Anyone who has been reading my articles in the ten months that I've been writing on Fake Teams knows that I'm not a particular fan of the save statistic, or the closers who rack them up. And by "not a fan", I mean that I think the save stat should die a horrible, macabre death, one dreamed up in the worst nightmares of an H.P. Lovecraft/Stephen King love child. If we really insist on giving relievers fantasy value, there should be a better way to do it (not holds!). When a pitcher can get a save in a game like this, you know something is horribly broken.
We're not here to rant about the flaws of saves, though. Like the cast of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, they're here, and we fantasy owners just have to deal with them. What we need to do is pinpoint the closers who stand to rack up high save totals on a consistent basis. This, of course, is tricky business, since save totals are completely context-driven, and are thus totally unpredictable. Add to that the fact that relievers in general often see wild fluctuations in performance from year to year (just look at Jose Valverde's career, for one), and trying to plan for success in the saves category before each year can be an impossible task.
Aroldis Chapman and Craig Kimbrel are two of the top young closers in the game today. Chapman leads the National League in saves with his pitches of pure flame, and he famously broke the FIP statistic this year. Kimbrel is close behind with a ridiculous 1.18 ERA and 16.5 strikeouts per nine innings. If you're going to draft a closer, or have a closer high up on your keeper list, it'll be one of these two guys. However, the chances of Chapman forgetting how to throw strikes again or Kimbrel's arm falling off are more than decent. I wouldn't be surprised at all if one of those two guys is out of baseball in three years. That's simply how it goes with closers. Anyone who disagrees needs to remember Eric Gagne, who was completely done as a relevant fantasy player just two years after his historically good 2003 season.
So it's very hard to predict save totals and closer reliability from one season to the next. However, what we can do, is identify the closers who are most likely to see their save totals plummet due to a variety of flukey factors. After the jump, I pick out two of the most obvious cases, two closers who will absolutely, positively not have a repeat of their 2012 save totals. Note that for the purposes of this article, I'm just going to ignore guys like Santiago Casilla and Alfredo Aceves, pitchers who racked up high totals because of injuries to their respective team's regular closer.
In 430 major league innings going into 2012, Kimbo had a 4.29 ERA. As I type this sentence right now, Rodney has a shiny 0.69 ERA in 65.1 innings (that's a 545 ERA+, kids). Pretty good for a guy who wasn't even signed to be the Rays' closer. Yeah, you don't need to be a brain surgeon to figure out that Rodney is having one of the most insane, small sample size-addled fluke seasons of all time. His strikeout rate is higher than it has been in four seasons, but he's also taken advantage of a super-low .231 BABIP to rack up his major league-leading save total.
Rodney is pretty much a guarantee to regress next season, but that's not the only thing that will drive his save totals down. You see, Rodney is a free agent after the season, and it's almost a certainty that he'll end up somewhere other than Tampa Bay. We're in an era of increased access to information, and major league front offices as a whole are smarter and more careful with their personnel moves than ever before. With that being said, there's still bound to be a team that will decide to throw a multi-year deal at Rodney, based on his tiny ERA and the high-profile magic "C" plastered on his chest.
Any deal for more than a year is likely one the super-thrifty Rays won't match. As a franchise that has had a ton of success in recent years by being extra careful on how they've spent their money, the Rays aren't in the business of handing out more cash to bring back interchangeable relief pitchers. Remember that they showed Rafael Soriano the door after he racked up 45 saves for them in 2010.
This matters because Tampa Bay is a team that relies mainly on strong starting pitching and defense to win games. Thus, they play in their fair share of close contests. Tampa's exceptional defensive unit has probably been a major factor in Rodney's low BABIP, as well. If Rodney changes scenery and finds himself in front of a less-effective defense, with less opportunities for saves, it'll probably be curtains for his fantasy stardom. He's the epitome of why you should be very hesitant about ever trading for a closer. He was found off the bargain bin, had an All-Star season that probably will help win a few fantasy managers a title, and will most likely sink back into irrelevance next year.
Red flags are abound for Johnson just from the first glance, simply because he doesn't miss many bats. It's possible he can survive as a closer despite the lack of strikeout ability, but those types typically don't last long. You know the story. If you aren't missing bats, there's a better chance of the opponent stringing together a couple of lucky hits to create a rally. In the close games that closers always waltz into, simple bad luck could mean death on their ERA and will probably cost them their jobs. This is but one reason I'm bearish on Johnson's chances of repeating his (to this point) 42 saves.
The other reason is that the Orioles have won a crazy amount of one-run games this season. They're 25-7 in such contests, which means that Johnson has had a ton of save opportunities (45, to be exact), more than your typical closer. Success in one-run games often reflects good luck as much as skill, and it definitely shows up in Baltimore's Pythagorean Record (it's 67-73, as opposed to their actual record of 78-62). Also, if you're a big believer in the Plexiglass Principle, then the Orioles are bound to retreat back to mediocrity next year.
Since the Orioles are bound to play in less one-run games, just by the law of averages, and because they're a great candidate to win less games in general, Johnson will almost certainly see lower save totals in the future simply because he'll get less opportunities. Couple that with his aversion for strikeouts, and you can happily take those 42 saves with a massive serving of salt going forward.