We all love the strikeout. There is nothing more exciting than seeing a hurler unleash a 98 mph heater that a batter has no chance to catch up to as he swings feebly before heading back to the bench with his head down. Yesterday in The Strikeout: Starters, I touched on my overall thoughts about how to understand and evaluate the strikeout, while focusing on which starting pitchers might be undervalued entering the 2011 season. Today, in the same vein, I'll break down which relievers appear lined up for solid fantasy efforts in the coming campaign even if they currently don't appear headed for 9th inning work (remember, it often makes sense to targets skills over role).

Relief Pitchers

No discussion about relievers could begin anywhere else than the Cubs' closer, Carlos Marmol. In a season unmatched in the annals of the game, Marmol had 138 strikeouts in in 77.2 innings. That K-rate equates to a K/9 mark of 15.99, and that is the best mark in baseball history of any pitcher who threw at least 50 innings, one full batter better Eric Gagne's 14.98 mark in 2003. In fact, so great was Marmol's K-rate that his total of 138 Ks was better than the marks posted by the following starting pitchers:

Derek Lowe 136 in 193.2 IP Joe Blanton 134 in 175.2 IP Jaime Garcia 132 in 163.1 IP Fausto Carmona 124 in 2101. IP Bronson Arroyo 121 in 215.2 IP

Since we're focusing on relievers in this piece, not starters with moderate K-totals, here's a list of the top pitchers in baseball last season in K/9 amongst those that tossed a minimum of 50-innings.

15.99 Carlos Marmol 13.50 Billy Wagner 12.92 Joel Hanrahan 12.85 Rafael Betancourt 12.18 Stephen Strasburg 12.02 Matt Thornton 11.79 John Axford 11.50 Takashi Saito 11.45 Carlos Villanueva 11.21 Brian Wilson 11.19 Joaquin Benoit 11.08 Tyler Clippard 11.06 Heath Bell 10.95 Hong-Chih Kuo 10.95 Brandon Morrow 10.87 Ryan Madson 10.85 Sean Marshall 10.83 J.J. Putz 10.55 Octavio Dotel 10.54 Jonathan Broxton 10.52 Francisco Rodriguez 10.42 Bobby Jenks 10.42 David Robertson 10.25 Frank Francisco 10.23 Luke Gregerson

Only two starters are on this list - Stephen Strasburg and Brandon Morrow (you can read more about Morrow in the starters piece linked to at the top of this piece).

Evaluating Relievers

A couple of weeks back in How to Evaluate Relievers I gave some simple "rules" to use when looking at bullpen arms. In that piece I listed the 17 relief arms that tossed at least 60-innings last season with a K/9 of at 7.50 and a BB/9 mark under 3.00. Some of the names were likely fairly obvious, but others certainly weren't. Here is that list again.

Casey Janssen Matt Thornton Sean Burnett Rafael Soriano Joaquin Benoit Luke Gregerson Joakim Soria Neftali Feliz Darren Oliver Kyle Farnsworth Edward Mujica Matt Belise Billy Wagner Sergio Romo Rafael Betancourt Hong-Chih Kuo Joba Chamberlain

What follows are my thoughts on some of the less than obvious names on that list. Remember, we are focused on the strikeout in this piece, but that doesn't mean we want to neglect the walk as all the K's in the world don't mean a heck of a lot if a pitcher is walking every third batter.

Rafael Betancourt: In 2010 this Rockies' reliever had a 12.85 K/9, and a 11.13 K/BB - marks that would make any pitcher who has ever tossed the ball blush. Rafael has 497.1 IP in his career leaving him 2.2 innings from becoming the ONLY man in history with a 9.50 K/9 mark and a 4.35 K/BB in 500 career innings (his career marks are 9.53 and 4.36).

Edward Mujica: I already broke down his historically significant effort of last season when he became one of just the fourth man in the history of the game to do something that will blow your mind. If you want to know what he accomplished take a look at Radiant Relievers.

Darren Oliver: He is old, boring and never drafted except in league specific scenarios. Still he has a two year average of 8.69 in the K/9 department and a 3.51 K/BB ratio. There are worse options to round out a bullpen in league specific set ups.

Kyle Farnsworth: The potential closer for the Rays over guys like Jake McGee and Joel Peralta, Farnsworth owns a career 9.04 K/9, but walks are usually a concern (his career K/BB ratio is 2.33). Still, he has done a better job the past two years throwing strikes leading to a 3.12 K/BB ratio in that time.

Matt Belise: Given that he owns a career 6.64 K/9 mark his rate of 8.90 last year was a bit surprising. Already 30 years old, did it just take him a while to put it all together? After all, his K/BB ratio the past two seasons has been special (4.40 and 5.69).

Joba Chamberlain: In many ways Joba out-pitched Daniel Bard in 2010 (you can read about that comparison in Hot Stove: The Arms Race). Of course, there are now reports that Joba gained weight this offseason, and not in a good way, and that his roster spot could be in jeopardy. With Rafael Soriano in the mix, the best Joba could hope for to start the year is the 7th inning gig, and that pretty much tanks his fantasy outlook.

And finally...

Craig Kimbrel: Kimbrel is kind of cheating since he didn't reach the threshold of 60-innings for the above list. Still, when you strike out 17.42 batters per nine innings you get a mention, even if you only pitched 20.2 innings. Moreover, that mark of 17.42 per nine is the highest mark in history of baseball for at least 20 IP (the next highest mark is Marmol's 15.99). Be careful though as Kimbrel also walked a sickening total of 6.97 per nine. To compare, his minor league numbers include a K/9 of 14.42 K/9 and a BB/9 of 5.66. Still, he is slated to open the year as the Braves' closer.

By Ray Flowers


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About Ray Flowers

The co-host of The Drive on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio (Sirius 210, XM 87: Mon-Thurs 7 PM, Fri. 9 PM EDT), Ray also hosts a show Sunday night (7-10 PM EDT). Ray has spent years squirreled away studying the inner workings of the fantasy game to the detriment of his personal life. Specializing in baseball, football and hockey, some consider him an expert in all three.

Ray Flowers on Twitter

RT @SuperHeroStuff: Always give Godzilla his presences first!

agreed RT @MatthewVeasey: @mattylogz People don't realize how hard 40 HR is today, even for Stanton. Especially in 3/4 of a season.

Mel Ott (1929): .328-42-151-138 Lefty O'Doul (1929): .398-32122-152

Christy Mathewson : 1905-1911: 1.28, 1.43, 1.14, 1.89 and 1.99 ERAs in there. #Sfgiants