Tip Drill: In defense of non-closing relief aces

<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/mlb/players/7847/" data-ylk="slk:Andrew Miller">Andrew Miller</a> has been nearly un-hittable over the past three seasons. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Andrew Miller has been nearly un-hittable over the past three seasons. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

Let’s just say, hypothetically, that a major league starting pitcher had produced the following stats last season: 199.1 IP, 19 W, 236 K, 2.39 ERA, 0.97 WHIP.

Those are stellar numbers, obviously. An elite level of performance. Basically a vintage Pedro season. The pitcher who delivered those stats would have ranked fourth in MLB in wins, fourth in strikeouts, and second among all qualifiers in both ERA and WHIP. Without question, that dude would enter this season as a no-doubt early-round fantasy asset.

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But that statistical line (along with 19 saves) is actually what you would have received if you’d owned relievers Nate Jones, Tyler Thornburg and Kevin Siegrist from start to finish in 2016. (You knew it would be something like that, because, well … the headline.) And those guys cost nothin’ at all at the draft table last March.

If instead you would have paired, say, Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller — two setup relievers who did carry modest draft prices in 2016 — then you’d have snagged 13 wins, 24 saves and 249 Ks over 147.1 low-ratio innings (0.90 WHIP). Again, stellar. Miller finished as a top-35 overall fantasy commodity last year, despite doing most of his pitching (43.0 IP) in the eighth inning.

Here’s where I’m going with this: The best non-closing relievers can be fantastically useful fantasy assets. Don’t ignore them. If you roster two or three over the course of a full season, you can essentially build an ace from spare pitching parts. Yes, you’ll need to burn an extra roster spot or two, but that’s not much of an inconvenience if your league uses standard Yahoo default settings. In a public league, you have eight active pitching spots and five bench players. Owning a small number of elite setup relievers is completely manageable. These guys are generally next-in-line to close for their teams, too, so saves are never far away.

Also, it’s important to note that in a default Yahoo rotisserie format, your team’s innings are capped at 1400 for the year. That limit is a pretty big deal. It isn’t at all difficult to reach that total if you’re an attentive manager, so it’s important to not give away innings to pitchers with low strikeout-rates and poor-to-ordinary fantasy ratios.

Here’s a shopping list of potentially dominant non-closing relievers who tend to go un-drafted in Yahoo leagues:

Tyler Thornburg (17% owned) – 90 Ks in 67.0 IP, 0.94 WHIP in 2016
Grant Dayton (3%) – 39 Ks in 26.1 IP, 0.76 WHIP
Brad Brach (23%) – 92 Ks in 79.0 IP, 1.04 WHIP
David Phelps (21%) – 114 Ks in 86.2 IP, 1.14 WHIP
Luke Gregerson (8%) – 67 Ks in 57.2 IP, 0.97 WHIP
Brad Hand (5%) – 111 Ks in 89.1 IP, 1.11 WHIP
Kyle Barraclough (18%) – 113 Ks in 72.2 IP, 1.22 WHIP
Kevin Siegrist (5%) – 66 Ks in 61.2 IP, 1.10 WHIP
Carl Edwards Jr. (8%) – 52 Ks in 36.0 IP, 0.81 WHIP
Carter Capps (10%) – 58 Ks in 31.0 IP, 0.81 WHIP (2015 stats)

Roto managers, you want these guys. And they’re essentially free. Spend your innings well.

Grant Dayton struck out 91 batters in 52.0 minor league innings last season, and he was almost equally dominant for L.A. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
Grant Dayton struck out 91 batters in 52.0 minor league innings last season, and he was almost equally dominant for L.A. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)

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