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Monitoring Middle Reliever Workloads

Managing a bullpen isn’t just something for MLB managers, if you’re in a deep league or one that counts holds, you need to be aware of everyone’s workloads to optimize your roster on a day-to-day basis. Every team has played at least 16 games so far and a few have already played 20, but there are still 29 relievers that have appeared in ten or more games already, including four that have appeared in 11. At some point those workloads will come down, either through a manager’s decision or injury/ineffectiveness. Let’s look at a handful of guys that have been called into more than half their team’s games so far…

Mark Melancon | Astros | 11 G, 9.2 IP, 2.08 xFIP

Manager Brad Mills has used Melancon as a more of a fireman early on, bringing him into the middle of an inning with men on base six times already. Aside from a meltdown against the Padres over the weekend, the young right-hander has done solid work, striking out nearly a batter per inning (8.38 K/9) and keeping the baserunners to a minimum (1.03 WHIP).

Kameron Loe | 11 G, 9.2 IP, 3.43 xFIP

Loe took over a more traditional setup role once Takashi Saito hit the disabled list, and like Melancon he’s performed very well aside for one meltdown this past weekend. It’s worth noting that Loe was a workhorse (for a different manager) last season, appearing in 53 games and throwing 58.1 IP despite not being called up until June 1st (!!!). He’s tied with several others for the third most holds in baseball (five).

Tyler Clippard Nationals | 10 G, 12.1 IP, 1.80 FIP

Last season’s relief horse, Clippard appeared in 78 games and threw 91 IP, one fewer than the leader Matt Belisle. He’s still striking out a ton of batters and racking up holds (five), and might be the one guy in this post that maintains this kind of workload.

Joba Chamberlain | Yankees | 10 G, 10 IP, 2.21 FIP

The Yankees have played in an inordinate number of close games so far (all but three games were decided by three or fewer runs), so Joe Girardi has relied heavily on Joba (four holds) as well as Rafael Soriano (nine appearances, six holds) in front of Mariano Rivera. Those numbers will come down as Girardi spreads the workload around and non-CC Sabathia starters start giving them more than five innings.

Sean Marshall | Cubs | 10 G, 9 IP, 1.35 FIP

Marshall has been fantastic, just as he was last season, and he’s been doing a lot of seventh inning work before Mike Quade goes to Kerry Wood and Carlos Marmol in the seventh eighth inning. He’s tied with Soriano for the second most saves holds in baseball with six.

Tim Collins | Royals | 10 G, 10 IP, 3.01 FIP

The trendy holds pickup once it was announced that he’d made the Opening Day roster, Collins is walking way too many hitters (ten, seven in his last four outings) but is striking out a ton (15). You have to figure that Ned Yost will scale back the usage here; six appearances in eight days (which Collins recently did) coincided with his control breakdown.

Mike Adams | Padres | 10 G, 10 IP, 2.71 FIP

Probably the best reliever no one talks about, Adams just completed a stretch in which he retired 28 consecutive batters (four holds). The Padres play a ton of close games but Adams has a history of arm injuries and hasn’t thrown more than 66.2 IP in any of the last three years. Plus Bud Black has a deep bullpen, so his workload will be scaled back before long.

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You can’t really “sell high” on middle relievers, even in holds leagues, but it’s good to know who on your roster has been pitching a lot and could be in line for a workload reduction. It also helps to explain stretches of poor performance, and when it comes to guys like this, don’t hesitate to drop them and add someone else instead. Middle relievers are as fungible as it gets, in fantasy and in real life.