'Closers-for-the-Day' as Value Plays

Originally published at DFSEdge.

Over the coming weeks, I’ll be exploring the eight major daily fantasy sites in great depth, examining how they compare in terms of scoring system, roster structure, and player salaries, in the process discovering which types of players are best utilized on each site.  What we’ll eventually find is that, while relief pitchers can hold massive value in traditional, year-long fantasy leagues, most daily games ignore them entirely.  Still, there are two sites, Draft Street and Fantasy Feud, that make use of the relief pitcher and include saves and/or blown saves in their scoring systems.  As such, I wanted to talk today about one of the best value plays in daily fantasy when it comes to relief pitchers.

Unlike starting pitchers, relief pitchers don’t have set days that they’re going to pitch.  There is no precise schedule.  Relievers can be called upon in any given game and for multiple games in a row.   Of course, due to fatigue and elevated injury risks, there is a limit to how many days a reliever is capable of or allowed to work consecutively.  While this can differ from pitcher to pitcher, the rule of thumb is that a relief pitcher will work no more than three successive days.  This bears watching because, should a closer need the day off and a save situation arise, someone else is going to be called upon to shut the door in the ninth inning.  This creates an opportunity for savvy daily leaguers who can buy one of these "closers-for-a-day" for a fraction of what an actual closer will cost.

This information is of particular use for those of you who play on Fantasy Feud.  Fantasy Feud lets you choose from a wide array of relievers -- everyone from Mariano Rivera to Brian Omogrosso (sidebar: how awesome of a name is Brian Omogrosso, particularly when you say it in the voice of a vapid 15-year-old girl?), so pretty much all of the closers-in-waiting are available on any given day.  These generic relievers all cost a mere $15,000 of the $1 million cap.  The top actual closers cost upwards of $20,000; the top starting pitchers cost upwards of $100,000, and even crappy fifth starters generally cost more than $50,000.  It’s also worth noting that when new closers are anointed, either due to failure or injury to the incumbent, they seem to stay at $15,000 for a while.  Right now, you can select Rex Brothers, Luke Gregerson and Francisco Rodriguez all for the $15,000 minimum salary.

This information is also useful for those who play on Draft Street, albeit to a lesser extent since this site limits the non-closers that are available.  Today, for example, the only non-closer available is Jared Burton.  That said, while options are limited here, the discount can be even larger.  Burton costs $1,500 of the $100,000 cap, which is nearly half of the $2,956 the day’s top closer, Edward Mujica, will run you.

Since Fantasy Feud gives you three general pitcher spots (meaning you can choose to go with three starters, three relievers, or any combination therein) and Draft Street gives you one, it’s up to you how you want to use them.  We’ll discuss strategies for this another day, but if you’re going to go with a closer, this is a great way to do it on the cheap.

Of course, pouring through three days’ worth of game logs every single day is hardly anybody’s idea of a good time, so there are a couple of tools that do most of the work for you.  Daily Baseball Data has handy Bullpen Usage tables that chart reliever usage for each of MLB’s 30 teams over the past week.  If you’re even lazier than that, follow Tim Dierkes’ @closernews on Twitter, which tracks the closers that are likely to be sitting out and who the best bets are to replace them.