Yeah, I know, I’m not the only one, this is far from an original thought, but the saves category bugs me, and for whatever reason, even more so this year. I think I know the reason, and it has to do with what I enjoy about the hobby, what I personally considering challenging and how handling saves is a polar opposite in terms of philosophy. I’ll try to refrain from using the word ”lucky” too much, as my thoughts transcend the pure luck element of saves and the associated strategy, but it will no doubt rear its ugly head.
To best explain my discomfort with saves as a rotisserie category, it is best if I start at the beginning and discuss my overall approach to the game, what is fun and challenging for me and why I keep coming back for more every year.
It all starts with player projection, trying to predict future performance based on past historical trends, spiced up with some scouting. Next is putting a value on those statistics, on both a micro and macro scale. Then the real challenge is taking those units of value and constructing a team using elements of game theory to devise your strategy. And finally, there is the day to day managing of your squad in an effort to maximize your points.
I wholeheartedly admit I completely favor the first three elements with the last, in-season management being a distant fourth on my enjoyment scale, for a variety of reasons. This is likely the reason I usually fare better in deeper leagues as opposed to the shallower mixed leagues.
The primary issue I have with saves is there is practically no element to their strategy that meshes with what I find fun and challenging and their inclusion introduces too much, okay I’ll say it, luck.
Granted, an important part of your global strategy is how you wish to approach saves. Perhaps too simplistically, you have 4 choices.
A. Invest in the top-tier closers with elite skills
B. Invest a little less but still get a closer with a full-time job, but with a less-than-elite skill set
C. Throw darts into the group of closers that have the job but do not have the skill set to success long term or lack experience so it is not clear if they can handle the mental side of the position
D. Go the totally speculative route, both at the draft/auction and into the season
So yeah, I like strategy and there is some level of strategy necessary to decide which route you wish to pursue. But the reason this strategy even exists is at the root of my problem with saves – projecting them is largely a crapshoot, with the key being it is even more so than compared to other categories such as wins, runs and RBI, all three of which also have factors out of control of the player that affect the performance projection to a pretty large degree.
Here is what we know “scientifically”. Most teams win between 70 and 100 games and most teams have 45%-55% of their victories saved. So the worst team can be expected to get between 32 and 39 saves while the best team can be penciled in for 45 to 55. The rest is pretty much a crapshoot. Do you just split the difference and project each team to have 50% of their wins saved? How do you partition those, as even the best teams have other relievers pick up a save or two? Some have tried to come up with a more scientific manner to distribute saves based on how many close games they feel the team will play, etc., but there is no year-to-year correlation and no way to predict it if there was, so the best we have is figuring each team will have half its games saved, plus or minus ten percent.
My personal way of dealing with this is to assume all full time closers will get the same number of saves and to use their peripheral stats to rank and value. It lets me sleep at night, but I am bothered by the relatively unscientific nature saves are allocated.
But this is not really the problem. If you tell me I have to go through this exercise with 30 players, one per team, I would be fine with that. I would tier the closers, give 45 saves to everyone in the first tier, 37 to those in the second tier and 30 to those in the third tier and call it a day.
But of course, that is not the case. Teams having multiple relievers assume the closing role over the course of the season is the rule, not the exception. And is there is no real scientific way of first identifying the candidates and second, divvying up the saves. Yes, it is perfectly reasonable to have suggested Kevin Gregg will lose the job to Carlos Marmol, or Brandon Lyon to Fernando Rodney or Huston Street to Manny Corpas. But truthfully, anyone who claims they KNEW it would happen by such and such a date is full of it. They may have hoped it would, or thought it might, but there is no scientific means of setting the date – and my enjoyment and challenge of the hobby is at least trying to maximize the scientific nature of projection theory, valuation theory and game theory. Projecting saves flies in the face of all that. Your opinion may differ, and that’s obviously fine.
But that is not where my angst ends. Because of the singular nature of the category, acquiring saves from an unexpected source can make a huge difference in the standings. Is there really a skill in drafting Ryan Franklin with your last reserve pick? Was that any more skillful than drafting Leo Nunez? Was there any skill in throwing a buck at Todd Coffey or picking up Julian Tavarez or Joe Beimel? Is this really challenging? Is this really fun? Is this really what you want to decide, or at minimum affect your league’s standings?
Before I go on, trust me, I understand completely there are other huge elements of happenstance that go beyond saves. My contention is the same exists for saves, but to a greater degree -- a much greater degree. And this degree has reached a point that is has sucked some of the fun out of the game for me. The frustration has begun to challenge the enjoyment. I am beginning to wonder if all the pre-season effort to project players, value/rank players then assemble a team is even worth it. Don’t fret, I said BEGINNING TO WONDER. I am pretty sure I will not be announcing my retirement anytime soon because I am up to here with the saves category.
That said, I come from the school that says don’t bitch about something unless you have a solution. So here’s my solution – TEAM SAVES. Yes, team saves. You draft a team, and if anyone on that team gets a save, you get a save. You don’t get anything else, just a save. And if you own the player that recorded the save, tough shinola, only team saves get scored.
But that’s not all. Obviously, a player like Mariano Rivera or Jonathan Papelbon should still have some serious fantasy value, beyond that of just their excellent peripherals. If you take saves away, their relative fantasy value is no longer commensurate with their real baseball value. So we need a way to pump up their value a bit. That is why I suggest weighting team saves at .5 and using a 6th category, also with a weight of .5 that benefits the better closers, either K/9 or K/BB, with K/9 being my personal favorite. Doing this still gives decent value to the better relievers. In fact, it is probably fairer that the present system as a superior set-up man would be more valuable than an inferior closer, with saves removed from the equation.
I need to ruminate on this one a little further and perhaps run some numbers, but an additional improvement might be to replace wins with innings pitched. My thinking is using team saves and K/9 to encompass a category may lead to the ‘mostly reliever’ strategy. Going with innings would increase the value of a middling starter versus a middling reliever. I have no issue with teams using talented relievers. I would have an issue if this system took away the science of evaluating the middle to lower tier of pitching.
So there you have it. If I were King, I would eliminate the saves category as it exists now, use team saves and K/9, each at ½ weights. I would also likely replace wins with innings pitched. The overall effect would be to remove an element of the hobby I find frustrating, dealing with the fickle and downright unpredictable nature of saves, while minimally impacting the value of closers and altering global strategy.