Middle Reliever Management

Did you ever notice that league winners often have a middle reliever or two on their rosters? And what about all those relievers on the waiver wire who have higher YTD ranks than the myriad of available starters?

This article focuses on the utilization of middle relievers. First, let’s discuss their usefulness in matchup leagues. The roster setup is the main determinant in matchup leagues. That is, what are the number of pitching slots available on any given day? Clearly if the league only allows 3 RP slots, the value of the middle relievers is minimal. In my opinion, this is unfortunate. Essentially a 3 RP league is skimming the top closers and placing an inordinate value on saves. If you find yourself in a 3 RP league, middle relievers will play no part in your league.

If you are in a deeper matchup league with 4 or 5 RP slots, now you’re talking some fun. Now you will have the opportunity – and necessity – to search the waiver wires for viable middle relievers. Welcome to real life (well, as close as we get in fantasy). The addition of a middle man would contribute K’s, ERA & WHIP plus the occasional vulture W or SV. All in all, a nice contribution from a position often overlooked in fantasy baseball.

One of my favorite leagues employs a category called Weighted Holds & Saves (WHS). The WHS is composed of the following: 2 points for a save, 1 point for a hold, and -1 point for a blown save. (If you prefer, your league could utilize the WHS without the penalty for the blown save.)

In the league, each of the 12 teams is allocated 4 RP slots. Thus, on average, each team has 2 good closers and then must determine whether to utilize low end closers (if available) or high end middle relievers for the remaining RP slots. I like the set up. Each manager must determine his own strategy. Remember the manager is not only chasing the WHS category but also considering the effect on ERA and WHIP.

In summary, middle relievers are of significant value in deeper matchup leagues. Your knowledge of their capabilities will contribute to your success – especially in close matchups. Unfortunately, middle relievers are of little to no value in shallow matchup leagues.

So let’s go on to our second major point – that of middle relievers’ usefulness in rotisserie leagues. Again the main determinant is the depth of the league. I personally like roto leagues with 8 or 9 active pitching slots. Assuming a pitching limit of 1800 innings, each team would need to complement its starters and closers with 2 or 3 middle relievers.

Please note: A good middle reliever is much more valuable than a poor starter. One mistake roto players often make is that they select starting pitchers off the waiver wire who not only do not help their team, rather they will hurt the team. Do not allow yourself to select a low end SP in the hope he will vulture a win for you. On average, the low end SP will contribute low end results. (No one ever said you had to be smart to write for a fantasy website.) Meanwhile, a middle reliever may have contributed an inning of work with a zero ERA, WHIP of 1.0 and a strikeout. Doesn’t sound like much but over the course of the season, your pitching stats will be superior to the other players.
As I referenced in one of my lead questions, the waiver wire is often full of middle relievers with high ranks. Yet they have few wins and no saves. So why the high rank? Because they contribute in the other three pitching categories. Many managers would not hesitate to pick up a hitter who contributes in, for example, the categories of R, BA, and SB. Yet they eschew a pitcher who will contribute in K, WHIP and ERA.

In a way, picking up a good middle reliever is a guarantee of improvement in at least two categories. Why? Because ERA and WHIP are tightly linked – or at least make sure they are on your team. Don’t select a middle reliever with a low ERA and a high WHIP. Maintaining a low ERA in tandem with a high WHIP is usually based upon luck. It will not last. Look for a middle reliever who excels in the averages as well as K’s. Surprisingly, K’s are often an overlooked element in fantasy baseball yet they are one of the most easily managed elements.

At the risk of beating a life-challenged horse, let me give an example. A low end SP will contribute (or ‘eat’) 6 innings a week with an ERA of 4.50, a WHIP of 1.33 – 1.50, and 4 strikeouts. A high end middle reliever will contribute 3 innings a week with an ERA of 2.50, a WHIP of 1.10 and 3-4 K’s. The productivity of the innings is exponentially higher with the middle relievers. In addition, you have more innings left for your high end starting pitchers or for an additional high end middle reliever. Sounds like a winning strategy to me.

So why not roster two or three good middle relievers? Three of your pitching categories will thank you. And you may even find a few vulture wins and saves.

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