I have come to accept the fact that fantasy baseball is a bit of a crap-shoot when you get down to it. Certainly there are strategies that unfold on draft day all the way through the finals. Strategies change week to week depending on your opponents strengths or weaknesses (as they should). Bottom line is that no two weeks are the same and you have to figure out a way to get a competitive edge. It's with that thought in mind that I would like to share what I believe to be a common, but not universal, strategy that can help you sneak a few categories that a less savvy owner would otherwise ignore including WHIP, ERA, and Strikeouts from a relief pitcher perspective.
For the purpose of this exercise I will go ahead and assume that you are participating in a very competitive 5x5 league where there are no clear cut closers just sitting on the waiver wire and even some of the high profile relievers have been snatched up and holds are not a counting stat.
You will be looking at guys who you can easily slip into a "RP" or "P" spot when your starters aren't throwing and who will deliver good returns on your modest investment.
Let's take a look at the criteria I have established to identify our best options!
First, I only want a relief pitcher who is striking out more than 10 batters per nine innings. The waiver wire is littered with guys who strike out fewer than nine batters per inning and to merit a spot on a fantasy roster there has to be something extraordinary about the player.
Secondly, I am looking for a guy who isn't going to walk a bunch of batters, specifically less than three batters per nine innings. There is nothing worse than getting a reliever who lacks the type of command necessary keep runners off base via the base on balls. Uncertainty is the enemy so if you walk more than 3 guys per nine innings you don't make the cut.
The third and final piece to the puzzle is allowing home runs. The last thing anyone needs is a guy who is serving up the long ball regularly with such a small sample size (most relievers are used for one innings). The home run is death to ERA and WHIP and we will be avoiding anyone who serves up one or more home runs per nine innings.
While other factors are important like how many innings a player pitches and how many appearances are made the main final criteria is 10+ K/9, less than 3 BB/9, and less than 1 HR/9. With that in mind here are a few relief pitchers who I think can help steal categories like ERA, WHIP, and strikeouts in 2103.
Jake McGee, RP, TBR: In 2012 Jake McGee was the perfect example of a valuable relief pitcher based on my criteria. He posted a 11.87 K/9, 1.79 BB/9, and 0.49 HR/9. He posted a fantastic 1.95 ERA and 0.80 WHIP over 69 games and 55 1/3 innings in 2012 and all signs point to continued success. He is locked in as a late round power arm in Tampa Bay and while I think he has the stuff to transition to a closers role down the road it's just not going to happen in 2013. The Rays hold a very reasonable $2.5 million dollar option on Fernando Rodney who was arguably one of the best closers in baseball in 2012 and will have every opportunity to continue that success in 2013. Look for McGee to continue to deliver on his pedigree and repeat the success he has had 2012 and he can be had in the late rounds and give you some added category juice to steal a few stats in 2013. He was only owned in 4% of Yahoo leagues by the end of 2012.
David Hernandez, RP, ARI: As the 8th inning guy in the desert David Hernandez proved he as the stuff to be the closer of the future by posting a 12.91 K/9, 2.90 BB/9, and 0.53 HR/9 in 2012. Fortunately for us he, much like McGee, will not be the closer in 2013 (unless J.J. Putz's arm falls off). Hernandez posted a 2.50 ERA and 1.02 WHIP over 72 appearances and logged 68 1/3 innings. His 98 strikeouts were more than current closing options like Jonathan Papelbon and Jason Motte and on par with Ernesto Frieri. It's not as if Hernandez completely came out of nowhere in 2012 as he posted a solid 2011 campaign that included a 10 K/9 rate but he really turned a corner in 2012 in the walks department as he reduced his total from 3.89 BB/9 in 2011 to 2.90 BB/9 last season while his HR/9 rate stayed basically the same (0.52 in 2011 and 0.53 in 2012). Hernandez is quickly becoming one of the best non-closing relief pitchers in baseball and he will continue to build on that in 2013. Hernandez was only owned in 13% of Yahoo leagues by the end of 2012.
David Robertson, RP, NYY: Robertson got a lot of hype entering the 2012 season as the heir-apparent to the closer role in the Bronx when future Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera went down early with a knee injury. After posting an outstanding 2011 campaign where he struck out 100 batters and posted a 1.08 ERA over 66 2/3 innings and received much accolade including an All-Star selection, Cy Young vote, and MVP consideration the talented Robertson was poised to take the 9th inning mantle. Of course he wold go on to have an oblique injury that opened the door for Rafael Soriano to step in assume the 9th. Soriano never looked back racking up 42 "would-be" Robertson saves in the process. Robertson was relegated to a lesser role and that's just fine for bargain hunters in 2013 as he still posted excellent numbers-just not 2011 numbers. In 2012 Robertson posted a 12.02 K/9, 2.82 BB/9, and 0.74 HR/9 to go along with a 2.67 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in 65 appearances and 60 2/3 innings. He lowered his BB/9 from 4.73 to 2.82 but his K/9 rate dipped along with his HR/9 rate and his BABIP rose from .289 to .331 in the process. In the end I think Robertson is likely to repeat his 2012 results next season and will be available late to help owners looking for a reliable relief arm to add strikeouts while lowering overall WHIP and ERA. David Robertson was owned in 28% of Yahoo leagues by the end of 2012.
In fantasy baseball the relief pitching pool is deep and often unpredictable but being able to add a solid relief arm to steal in a few extra strikeouts and lower the overall team ERA and WHIP can be valuable. While some owners may try and reach for a back up catcher or additional low ceiling starting pitcher there are guys like McGee, Hernandez, and Robertson out there who can be more effective and helpful over the course of 162 games.