The guardian angels of fantasy
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Now that the Red Sox have jumped out to a 10-4 start, we're all eager to hand out gold stars.

I'm not against giving someone a pat on the back for a job well done but I think we're overlooking some key contributors here.

Think about some of the people who are getting credit for Boston's blistering start.

John Farrell is getting rave reviews as the new manager, basically just because he's not Bobby Valentine (which, to his credit, is an excellent quality).

People are bending down to worship pitching gods like Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz even though we only see them in uniform once every five days.

Shane Victorino's name is being floated around in the MVP conversation, yet 17 out of his 18 hits this year have been singles. Taylor Swift in high heels could hit for more power.

I'll tell you who the real hero in all of this is. It's a guy who is owned in less than six percent of fantasy leagues. A man who has never hit a home run or won more than two games in a single season.

This noble prodigy goes by the name of Koji Uehara.

And no, I have not been taking crazy pills.

I'm sure Uehara's No. 19 isn't flying off the shelves at Yawkey Way but it should be. In seven games this season, he's given up just one hit without allowing a single run. The most pitches he's had to throw in a single inning this year is 14. That's an unheard of level of efficiency.

My perception of Uehara is a little bit abstract but stay with me here. Imagine a highly skilled janitor who also acts as a guardian angel and that's Uehara.

Pitching the middle innings, mopping up the mess left by the starters is a thankless job. But it's one that Uehara has embraced and has now perfected.

I'm not saying Uehara belongs on any fantasy teams. Unless Uehara inherits the ninth inning job at some point (which is a very real possibility given Joel Hanrahan's struggles early on), he won't be worth rostering in any format. But I think the impact that he and other relievers have around the league is certainly worth acknowledging.

You think David Price won 20 games by accident last season? Yes, Price was dealing, but he also had a phenomenal bullpen to help get him out of jams.

Last season, Tampa Bay's bullpen held opposing hitters to a .208 batting average while collecting the third lowest ERA in baseball (2.88 in 466 innings). Thanks to the heroics of Joel Peralta, Fernando Rodney and a handful of others, the Rays were one of just three teams in the majors to have all five starting pitchers record double-digit wins. The other two teams (Cincinnati and San Francisco) also featured top-end relief pitching.

Growing up in New England, I watched Ugueth Urbina and Byung-Hyun Kim routinely spoil brilliant outings from Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe by giving up runs in the eighth and ninth innings. That must have been torture for fantasy owners trying to get ahead in the wins category.

The 2012 equivalent of that was probably the Milwaukee Brewers. Their bullpen fumbled more leads than any other squad in the league, blowing 29 of a possible 73 save opportunities. That 60 percent conversion rate was the third- worst in the major leagues.

The destructive nature of Milwaukee's bullpen had a residual effect on the team's starting pitching. Only one of the team's starters (Yovani Gallardo) finished the year with more than nine victories.

The Rockies are always an easy target when it comes to pitching disasters so we'll use them as a punching bag once again. Their bullpen was so pitiful last season (4.52 ERA, third-worst in the majors) that the team's top starter won only six games.

Silent assassins like Uehara don't just bail starters out when it comes to preserving wins, they also help out in the ERA department.

Take Wednesday night's game in the Bronx, for example. Diamondbacks righty Brad Ziegler was called on in the seventh inning with the game tied at 3-3 and a pair of runners on base. By inducing an inning-ending Vernon Wells groundout on his very first pitch, Ziegler was able to prevent two runs that would have been charged to Wade Miley and Tony Sipp from crossing the plate.

Miley, who let Eduardo Nunez reach, would have watched his ERA rise from 2.79 to 3.26. Sipp's ERA would have skyrocketed from 3.60 to 5.40 if Jayson Nix had scored on that same play. Instead, Ziegler spared them both.

That kind of job deserves a gold star. Or at least a pat on the back.




Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Jesse Pantuosco at jpantuosco@sportsnetwork.com.

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