Thirty teams, 30 burning fantasy questions. Throughout the preseason, we put one of these questions to an ESPN.com analyst for an in-depth look at the most interesting, perplexing or dumbfounding fantasy facet of each major league team.
What is George Sherrill's fantasy value?
The Orioles finally made it official this week. George Sherrill, a situational left-handed reliever who was considered an afterthought by many when he was included as one of the players received in return from the Mariners in the Erik Bedard deal, will be Baltimore's closer this season. Up until now, Sherrill has not exactly been a hot commodity in ESPN Live Drafts. Considering there are 30 major league teams, the fact that Sherrill ranks No. 31 among relievers is not what you would call a vote of confidence. But is this a fair assessment of Sherrill's fantasy value? What exactly is it that people should look for in a fantasy closer, and does Sherrill fit the bill?
Closer Criterion No. 1: Opportunity
There's a school of thought that goes something like this: A closer can't get saves if his team doesn't win, so the best closers to draft are on the teams we expect to win the most games. That's not entirely true. Let's assume for the moment that you can predict with 100 percent accuracy what each team's final 2008 record will be. Is it more likely that the league leader in saves will come from a team that wins more than 90 games than from a team that wins only 60? Sure. But (a) it's not a guarantee and (b) so what?
To simplify the math, let's look at the numbers this way. The "average" major league team will win half of its games, and the number of major league games in which the winning team records a save is about 50 percent. That means the majority of teams should fall into a range of 35-45 saves for the season. A look at the following table demonstrates the accuracy of that assumption the past three seasons.
Although the teams with the best records do tend to get more saves as a team, this is not a guarantee. Look at Boston versus Tampa Bay in 2005, Minnesota versus Pittsburgh in 2006 and Florida versus Colorado and the Yankees last season. Just because a team is going to lose almost 100 games doesn't mean its closer is going to have less of an opportunity to get saves. After all, a bad team probably isn't going to trounce too many teams out in 10-0 laughers, which is why a team such as the 2007 Yankees -- who won 46 games by five or more runs -- didn't give Mariano Rivera nearly the number of save opportunities that Cincinnati, with only 18 "blowout victories," afforded David Weathers.
Which brings us to our second criterion. A team can win games, and give their bullpen all the chances for saves in the world but if all those opportunities are split up amongst several different pitchers, no single pitcher on a "good team" is going to be as valuable fantasy-wise as a closer for a "bad team" who is going to get every save opportunity that the team has to offer.
Closer Criterion No. 2: Exclusivity
In 2005, The White Sox had 54 saves as a team, but Dustin Hermanson had only 34 of them. Compare that with B.J. Ryan of the Orioles (36 of his team's 38 saves), Eddie Guardado of the Mariners (36 of 39) and Danys Baez of Tampa Bay (41 of 43). In 2006, the Orioles had only 35 saves as a team. Chris Ray had 33 of them. Oakland led the league with 54 saves, but Huston Street had only 37 of them. The Dodgers had 40 saves and the Cubs had a lowly 29, but Takashi Saito and Ryan Dempster each had the same 24 saves. In the end, that's all that matters.
Last season, Al Reyes of Tampa Bay had 26 of the team's 28 saves, which was more than either Brian Fuentes or Manny Corpas individually managed when each ended up with half the season in the closer's role in Colorado. Even on a team that made it to the World Series, when the manager has alternatives in the bullpen, there's a chance the save opportunities will end up being shared. In fact, it's probably even more likely on a good team. On a bad team, a manager might let an inexperienced closer learn on the job in the hopes that he'll learn enough to be a stalwart the next season. A contender in a pennant race wouldn't have that same luxury.
And that brings us back to Sherrill. Does he have any competition in Baltimore? Not really. Ray might get the job back next season, but not this year -- which he'll spend recovering from elbow ligament replacement surgery. Jamie Walker and Chad Bradford had a chance to try the role on for size last season, but both are far more valuable in set-up roles. Either Greg Aquino and Dennis Sarfate could step in if Sherrill falters, but if either had done anything to impress manager Dave Trembley in spring training, the announcement of Sherrill's "winning" the job as team's closer would have been met with something other than yawns. Everybody already knew the job was his.
A very wise fantasy sports writer once said in his Draft Day Manifesto, "Never pay for saves!" This is why. If we assume that the Orioles will, as a team, get at least 35 saves -- regardless of their record -- and that Sherrill should get most, if not all, of the save opportunities, why wouldn't you want him on your fantasy team? Having said that, I'm still not going to draft him in the Papelbon-Putz neck of the woods. I'm not going to shell out more than say, $3, for him in an auction. But I am going to put him higher on my personal wish lists than those in confusing situations such as Kerry Wood/Carlos Marmol/Bob Howry in Chicago or C.J. Wilson/Joaquin Benoit/Guardado in Texas. I'm also going to seriously consider taking him before guys such as Corpas or a Jeremy Accardo pitchers who likely will be on a short leash with experienced Fuentes lurking in Colorado and Ryan ready to reclaim his role in Toronto once he's healthy.
Sherrill is the proverbial bird in the hand, and we all know how much that is worth.
AJ Mass is a fantasy football, baseball and college basketball analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.