You've heard it a million times from the "experts" (who seemingly just regurgitate each others fantasy insight). "Don't pay for saves." They say it so emphatically...like you'd have to be an idiot to pay for saves. Truly, I am grateful for each and every one of these experts, because without them, I'd be a lot poorer. Here's the truth. Think of closers as the antithesis of cars, which immediately lose value when they leave the lot. Unlike cars, Closers tend to be at their lowest value on draft day...and that's why you'll go to the bank everyday to pay full price for them. Closers are perceived as one-trick ponies on draft day, much like the Juan Pierres of the world, so it seems odd to take them too high. Accordingly, they drop....every year...especially in snake drafts. Notably, even top closers (I've got 7-9 I'd put on that list right now with Bailey's elbow a concern) really aren't that expensive. A top closer can be had between picks 100-150 in snake drafts and often for right around $10 -- $15 in most auctions.
"But you can get cheap saves late in the draft and on the waiver wire" they tell you. Ummm...you can get cheap everything late in the draft and on the waiver wire, especially starting pitching. Sure, everybody can get a cheap closer or two near the end of the draft, but it's the owners that have reliable closers to combo with those speculative saves that end up winning Saves, ERA and WHIP. In fact, if you've ever been in leagues of 14 teams or more you know that FAAB budgets are burned up with owners scrambling for the newly named closers and you have to be awake at 3am to be the first one to grab the guy in FA/waiver wire leagues. Everyone is going to need the new closer when he's announced, trust me. So, when is the best time to get your legitimate closer(s)? When they are at their lowest value, the draft.
Don't believe me, take a look at ESPN's 2010 Player Rater...you'll be amazed at how high closers are rated, much higher than their draft position. My recollection is there were 3 or 4 in the top 50. You won't see one go that high in a snake draft this year. Why the discrepancy? In reality, top closers are valuable in at least three categories and actually are strong in FOUR categories in shallower leagues if you use your roster positions wisely. I consider a top closer to generally be a guy that I feel is pretty much locked into the role barring an injury or trade (Right now I'd include Bell, Wilson, Rivera, K-Rod, Soria, C. Perez, Marmol, Valverde, and Papelbon). You can make pretty good arguments for about 3 or 4 others. These guys get you saves, a great ERA and generally a great WHIP. In shallow leagues with innings pitched limits ,Closers are actually money in K's as well. Why? because they get you more K's per inning than a starter would. So, if you meet the innings pitched limit, you'll be hard pressed not to be in contention for K's. Hell, Marmol got more K's last year than many Starting Pitchers period.
A perfect draft for me ends with having 1 more closer than the league avg. For example in a 10-team league you'd expect each team to have 3 closers (30 mlb teams). I want 4. In a 12-team league avg is just shy of 2.5, I want 3. 15-team, I want 3 closers. Even if successful, I am still constantly looking to add additional closers throughout the year. After all, how often can you really find three category contributors, let alone 4 on the waiver wire. More than half of SP's will actually hurt you in ERA, WHIP or K's (due to the low k per inning rate) and finding a power guy that hits for avg. and/or gets runs on the waiver wire, is tough.
One last plug for closers...if you really want to play the game (make trades, use the waiver wire) there is no commodity easier to trade than a closer. It is abundantly obvious when a team needs saves, and there are only a few guys that can provide saves. I regularly trade closers for starters and hitters that get drafted 50 spots higher than my closers.
So, if you've been an annual loser and want to change that trend, go ahead and pay for saves.