Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Are you tired of the finishing in the middle of the pack, or lower, in the five traditional fantasy baseball pitching categories (wins, saves, ERA, WHIP, strikeouts)?
Have you done the same things year after year expecting better results only to be disappointed? Albert Einstein would have said that's the definition of insanity.
Are you ready to look at things a little bit differently this season?
Then have I got a strategy for you!
Don't draft a full staff of starters. Sure, you can still select Clayton Kershaw or Yu Darvish, just don't fill up your roster with "average" starters.
Along with an "ace" or two, your new and improved plan will be to cherry pick some of the better starting matchups throughout the season. Meanwhile, you will load up on closers and middle relievers.
But not your everyday mediocre closers and middle relievers. We're looking for high-rate strikeout pitchers. For our purposes, we define "high strikeout rate" as at least one strikeout per inning pitched.
Since relief pitchers tend to post superior rate stats, choosing starters in favorable matchups and high-quality middle relievers and closers with superior strikeout rates will allow you to stay competitive in all categories - except for wins.
Choosing middle relievers with a high strikeout rate should be relatively easy as most fantasy owners only select starters and closers.
Searching through last season's results finds plenty of targets. Detroit's Al Alburquerque accumulated 70 strikeouts in just 49 innings pitched (12.9 SO/9 IP). St. Louis' Trevor Rosenthal whiffed 108 batters in just 75 1/3 innings (12.9) and Toronto's Steve Delabar struck out 82 in 58 2/3 innings (12.6).
I could go on and on - Oliver Perez, Shawn Kelley, Kelvin Herrera, Cody Allen, Danny Salazar and Charlie Furbush. In fact, there were 40 middle relief and setup guys who averaged a strikeout per inning and threw at least 49 innings last season.
Now for the hard part ... picking the closers.
The top closer is easy - that's Craig Kimbrel of Atlanta. He's been an elite closer for the past three seasons. Durable and impossible to hit. Last year, he posted a 4-3 record with 50 saves, 1.21 ERA, 0.881 WHIP and 98 strikeouts in 67 innings (13.2 per 9 IP). Greg Holland, Joe Nathan and Aroldis Chapman also are easy-to-choose top flamethrowers.
But it gets more difficult because eight of the 19 closers with 30 or more saves last season had an ADP (average draft position) over 150, according to ESPN. Meaning they came out of nowhere to become a stud closer.
How does it happen that a relief pitcher rises from an unknown to a top closer in the blink of an eye?
It's because there is a lot of volatility at the position.
A bad couple of weeks of outings, or sometimes as few as two, can get you replaced. Ask John Axford's owners.
Suffer an injury and if your replacement lights it up, you might not get your finishing role back. See Jason Motte, who led the NL is saves in 2012, but missed all of 2013 due to injury and figures to return in a setup role for Rosenthal.
Or Boston's Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey, who were injured and lost their job to the amazing Koji Uehara.
Picking a handful of top closers isn't easy, but the rewards can be winning the ERA, WHIP and save categories by a large margin and staying competitive in the strikeout category if you stick to the "strikeout-per-inning" strategy.
And it's much easier than fighting with the majority of owners in your fantasy league who will try to assemble a staff with a distribution of seven or more starters and a couple of closers.
There just aren't enough good starters to put together a lineup that will win the "rate stats" categories if you stick with the "old" plan.
But win four of the five pitching categories using this novel strategy and you could be well on your way to hoisting your league's championship trophy.
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