Roto Arcade: Starting with Relief

Roto Arcade: Starting with Relief
By Andy Behrens
July 19, 2007

Andy Behrens
Yahoo Sports
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    Today let's talk about starting pitchers who don't start.

    No, not A.J. Burnett. I'm referring to relief pitchers who qualify as starting pitchers in Yahoo! leagues.

    This can really be a big deal. Let's say, for example, that your league uses three SP positions, two RP positions, and two Ps. That's how the Yahoo! Friends and Family League is configured. It's not an uncommon setup. In a configuration like that, most teams will carry no more than four closers – two at RP and two at P. But if one of your closers happens to be, say, Kevin Gregg of the Marlins, you can start five. Nice, eh?

    Follow that link above and take a look at Scott Pianowski's lineup in the F&F league. You'll notice that he has Gregg slotted as a starting pitcher, not a relief pitcher. This has allowed him to start five closers throughout much of the season – no small feat in a 13-team league. Not surprisingly, Scott leads the league in saves, and by a wide enough margin that he can now safely deal a closer.

    If you're in a league that counts holds as well as saves, it's especially important to find relievers who qualify as starting pitchers. Just park someone like Carlos Marmol in a SP spot and you can accrue holds without burning one of your RP positions. Unless you're streaming starting pitchers, you're not actually getting production from every SP spot each day. Try not to waste lineup positions.

    Even if you're in a traditional 5x5 league, middle relievers with excellent ratios and high K-rates have more value than many heavily-owned starters. (And I'll just keep making this point in various ways until Pat Neshek is owned in more leagues than Matt Morris. Don't mind me. Feel free to skim such paragraphs). Most fantasy owners understand the utility of hitters who qualify at multiple positions, but they don't always understand that there's a potential position-eligibility advantage with pitchers, too.

    These have been a few of the more useful starting pitchers who don't start in 2007:

    Kevin Gregg, Florida, 2.96 ERA, 20 SV, 6 HD, 96.3 percent-owned
    This, of course, is the SP/RP closer that you really want. In addition to the excellent ratios, Gregg has 53 K in 54.2 innings and only one blown save. You probably can't add him from the free agent pool, but he's an excellent trade target. He's fantastically undervalued based on recent trades in Yahoo! leagues. These are players he's been dealt for in one-for-one swaps this week: Adam Jones, Fausto Carmona, Mark DeRosa, and Ian Kinsler. I'm not just cherry-picking, either. Those are all of the one-for-one trades since July 13.

    Carlos Marmol, Chicago, 1.41 ERA, 1 SV, 5 HD, 24.1 PCT
    This guy was dropped in 2872 leagues Wednesday after yielding a pair of earned runs to the Giants on Tuesday. Admittedly, it's no easy thing allowing two runs of any kind to San Francisco. But at least some of the blame for those ERs goes to Jason Kendall, who dropped a pop-up in foul territory.

    Anyway, Marmol has been overpowering. Any hope of him taking over as the Cubs closer vanishes on Friday when Ryan Dempster – who used to be a SP/RP himself – returns from the DL. Still, Marmol has 45 K in 32 innings and he's held opposing hitters to a .175 average. He's significantly more valuable than whatever replacement-level fat-WHIPped starting pitcher you're carrying.

    Brett Myers, Philadelphia, DL, 5.50 ERA, 6 SV, 3 HD, 78.5 PCT
    Myers has been my answer to Gregg in the F&F league. And if it weren't for that disastrous, fluky shoulder injury, I'd have maybe caught Pianowski in saves. Myers will begin a rehab assignment Friday. Expect him to return as the Phillies' closer whenever he's activated from the disabled list.

    Brad Hennessey, San Francisco, 3.43 ERA, 5 SV, 9 HD, 28.2 PCT
    This dude delivers exactly one save per week, it seems. No more, no less. But Hennessey is still a closer with useful ratios who's available in over 70 percent of Yahoo! leagues. That's kind of amazing.

    Carlos Villanueva, Milwaukee, 3.31 ERA, 0 SV, 14 HD, 16.8 PCT
    Of all the relievers who qualify at SP, Villanueva has the most holds. July has been an extraordinarily poor month for him, though: 11.1 IP, 10 H, 7 ER, 4 HR, 5 BB. Villanueva has six wins already, and 63 K in 65.1 innings. He should still be owned in every league that counts holds.

    Casey Janssen, Toronto, 2.44 ERA, 3 SV, 13 HD, 5.2 PCT
    So should Janssen. He's second in holds among the SP/RPs. With only 26 K in 48 innings, however, Janssen isn't quite as interesting as Marmol or Villanueva. Or even …

    Zack Greinke, Kansas City, 4.54 ERA, 1 SV, 7HD, 5.0 PCT
    There's an unusual, almost inexplicable affection for Greinke in the fantasy expert community. After a disastrous May 6 start against Detroit (4 IP, 9 H, 6 ER, 3 HR) Greinke was moved to the Royals bullpen, and he's really been excellent. He's lowered his ERA from 5.71 to 4.54, and he's suddenly striking people out at a useful rate. Greinke has 27 K in 25 innings since June 1. When Octavio Dotel is finally dealt, Joakim Soria (1.98 ERA, 49 K in 41 IP, 41.8 percent-owned) will probably return to the closer role in KC. Yet Greinke is own-able, too.

    Jonathan Sanchez, San Francisco, DL, 3.96 ERA, 0 SV, 1 HD, 0.1 PCT
    Sanchez might have better stuff than anyone else on this list. The 24-year-old left-hander should return from the DL (strained rib cage) today or Friday. He has 34 K in 25 innings this season. He should really be owned in any keeper league.

    Andy Behrens has written for ESPN.com, the Chicago Sports Review, NBA.com, the Chicago Reader and various other publications. In all likelihood, Andy owns more Artis Gilmore memorabilia than you. Follow him on Twitter. Send Andy a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.

    Updated on Thursday, Jul 19, 2007 7:29 pm, EDT

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