Pitching by the Numbers: Middle management

Michael Salfino
Yahoo! Sports

If you're playing in fantasy leagues with a strict innings cap, the typical pitcher valuation chart distorts so much that it's as if you're looking at it in a funhouse mirror.

If you're over your innings pace, you must act now. Broom your starters who are not pulling their weight in strikeouts per inning and, just as important (but unfortunately much harder to project), wins per inning. I know it's hard to let starters with solid ERAs and WHIPs walk to your waiver wire, but unless they are on very good teams and thus likely to help in wins/inning, they must go. Explore trades, but you are in a bind and can't afford to dawdle and shouldn't expect any favors from leaguemates. What you need instead, pitching wise, are relievers with great strikeout rates. That usually means "closers," but not always. Good news, mixed leaguers: you are guaranteed to find closer-worthy K-rates on your waiver wire, just from guys with few saves and little hope of getting more.
Getting them in for your lowest-valued starts allows you to depress your innings count while keeping your strikeouts afloat. Ideally, you want to be able to steal some cheap middle relief wins, too. But that's very hard. The holds guys mostly pitch late when the team is winning and thus are only able to get a loss. The earlier setup guys pitch more often when the team is trailing or when the game is tied. But they typically lack the elite K/9 skills we seek. Typically, the earlier you pitch in games, the less talented you are.
Let's look for the exceptions – non-closers with the strongest strikeout rate first and foremost as that's the top priority for capped-out owners. Of course, you want solid ERAs and WHIP, too, but fortunately that typically comes attached to the level of strikeout dominance we seek. And when it doesn't, it's reasonable to project that it will. (Stats through Tuesday.)

Grilli, Jason PIT 35.7 56 1.57 2.02 1 1 1.07
Hernandez, David ARI 39.3 58 1.48 2.52 2 1 1.07
Dotel, Octavio DET 30.7 44 1.43 3.52 1 3 1.11
Villarreal, Brayan DET 30.7 42 1.37 1.47 0 3 1.01
Delabar, Steve SEA 32.3 44 1.36 4.18 0 2 0.87
Collins, Tim KC 45.7 62 1.36 3.35 0 4 1.16
Benoit, Joaquin DET 42 55 1.31 3 1 1 1.17
Furbush, Charlie SEA 37.3 47 1.26 2.17 0 4 0.8
Pestano, Vinnie CLE 38.3 48 1.25 1.64 0 3 1.02
Romo, Sergio SF 27 33 1.22 0.67 5 2 0.74

Our Yahoo! Friends and Family League eats these guys up. So the pickings for me were slim. Out went Edwin Jackson, but who would come in?
Villarreal is nursing a neck injury at press time. I'm not thrilled with the WHIPs of Dotel, Collins and Benoit. But Delabar's 0.87 WHIP is great. His ERA is a product of giving up too many homers – eight in 32.1 innings. That's just obscenely bad and has to be more fluke than fact. Basically, if you don't homer against him, you are not scoring. And Delabar also gets better usage than appears because he was shipped to the minors for a stretch (though there's bad news there, too, obviously).
As for the others, Furbush has a little biceps tightness and has landed on the 15-day DL. When he returns, he deserves our attention. Pestano is owned in Friends and Family, but I bet he's available in your league. Romo , though, has been picked up in many places with Santiago Casilla struggling recently.
That's sort of the process you should go through. Maybe if you have a closer on one of the teams in question, you take that middle reliever and gains some saves insurance, too.
My preferences would be, in order, Romo, Grilli, Pestano, Delabar, Furbish (reverse when Furbush returns), Hernandez (too wild, but you can live with it) and then the other guys but you will never have to get this far down the list. Romo is most likely on this list to be rostered though. And while I'd normally say to discount those averages, Romo's career rates are 2.11/.873.