Fantasy Baseball Today

Starting-pitching problems? Why not pick up a reliever?

By R.J. White | CBSSports.com

Brad Boxberger and other relievers deserve more Fantasy consideration. (USATSI)
Brad Boxberger and other relievers deserve more Fantasy consideration. (USATSI)

It's been a cruel month for many Fantasy owners when it comes to starting pitching. Justin Verlander left Monday's start after just one inning due to shoulder soreness, though he may have escaped serious injury. Teammate Anibal Sanchez wasn't so lucky, hitting the disabled list Sunday. Homer Bailey will miss at least one start.

Josh Beckett, Jacob deGrom, Matt Garza, Tyler Skaggs, Brett Anderson and David Phelps all hit the DL in August, and some of those players won't be returning this season. Neither will Cliff Lee, who was placed on the disabled list at the end of July.

Clearly there are plenty of owners out there scouring the dregs of the SP waiver market looking for the best possible option to do the least damage to their ratios while hopefully delivering some sort of win and strikeout upside. But there's a different path to take. A better path.

Why not scoop up some relievers instead?

Here are some starting pitchers available in one of my Fantasy leagues who are owned in 20 to 50 percent of CBSSports.com leagues:

Justin Masterson (106 IP, 5.94 ERA, 1.72 WHIP, 99 Ks), Clay Buchholz (109 2/3 IP, 5.99 ERA, 1.57 WHIP, 83 Ks), Shane Greene (37 1/3 IP, 2.89 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 29 Ks), Bud Norris (120 IP, 3.75 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 91 Ks), Jeremy Guthrie (147 IP, 4.35 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 94 Ks), Ubaldo Jimenez (105 2/3 IP, 4.51 ERA, 1.53 WHIP, 93 Ks), Odrisamer Despaigne (49 1/3 IP, 3.10 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 28 Ks), Jarred Cosart (121 1/3 IP, 4.51 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 78 Ks), Colby Lewis (116 1/3 IP, 5.42 ERA, 1.66 WHIP, 93 Ks), Marco Estrada (122 1/3 IP, 4.78 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 102 Ks), Jordan Lyles (80 1/3 IP, 3.70 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 58 Ks) and Hector Santiago (90 1/3 IP, 3.59 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 78 Ks).

Depending on the depth of your league -- the example above involves a 14-team mixed league with owners who tend to hoard SPs -- you may have several of those options available to you. There are a few solid lines in that group, mostly from players who haven't seen too much action to this point like Greene and Despaigne. The best I could probably do in this league is to pick up Norris, who owns a solid 3.75 ERA and 1.26 WHIP while striking out close to seven batters per nine innings.

Now, the 14-team league is a dynasty with a unique setup, and I can't really give you the baseline stats for a typical team in any way that will translate. But in my 12-team standard redraft league, 10 teams have a better ERA than Norris' mark, while eight team have a WHIP better than 1.26. For most teams, scooping up Norris, who is one of the better guys, means taking a ratio hit. In fact, all 12 teams have an ERA better than 4.00, and the worst WHIP in the league is 1.30. The middle of the pack teams have ERAs in the 3.30s and WHIPs under 1.20.

Grabbing a starting pitcher at this stage of the season will give you roughly eight or nine starts if the player stays healthy. Norris has made 20 starts this year and pitched 120 innings, so he does us the favor of making his projected innings-per-start number easy to figure out. He'll see around 50 innings over the rest of the year if healthy, and if his strikeout rate holds, he'll have around 38 strikeouts. Wins? Good luck predicting those, but since he's racked up 10 wins in his 20 starts, will give him 4-5 over his last 8-9 starts.

So, in what's probably a best-case scenario for our FA, we're looking at a 3.75 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 38 Ks and five wins. More typically, we may get an ERA in the low fours with a WHIP between 1.30 and 1.40 and maybe a slight reduction in strikeouts and wins.

Heading over to the RP market, we find plenty of options available. Aside from closers and the very top-level setup men, just about everyone is available to be scooped up. Relievers owned in less than 20 percent of CBSSports.com leagues include Tony Watson (55 1/3 IP, 1.46 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 59 Ks), Pat Neshek (49 1/3 IP, 0.73 ERA, 0.57 WHIP, 53 Ks), Brad Boxberger (49 IP, 2.02 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, 79 Ks), Jonathan Broxton (42 IP, 1.07 ERA, 0.81 WHIP, 34 Ks), Andrew Miller (47 1/3 IP, 2.28 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 76 Ks) and so on.

Don't those guys seem like they would be more helpful to your Fantasy team than a mediocre SP? If those RPs remain healthy and continue to be used at the same rate, they could be looking at up to 20 more innings over the remainder of the season. Pick up a guy like Boxberger or Miller and you could be getting around 30 strikeouts, while even someone like Watson or Neshek should provide around 20 at the least.

High-strikeout relievers aren't going give up too much ground to starters who rack up six-to-seven strikeouts per nine. Even if you get someone who wins 50 percent of his starts, you're only giving up four wins (maybe less if the RP can fall into a win or two over the remainder of the season). Move to the ratio categories, and you see that even with a good starter like Norris, you're likely to lose ground in ratio categories or, if you're lucky, tread water. Though the relievers toss fewer innings and have less of an impact on your team ratios than starters, at least it's a positive impact. Owning a setup man also gives you the benefit of collecting saves here and there if a team's regular closer needs a rest or suffers an injury.

If you play in a league with some type of limit on the amount of innings or starts you can have in a season, owning these quality relievers makes even more sense. I was way over pace on the max number of starts I'm allowed in one league, and since there are no restrictions on total innings, I cut bait with half of my starters several weeks ago to pick up Watson, Miller, Broxton and others. Obviously, this is a league where the starting lineup doesn't delineate between SPs and RPs; each team just starts any nine pitchers they want. If you have such a restriction in place, you can still maximize your output by filling as many roster spots as you can with quality relievers.

Players like Boxberger and Miller aren't going to win your league on their own. But they can certainly do a better job of not losing than mediocre starters. Remember that when scouring the waiver wire while trying to replace injured SPs.

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