Every season of fantasy baseball brings with it a chance to look over the landscape of the game with fresh eyes.
For example, there was a time not so long ago when it appeared that home runs were going to be an ever-increasingly scarce commodity. In 2014, there were only 4,186 HRs hit in the league, a drop-off of almost 500 from the year before. Anyone with even an outside shot at hitting 25 HRs suddenly became a must-draft commodity in all formats.
Flash forward to Draft Day 2017, when power had rebounded in a huge way. The league was coming off a season with the second-most HRs hit in league history, at 5,610. Suddenly, it wasn't a huge priority to draft sluggers, and starting pitchers like Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer were getting drafted in the first round.
Yes, things change. Heading into this season, power has become even more ridiculously commonplace. There were 6,105 HRs hit in 2017, a total that shattered the previous record by more than 400. You're likely to still be able to find a 30-HR hitter in Round 9. (I'm looking at you, Rougned Odor!) The way you've always drafted your team is due for an overhaul.
This is even more apparent in the points-league format, in which you don't have to worry about selecting players who contribute across all categories. Everybody's performance is boiled down to a single number in each week of the baseball season and, for the first time in forever, the window is open for something drastic.
Yes, in points leagues, Kenley Jansen is a first rounder.
Look, I get it. It sounds outlandish. Eric Karabell has Jansen ranked at No. 71 in rotisserie leagues. He's slightly higher in Tristan H. Cockcroft's top-300 list at No. 52 for head-to-head categories. So, yes, if you're in a category-based league, this opinion certainly doesn't fly. "Never pay for saves" as a mantra still applies.
That said, if you're playing points, I'd like you to hear me out and listen to the argument.
Job security and volume
Is there anyone out there who thinks Jansen's job as closer is in any way threatened for 2018? Brandon Morrow has signed with the Cubs, leaving the Dodgers with who exactly in the bullpen? Pedro Baez? Scott Alexander? Josh Fields? Ross Stripling?
Jansen went 5-0 with a 1.32 ERA and 0.746 WHIP. He had a 97.6 save percentage with a NL-best 41 saves and only one blown chance. He was an All-Star selection, finished fifth in NL Cy Young voting and was 15th in NL MVP voting.
Look, I don't think I need to convince you how good he is. Can we all agree, all apologies to Craig Kimbrel, that he should be considered a virtual lock to be the No. 1 RP drafted in most leagues?
Jansen had 65 appearances last season and with Los Angeles winning the NL West by a good 11 games, the proverbial foot was taken off the gas down the stretch. In a close race, he could easily see another 8-10 trips to the mound.
When he does pitch, he's not in there for just one batter. He's almost always going to start the ninth and potentially even enter the game with runners on in the eighth with the intention of finishing things out. In 2017, only four times did he not pitch at least a full inning and, on 14 separate occasions, he retired at least four batters.
On top of that, Jansen actually threw better when he worked more often.
I think that Dave Roberts will use Jansen more often in 2018, with the expectation that the season won't be as much of a cakewalk for his club this time around. That bodes well for an even better statistical campaign from a closer still pitching at the top of his game.
As valuable as Kershaw?
Telling you to select Clayton Kershaw in the first round of your fantasy draft this season, regardless of format, isn't likely to stir up much controversy. Potential concern about his back aside, most people will likely be able to get on board with the Dodgers' ace being projected to win 16-20 games, with a double-digit K/9 rate and a top-five overall ERA. Throw all of his stats into a points-league calculator and I've got him currently slated to earn an average of 22.07 fantasy points per start.
So, what can we expect from Jansen? Saving 40 games would be worth twice as much as Kershaw 20 wins, as both stats give you five points. Jansen will also give you a double-digit K/9 rate, but at a much more concentrated level than the starter:
Throw all of Jansen's stats into that same formula and you're looking at 6.82 points per outing. With three appearances per week, that adds up to 20.46 fantasy points. In a one-start week, that's more than Chris Sale (20.10), Max Scherzer (19.74) and every other pitcher not named Clayton Kershaw. And I'd argue there's a lot more variance from start to start than there is from one relief outing to the next.
Now let's take a look at one more stat to seal the deal here. Jansen is going to get his innings. (Yes, anyone can get hurt. Mike Trout could break his wrist again. You're still drafting him in the first round. So, let's not go there.) In fact, if he throws three times in a given week, that could well be four total innings pitched.
How many innings are you going to get from the average MLB starting pitcher in a one-start week? Take a look at the following trend:
Plain and simple, and a statistical backup to what we all probably felt was true: Relievers are now entering games earlier and earlier each season and starting pitchers are getting much quicker hooks. So, if you are looking at 3-4 "Kenley-esque" innings each and every week of the season, isn't that a much better bet than only around 15 outs from a pitcher who, if he allows even just two runs on six hits in that start, may struggle to get to double-digits? Even in a two-start week, Jansen is likely to be better.
Look, you're probably not going to have to take Jansen in the first round. Most people are going to have him ranked a minimum of two rounds lower, if not more. That said, when the season comes to a conclusion, Jansen is going to finish no worse than in the overall top-25 scorers. I'm not sure I'd be willing to make that same guarantee with 10 other players. I might not even be that certain with more than five guys.
As such, Kenley Jansen and the first round of points league drafts go hand in hand. I know it seems contrarian or foolish, but trends are converging and stars are aligning for a closer like this to deliver that sort of value.