Being a middle relief pitcher is a thankless job. You pitch maybe 2 to 3 days a week for an inning or two and if you do your job well enough, nobody will ever remember your name. Give up a costly hit or blow a lead for your team and people will remember your name for years to come. Everyone knows who the starting pitchers are and everybody knows the name of the guy who closes out games, but only the true fans know who the middle relief pitchers are.
The same thing holds true in fantasy baseball. You scour the waiver wire hoping to discover a diamond in the rough, but as you search to find that pitching sensation you skip right over those middlemen. “Well who is this guy and why should I pick him up?” “He doesn’t pitch that often, barely gets me any wins and doesn’t get saves.” These things are true if you compare that one individual to a starting pitcher, but the combination of middle relief pitchers is where the value lies.
Let me give you an example. Look at the stats for the following two players and tell me which one you would choose.
Now both players are very close and the only discernible difference between the two is strikeouts. Just going with the numbers you would have to go with player A, and he was a popular pickup off the waiver wire for many this year.
Player A if you were guessing is Jose Fernandez. Player B is actually 2 relief pitchers and just like Fernandez could have been found on the waiver wire at any time. Player B was Luke Hochevar and Drew Smyly. So for all of those that missed out on Fernandez or maybe had him and dropped him early, he was still out there on waivers if you just used your imagination a little. But Hochevar and Smyly weren’t the only useful relief pitchers out there. Lets try this again with a few more players.
In this one you have to decide between wins and ratios. Player A didn’t win as many games as Player B, but he helped you more in ERA and WHIP.
Player B in this scenario is Mike Minor. On average Minor was drafted in round 14/15 and if you wanted him you would have to trade away a decent player to get him. Now if you saw Mike Minor on waivers in your league you would snatch him up, yet Player A was on waivers and was available for the taking; problem is nobody could see him. Player A Trevor Rosenthal and Tyler Clippard. For the price of a few wins you could have had Mike Minor on your team, and all it would have taken was a little thinking outside the box.
Now just to hammer my point home we’re going to do this one more time
Player B is Julio Teheran who was dropped by several owners after a rough April, and I’m sure those people would love to have him back. Well just like the examples above, there was a similar version of Teheran available on waivers. Players A was David Robertson and Cody Allen and while separate they look rather ordinary, together they look like a front line starter.
We can play this game a few more times but I think you get my point. Middle relief pitchers have value and they can help your team just as much if not more than your number three starter. There is a select group of owners out there that this strategy is perfect for, and that would be those individuals that punt the saves category. Some people punt saves from the beginning while others do it after injuries and demotions decimate their bullpen. They either leave their RP slots empty or search the waiver wire for starting pitchers that qualify for their RP slot. Most years you are not always fortunate enough to find a Patrick Corbin or Hisashi Iwakuma and have to settle for some average no name who might not even get a second look if he didn’t qualify for RP. Why settle for one of these guys when you can roster two middlemen and get far superior numbers.
Now in H2H leagues this strategy doesn’t work as well because just like closers, you never know when your relief pitcher will be in and how many innings he’ll get each week. Roto and points leagues are a different story and this strategy is way more valuable to people who play in these leagues. If we go back to our second example using Rosenthal and Clippard, they put up better numbers than Mike Minor. What I did not mention is that they put up those numbers in 58 less innings. In leagues that play with an innings cap those extra innings can come in extremely useful when the categories get close.
So the next time you find yourself searching the waiver wire looking for a decent starter, don’t just glean over those relief pitchers, play a game of Frankenstein and build yourself a Jose Fernandez or a Mike Minor. Your competitors will scratch their head at your ambiguous pickups and you can sit back and laugh as you inch your way past them in the standings.
And just so you know, I shuffled Drew Smyly, Luke Hochevar, Tommy Hunter and Brett Cecil in and out of my SP slots throughout the year in my roto league. Between those men, my closers and ever-changing pitching staff I finished first in ERA (3.09), WHIP (1.15) and strikeouts (1542). And yes, I won my league.