Unless you’re in a league that counts holds (I’ll admit, SV+HLD is one of my favorite fantasy stat categories) there’s not too many reasons to carry a setup man on your roster. Saves are always available in free agency, so there’s not really a need to waste a roster spot on a fungible middle relievers on your roster with an eye towards the future. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some non-closer relievers out there worth that roster spot, though.
Let’s take Michael Wuertz for example. Last year he struck out 102 batters while putting just 75 men on base and allowing 23 runs to cross the plate in 78.2 IP (2.63 ERA, 0.95 WHIP). If you had combined him with a mid-range starter, say Jonathan Sanchez, you would have ended up with 242 IP of 3.72 ERA, 1.23 WHIP pitching with 279 strikeouts. That’s not too far off from what Justin Verlander did last year, a top tier fantasy starter.
Of course, you’re using two roster spots to replicate the production of one, but this late in the season it gets tougher and tougher to find bargains. Everyone knows about Tyler Clippard and his league leading eight (vulture) wins (he’s owned in 66% of leagues), but here’s five other non-closer relievers worth a spot in a standard 5×5, 12-team league…
Daniel Bard | Red Sox | 22% owned
Last night’s blown save notwithstanding, Bard has been a workhorse out of Terry Francona‘s bullpen in the early going. He’s appeared in exactly half of Boston’s 62 games, posting a 2.48 ERA (3.49 xFIP) with 9.64 K/9 and a 0.95 WHIP. Just six strikeouts behind starter John Lackey (who’s owned in 83% of leagues), Bard’s upper 90’s gas is sure to see plenty of action this summer as the Red Sox fight for supremacy in the AL East.
Luke Gregerson | Padres | 21%
Gregerson really has been a marvel for San Diego since coming over from St. Louis in the Khalil Greene trade last offseason, racking up 1.8 WAR in 75 IP with 93 strikeouts due to his slider heavy approach in 2009. He’s been even better this year, already compiling 1.4 WAR with 39 strikeouts in 32.1 IP, walking just one batter unintentionally. One! As you could imagine, Gregerson’s ERA is astronomically low (1.39) despite a 63.5% LOB%, and FIP (1.28), xFIP (2.02) and tRA (1.00) all back it up.
Arguably the most dominant reliever in baseball this year, Gregerson definitely has fantasy value since he’ll give you about four innings of damn near perfection per week.
Sean Marshall | Cubs | 22%
The Cubbies have been desperate for righthanded relief help, but Marshall’s got it locked down from the left side. Lou Piniella uses him as more than just a LOOGY, and why not? His strikeout rate is through the roof (11.27 K/9), the walks are low (2.67 BB/9) and so is the ERA (1.78), FIP (1.59), xFIP (2.94), and tRA (2.23).
Evan Meek | Pirates | 20%
Pittsburgh made a little noise this winter by signing a few veteran relievers to big league deals, but Meek has been their most valuable bullpener all season. His microscopic ERA (0.76) is propped up by an 87.4% LOB%, but batters have been unable to make solid contact off him, leading to just 21 hits allowed and a 0.81 WHIP in 35.2 IP. Meek has done most of the heavy lifting for the Buccos while the veteran guys get the saves and the glore, but rate stats that low and strikeouts that high (8.33 K/9) can definitely help mitigate those inevitable bad outings by a fantasy starter each week.
Joel Zumaya | Tigers | 19%
After battling injury for most of the last three years, Zumaya has finally been able to comeback and stay on the mound for Jim Leyland, amazingly with his triple-digit fastball still intact. Leyland’s been using him for multiple inning stints on occasion, and Zumaya’s rewarded his faith with 8.90 K/9, a 1.70 ERA (3.50 xFIP), and 1.02 WHIP. He has yet to allow a homer, thanks in part to luck, but also thanks to spacious Comerica Park. Zumaya’s only going to see more and more work as the summer progresses and Detroit’s games start to mean a little more.
Ownership rates are based on Yahoo! leagues.