. Between the constant carousel of setup men and left-handed specialists, holds are very spread out around the league. The best advice I can give you is to pay close attention to holds early and often during the season.
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