When it comes to saves, "best matchups" often equates to "greatest quantity of winnable games."
Think about it: You can't save a game your team didn't win, and you can't win a game your team didn't play. Therefore, the smartest approach to targeting saves is to first look to the teams with the greatest quantity of games, second to the teams most likely to win.
In these concluding weeks of the fantasy season, careful examination of schedules and matchups is as important as ever. To give you a head start, I've analyzed the 30 teams' remaining schedules, projecting an expected win total for each from now through year's end. How I did that: I took each team's runs scored and allowed per game, as well as those numbers for their opponents, calculated the averages for each matchup, and then used Bill James' Pythagorean win-loss formula to determine probability of a win in each contest.
For those unfamiliar, this is the Pythagorean win-loss formula: Runs scored squared, divided by the sum total of runs scored squared plus runs allowed squared.
That's not to say there are rock-solid, set-in-stone wins projections. Year-to-date numbers can be misleading -- the Oakland Athletics have been a heck of a lot better on offense lately than they were in the season's early weeks, for instance -- but it's a starting point. So when you're stuck with three closers for two spots in any given week, the list below is a handy reference for breaking those proverbial "ties."
TOP 75 RELIEF PITCHERS
Note: Tristan H. Cockcroft's top 75 relief pitchers are ranked for their expected performance from this point forward, not for statistics that have already been accrued.
In addition to projected wins, I've also listed both the team's "best week," which is the one of the four weeks/scoring periods remaining in which that team is likely to win most often (scaling down the extended final week, of course, to a seven-day rate), and the one in which it has the most games (again, final week scaled down).
These are how the remaining "weeks" break down by date:
Week 21: Monday, Aug. 29-Sunday, Sept. 4
Week 22: Monday, Sept. 5-Sunday, Sept. 11
Week 23: Monday, Sept. 12-Sunday, Sept. 19
Week 24: Monday, Sept. 20-Wednesday, Sept. 29
Philadelphia Phillies: 20.0 wins; Best week: 24; Most games: 24
New York Yankees: 19.9 wins; Best week: 24; Most games: 24
Boston Red Sox: 18.7 wins; Best week: 21; Most games: 22, 24
Cleveland Indians: 18.6 wins; Best week: 24; Most games: 24
Cincinnati Reds: 18.5 wins; Best week: 22; Most games: 21, 23
Chicago White Sox: 18.2 wins; Best week: 22; Most games: 22
Oakland Athletics: 17.9 wins; Best week: 21; Most games: 21, 23
Texas Rangers: 17.7 wins; Best week: 22; Most games: 24
Pittsburgh Pirates: 17.3 wins; Best week: 21; Most games: 21, 23
Atlanta Braves: 17.0 wins; Best week: 23; Most games: 24
Toronto Blue Jays: 17.0 wins; Best week: 22; Most games: 21, 22, 24
Detroit Tigers: 17.0 wins; Best week: 23; Most games: 21, 23
Washington Nationals: 16.9 wins; Best week: 23; Most games: 22, 23, 24
San Francisco Giants: 16.9 wins; Best week: 22; Most games: 23
Colorado Rockies: 16.9 wins; Best week: 23; Most games: 24
Tampa Bay Rays: 16.5 wins; Best week: 23; Most games: 21, 23, 24
Los Angeles Angels: 16.5 wins; Best week: 23; Most games: 21, 24
Arizona Diamondbacks: 16.4 wins; Best week: 21; Most games: 22
Baltimore Orioles: 16.2 wins; Best week: 21; Most games: 24
Milwaukee Brewers: 16.1 wins; Best week: 23; Most games: 22
Los Angeles Dodgers: 16.0 wins; Best week: 22; Most games: 21, 22, 23
San Diego Padres: 16.0 wins; Best week: 21; Most games: 22
New York Mets: 15.9 wins; Best week: 21; Most games: 21
Seattle Mariners: 15.8 wins; Best week: 22; Most games: 21, 22, 24
Kansas City Royals: 15.8 wins; Best week: 24; Most games: 21, 22
Florida Marlins: 15.8 wins; Best week: 21; Most games: 21
St. Louis Cardinals: 15.7 wins; Best week: 21; Most games: 24
Minnesota Twins: 15.2 wins; Best week: 24; Most games: 24
Houston Astros: 14.6 wins; Best week: 23; Most games: 24
Chicago Cubs: 14.5 wins; Best week: 23; Most games: 23
Now, let's take our matchups scouting another step.
Looking to the individuals, here are 10 closers from whom you might be able to extract matchups-specific value in the coming weeks:
Chris Perez, Indians: He has been significantly more successful at home, where he has a 1.71 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in 27 games, than on the road, where in 25 contests he has 4.43/1.30 numbers and three of his four blown saves.
Francisco Cordero, Reds: His former team, the Brewers, has his number this season; he has two losses, is 3-of-5 in save chances and has a 9.95 ERA and 2.05 WHIP in seven appearances against them.
Sergio Santos, White Sox: A true road warrior, Santos is a perfect 15-for-15 in save chances with 26⅔ shutout innings in 25 road games this season. It's not the first time he has been a stronger fantasy play on the road; he had a 1.09 ERA in his 27 road appearances as a rookie in 2010, too.
Andrew Bailey, Athletics: He has had problems in three specific ballparks -- Boston's Fenway Park, New York's Yankee Stadium and Texas' Rangers Ballpark -- where in five appearances combined this season he has both of his blown saves plus an 11.57 ERA. It's not necessarily a 2011 thing, either; he has a 5.32 ERA in 21 career outings at those three venues. Bailey doesn't have a lifetime ERA higher than 2.25 at any other ballpark in baseball.
Neftali Feliz, Rangers: Unsurprisingly, considering his home ballpark, Feliz has a 1.46 ERA and 0.69 WHIP in 62 career appearances on the road (3.81/1.27 in 28 this year), compared to 3.62/1.13 in 79 home games (2.14/1.05 in 23 this year).
Kyle Farnsworth, Rays: He has feasted upon the five lightest-hitting teams in the American League, the Mariners, Twins, Athletics, Angels and White Sox, going 8-for-9 in save chances with a 0.56 ERA and 0.38 WHIP in 18 games against them.
Fernando Salas, Cardinals: Busch Stadium does him quite a favor, as he has five wins, nine saves, a 1.57 ERA and 0.59 WHIP in 27 home games this season.
Leo Nunez, Marlins: He's the quintessential "matchups closer," as he has feasted upon the National League's five lightest-hitting offenses, the Giants, Dodgers, Nationals, Pirates and Astros. In 17 appearances combined against them, he has 11 saves (that representing one-third of his season total), a 1.69 ERA and 1.06 WHIP.
Javy Guerra, Dodgers: Many rookies tend to feel more comfortable at home than on the road, and Guerra is no different; he has a 0.54 ERA and 0.84 WHIP in 17 games at Dodger Stadium this season.
Brandon League, Mariners: He's almost a clear start-at-home, sit-on-the-road pitcher. League is a perfect 20-for-20 in save chances with a 1.27 ERA and 0.74 WHIP in 29 appearances at Safeco, but has 5.57/1.48 numbers, 11 saves and all five of his blown saves in 24 road games.
Tristan H. Cockcroft is a fantasy baseball analyst for ESPN.com and a two-time champion of the League of Alternative Baseball Reality (LABR) experts league. You can e-mail him here, or follow him on Twitter @SultanofStat.