Monday September 19, 2011
MLB reports: We welcome the newest member of the MLB reports team, Peter Stein. For all you fantasy baseball fanatics, Peter will be featuring weekly reports for you! In his debut, Peter discusses the value of elite setup men and how they can benefit your fantasy team:
Peter Stein (Fantasy Baseball Analyst – MLB reports): Playing in a standard 15-team, daily league, auction, 5 X 5 Roto league this year, I learned many valuable lessons in fantasy baseball. However, one strategy and way of thinking in particular proved to be the most valuable and has had my team in cruise control and on the way to first place since the middle of July. (Disclaimer: Although this article is most applicable to daily roto leagues, the basic concept can be extended to all formats of fantasy baseball).
While most relievers who do not contribute saves largely go unnoticed, the game’s top setup men can provide the highest of quality innings (ERA, WHIP, and K) and as a result are extremely undervalued by fantasy players across all boards.
It is common for owners to spend half of their budget on two or three top of the line starting pitchers with the idea that they can rely on these aces to carry their team in the pitching categories. However, said owner will still have over 50% of their innings to relegate –often to a variety of run of the mill starters or high-risk high reward types of players. If you play your matchups right, it is true that there are many starters who can provide quality innings for you. For example, on my team, outside of Felix Hernandez, for starting pitchers, I relied heavily on starting pitchers ranked outside of the first tier, such as Colby Lewis (95 innings), Derek Lowe (63 innings), John Danks (54 innings), Javier Vazquez (61 innings), Gavin Floyd (41 innings) Erik Bedard (39 innings), and Ryan Dempster (37 innings) in my effort to reach the 1,250 innings limit.
I managed to get tremendous value out of these players based on matchups (a whole different discussion), but you have to be careful with guys like this. Each of these guy’s season totals are very unimpressive, and if used incorrectly can ruin your team. Danks, Lowe, Floyd and especially Vazquez and Dempster each had epically bad stretches this year. Personally, I have only used Vazquez for 61 innings, but it has come with a 1.45 ERA and 0.85 WHIP. If I threw Javy out there for every inning this year I would have to swallow an unimpressive 3.95 ERA and 1.25 WHIP.
But back to the topic at hand (Vazquez will actually be the focus of next week’s article), the point is that you simply cannot receive 200 quality innings from these guys. You need to look elsewhere and this is where the game’s elite setup men become so valuable. Three or four setup men, used in conjunction with each other, can contribute the same value as one ace – without having to deal with the stress of matchups!
To prove my examples, and draw from my team, lets take a look at Sergio Romo and Al Alburquerque, Mike Adams, three players who cost me $1 each. For frame of reference, the game’s elite pitchers, such as Felix Hernandez and Tin Lincecum, went for $45 and $43 respectively.
In 40 innings pitched, Sergio Romo contributed an ERA of 1.40 a WHIP of 0.64, a whopping 62 strikeouts, and a useful 3 wins and 1 save. Although, he pitches approximately twenty percent of the innings of Felix or Lincecum, he provides value that is actually significantly better than both of these starters. Now lets add Alburquerque’s 39.2 innings, which come with a league best 14.1 k/9 ratio, a 2.04 ERA and 6 wins. Talk about some quality innings and a sure way to boost strikeouts. A guy like Al can allow you to use a low strikeout starter who contributes to ERA and WHIP – perhaps a Mark Buehrle. Albuquerque is owned in just 1.0% of ESPN fantasy leagues, but if started all year he provides 6 absurd starts that are really uncharacteristic of ANY starter in the league.
Do you see what I’m on to?
Mike Adams, perhaps the most well-known of the trio entering 2011 (for save potential), in 68.2 innings has contributed 4 wins, 2 saves, and ridiculously low ERA (1.44) and WHIP (0.70 totals).
I morphed these three players into one. This three-headed monster (costing me $3 dollars), contributed 192 strikeouts in 150 innings, a WHIP of 0.87, an ERA of 1.63, 13 wins and 3 saves. Lets see how this imaginary player, lets call him Sergal Adamquerque, stands up to next to King Felix:
Felix Hernandez Romo/Alburquerque/Adams
IP 230 150
W 14 12
K’S 220 192
ERA 3.32 1.63
WHIP 1.19 0.87
Saves 0 3
Do you see the point here? The combination of these relievers, for $3, provides more value than Felix Hernandez who cost $45! I use Felix as an example is because is one of the elite pitcher’s in the game, and I myself spent $45 on him in my draft. However, this was not $45 poorly spent. It is impossible to rely solely on relievers to fill your league’s innings limits. You must have an anchor on your staff, such as King Felix. I also received great support from two other aces, Zack Greinke (88 innings) and Cliff Lee(45 innings), but was able to trade them for help in the hitting department. However, the point is, not even Felix, Lee, or Greinke can give you the value in strikeouts, WHIP, and ERA as these elite setup men. Used in combination with one another, these guys can create your very own “ace,” one that is inexpensive and allows you to budget your dollars to bolster your offense.
With that said, it is true that it is difficult to predict wins with reliever, but remember Felix Hernandez will likely end up with a total of 15 wins in 200 innings. These relievers only need three or four wins in 50 innings to provide similar value in that department. However, you could also get surplus value here. In 2010 Tyler Clippard won 11 games in 90 innings. There is always the chance that these studly setup men take the reign as closer. I drafted my Sergio Santos for $1, partly due to my lack of faith in Matt Thornton, but also because in 2010 he averaged over a strikeout per inning with good ERA and WHIP. Now as a closer in 2011, with a 12.86 k/9 ration, he figures to be a hot commodity in 2012 drafts.
You might think I am drawing form a small samples size. Although I have focused on a few players, the list truly goes on: David Robertson, Koji Uehara, Jonny Venters, Greg Holland, Chris Sale, Glen Perkins, Aaron Crow, Daniel Bard, Tyler Clippard, and Antonio Bastardo are all examples of players who provide just as much value (or more) per inning as the game’s elite starting pitchers.
It is true that the list of the very elite reliever sis short, but there a long list of players who are still extremely useful. To really prove my point, lets look at a reliever who is the third or fourth option on his own team, only owned in 1.5% of leagues, yet still provides tremendous value: Jesse Crain. The little known and used Crain could have provided your team (to date) with 63 strikeouts in 67 innings, 8 wins, and a stellar WHIP (1.19) and ERA (2.29). You really don’t need to dig that deep to find value from relief pitchers.
Relievers do not need to get saves to provide value and as such do not overpay for closers who don’t contribute positively to the ERA, WHIP, and K categories. If you are going to splurge on a closer, it better be someone like Craig Kimbrel, but there is still risk when you pay big bucks for a top closer. Joakim Soria, usually a given to contribute in ERA and WHIP, actually provided negative value for fantasy owners this year in these categories. His 28 saves are not worth the $20 dollars I spent expecting his usual elite numbers.
Next year go ahead and spend the money on the elite pitcher or two to anchor your staff. However, do not waste the dollars and overpay for innings from unproven or middle of the road starting pitchers. These innings can be much more effectively filled with a plethora of setup men from around the league. Draft a sure closer or two, and if you invest wisely in the elite setup men, you will be sure to own another closer or two down the road. Investing in these types of relievers in the draft and on the waivers will save you money – money that can be used on your offense and s on elite starting pitching. You can now dedicate your bench spots to these relievers, shuffling them in and out of your lineup along side an ace or two, and you will get value per inning on the same scale as Felix, Lincecum and other elite starting pitchers. It will require you to not only to target such players in the draft, but you will also have to be a hawk on the waiver wire. Just think of a combination of three of four of these players as one Felix Hernandez, but for 10% of the price.
Clearly, this strategy is most effective in larger leagues and league that allow you to make daily roster changes. However, I hope this article demonstrates how setup relievers have potential to add value in all fantasy leagues, although they are largely ignored or overshadowed by closers.
***Today’s feature was prepared by our Fantasy Baseball Analyst, Peter Stein. We highly encourage you to leave your comments and feedback at the bottom of the page and share in the discussion with our readers. You can also follow Peter on Twitter (@peterWstein).***
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