Middle relievers have to bring a lot to the table to be worth a fantasy roster spot, even in holds leagues. Keeping the ERA and WHIP down isn’t enough anymore, and anyone with a mediocre strikeout is at a natural disadvantage. There’s almost always someone else available that can help you just as much in the other categories while contributing more whiffs. Let’s take a look through the reliever strikeout leaderboard and pick out the non-closers who have struck out more than a batter per inning this year (min. 20 IP) …
Jose Veras | Pirates | 13.06 K/9, 10.2% SwStr
Veras has always been a high strikeout guy, but now he’s cut about a walk-and-a-half off his free pass rate and is seeing more high leverage innings than ever before.
Michael Dunn | Marlins | 11.63, 12.1%
I wrote about Dunn two weeks ago, and he’s maybe two Leo Nunez blow-ups away from seeing save opportunities. Of course Nunez has been pretty fantastic all year, so that might not happen anytime soon if at all. Kinda hard to believe Dunn is on his third team in 17 months.
Chris Resop | Pirates | 11.35, 9.2%
Resop is more of a true middle innings guy than Veras, not seeing as much setup work and what not. He puts a good amount of men on base though (1.39 WHIP), always a less than desirable trait when it comes to relievers.
Grant Balfour | Athletics | 11.12 K/9, 8.1%
Shouldn’t be a surprise to see him on this list. Andrew Bailey is expected to come back this weekend, which means it’s back to setup duties for Balfour, the one high priced reliever in Oakland’s pen that hasn’t ripped the manager in the media recently.
Ernesto Frieri | Padres | 11.08, 9.4%
Boy, the Padres sure know how to grow relievers. Unfortunately Frieri is stuck behind a few other guys in the setup man pecking order, so he’s just a really, really good spare part even in holds leagues.
Koji Uehara | Orioles | 10.80, 17.1%
Hot damn, look at that whiff rate. Koji isn’t walking anyone (as usual) and is always one Kevin Gregg slip-up from save chances in B’more.
Tyler Clippard | Nationals | 10.73, 16.9%
Clippard’s swing-and-miss tendencies are now in their third season, though Drew Storen isn’t in danger of losing his job anytime soon. He’s still one of the few setup men worth carrying in non-holds leagues.
Jeff Samardzija | Cubs | 10.59, 10.1%
The strikeouts are nice, yeah, but Samardzija has unintentionally walked 23 men in 26.1 IP this year. He’s a straight up WHIP destroyer that doesn’t even see leveraged work all that often because of Kerry Wood and Sean Marshall. The whiffs are cool but unusable in fantasy.
Rich Thompson | Angels | 10.27, 8.4%
Thompson has been sneaky good this year, walking just 2.66 men per nine to go with that strikeout rate. The problem is that he really hasn’t pitched in anything more meaningful that mop-up duty so far. He’s one to watch for holds later on though, since Fernando Rodney is as combustible as they come.
Cory Luebke | Padres | 9.47, 12.8%
The lone lefty in San Diego’s bullpen, Luebke is more than just a specialist and he could move back into the rotation before season’s end. His ERA (4.21) will look better once his strand rate (59.4%) normalizes.
Tim Collins | Royals | 9.47, 9.7%
Everyone’s little lefty has lived up to the hype when it comes to striking guys out, but he’s also walked 20 batters in 25.2 IP. That’s not going to get in done in fantasy or real life.
David Hernandez | Diamondbacks | 9.27, 11.0%
The former Orioles has been fantastic setting up for J.J. Putz, though he’s walked nine batters in his last nine innings. If Putz gets hurt (which he’s prone to do), Hernandez is first in line for save chances.
Jesse Crain | White Sox | 9.26, 11.6%
Crain has never really been a huge strikeout guy, but he’s been throwing more changeups and scaled back the curveball with the ChiSox. Sergio Santos has done well as the closer, but Crain still sees plenty of late-inning action.
Nick Masset | Reds | 9.22, 12.0%
Aroldis Chapman‘s issues have brought Masset back into the late inning fold, though his walk (4.61 BB/9), homer (0.99 HR/9), and FIP (3.82) have gone up for a second consecutive.
Mike Adams | Padres | 9.13, 10.9%
The best reliever in baseball? I don’t know if I’d go that far, but Adams is certainly in the discussion. If Heath Bell is traded to a contender, he’s the natural candidate to step in as closer.
Taylor Buchholz | Mets | 9.12, 10.5%
After all those injuries, Buchholz has come back in a big way this year, though Jason Isringhausen stands in the way of true setup work. He’s been pretty homer prone since coming back last year, which hurts his ERA and value.
Aaron Crow | Royals | 9.12, 10.1%
I was one of the many that questioned the Royals decision to take Crow north out of Spring Training, but I was spectacularly wrong. Crow’s been one of the best relievers in baseball this year, and if Joakim Soria‘s struggles continue, he could see save chances. Obviously Soria has a very, very long leash though.