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Last week, one of the commenters on my article on FAAB spending suggested that it’s doubtful that middle relievers make that much of an impact, even in deeper fantasy leagues

Even in an only league, someone's not likely to keep $15 earner Darren O'Day in their lineup weekly if he's not getting save chances.

Did it play out this way in Tout Wars?

Ten Best Middle Relievers, Active/Not Active in Tout Wars



Weeks Active

Weeks Inactive

Darren O’Day




Jake McGee




Jared Burton




Kelvin Herrera




Wade Davis




Ronald Belisario




Vinnie Pestano




Craig Stammen




Sean Marshall




Jerry Blevins








For the purposes of this chart, the cutoff is 10 saves. Sean Marshall with nine saves in 2012 barely makes the cut.

The 10 best middle relievers in Rotisserie in 2012 spent a total of 64 percent of the season on an active fantasy roster. This is not adjusted for players that started the season in the minors and then were called up later in the season. However, my commenter was quite correct: Even in the deepest of leagues, middle relievers aren’t simply plugged into the line-up on Opening Day and left there by their owners all year long. Marshall, Pestano, and Davis were the only three relievers left in their lineups by their owners for most or all of the season. For even the best relievers, their active/inactive status seemed capricious. Jerry Blevins—the 10th-best reliever in Roto last year—wasn’t picked up until July 16, was dropped six weeks later, and then wasn’t added again.

One way of looking at this is that I was wrong and middle relievers aren’t important in deep league fantasy. But another way of looking at this is as a lost opportunity to field the best team you possibly can.

  • Pitcher A: 170 1/3 IP, 12 W, 153 K, 5.02 ERA, 1.468 WHIP
  • Pitcher B67 IP, 2 W, 2 SV, 84 K, 3.63 ERA, 0.985 WHIP

Which of these pitchers was better in 2012, Pitcher A or Pitcher B?

Without having access to or knowledge of the earnings, you might sit here and struggle with this one for a while. Those 12 wins from Pitcher A help a lot, and those 153 strikeouts are great, but even in an -only format, that ERA and WHIP had to hurt, no? And while two wins and two saves from Pitcher B don’t help much, those 84 strikeouts had to count for something? Did the WHIP help?

As it turns out, it wasn’t that close. Pitcher B—Joel Peralta—earned $11 in 2012. Pitcher A—Ivan Nova—earned $8. You would have been better off with Peralta last year, and it wasn’t particularly close.

You need starting pitchers. But indiscriminately inserting six starting pitchers, two closers, and one middle reliever into your lineup week in and week out is a recipe for disaster in -only leagues.

In Tout Wars, where I accidentally purchased a $34 staff, I have fallen into a strategy that will rely heavily on middle relievers. I have been lucky with Travis Wood, lucky with Barry Zito until he hit the road in Milwaukee, and doing well with Mat Latos as my ace. Andrew Cashner picked up a spot start on Saturday, but there is a good chance that he will be starting every fifth day at some point this year.

However, the play isn’t to get greedy with starting pitchers but rather to maximize relievers to my advantage. Most of the relief arms I own are middle-relief types—boring to watch, but fun to own if you’re willing to wait them out. Craig Stammen, Antonio Bastardo, Brandon Kintzler, and Matt Belisle are unlikely to get any saves, but their rate stats should be okay and the hope is that they all strike out enough hitters to prevent a total shutout in the category. The goal isn’t to win every pitching category but finish with 30-35 pitching points while my hitting carries me.

The other place where middle relievers are useful is in leagues with start limits. In a league with a standard 180 start cap, it’s good to have one or two high-strikeout middle relievers waiting in the wings to pitch so that you continue to accumulate stats on the days you need to sit a starter. Eighty strikeouts from a middle reliever sounds boring, but it’s better than carrying a dead spot in a start-limit league with daily lineup moves.

The best pitchers in fantasy baseball are your top starting pitchers and your best closers, in that order. But forgetting the value of middle relievers is something you do at your own peril. Make sure to keep these guys in mind when constructing your roster, especially in deep leagues.

Thank you for reading

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Our 13 owner NL + AL Central 4x4 (era, whip, K, SV) league with 6 reserve spots has seen a sharp increase in middle reliever usage the last few years. You are allowed daily moves between active/reserve (weekly FAAB) and if you aren't rotating decent relievers in on your starter off days, you are going to suffer in era/whip/K. I have a great starting staff: Lee, Wainwright, Hamels, Burnett (along with McAllister, Billingsley, Kazmir and de la Rosa), but I'm still middle of the pack in Ks. I don't have good middle relievers to rotate in (partly because I'm reserving Valverde and a couple of decent hitters), and there are none available as free agents. You can "steal" 10+ Ks a week, while giving an assist to your whip/era as well.
Thanks for the post-mortem on this subject. They definitely have added appeal in daily transaction leagues.
Other than Brian Matz in Balt and Smyly in Det, do you know of any other SP eligible P that will be in the bullpen with good K rates and Hold opertunities? In a 6x6 H2H daily transaction keeper league where i plug in these SP eligible pen guys to maximized my SP slot utilization. A Cashner was kept. When Cingriani goes to the pen I will try to trade for him.
This is one of my favorite strategies; particularly in roto leagues (and especially in leagues with innings pitched limits). Good middle relievers that pitch a lot of innings can really help stabilize your rate stats, boost your Ks, and chip in a few wins. If you get lucky enough to grab that oddball reliever that racks up 6 or 7 wins, that is icing on the cake.