By now we're all aware of the story of the Boston Red Sox closer situation in 2013. After numerous failed attempts whether due to injury or poor performance, Koji Uehara finally got his chance to shine. What came next can only be described as video game like numbers. As we start to look towards the 2014 season, I've begun projecting, ranking and creating dollar values for AL Only play. It's no secret Uehara would be a valuable closer next season, but in AL Only play he's in a tier all by himself.
Uehara threw 74.1 innings last year, which topped his previous career high of 65 innings in 2011. Much has been made about the fact that after his 2011 season, Uehara only threw 36 innings in 2012. In fact, after throwing 66.2 innings in 2009, Uehara managed only 44 innings in 2010. This could be a trend, for sure, but you can also create your projections (and in turn dollar values) in a way that mitigates much of this risk and still come out ahead. In fact that's exactly what I've done, projecting Uehara for 55 innings pitched in 2014 and he's still the best closer in AL Only play by far. After all, Uehara's average ERA and WHIP in his two low inning seasons - 2.30 ERA and 0.80 WHIP. Remember, these are his bad years. In 2013 Uehara posted a 1.09 ERA and a 0.57 WHIP.
Uehara's control has been well documented, but just let this number sink in yet again - 9. 9 is Uehara's highest number of walks in a season (not including intentional walks) since 2010. (He walked 9 in 2011 and in 2013). My projection currently has him giving up 7 free passes.
While his control is other worldly, he's also able to strike out opposing batters. Since 2010, Uehara has posted double digit K/9 totals, including a 12.23 mark (38.1 K%) in 2013 (The league average K% for relievers in 2013 was 21.7%). I currently have Uehara projected for a 12.13 K/9, as his swinging strike percentage continues to improve year after year.
Finally the statistic fantasy managers clamor for - Saves. Uehara did not take over the closer's role full time, until late June. Even with the late start, Uehara was able to provide his fantasy owners with 21 saves. Red Sox GM Ben Cherington has already come out and said Uehara will serve as the teams closer in 2014, leading me to project him for 35 saves. Could he save more on the power house Red Sox? Of course he can. But for my projection (and in turn dollar value) I'd rather be a little conservative and have extra added value tacked on in season if he exceeds my projections.
When it is all said and done I have Uehara's 2014 seasons as follows:
2 Wins, 35 Saves, 74 K's, 1.95 ERA, 0.65 WHIP.
In a 10 team, standard rotisserie roster, AL Only league, this projection makes Uehara a $29.00 player. Knowing half of any fantasy baseball league will not want to pay for saves, the bidding for Uehara's services should be limited to a select few owners. Most of these owner's will start to get nervous around $22 and that's when you should jump the bid to $25. That seems to be the cut off point for most managers. Even spending $25 on Uehara still locks in $4 of value, which is all we're looking for on draft day - stretching our $260 budget into the $300+ value range. Also, since we're looking at this in terms of AL Only play, you only need one closer, any more and it's overkill. Why not spend what it takes to land the very best, especially when he'll more than likely come at a value?
*Because I know not everyone plays in Only Leagues, I have Uehara ranked as my No. 3 closer in a Standard 12 Team Rotisserie League. I currently have Craig Kimbrel and Kenley Jansen ranked ahead of him.*
Dave also writes an AL-Only dedicated blog - for more analysis please come check us out.