The Value Of Relief Pitching
I recently detailed how my team turned out in KFFL's K -BAD League. As a review of that club will show, I waited in pitching and assembled what I believe to be a strong group of starting pitchers – James Shields, Yovani Gallardo, Jon Lester, Dan Haren, Shaun Marcum, James McDonald and Francisco Liriano . However, I'm not blind to the fact that I rostered an awful lot of risk. Lester and Haren are coming off down years, Marcum is once again dealing with some shoulder weakness, McDonald was terrible in the second half and Liriano is suffering from a broken non-throwing arm (we have a DL spot in this league which is where Liriano will end up). So how did I combat that risk? Besides building an impressive offense, I also rostered four dynamic arms in Steve Cishek, Kenley Jansen, Bobby Parnell and David Robertson. 'But Ray, how does that rally help you since only one of those guys is locked into the 9th inning for his team?' Ah, and with that question we dig into the meat of today's article.
Let's look at each relievers numbers from last season.
Cishek: 2.69 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 68 Ks, five wins, 15 saves Jansen: 2.35 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, 99 Ks, five wins, 25 saves Parnell: 2.49 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 61 Ks, five wins, seven saves Robertson: 2.67 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 81 Ks, two wins, two saves
All of those four produced solid efforts last season, wouldn't you say? That group would have also brought you 49 saves last season, on the cheap, which is a huge bonus given their draft day cost. But did you realize just how dominating they were on the hill? In fact, that foursome of hurlers was just as good, better actually, than Justin Verlander last season, and no, I haven't been drinking (though that White Russian on the counter is about 10 minutes away from being sipped). Take a look.
Verlander: 17 wins, 2.64 ERA, 239Ks, 1.06 WHIP in 238.1 innings Relievers: 17 wins, 2.55 ERA, 309 Ks, 1.14 WHIP in 258 innings
Remember two other extremely salient points.
(1) Verlander had zero saves and the relievers had 49.
(2) Verlander's cost $27 last year in Tout Wars (15 team mixed league). The relievers cost $7 ($0 Cishek, $6 Jansen, $0, Parnell, $1 Robertson).
So, if you had that reliever group you would have gotten better numbers than Justin Verlander, plus don't forget to add in the 49 saves, and spent a fourth as much money on draft day. Are you starting to see my point? Year after year relievers and their value to teams in the fantasy game is undervalued because people think that if a reliever isn't giving you saves then he's not helping your team. Granted, if your team is throwing 1,500 innings over the course of a season 65 innings from one reliever really isn't going to leave much of a mark, but if you have two, three, four or five guys doing that, then it gets really interesting as you can see in the example above.
Some further notes.
(1) Target skills, not roles, with relievers.
(2) Taking relievers in the reserve rounds is a strong move if you are uncertain about your starting pitching group.
(3) Relievers, unlike starting pitchers, can contribute in all five categories.
(4) It may seem counter-intuitive, but sometimes less is more. Last season David Robertson earned $5 of fantasy value even though he threw only 60.2 innings. Lucas Harrell won 11 games, struck out 140 batters, posted a 3.76 ERA and 1.36 WHIP over 193.2 innings. While that seems like Harrell's effort would result in better fantasy value that Robertson, would it shock you to learn that he too earned $5 last season? Remember, the league ERA last year was 4.01, the WHIP 1.31, and obviously a .500 record (Harrell was 11-11 and won only 11 games in 32 starts). The fact is that Harrell was decidedly average across the board meaning that he gave you 193.2 innings of average while Robertson gave you 60.2 innings of impressive work. In the end, their fantasy production ended up being the same.
Relievers may not be the sexy adds late in drafts, but a group of guys like those I noted above can not only provide you excellent numbers, but they can also help to cover up some weakness in your starting pitching unit while at the same time offering a tremendous chance to receive a substantial return on your investment. Don't forget that fact on draft day cause rostering Jake McGee over a guy like Bronson Arroyo at the end of a draft might be the better long-term move in many cases.
* Don’t forget to pick up your copy of the 2013 BaseballGuys Fantasy Baseball Draft Guide which is now available. Nearly 150 pages of insight to help you dominate the competition in 2013.
By Ray Flowers
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The co-host of The Drive on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio (Sirius 210, XM 87: Mon-Fri 5-8 PM EDT and Sunday 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.
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