Pitching by the Numbers: Middle management

Rostering non-closing relievers in shallow, mixed-league formats seems to make little sense. But they can key a safety-first strategy in protecting elite ERA and WHIP.

Maybe you have a shallow starting rotation with pitchers so elite in strikeouts that you don't have to max out your innings. Or maybe you are trying to get through a couple of short-term injuries without picking up a potentially combustible starters (and pitchers on the waiver wire at this point tend to be the volatile ones).
I’ve sorted the table of middle relievers (below) by lowest win totals because current win totals mean nothing in projecting future ones for relievers. And, this way, we know the pitchers with solid dollar values at the top of the list best fit our need of helping in the averages without hurting us too badly in strikeouts relative to what can be gained from the average starter.
Dollar values are through Thursday and come courtesy of the excellent dollar value calculator at TGFantasyBaseball.com. Note that these values assume a league where 33 percent of the league money is spent on pitching. It also assumes one catcher. Even if you play in draft leagues, auction values are better in season because they allow us to easily rank players by the value of the stats they have thus far compiled.

Rosenthal actually should be a lot better. His BABIP is .357. Yet his WHIP is still just 1.09 because he doesn’t walk anyone and doesn’t need his defense that much (13.4 K/9). Most teams are rostering starters that have strikeout rates half of Rosenthal’s. And I guarantee those pitchers aren’t going to have ERAs under 2.00 and WHIPs that easily should be under 1.00.
Forget about Avilan. I can’t sanction any reliever with a strikeout rate anywhere near that low.
Crain walks too many guys for me. Rule of thumb is to expect an ERA to be about what the BB/9 is for most pitchers.
Gaudin is a starter now. So you’re probably not going to get him and, even if you could, we don’t want starters in these average-protecting spots. It’s also very unusual for relievers to come close to replicating the stats we care about when they are asked to start.
Melancon is perfect and who knows if Grilli, who hasn’t exactly been durable, has the legs to make it through the second half healthy. He’s returning all that value thus far in exactly the way we seek. Imagine if he gets lucky with some wins going forward. He’s used in tie games, too, remember.
Perez is too wild, as much as I love the K/9. The whole idea with these plug-in relievers is that they are worry free. How can you not worry if you own Perez and he’s summoned into a game? You want to be shocked when something bad happens to your safety play.
Cecil is a lefty and ideally you want non-closing relievers to be righties because you want as many relief innings as you can get. Lefties, of course, tend to be situational specialists. But Cecil has averaged more than an inning per appearance and has a chance to close if the Blue Jays decide to dump Casey Janssen.
Torres is a short lefty who had a lot of control issues in the minors. That’s two strikes. As intriguing as I think he is, he doesn’t fit the plan here. I am tempted because he’s such an outside-the-box option in mixed leagues and it’s fun to be right and feel like a genius. But you cannot risk being very wrong here. Remember, you have averages to protect.
David Robertson has had a K/9 well over 10 for four straight years now. And the walks are down under 3.00/9 two consecutive years. So he’s perfect in this role. Allen fits perfectly, too, though is less certain even though his fastball has enough muscle to live up to that K/9.
I’d probably take Smyly over Allen because Smyly is worthy of being a starter and could be a good one. But even if he sticks in the bullpen, he’ll probably get close to 100 innings from Jim Leyland, who is kicking it old school with Smyly this year (I like it).
Delabar walks too many and is too prone to yielding homers. That’s a bad combination, like a late-night snack that’s both greasy and spicy. I know Delabar’s HR/FB is under 3 percent this year but it was almost 20 percent in 2012. Project him to be somewhere in the middle for the balance of 2013.
I’ll take Clippard over O’Day but I bet your league already did, too. Still, forget the five wins for O’Day and pick another option we’ve recommended. One definitely will be available.

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