April 26, 2012
Resident Fantasy Genius
Going to the Bullpen for Wins
It may sound strange, but one of my absolute favorite parts of running a fantasy team is finding undervalued relievers. Having Matt Kemp fall to me in the middle of the first round and getting 10 home runs through the first three weeks? Eh. Having my 24th-round pick throw a perfect game? Color me mildly elated. But grabbing Jason Grilli for $1 in Tout Wars? I’m throwing a parade in my mother’s basement!
Middle relievers can be an underappreciated source of value, especially in AL/NL-only leagues and in leagues with innings caps. Not only are they capable of producing elite ratios, but they can also match near-elite starters in wins on a per-inning basis, which is incredibly important in leagues with innings caps. Even if your league doesn’t have an innings cap and is simply deep, these relievers can be worth several dollars. Your pitchers are going to get injured, and when you find out that Michael Pineda is done for the season, there aren’t exactly a lot of options out on the waiver wire. In a lot of leagues, there may not be a single starter available at all, even of the Adam Wilk variety.
So we turn to relievers. Of course, we all know that Kenley Jansen and Matt Thornton are elite non-closers, and chances are, they’re already owned in your league, so we’re going to ignore them. Today, I’m going to rattle off a list of guys who are widely available but who could have a big impact on your fantasy team (at least, as big of an impact as a $1 waiver-wire pickup can be expected to produce). These are guys who, despite getting overlooked, have the chance to run the gauntlet of value. Great skills are a given, but these guys also have the chance of posting a handful (or more) wins. Last year at THT, I examined the qualities that lead to vulture wins, which I key in on when digging through the bargain bin. The most important qualities were, in order: total innings (even on a wins-per-game basis this is most important, serving as a proxy for manager fondness), leverage index (relievers used in the late innings are in better position to win games), lack of (non-closer) late-inning competition, and being a good pitcher.
Jason Grilli | Pittsburgh Pirates | RP (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 0%, CBS 0%)
Pedro Strop | Baltimore Orioles | RP (Yahoo! 5%, ESPN 1%, CBS 5%)
Tom Wilhelmsen | Seattle Mariners | RP (Yahoo! 7%, ESPN 1%, CBS 11%)
Well-known for vulturing a win in the first game of the season at the Tokyo Dome, causing him to be drafted almost unanimously in NFBC drafts that took place between the Japanese series and Opening Day in the United States, Tom Wilhelmsen has a good chance of piling on plenty more where that came from. Seattle’s bullpen is a bit of a lost cause this year, allowing Wilhelmsen to firmly entrench himself as Brandon League’s setup man with no challengers in sight for his late-inning, high-leverage situations. Oh, and he’s thrown the most innings of any reliever in baseball.
Josh Lindblom | Los Angeles Dodgers | RP (Yahoo! 3%, ESPN 0%, CBS 3%)