Using middle relievers in Yahoo fantasy baseball leagues

Last week I wrote about some of the strategies you can use to help you win standard Yahoo public leagues, and other similar daily transactions formats. The part of the article that generated the most interest was my use of middle relievers, so I thought I’d answer some of the questions that were raised and discuss how to use middle relievers in a little more detail.

By not drafting starting pitchers early, I can use my picks to ensure that I’ll be among the top teams in all offensive categories. In addition, I’ll be near the top in strikeouts, ERA, and WHIP. I can probably hold my own in saves. So the only category where I’ll tend to be really weak is wins. Note that I’m not advocating dumping wins. Unless you’re in a particularly strong league, I think you should still be able to pick up a few points for wins with this strategy. I’ve yet to see a league (including experts’ leagues) where everybody was a good judge of pitching talent. Everybody “knows about DIPS,” but there are an awful lot of people out there who don’t really BELIEVE in it.

One reader commented on the fact that by allocating some of my 1250 innings to middle relievers rather than starting pitchers I’m going to limit how many wins and strikeouts I can accumulate. That’s not completely accurate though. While it will limit my wins, the top middle relievers are going to have similar strikeout rates to the top starting pitchers, and since I’ll only be using middle relievers with favorable matchups, I’m actually going to increase the number of strikeouts I can squeeze out of my 1250 innings.

Several people commented on the similarity of my approach to Ron Shandler’s widely know “LIMA Plan.” While that’s true, my strategy is tailored pretty specifically to daily transactions leagues with characteristics similar to Yahoo default leagues. You’re not going to do too well using 2 or more middle relievers at a time in most weekly transaction formats. And you’re also not going to have much chance against me using a straight LIMA Plan approach without rotating players on and off of your roster based on daily matchups.

The last criticism was that this strategy is going to work best in leagues “full of novices.” I think that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but its true that if two or three other people are employing similar strategies, it’s going to be a lot tougher to pick up the middle relievers (and starters) with favorable match-ups, and you’ll be forced to lock up roster spots a number of days in advance to keep others from getting to the players you want before you do. As with any strategy, you need to be ready to adjust. If you find that too many people are doing the same thing, you’ll need to figure out how to take advantage of that. If everyone is rotating pitchers with good match-ups, then they’re going to be forced to drop some pretty decent players. That may be the time for you to go with a more stable roster.

Some of the most useful players when employing a middle reliever based strategy are relief pitchers with starting pitcher eligibility. One standout who has SP eligibility in Yahoo leagues this year and is likely to pitch in relief is Hong-Chih Kuo. Get him if you can! Others who have SP eligibility but could find their way into the bullpen at some point during the season include Philip Hughes, Clay Buchholz, Carlos Villanueva, and maybe even Joba Chamberlain (although I doubt it). As Spring Training nears its end, other names are likely to emerge to add to this list.

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  1. Craig Birkemeier said...

    I really don’t understand the argument of wasting your limited innings on middle relievers. When you look at it, the top middle relievers are going to have the same or better Wins/IP and K/IP as starters. That’s one reason I don’t pay for the top starters. Their main value comes in the total number of wins and strikeouts they give, but I can get guys off the free agency that combine for close to the same number of wins and strikeouts in the same number of innings. It just costs me a couple more roster spots.

  2. Flash613 said...

    I was in a Yahoo public league for one year and was quite successful using middle relievers and closers.  I started with and picked up a couple of closers in waiting who did pan out also.  So I dominated saves and conserved my precious innings averaging about 1K/inning, using only one or two top starters until the AllStar break.  I was under 500 innings and I then picked up undrafted starters (and had Liriano move into the rotation – it was his first year) and I started streaming starters from my bench.  Meanwhile others maxed out their innings.

  3. Phil said...

    Interesting take.  It definitely helps if no one else in your league is using the same strategy.  It also counts on no tranaction limit.  A different idea that i may not necessarily agree with, but definitely appreciate. 

    In roto, why only use middle relievers in “favorable match-ups?”  Because they may get roughed up?  But if you play them the whole season those 1 or 3 outings where they get rocked are negated by all the other innings they pitch(basically saying that a good team won’t necessarily beat-up on a pitcher, sometimes its a bad team that does)

  4. thumble said...

    There are alot of issues with this strategy.

    First of all, match ups? The best MR appear in 70-80 games a year and you are going to deplete the counting stats by trying to cherry pick appearances for minimal gains to ERA and WHIP, which in theory are already top class. You cannot just compare K rates because the innings pitched by an MR will top out by ~80 and even a 5 starter can easily get ~125.

    Which leads to efficiency, unlike starters MR usage can not be predicted before hand therefore MR need to be slotted every day to get the full seasons worth of stats. I can swap out back end nobodies in one roster slot and take Ws and Ks with ease while you get ERA and WHIP using the same innings in two slots.

    I have worked this theory in the past and I have watched others use it extensively and I have yet to see it produce a championship team in a competitive league.

    As for the LIMA references, that strategy was designed to take advantage of the market tendencies in an auction league by inflating the cost of positional players. No such opportunity exists in a standard Yahoo league setup, so there is no reason to have a team of “$1 pitchers” when all FA cost the same.

  5. Harley said...

    Sorry, I guess I didn’t explain myself correctly.  This isn’t a yahoo league.  It is a league that requires only starting 9 P.  It does not matter whether they are SP or RP.  Also, I couldn’t be more positive that I could start collecting my RP around round 11 and still end up winning ERA and WHIP because it is a deep league so people will be using the 70th best SP.

  6. Harley said...

    Why are these issues.  All I am trying to do is win ERA WHIP and Saves.  I should be able to guarantee these by drafting 4 closers, 3 middle relievers and 2 solid era and whip starters to meet the minimum.  I will guarantee 38 points in pitching with very little risk.  And it will allow me to dominate offense.  I don’t need to use middle relievers based on matchups, because a season of arrejando, shields, etc… will produce.

  7. thumble said...

    “Last week I wrote about some of the strategies you can use to help you win standard Yahoo public leagues, and other similar daily transactions formats.” – Alex Zelvin

    Sorry, Harley, I missed your original post and was responding to the overall strategy in the article. Looking at the posts it looks like I was originally responding directly to your post but that was not my intention.

    That said, the deeper league makes it even harder to pull that strategy off. By round 11-14 you are right in the wheelhouse for RP average ADP, you can start collecting RP then but you will never make it through 48 picks without the league jumping in and crashing the party and all the best RP will be long gone by then.

    Hell, at least you have a strategy with some logic behind it, even if I don’t agree with it, that should put you up on the competition by itself. Good luck.

  8. KJ said...

    Got any other good recommendations for SP eligible RPs?? or ones that will v likely drop down to keep an eye on?

  9. Harley said...

    What do you think of this strategy, in a 12-15 team, 5×5, weekly line-ups, roto league of experienced players – Spend my first 10 picks on offense, and then spend picks 11-14 on closers with great ratios and high k’s.  Then fill-in remaining offense, 1-2 SP with good ratios, and middle relievers with good ratios and high k’s in whatever order provides the most value.

    Tha plan is to finish in top 3-4 in all offensive categories, so in a 12 team league end up with 50 points on offense.  And then win era, whip and saves, to have a minimum of 38 points in pitching. 

    The issues being weekly line-ups and 700 inning minimum but no inning maximum.  I have a feeling 88 points wins a 12 team league, and I can always fish for wins or ks at end of year on waiver wire.  Do you think this can work?

  10. thumble said...

    Exactly my point, with 4 RP and 3 MR you have to put someone on the bench in a typical Yahoo type league or your SP will never leave the bench. So what choice do you make? Bench an RP and you start to lose Saves, bench a MR and ERA and WHIP take a hit.

    And don’t try to tell me you will dominate offense on on hand and still get solid peripheral RP options on the other in a competitive league. The typical RP run will happen long before you can establish your 4 RP leaving you with the 1.35 WHIP crowd.

    Shields will produce, last year 2.70/1.34 and the year before 3.86/1.23. Great stuff for the Angels but it will in no way help “guarantee” 38 points when the league lead should be ~3.50/~1.23. No MR with 10 wins has ever come close to repeating the next year, don’t expect Arrendondo to be any different.

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